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Guan Yin

Guan Yin (觀音菩薩, Pinyin: Guānyīn Ps, literal meaning: "The bodhisattva who observes the sounds (of the people from the secular world)"), also written Kuan Yin, Kwan Yin, Kwan-yin and Kwun Yam, is a bodhisattva of compassion, worshipped by East Asian Buddhists. Developed from Avalokitesvara or Avalokiteshvara (The word avalokita means "seeing or gazing down" and isvara means "lord" in Sanskrit). It is also called kan'non-bosatsu in Japanese and is often referred to as kan'non-sama with respect.

Table of contents
1 History
2 Legend
3 Te-Guan-Yin


From pre-Hinduism, Avalokitesvara's worship was introduced into China (as Kuan-yin) as early as the 1st century AD, and reached Japan (called Kannon 観音) by way of Korea soon after Buddhism was first introduced into the country from the mid-7th century. This bodhisattva was introduced into Tibet (called Chenrezig) in the 7th century

Representations of the bodhisattva in China prior to the Song Dynasty (960-1279) were masculine in appearance. Images later displayed attributes of both genders is believed to be in accordance with the Lotus Sutra where Avalokitesvara has the supernatural power of assuming any form required to relieve suffering and also has the power to grant children. Because this bodhisattva is considered the personification of compassion and kindness, a mother-goddess and patron of mothers and seamen, the representation in China was further interpreted in an all female form around the 12th century. In China, it is said that fishermen used to pray to her to ensure safe voyages. The titles 'Guanyin of the Southern Ocean' and 'Guanyin (of/on) the Island' stem from this tradition.

In Tibet Avalokitesvara is often portrayed with a thousand arms, each hand with an eye in it, symbolising the seeing and reaching out to help those in distress. In China however Avalokitesvara is more usually represented as a beautiful white robed woman.


One Buddhist legend presents Avalokitesvara as vowing to never rest until he had freed all sentient beings from samsara. Although with strenuously effort, he realized that still many unhappy beings were yet to be saved. After comprehending the great demand, he became overwhelmed and his head split into thousands of pieces. Fortunately, a Buddha assembled him back together again. With eleven heads gazing to the front and sides, Avalokiteshvara possesses the unique gift to see everywhere at once and reach out to the needy.

Another story describes her origin as the daughter of a cruel father who wanted her to marry a wealthy but uncaring man. She begged to be able to enter a temple instead. Her father allowed her, but asked the monks to give her very hard chores in order to discourage her. She was forced to work all day and all night while others slept in in order to finish her work. However, she was such a good person that the animals living around the temple began to help her with her chores. Her father, seeing this, became so frustrated that he burned down the temple. Kwan Yin put out the fire with her bare hands and suffered no burns. Now struck with fear, her father ordered her to be put to death. After she died she was made into a goddess for all of her kindness and began her journey to heaven. She was about to cross over into heaven when she heard a cry of suffering back on earth. She asked to be sent back and vowed to stay until all suffering had ended.

Kwan Yin is associated across Asia with vegetarianism. Chinese vegetarian restaurants are generally decorated with her image, and she appears in most Buddhist vegetarian pamphlets and magazines.

Many observers have commented on the similarity between Guan Yin and the Blessed Virgin Mary.


There is a chinese oolong tea named Te-Guan-Yin (at one purveyor's) which has been translated as "Iron Goddess of Mercy".

There is a legend associated with this name. A peasant farmer often passed by an abandoned temple with an iron statue of Guanyin inside. Saddened by the lack of care, he took it upon himself to sweep and clean the temple whenever he passed by. In thanks, Guanyin visited the peasant in a dream and told him to look for treasure behind the temple. When he woke from the dream, he rushed to the rear of the temple and found a small tea shrub. The leaves of this shrub produced a particularly fragrant brew and the peasant became rich by cultivating and selling his "Iron Guanyin" tea.

See also: Buddhism in China