Kwan Yin, the Bodhisattva of Compassion

A Bodhisattava is, in simple terms, an enlightened or spiritually-advanced human. Kwan Yin, her name in Chinese roughly translates to “The One who Hears the Cries of the World”. Many believe that she is the female representation of Avalokitesvara, who is the Tibetan and Nepalese Goddess of Compassion. As a Bodhisattva, she has chosen to put off her complete unexcelled, perfect enlightenment for the benefit of beings everywhere, and she will wait as long as there is one being who is not enlightened.

Kwan Yin is the most revered goddess in the East. But her influence on those in the West is growing as more people discover and seek to access the power of the feminine in their spiritual and personal lives. Calling upon the spirit of Kwan Yin, the beloved Goddess of Compassion, is believed to bring strength, healing and unconditional love. His skillful means are limitless and he can appear in any form in all the six realms of existence to relieve the suffering of the sentient beings who live there. He vowed to rescue those who call on him when they are in suffering, for example, when caught in a fire, shipwrecked or facing an attack.

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Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva

In the Lotus Sutra, Shakyamuni Buddha said that if a suffering being hears the name of Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva and earnestly calls out to the Bodhisattva, Avalokitesvara will hear the call and relieve that being from his suffering.

According to the Huayen Sutra, Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva transforms himself into forms that suit the nature of those to be helped. His manifestations or transformation bodies are countless.

e.g. If a boy or girl is about to gain some enlightenment, Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva transforms himself into a boy or a girl to teach the child.

e.g. If a monk is about to attain some enlightenment, Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva transforms himself into a monk.

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Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva

In short, he can appear as a monk, a nun, or a normal person like you and me. The purpose of such transformations is to make people feel close to him and willing to listen to his words.

In China, Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva is represented in female form and is known as Kwan Yin. Probably because of Kwan Yin’s great compassion, a quality which is traditionally considered feminine, most of the Bodhisattva’s statues in China since the Tang Dynasty (A.D. 618 – 907) have appeared as female figures. In India, however, the Bodhisattva is generally represented as a male figure.

In her hands, Kwan Yin may hold a willow branch, a vase with water or occasionally, a lotus flower. The willow branch is used to heal people’s illnesses or bring fulfillment to their requests. The water ( the dew of compassion) has the quality of removing suffering, purifying the defilements of our body, speech and mind, and lengthening life.

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Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva

In Buddhist art, Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva is sometimes shown with eleven heads, 1000 hands and eyes on the palms of each hand (Thousand-Armed Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva). The thousand eyes allow the Bodhisattva to see the sufferings of sentient beings, and the thousand hands allow her to reach out to help them.

You May Want To Know: Thousand-Armed Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva

Sometimes, he is represented with one head and 4 arms. This is the Four-Armed Avalokitesvara, worshipped by all Tibetans as “Chenrezig”, the Holder of the White Lotus. It is in the male form which has two hands in the praying gesture while the other two hands hold his symbols, the Crystal Rosary and the Lotus Flower.

There is a sacred place for the worship of Kwan Yin in China – the Putuo Mountain. It is actually an island located near the city of Ningpo, in Zhejiang Province. There are many stories of Kwan Yin’s miraculous appearances at Putuo Mountain.

Actually, anyone can be like Kwan Yin. You may say that you don’t have a thousand eyes or a thousand arms or that you lack skillful means, but it is your compassion that can transform you into a Kwan Yin. With your eyes and hands, you can help others. With your compassion, you can bring peace and tranquility to this world.

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