|Lady Kuan Yin is the Bodhisattva of Compassion, and she is known as one of the most popular deities in all of Asia. Her name in Chinese roughly translates as "The One who Hears the Cries of the World." Many believe that she is the female representation of Avalokiteswara, the Tibetan and Nepalese Bodhisattva of Compassion.
In Asia, statues of Lady Kuan Yin can be found in front of, or on the grounds of, many Taoist and Buddhist temples. She is a Boddhisattva, a person who has earned the right to leave this world of suffering and enter nirvana, but has chosen instead to stay on this earth to help others reach enlightenment first. Because of her willingness to help, Lady Kuan-Yin is the patron saint of barren women and protects those whose lives depend on the elements, such as farmers and fishermen. It is not unusual to see Lady Kuan Yin in various forms and poses. She always appears cloaked in white, the color of purity, and her gowns are long and flowing. Often she will be holding a rosary in one hand, a symbol of her devotion to Buddhism and its tenets. She will also have either a book (The Lotus Sutra, which refers back to her origins), or a vase, which symbolizes her pouring compassion on to the world.
The Origin of Lady Kuan Yin:
There are many legends about the origin of Lady Kuan Yin, but the one I like best also happens to be one of the most popular.
In 7th century China, a king had three daughters, the youngest named Miao-Shan. At the time of Miao-Shan's birth, the earth trembled and a wonderful fragrance and flower blossoms sprang up around the land. Many of the local people said they saw the signs of a holy incarnation on her body.
While the king and queen were amazed by this blessing, they were unfortunately corrupt, and they saw little value in having a child who appeared pure and kind. When Miao-Shan got older, the king wanted to find a husband for her. But she told her father she would only marry someone if by so doing she would help alleviate the suffering of all mankind.
The king became enraged when he heard of her devotion to helping others, and forced her to slave away at menial tasks. Her mother, the queen, and her two sisters admonished her, all to no avail.
In desperation, the king decided to let her pursue her religious calling at a monastery, but ordered the nuns there to treat her so badly she would change her mind. She was forced to collect wood and water, and run the garden for the kitchen. They thought this would be nearly impossible, since the land around the monastery was barren. To everyone's amazement, the garden flourished even in winter, and a spring welled up out of nowhere next to the kitchen.
When the king heard about these miracles, he decided that he was going to kill Miao-Shan and the nuns who were supposed to have tormented her. But as his henchmen arrived at the monastery, a spirit came out of a fog of clouds and carried her away to safety on a remote island. She lived there on her own for many years, pursuing a life of religious dedication.
Several years later, her father, the king, became seriously ill. He was unable to sleep or eat, and his doctors believed he would certainly die soon. As he was about to pass on, a monk came to visit the king. The monk told the king he could cure the monarch, but he would have to grind up the arms and eyes of one free from hatred to make the medicine. The king thought this was impossible, but the monk assured him that there was a Bodhisattva living in the king's domain who would gladly surrender those items if asked.
The king sent an envoy to find this unknown bodhisattva. When the envoy made his request, Miao-Shan gladly cut out her eyes and severed her arms. The envoy returned, the monk made the medicine, and the king instantly recovered. When the king thanked the monk, the monk admonished him. "You should thank the one who gave their eyes and arms." Suddenly, the monk disappeared. The king believed this was divine intervention, and after ordering a coach prepared, headed off with his family to find and thank the unknown bodhisattva.
When the royal family arrived, they realized it is was their daughter Miao-Shan who had made the sacrifice. Miao-Shan spoke up, "Mindful of my father's love, I have repaid him with my eyes and arms." With eyes full of tears and hearts full of shame, the family gathered to hug Miao-Shan. As they did, auspicious clouds formed around Miao-Shan. The earth trembled, flowers rained down, and a holy manifestation of the Thousand Eyes and Thousand Arms appeared hovering in the air.
And then, the bodhisattva was gone. To honor Miao-Shan, the royal family built a shrine on the spot, which is known as Fragrant Mountain.
For more information on Lady Kuan Yin, please visit Lady Kuan Yin and OM Mani Padme Hum.