Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Who is the "Goddess of Mercy" Kwan Yin?

Buddhanet.net; CC Liu, Dhr. Seven, Amber Larson, Seth Auberon (eds.), Wisdom Quarterly
Avalokiteshvara as Kwan Yin the Bodhisattva of Compassion (vaniaragageles/flickr.com)

Kwan Yin (nee Avalokiteshvara), the Buddhist Goddess of Compassion (Vinayakh/flickr.com)

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The Bodhisattva of Great Compassion
Buddhanet.net edited and expanded by Wisdom Quarterly
Kwan Yin overtakes the Buddha in popularity from time to time, like the cult of the Virgin Mary eclipsing Jesus. Wat Huai Pla Kung Temple, Thailand (Apisak Kanjanapusit/flickr.com).
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Avalokiteshvara, Deva of Compassion (Adrian Evans)
The Sanskrit word Avalokiteshvara means "the lord who looks down upon the world with compassion [to hear the cries of the world]." It originally referred to a deva or god inherited from pre-Buddhist sources.

Translated into Chinese, the name is "Kwan Shih Yin," "Guanyin Goddess of Mercy," or "Quan Yin," which breaks down to these three elements:
  • Kwan: observe.
  • Shih: the world/realm of sufferers.
  • Yin: all the sounds of the world, in particular, the crying sounds of beings, verbal or mental, seeking help and succor.
The Goddess (devi) Kwan Yin Bodhisattva (a being who vows then strives to attain supreme enlightenment to help all other beings) is the evolution of the deva Avalokiteshvara, the embodiment of great compassion. She has vowed to free all sentient beings from suffering.

The 31 (not 6) Planes of Existence in 3 spheres
Kwan Yin/Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva has great powers to help all sentient beings. With limitless skillful means (upaya) this goddess/deva can appear in any form on all six planes of the Sensual Sphere (Kama Loka) of existence to relieve the suffering of the sentient beings living here.

This sphere includes the lower sensual "heavens" (kama-deva-lokas) in space, the human world (manusya loka) on this and other planets, and the subhuman worlds of the Downward Path such as that of animals (tiracchana), avians (garudas), ogres (yakkhas) and titans (asuras) sometimes regarded as "demons," reptilians/dragons (nagas), woodland-fairies (bhumi-devas), ghosts (petas), gnomes (kumbandhas), and hellions (narakas) in various miserable hells/purgatories. (See Buddhist cosmology).

Former Pope John Paul II greets Mother Teresa of Calcutta, India as they meet in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican Corporation. She will be made a "saint" on Sept. 4, 2016. Current Pope Francis set the canonization date on March 15, 2016, paving the way for the nun who cared for the poorest of the poor in India to become the centerpiece of his yearlong focus on the Catholic Church's "merciful" PR image (L'Osservatore Romano/file/pool photo via AP).
 
Good Mother Mary, Divine Feminine (ZF)
Avalokiteshvara once vowed to rescue all who call on him when they are suffering as, for example, when caught in fire, shipwrecked, or facing attack. Kwan Yin does the same and in Mahayana Buddhism holds a place akin to the Virgin Mary, a merciful mother-figure, Goddess of Compassion.
  • Mahayana Buddhism is a kind of "universalism" or catholicism in Asia. It takes much from popular-Hinduism because early Chinese Buddhists who wished to find out more about the Buddhism that arrived in China sent missionaries to India, which by then had been retaken over by Brahmanism and the old Vedic religion that preceded the Buddha. This is in spite of the fact that the Buddha rejected or corrected many Vedic beliefs and doctrines that later became the basis of Hinduism, which only came into existence much later when Sri Sankhara created it by systematizing disparate views and schools influenced by the Vedas and Buddhism. But Sri Sankhara ejected Buddhism as a foreign influence, who was not from India or South Asia but from the frontier dividing East and West, Scythia (Afghanistan) in Central Asia. Hindus then placed the Buddha in the Indian Pantheon ignoring more of what he taught.
Kwan Yin is much more comely and pleasing than beautiful Avalokiteshvara.
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The deva AvalokiteĊ›vara (wiki)
In the apocryphal Mahayana "Lotus Sutra," the historical Shakyamuni Buddha is said to say that if a suffering being hears the name of Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva and earnestly calls out to the bodhisattva, Avalokiteshvara will hear the call and relieve that being's suffering.
 
[This is not at all likely the kind of thing the historical Buddha would have ever said, but it is a message that uses the Buddha to support a popular universalist message rather than the one he actually taught.]
 
According to the "Huayen Sutra," Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva transforms himself into a she or various forms to suit the nature of those to be helped. His manifestations or transformation bodies are limitless.
 
For example, if a boy or girl is about to gain some measure of enlightenment, Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva transforms into a boy or girl to teach the child. This ability to shapeshift, that is, adopt a desired appearance, is a common ability of devas and humans who have developed the psychic powers (abhinnas).
 
Bigger than life devotion: Devi Kwan Yin/Guanyin/Avalokiteshvara/Virg Yin Mary, Mother Goddess, Bodhisattva ("Buddha-to-be") of Compassion (billcoo/flickr.com)
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Goddesses: Taras, Dharanis, Devis
 For example, if a monastic is about to attain some measure of enlightenment, Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva transforms into a monk or nun to help.
 
In short, Kwan Yin/Avalokiteshvara can appear as a child, boy, girl, monastic, monk, nun, or ordinary person like you or me. The purpose of such transformations is to establish rapport and put people at ease to make them feel secure and willing to listen.
 
Whereas Japan sees him as male, in China, Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva is represented as female, a beautiful form known as Kwan Yin or Guanyin.

Likely because of Kwan Yin's great compassion, a quality which is traditionally labelled feminine, most of the bodhisattva's statues in China since the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907) have appeared as female figures. In India and elsewhere, however, the bodhisattva is generally represented as a male figure.

In her hands, Kwan Yin may hold a willow branch, a vase with water or, occasionally, a lotus flower.

Om mani padme hum (Tashi Mannox/tibetanlife)
The willow branch is used to heal people's illnesses, allay their pain (willow as analgesic and main ingredient of natural aspirin), or bring fulfillment to their requests.

The water -- the dew of compassion -- has the quality of removing suffering, purifying the defilements from our hearts, mind, and bodies, our speech and thoughts, and lengthening life.

Kwan Yin, Theravada Buddhist Thailand, Wat Plai Laem, Ko Samui (sandrobisaro.com)
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Hindu deity or Kwan Yin?
In Buddhist art, Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva is sometimes shown with 11 heads, 1000 hands with eyes on the palms of each hand (as is common in Hindu art for the Thousand-Armed Avalokiteshvara).
 
The 1,000 eyes allow the deva/bodhisattva to see the suffering of sentient beings, and the 1000 hands that allow her to reach out to help them.

Sacred Mt. Putuo, China
Sometimes represented with one head and four arms, the Four-Armed Avalokiteshvara is worshiped by Tibetans as Chenrezig, the "Holder of the White Lotus."
 
The male form holds two hands in the anjali mudra, or praying gesture, while the other two hands hold two symbols, the crystal rosary and the lotus flower (which symbolizes wisdom and insight).
 
There is a sacred place for the honoring of Kwan Yin in China: Mount Putuo. It is actually an island located near the city of Ningpo, in Zhejiang Province. There are many stories of Kwan Yin's miraculous appearances on Mt. Putuo.

The real Goddess of Mercy
Me, too? Could I be Kwan Yin?
Anyone can be like Kwan Yin -- a living being spreading compassion, mercy, and succor.
 
We may say that we lack 1,000 eyes or arms or skillful means. But it is our compassion (karuna) that can transforms us into an Avalokita, Avalokiteshvara, or Kwan Yin.

With our very own eyes and hands, which are much more precious than we usually imagine, we can help others. With our compassion, we have the power to bring peace and tranquility to this and other worlds. More

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