Kuan Yin is the Chinese Goddess of Compassion and Mercy. It is not flippant to say that Kuan Yin is easily the nicest Goddess that I know. No issue, no hurt, no cry is too insignificant to elicit her assistance. As with the Virgin Mary, stories of Kuan Yin appearing to those in need are found throughout the world. This Thursday, March 16, we celebrate her birthday and it’s a great time to get connected to this Boddhisattva of Bliss!
As Sandy Boucher, the Buddhist teacher, explained to me, don’t be confused by the different spellings of her name. These are transliterations of the original Chinese characters: Quan Yin or Quanyin, Kwan Yin or Kwanyin, Kuan Yin or Kuanyin. In China her name is Guan ShihYin—She Who Hears the Cries of the World.
Kuan Yin and Avalokiteshwara are considered Boddhisattvas – beings who are the embodiment of compassion and have chosen to postpone the final stage of enlightenment in order to assist all sentient beings to attain wisdom and achieve liberation. Some of her early statue forms appear male or androgynous to denote her syncretization with Avalokiteshwara, or perhaps to mark a preliminary stage in the process of becoming female. By the 10th century, however, the transformation from male to female was complete.
From the ninth century, Kuan Yin spread across China and Japan and Korea. Her worship absorbed many other local female deities and nature spirits such as sea and childbirth Goddesses and mountain spirits. Her popularity may be attributed to the fact that Kuan Yin is a Goddess of the people – of the poor, the needy, and women. While the more patriarchal Buddhist religion looked upon her with disdain, she has been infused with and influenced by all of the religions and practices of the region: Taoism, Tibetan Buddhism (as influenced by Tara), Shintosim in Japan (as Kannon), Hinduism in India (as the multi-armed Shakti), Shamanism, Ancestor Worship and even spreading from the West on the Silk Road (as the Virgin Mary),and being syncretized in Lukumi (as the Orisha Oshun).
Kuan Yin is the calm in the storm, a beacon to the needy, the Mother who bends gracefully and willingly to respond to the fears of her children. She also can embody fierce compassion as she wields the sword to cut through delusion and expose the truth. All of the great temples to Kwan Yin tell of the miracles that have occurred in her name. The Universal Gateway Chapter of the Lotus Sutra, a major Buddhist text, offers a catalog of many of the emergency situations from which Kwan Yin can save us. They include:
“Suppose someone should conceive a wish to harm you,
should push you into a great pit of fire.
Think on the power of that Perceiver of Sounds [Kwan Yin]
And the pit of fire will change into a pond!”
“Suppose you are on the peak of Mount Sumaru [the holy mountain]
and someone pushes you off.
Think on the power of that Perceiver of Sounds
And you will hang in midair like the sun.”
While she is a miracle worker and savior, she is not a magician. Kuan Yin conforms to the Chinese ideology that you cannot change your past (karma), but you can change your fortune as there is always the possibility for change whether good or bad. One distinguishing mark of existence is the impermanence of all that lives, including ourselves, the continual emerging and falling away of life. In this context, compassionate acts can alter your fate, your destiny, and your fortune. Those seeking a fresh start may appeal to the Goddess of Compassion who will answer with what she has to work with—potential.
Kuan Yin is Compassion … Mercy … Love in Goddess form. Chanting her mantra “Om Mani Padme Hum” brings calm, healing, and an incredible unfolding of the heart chakra. This unfolding not only expands our capacity for love of others but (oh so importantly) love of ourselves. Kuan Yin is a Goddess who may be approached anytime and for any reason. Her mantras can be listened to or chanted daily, even hourly. When I need calm, I turn to this mantra and play it while I am working and writing.
“There is not a single aspect of the eighty-four thousand sections of the Buddha’s teachings which is not contained in Avalokiteshvara’s six syllable mantra “Om Mani Padme Hum”, and as such the qualities of the “mani” are praised again and again in the Sutras and Tantras…. Whether happy or sad, if we take the “mani” as our refuge… spontaneous devotion will arise in our minds and the Great Vehicle will effortlessly be realized.” – Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche
OM MANI PADME HUM
Translation: The Jewel is in the Heart of the Lotus or The Jewel of Consciousness has reached the Heart’s Lotus
OM: Seed sound of the Universe
MANI: Jewel – the intention to become enlightened, filled with compassion and love
PADME: Lotus – symbolizing wisdom and how the lotus grows from the mud but is not tarnished by the mud
HUM: representing the immovable, the indivisible
Meditation for Kuan Yin – allow for at least 30 minutes
Light some candles and incense on your personal altar.
Get into a comfortable seated position with your back nice and straight. Deep breathe for several minutes.
As you begin to relax, either begin to her mantra (108 times) or play one of the following and chant along:
Visualize the lotus in your heart chakra slowly and gently opening … unfolding. Allow the mantra to sink into your chakra and slowly unfold the petals of your heart lotus.
The more that you listen,the more effective the mantra is. Even being in the presence of the chanting of this mantra that has been chanted millions of times through hundreds of years is powerful.
After some time, sing with the music. Chant it. Practice chanting it yourself. If you are in a stressful situation, step back and repeat it even in your head to feel the benefits.
Use the mantra and the music in your daily meditations for the next few days. Notice how you respond and how it makes you feel.
Kuan Yin is not only the nicest Goddess that I know, she is the most accessible. We may approach her for an infusion of love, compassion, and kindness that is a boost anytime.
Resources for Kuan Yin
Online Course: Kwan Yin Revealed with Sandy Boucher and Kimberly Moore
She Appears! Encounters with Kwan Yin, Goddess of Compassion by Sandy Boucher
Discovering Kwan Yin by Sandy Boucher
Kuan Yin: Myths and Revelations of the Chinese Goddess of Compassion by Martin Palmer
The Kuan Yin Chronicles by Martin Palmer
Bodhisattva of Compassion by John Blofeld