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LEXICON

 

 

Kuan Yin (觀音)

Chinese goddess of mercy, in Japan known as Kwannon and in Thailand as Phra Mae Kwan Im (fig.). According to legend Kuan Yin was born a princess, daughter of a Chinese emperor who was not a Buddhist and was furious to see his daughter’s devotion to Buddhism. Before her marriage, the princess freed several tortured prisoners and escaped from the palace. Many oppressed people followed her. When her father was gaining on them, a magic bridge appeared to save the princess and her followers. Soon her father became seriously ill and the doctor told her that the only cure included the arms and eyes of a virgin. With appreciation for her father, the princess decided to sacrifice herself, thus healing her father. With her willingness to help those in misery, people came to worship her as the goddess of mercy. As a lady, she is the female form of the male bodhisattva Avalokitesvara (fig.), the personification of compassion, from Mahayana Buddhism. As the female form of Avalokitesvara, she also wears the portrait of Amitabha in her headdress (fig.), and she is sometimes depicted with several arms (fig.), like the Radiating Avalokitesvara (fig.), a representation referred to as the Thousand-hands Kuan Yin (fig.), often with multiple arms and hands organized in a circle around her body and multiple heads piled on top of each other (fig.). Her many mounts include a huge Koi Carp (fig.) which is sometimes depicted with the head of a dragon (fig.) and that is able to subdue demons and malicious beings. Her other mounts also include a peacock, a male deer, a kilen (fig.) and any of the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac, with the dragon in particular. Akin to this goddesses' own compassionate nature, in Buddhism, fish (fig.) are generally likewise seen as symbols of eternally active compassion, which is represented by their ever-open eyes. Also spelled Kwan Yin. See also Tara (fig.) and compare with yin. Tamnak Phra Mae Kwan Im temple in Bangkok (fig.) is dedicated to her. The Puning Temple in Chengde, in China's Hebei Province, houses the world's largest wooden statue of Kuan Yin, which is made from 5 kinds of wood, i.e. pine, cypress, elm, fir, and linden, weighs 110 tons and has a height of 22.28 meters (fig.). Also transliterated Guan Yin.