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Guan Yin

Guan Yin (觀音菩薩 Pinyin Guan1 Yin1 Pu2 Sa4, literal meaning: "The bodhisattva who observes the sounds (of the people from the secular world)"), also written "Guanyin", "Kuan Yin", and "Kwan-yin," is a bodhisattva of compassion, worshipped by East Asian Buddhists. Developed from Avalokitesvara or Avalokiteshvara (The word avalokita means "seeing or gazing down" and isvara means "lord" in Sanskrit). It is also called kan'non-bosatsu in Japanese and is often referred to as kan'non-sama with respect.


From pre-Hinduism, Avalokitesvara's worship was introduced into China (as Kuan-yin) as early as the 1st century AD, and reached Japan (called Kannon 観音) by way of Korea soon after Buddhism was first introduced into the country from the mid-7th century. This bodhisattva was introduced into Tibet (called Chenrezig) in the 7th century

Representations of the bodhisattva in China prior to the Song Dynasty (960-1279) were masculine in appearance. Images later displayed attributes of both genders is believed to be in accordance with the Lotus Sutra[?] where Avalokitesvara has the supernatural power of assuming any form required to relieve suffering and also has the power to grant children. Because this bodhisattva is considered a mother-goddess and patron of mothers and seamen, the representation in China has further interpreted in all female form around the 12th century. A personification of compassion and kindness.

In Tibet he is often portrayed with a thousand arms, each hand with an eye in it, symbolising the seeing and reaching out to help those in distress. In China however Avalokitesvara is more usually represented as a beautiful white robed woman.


One Buddhist legend presents Avalokiteshvara as vowing to never rest until he had freed all sentient beings from samsara. Although with strenuously effort, he realized that still many unhappy beings were yet to be saved. After comprehending the great demand, he became overwhelmed and his head split into thousands of pieces. Fortunately, a Buddha assembled him back together again. With eleven heads gazing to the front and sides, Avalokiteshvara possesses the unique gift to see everywhere at once and reach out to the needy.

Another story describes her origin as the daughter of a cruel father who wanted her to marry a wealthy but uncaring man. She begged to be able to enter a temple instead. Her father allowed her, but asked the monks to give her very hard chores in order to discourage her. She was forced to work all day and all night while others slept in in order to finish her work. However, she was such a good person that the animals living around the temple began to help her with her chores. Her father, seeing this, became so frustrated that he burned down the temple. Kwan Yin put out the fire with her bare hands and suffered no burns. Now struck with fear, her father ordered her to be put to death. After she died she was made into a goddess for all of her kindness and began her journey to heaven. She was about to cross over into heaven when she heard a cry of suffering back on earth. She asked to be sent back and vowed to stay until all suffering had ended.

Kwan yin is associated across Asia with vegetarianism. Chinese vegetarian restaurants are generally decorated with her image, and she appears in most Buddhist vegetarian pamphlets and magazines.

Many observers have commented on the similarity between Guan Yin and the Blessed Virgin Mary.


Being an Account by the Chinese Monk Fa-Hien[?] of his Travels in India and Ceylon (A.D. 399-414) in Search of the Buddhist Books of Discipline[?]

Translated and annotated with a Corean recension of the Chinese text

By James Legge[?] http://www.ibiblio.org/gutenberg/etext00/rbddh10.txt [out of copyright]

Kwan-she-yin and the dogmas about him or her are as great a mystery as Manjusri[?]. The Chinese name is a mistranslation of the Sanskrit name Avalokitesvara, "On-looking Sovereign," or even "Onlooking Self-Existent," and means "Regarding or Looking on the sounds of the world" = "Hearer of Prayer." Originally, and still in Tibet, Avalokitesvara had only male attributes, but in China and Japan (Kwannon[?]), this deity (such popularly she is) is represented as a woman, "Kwan-yin, the greatly gentle, with a thousand arms and a thousand eyes;" and has her principal seat in the island of P'oo-t'oo[?], on the China coast, which is a regular place of pilgrimage. To the worshippers of whom Fa-hien speaks, Kwan-she-yin would only be Avalokitesvara. How he was converted into the "goddess of mercy," and her worship took the place which it now has in China, is a difficult inquiry, which would take much time and space, and not be brought after all, so far as I see, to a satisfactory conclusion. See Eitel[?]'s Handbook, pp. 18-20, and his Three Lectures on Buddhism (third edition), pp. 124-131. I was talking on the subject once with an intelligent Chinese gentleman, when he remarked, "Have you not much the same thing in Europe in the worship of Mary?"

See also: Buddhism in China

There is a chinese oolong tea named Te-Guan-Yin (at one purveyor's) which has been translated as "Iron Goddess of Mercy".

There is a legend associated with this name. A peasant farmer often passed by an abandoned temple with an iron statue of Guanyin inside. Saddened by the lack of care, he took it upon himself to sweep and clean the temple whenever he passed by. In thanks, Guanyin visited the peasant in a dream and told him to look for treasure behind the temple. When he woke from the dream, he rushed to the rear of the temple and found a small tea shrub. The leaves of this shrub produced a particularly fragrant brew and the peasant became rich by cultivating and selling his "Iron Guanyin" tea.

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