Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Who is Kwan Yin (Quan Yin)

I first met Kwan Yin, bodhisattva of compassion, in the Neslon Atkins art Museum in Kansas City of all places.

Kwan Yin statue
Guan Yin
I consider her to be a sort of guiding spirit for my life and never pass up an opportunity to have my picture taken with her or at least get a good picture of her:

kwan yin statue, macau
Kuan Yin on Macau

Kwan Yin statue Hong Kong art Museum
Me very tired but Hanging with Quan Yin in the Hong Kong Art Museum

But who is Kwan Yin and why is she so cool?

It's maybe easiest to think of Kwan Yin as a female version of the Buddha.  She's a bodhisattva, which is to say she's a being who, like the Buddha, has seen through the veil of life but, rather than enter Nirvana immediately, she decided to wait and help others on the path.  She is waiting until all beings are free of suffering before she herself will release the last of her bonds to the Earthly plane.

Nice that someone would be looking out for us like this.  She is a subtle but constant presence in Hong Kong where Buddhism is common.  You'll find shrines to her at major temples and the odd doorway, and she appears frequently in the local art.

I don't really understand her relationship to the Buddha.  The Buddha was a very real person and Quan Yin is part of the religion that grew up around his teachings.  I think she makes Buddhism more accessible in some ways.  The culture of the Buddha's day, was so male dominated that even the enlightened one was hesitant to allow the existence of nuns.  Maybe Kwan Yin is a balancing response in Buddhism.  Through her we can see the opportunity for enlightenment shared equally between men and women.

I was captured as a child by the serene power of the Kuan Yin in Kansas City and have always held a special place for her in my heart.  I suppose it is the child in me that still seeks the caring woman who will hold me while I grow.  It was a home coming of sorts for me to travel to Hong Kong to a place where the ideals of Kwan Yin are celebrated openly.   Thank you Kwan Yin.  Thank you Hong Kong.

*Small update.  When I told Minxi I had written about Kwan Yin, she made two comments that I thought were worth sharing.  First she told me that Kwan Yin was originally a male.  Second, she told me that she is widely viewed as a fertility Goddess in China.  If you are having trouble making a baby, an offering to Kwan Yin is in order.   Good luck.

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