Kwan Yin, Goddess of Compassion
The goddess Kwan Yin knew all about suffering.
In her first life in India she was born as a male named Avalokitesvara, who sought to help poor lost souls be
reborn to a better life on their journey to enlightenment. But he was overwhelmed and anguished when more lost souls kept coming in
what seemed an endless cycle. In his despair he shattered into a thousand pieces.
From his remains they shaped him as a woman, a goddess -- more suitable for bringing compassion and mercy into the world, they thought.
They gave her a thousand arms and eyes in the palms of each of her hands so that she would always see the people's distress and be able to reach out to
Then they sent her back to earth to do her work. So successful was she at comforting the people, that word of her began to spread to other lands and other religions. "We need her here," the people cried.
And so she went, reincarnating herself
wherever she was needed. Known by many names and stories in
many places, she was revered as a Buddhist deity and then a
She is known as the
goddess Tara in the Himalayas and
in her incarnation as the goddess of the Southern Seas, but she
is best known by her Chinese name, Kwan Yin (also spelled Kuan Yin), the Goddess of
Statue :: Goddess Kwan Yin
Porcelain figure by Chaozhong He, photographed by
Mountain at the Shanghai Museum, photo modified.
And she knew suffering in that life too. Rejected at birth and
abused by a father who had wanted a son, Kuan Yin wanted only to
become a nun. Eventually her father relented and she was allowed to pursue
her dream of religious life.
But her suffering did not end there.
Her vengeful father even hired a man to kill her, but she forgave
him. In the end, her great love and mercy saved his life and
reconciled her parent's to her divinity.
Depicted in statues and paintings, the Goddess Kwan Yin often
appears as a calm, gentle woman of middle-age who radiates serenity.
She is sometimes referred to as an Asian madonna.
She is a protector
of women, especially those who yearn to have children.
Kwan Yin is
also worshipped as a protectress of sailors, merchants, and those
who are imprisoned.