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Guan Yin Buddha in Chinese Buddhism

Guan Yin Buddha in Chinese Buddhism

There is an air of mystery surrounding the Guanyin (also Guan Yin, Quan Yin) Buddha of China. In actuality, Guanyin is a Bodhisattva, or one who has reached Nirvana and achieved Enlightenment, but has chosen to remain on earth to soothe the pain of humankind and to lead them to Enlightenment. Guanyin, as the only female bodhisattva, is the goddess of compassion. She is the perfect mother, the one who loves unconditionally, who soothes all hurts and calms all fears. However, she was not always female.

In the beginning, the Buddhist god of compassion was Avalokiteœvara, and he was male. In fact, the Buddhist god of compassion remains male today in both India and Tibet. But when Buddhism was brought to China in the fifth century it was difficult for the Chinese to relate to a male god of compassion. In the Taoist tradition the god of compassion was female. And so, over time the two traditions merged and the result was a female Buddhist goddess of compassion. When her gender changed her named changed as well and she became Guanyin which translates to mean, she who hears the cries of the world.

Guanyin is often depicted holding a child in her arms. This is because she is the Buddhist saint of barren women. The child is a symbol that shows that she hears their cries for children. She is also depicted to be dressed in white. The whiteness of her clothing is the symbol of purity. Sometimes she is depicted holding a Mala (rosary) in one hand. This symbolizes her devotion to Buddhism. Other times she holds a willow branch. This branch shows that she is able to bend or adapt without breaking. Quite often she is seen carrying a pitcher. This pitcher is a symbol for the compassion she pours out upon the world. Most often, she is seen either sitting or standing on a lotus blossom. The lotus blossom is the Buddhist symbol for purity because it grows out of the mud, and yet blooms pure and white. When we see Guanyin with the lotus blossom we are reminded that though our lives might be surrounded by the mud of misery we can attain enlightenment if our hearts remain pure. Quite often statues of Guanyin show her with many arms, and an eye in the palm of each hand. Multiple arms and eyes symbolize her efforts to comfort everyone in the world at the same time.

There is an old Chinese fairytale that tells the story of how Guanyin came to be and how she earned her thousand arms and eyes. In China during the 7th century a king had three daughters. The greatest desire of his third and youngest daughter was to be a nun. However, the king wanted her to marry. When she protested, the king became angry and flew into a rage. He ordered her to serve the family by doing the most menial tasks, such as scrubbing chamberpots and growing vegetables in barren rocky ground. He was sure that such tasks would humble her and make her change her mind and follow his wishes. But it was not to be.

The barren rocky ground brought forth an abundance of vegetables and flowers. When the king saw that his plan was foiled he flew into another rage and order her execution. The executioner was a kind-hearted man, and he devised a way to make the sword break into a thousand pieces and leave the girl unharmed. When the king saw that the execution was not successful he took matters into his own hands and managed to kill her.

When the young girl arrived in the underworld, the fires of hell were quenched. The king of the underworld did not appreciate the changes that she brought to his kingdom and so he returned her to the land of the living, riding in the heart of a lotus bloom. When she arrived in the land of the living she made her home on the top of Putuo, an island in the sea. She lived here for many years healing the sick and saving mariners from shipwreck.

When her father, the king, became very ill his physician told him that the only thing that would cure him would be a medicine made from the arms and eyes of a pure soul. Upon hearing this sad news, the girl willingly gave her arms and eyes so that he might be healed. Not knowing who she was, he approached her to give his thanks. As he recognized her as his daughter, and understood her sacrifice a cloud descended upon her and when it rose the holes that were once her eyes and arms had been replaced by a thousand eyes and arms. And that is the compassion of Guanyin.

If you would like to purchase items with the Guan Yin Buddha, please check our links below.

The Chinese Guan Yin Buddha Statue
This statue is 8 inches tall and 3 inches wide. This statue is made from brass.

Red Resin Guan Yin Buddha Head Statue
This statue is 5 inches tall and made from red resin.