Goddess Kuan Yin (Kwan Yin):: Goddess of Compassion

The Goddess Kuan Yin

Kuan Yin. The goddess of compassion. Of all the goddesses, she is most revered and beloved throughout the world.

Kuan Yin has countless stories and countless forms. Here are but a few:

"Woman's work," the Buddhas all agreed. "Who but a gentle mother could ever dream of bringing boundless love and comfort to all the people, easing the inevitable pains of human life?"

After all, the man had failed and now lay shattered at their feet.

Carefully they began to reshape the pieces of the Indian bodhisattva* named Avalokitesvara, who was known as the Merciful Lord of Enlightenment.

He once had chosen to remain on earth to relieve the suffering of humanity rather than to partake of the pleasures of Nirvana that he had earned.

Now he was reborn as the goddess Kuan Yin and ready to start his work again--this time in a female form that was better suited to the task. 

And as part of this spectacular god to goddess makeover, the Buddhas equipped her with a thousand arms (all the better to reach out and stop the suffering of those around the world) and placed eyes in the palms of her hands so that she could easily see anyone who might be in need.

      

   Avalokitesvara as Kwan Yin  

Read the story of Kuan Yin's creation     
in the myths of  the bodhisattva Avalokitesvara

Just as you'd expect from a goddess who figures in the mythology of so many different countries, there are a myriad of varying stories we could choose to retell about Kuan Yin. So we've selected a few of our favorites to share with you.

Kuan Yin :: She Who Sees and Hears
the Cries of the World

As an archetype, the goddess Kuan Yin has no equal. Centuries later we find echoes of her myths in folk-tales and literature, works as enduring as Cinderella, Snow White, and even Shakespeare's King Lear.

The Princess Who Became
the Goddess Kuan Yin.

The villagers knew at once that something phenomenal had just occurred.

At the very moment the Queen had given birth, the earth had trembled beneath their feet as fragrant blossoms sprang up through the winter snow that covered the hillsides.

The King and Queen, however, were not impressed.

They had asked for a boy, wanting a son  who could consolidate their power and their wealth.

What use was yet another daughter . . . especially one like Miao-Shan who was so kind and pure?


Eventually they decided to marry her off to a wealthy man. But Miao-Shan refused, telling them she would do so only on three conditions. She would comply only if the marriage would:

  • relieve the suffering endured in old age
  • ease the pain of those who are ill, and
  • comfort the dying and those bereaved.

She begged to be allowed to become a nun instead.

But her father was enraged and forced her to do all the menial tasks around their home for her refuson. To make matters worse, her mother and two sisters taunted her unmercifully as she slaved away at her chores.


At night, while the others slept Miao-Shan stoked the fires and swept the floors and chopped up all the vegetables for the next day's meals without complaint. The animals living around the palace felt sorry for the poor princess who was so kind and began to help her with the chores so she could nap.

Her father, enraged that she could get so much done and still seem so refreshed, eventually agreed to let her go to the temple to become a nun.

But, still angered by her insistence on helping the unfortunate, he ordered the nuns to treat her so badly that she would become disheartened and return home chastened and willing to submit to his authority.


The nuns put the Maio-Shan in charge of the the food supply . . . managing the garden and collecting water from the distant stream. They thought this would be disheartening since it was the middle of winter.To the shock of all, crops appeared in the garden and a stream sprang up just outside the kitchen door.

When her father got word of these miracles, he decided to put and end to her life and sent one of his henchmen to kill her. As Maio-Shan knelt to bow her head for the axe, she meekly met the henchman's eye and said, 'You must not worry for what you have to do. . . you have been forgiven.'

Shaken, the henchman thrust his weapon on a nearby stone and the axe shattered into a thousand pieces. Then the clouds came down from the hillside and carried the young nun to safety on a nearby island where she continued her religious study, prayer and meditation while living on her own.

 

A few years later, the king fell ill. His doctors said he would soon die.
 

Statue :: Goddess Kuan Yin
Porcelain figure by Chaozhong He, photographed by Mountain at the Shanghai Museum, photo modified.

      

 

As his condition worsened a travelling monk arrived (some versions of the myth say it was actually Kuan Yin in disguise). He told the king he knew of a cure, a medicine made from the ground-up eyes and arms of one who was full of love and forgiveness.

The king called his other two daughters to his side, asking them to provide this gift of life. They, of course, refused.

Then the monk told him that he knew of someone he was sure would gladly make the sacrifice, so the king sent his envoy to make the request. Miao-Shan pulled out her eyes and severed her arms, telling the envoy to hurry to take them to the king so that he might be quickly healed.

The monk prepared the medicine and gave it to the king who was quickly cured. He tried to thank the monk but the monk refused, saying, 'It is the one who made the sacrifice that you should thank.'

So the king and his wife made the journey to the island and when they realized it was their daughter who had given up so much, Miao-Shan told them that 'Knowing my father's love, I was honored to be able to repay him with my arms and eyes.'  And just at the moment, the clouds descended.

When the fog cleared Miao-Shan was no longer there. The earth again began to tremble and thousands of blossoms floated down from the sky. The royal family looked up and saw the goddess Kuan Yin in the sky, manifesting her thousand arms and eyes.

To honor their daughter, who was now known as the goddess Kuan Yin,  they built a shrine on the place of her ascension and named it  Fragrant Mountain.

 

   

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Read the abbreviated
version of her myths : 
Goddess Kwan Yin (Kuan Yin)

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