Who is Bodhisattva Guan Yin, Goddess of Compassion?

Qui est Bodhisattva Guan Yin, déesse de la Compassion ?

Two weeks ago I presented to you the life, history and teachings of Gautama Buddha, this week I invite you to discover who is really the Bodhisattva Guan Yin, in other words, the goddess of Compassion.

We will therefore see together some of the legends concerning Guan Yin as well as some physical criteria to easily recognize it.


Quick presentation

Bodhisattva statuette - Pinewood - Guanyin

What does Bodhisattva mean?

This is a Sanskrit term which indicates, in the hinayana buddhism, the rank of the spiritual level between the level of Arhat and the level of Buddha.

More simply, it means thatshe got awakening,but that she preferred to stop here so as not to reach the rank of Buddha and share his teaching with people in order to help them.

Meaning of Guanyin

Let us look at the meaning of the name of Guanyin. It's about a short form of Guanshiyin which means "The Essence of Sapience which considers the sounds of the world".

In other words, the one who observes, who captures the sounds, the prayers, the tears and more generally all the suffering in the world.

Guan Yin is thus the goddess of Compassion and Mercy.


    Stories and legends

    As we will see, there are many legends about Guyan Yin. The oldest date back over 2000 years to the Middle Kingdom. Her popularity is very important since the Song dynasty (between 960 and 1279).

    Don't be surprised if you come across different versions of the ones listed here, there are indeed more of them than you can imagine! It is therefore difficult to disentangle the true from the false ...

    A story between father and daughters

    Long years ago the King (Miao Zhong) from a small Chinese state had 3 daughters that he wanted to marry more than anything, in order to appropriate new material goods.

    But the youngest, Miao Shanhad something else in mind. She wished to become a buddhist nun and improve one's spiritual culture in order to deliver, to save the world. The King, who did not understand it that way, abandoned him.

    Years passed and then the King was close to death. An old monk passing through the kingdom explained to him that he had to drink a potion distilled from the arms and eyes of someone willing to give them in the hope of healing.

    The King simply asked his older daughters to help him. These refused and the monk then invited the King to address a messenger to plead his salvation to the Bodhisattva of compassion who then lived at the top of the scent mountain.

    This monk was in reality onlya transformation of Miao Shan. Indeed, after her exile and years of spiritual practice, she had become a Bodhisattva. Very attentive to all that surrounded her, she had then heard about her dying father and had hastened to transform into a monk to go and advise him.

    Once at the temple, the King's messenger was received by Miao Shan in person who told him that this disease was a punishment for the past sins of the King. She added however that being his daughter, she had to help him and then removed her eyes and cut off her arms so that the messenger could bring them to the King.

    The monk was then able to prepare the elixir in order to heal the King. This very happy one thanked the monk, who answered him simply "Instead, thank the person who made this sacrifice to save you."

    This is how the King went to the top of the perfumed mountain and was very surprised to find his daughter there, without arms and without eyes, presiding over hundreds of disciples. He then became aware of the suffering his daughter had inflicted on him. Miao Shan, indulgent invited her to henceforth live with compassion and practice Buddhism.

    Some legends say that at that moment there was a flash of light who surrounded them as she transformed into a divine image of Boshisattva with restored eyes and arms.

    Regular transformations

    A lot of popular legends talk about Guan Yin transformations in modest characters. Indeed, it was apparently a way for her tohelp people in difficulty. There are several stories about sailors and fishermen. She is notably venerated as their patron saint and is represented in this case with a wicker basket.

    A story goes that Guan Yin arrived in the form of a young and pretty fisherwoman in a village which was in the grip of a gang of thugs. The leader of the gang immediately fell in love. Wishing to marry her, Guan Yin first invited him to memorize the Buddhist scriptures, eat no more meat, and do good deeds. This is how the village became calm again and everyone knew the benevolence that reigned there.

    The 8 forms of Guanyin

    Guanyin Bodhisattva Statue - Pinewood - 8 Guanyin Shapes

    A true figure of Chinese literature

    Chinese literature includes several great classics, including one: "Pilgrimage to the West" which tells the story of the monk Xuan Zang of the Tang dynasty and his three disciples, who left for India to seek sutras. In this novel, Guan Yin is one of the main characters.

    In this story, Guan Yin above all wish to make them fix their mistakes and help them progress on the spiritual path.

    It is presented as being the key to all solutions, the one capable of solving many problems.

    Only one thing to remember: "it only helps those who lead a life full of kindness, honesty and mercy".


    Its physical aspect

    Physical characteristics

    In the majority of performances, you will find her mainly dressed in a long white dress, standing on a lotus leaf or sitting in meditation. She holds a willow branch in one hand and a Jade vase in the other.

    Other representative symbols: she has skin as white as milk and she wears a bun.

    In China, Guanyin is portrayed as a woman, unlike India. This deserves to be specified since it is something very rare in Buddhism. In Japan, we find this woman, but still with some masculine traits.

    Sometimes even with a thousand eyes and a thousand arms ...

    This is another version of the meeting of Miao Shan with his father on the scent mountain. Some legends say that during the flash of light, Guanyin would then have manifested with a thousand eyes and a thousand arms.

    So you can find representations of Guan Yin with multiple eyes and multiple arms.

    Avalokiteshvara (Guanyin) Buddha Statue in Copper

    Avalokiteshvara (Guanyin) Buddha Statue in Copper


    We are already coming to the end of this article, hope you enjoyed it. Rest assured, we will meet again next Tuesday for new adventures.

    As always, I invite you to ask us all your questions or give us your comments directly in the comments of this article.

    If you've read other legends, if you've seen another version that you think is just as interesting to share, it's up to you, don't hesitate!

    Until then, see you next week!

    2 Responses

    Maes Claudine

    Maes Claudine

    February 20, 2020

    Merci infiniment pour ces poétiques informations….précieuses à mon cœur… Heureuse année 2020 à vous 🙏🕊



    August 19, 2018

    Merci de toutes ces informations ‘’avait vous des bracelets ou tout ce qui touche a guan yin étant pratiquants de guan yin Citta’‘moi ’’veuillez me tenir informé merci

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