GODDESS KWAN YIN. Buddhism is to be given credit for bringing Devi worship to many part of the globe. Mahayana Buddhism spread across Central and East Asia in the early centuries of Christian influence. After being around for 1000 odd years, Kwan Yin sees her appearance in 400 AD spreading from it birthplace in India to China and subsequently to Korea, Japan and Tibet. In the Indian setting the most direct is the South Indian reference to Kanniamma, a rural manifestation of Goddess Mariamman in her motherly aspects. In some Asian countries Kwan Yin and Kanniamma worship are cotemporaneous.
DEPICTION: In the Buddist tradition, she is Avalokita depicted with many arms, hands and heads, sometimes with an eye in each palm. This represents a an omnipresent Mother, ever watchful to reach out and alleviate suffering. In the Buddhist tradition, Avalokita was born from Amitabha Buddha's right eye, after which he proclaimed the amtra ‘Om Mani Padme Hum’, Hail to the jewel in the lotus. It is also in Buddhist believe that she is a manifestation of Amitabha Buddha. The Chinese translation of the Sanskrit Avalokita is Kuan Shih Yin, shortened to Kwan Yin.
Mahayana prescribed the adoration of compassionate Bodhisattva striving for spiritual liberation. In the orient, the Bodhisattva’s grace was identified with maternal love. Avalokita, or Kwan Yin concept was brought to China by devotees of Avalokitesvara, or Avalokita, Bodhisattva of Compassion of Indian Buddhism. There she was a male god first but later resembled a woman. By 1200 AD, Kwan Yin was a complete Mother Goddess in her own right.
Either way, she was a Bodhisattva, literally a bodhi, or enlightenment. A Bodhi is also called an Ascended Master, which essentially means that one has learned all their lessons, transmuted their karma, and is not compelled to experience being reborn into a physical body if they do not desire it.
Buddhist iconography shows Kwan Yin with pearls of illumination in one hand. In the other hand she has a small vase to pour out the nectar of Wisdom and Compassion. Her hands are blessing mudra but her cupped hands are a symbol of the womb and the universal feminine principal. The dragons around her are symbols wisdom, strength, and the power of divine transformation. Children around her are symbolic of Motherhood and love.
Lotus is symbolic of purity and a reference to sailors and water. The sea is shown as a wavy water behind the dragons. She also has a scroll of prayers which are the teachings of Buddha, a rosary of white crystal beads showing the rounds of rebirth, and a willow spray with which she sprinkles the divine nectar of life.
KWAN YIN PU SA: In the Chinese setting, Kwan Yin’s name means "she who hears the cries of the world’. She personifies compassion for all who call out to Her in need of Her assistance to eradicate the misery they may be experiencing in their life. She is venerated by most Asian religions as a savior and the Goddess of Mercy. She embodies the female principle and is usually represented as a young female deity who has the power to assume any form necessary to carry out her vow...which is to lead all beings out of a life of suffering and into their spiritual realization.
Kwan Yin is not necessarily a women’s goddess. She comforts the troubled, the sick, the lost, the senile and the unfortunate. Kwan Yin is said to hear all prayers and has compassion and empathy for humankind. She also cares for the souls in the underworld and is invoked during post-burial rituals to free the soul of its physical from and the torments of purgatory.
In Chinese mythology, Kwan Yin is embodied as Miao Shan, meaning ‘wonderfully kind one.’ Miao was a Chinese princess who lived about 700 BC. This legendary Buddhist monk is said to have spent nine years living on an island off the coast of China. He spent his spiritual time healing, meditating and saving sailors from shipwreck. Apparently the island became a place of worship and pilgrimage with a shrine dedicated to Kwan Yin in one of the caves.
But Miao Shen seem not to abandon her Buddhist roots.With great compassion in the likes of Kwan Yin, she states: ‘Although I am Bodhisattva, I am energy. I am not a person. Basically, the Kwan Yin energy was never in one single body. It has always been a great part of the energy of all of compassion of all the Universe. What you see in front of you [Marjorie] is one person who has been able to tap in and release for a period of time, so that she can let us be a part of her reality and to share that with you so that you can be encouraged, and that you can also bring forward the part of you that knows the truth.’
In the Chinese vernacular, Kwan Yin is a derivation for the goddess that is this energy of motherly compassion. This is really a description of her energy, the one who hears the cries of the
people. Being one of the Mother Goddess, she is especially connected to those in need of any kind of help, be they sick, lost, frightened or simply in unfortunate circumstances. She is a great protector and benefactor of the weak, the ill and especially the children and the babies.
CHINESE MYTHOLOGY: How did Kwan Yin earn her thousand arms and eyes? “In China during the 7th century a king had three daughters, and the greatest desire of his third and youngest daughter was to be a nun, but the king wanted her to marry. When she protested, the king became angry and flew into a rage, ordering her to serve the family by doing the most menial of tasks, such as scrubbing chamber-pots 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.
In fact, she was able to grow beautiful vegetables in the garden. When the king saw that his plan was foiled, he grew very angry and ordered her execution. Fortunately, the executioner was a kind-hearted man who devised a way to make the sword break into a thousand pieces, thus leaving the girl unharmed, but the king saw that the execution was not successful, and took matters into his own hands, slaying his own daughter.
Upon her arrival in the underworld, the fires of hell were put out. Now, the king of the underworld did not like the changes that she brought into his kingdom, 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.
Eventually, her father became ill, and he was told that the only thing that could heal him was the eyes and arms of a compassionate soul. Upon hearing this, Kwan Yin 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. When the cloud went away the holes that were once her eyes and arms had been replaced by a thousand eyes and arms.
There are temples throughout the world dedicated to this Her, and women in every country pay homage to Her and send Her their pleas for assistance or gratitude for coming to their aid. Often we find Her depicted holding a vase containing the waters of compassion, the lotus flower of enlightenment or the jewel of the three treasures She is also shown with dragons, which are known as the protectors of faith, keeping watch over temples and Heaven itself.
Hara Hara Mahadeva
by Yogi Ananda Saraswathi