Guanyin

Deity
Guanyin, Guanzizai, or Guanshiyin—‘the One who looks at the World and [Hears] its Cries’—is the Chinese name for Avalokitesvara, the Indian bodhisattva of wisdom and compassion, the unfailing saviour of all living as well as dead beings. The reputation of this bodhisattva spread in China and gave birth to many legends about his miracles. Guanyin is part of the Pure Land eschatology of Amitabha’s Western Paradise and is preponderant in the Lotus Sutra (ch. 24).
Until the Tang dynasty, Guanyin was represented as a young man, sometimes with a moustache. Since the late Tang and beginning of the Song, however, Guanyin has appeared as a female deity through several avatars, according to different cults and traditions. The Chinese provided her with distinctive life stories, each anchored in a different part of China. In Xiangshan (Henan), she lived an embodied life as Princess Miaoshan and, after having sacrificed her arm and eyes to save her father, she revealed herself to be the thousand-armed thousand-eyed ‘Dabei’, the All-Compassionate One. This has formed the mainstream of her legends since the twelfth century. But she also appears as ‘Mr Ma’s Wife’ (Malang fu), as ‘Guanyin with Chained Bones’ (Souku Guanyin) and as ‘Guanyin with Fish-Basket’ (Yulan Guanyin), an appealing fishmonger on Mount Nanwutai (Shaanxi), where she entered Nirvana.
In the Monastery of Upper Tianzhu, in Hangzhou, where the cult arrived after the revelation of a ‘precious scroll’ (baozhuan) to a monk called Pumin (stele erected in 1104), she is the ‘White-Robed Guanyin’ (Baiyi Guanyin). She is famous there for averting natural disasters (floods, plagues and locusts), but also for the oracles she transmits to pilgrims in dreams. Today this kind of temple incubation and divinatory or therapeutic dream sent by the goddess can still be observed in different places in China. All texts connected with ‘White-Robed Guanyin’ contain powerful mantras. These elements are connected with the tantric aspect of Avalokitesvara-Guanyin. Guanyin is also a goddess capable of granting children. Women who want to conceive a child ask for her help. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries she was represented as ‘Guanyin who Gives Children’ (Songzi Guanyin), a white-robed woman holding a baby in her arms. Finally, on the island of Putuoshan, the Chinese Potalaka, off the coast of Zhejiang, she is called ‘Guanyin of the South Sea’ (Nanhai Guanyin). Putuoshan is identified with Xiangshan. From the twelfth century, Guanyin is represented there with her two attendants, Sudhana (Shan Cai) and Dragon Princess (Long-nü), and also sometimes with a white parrot carrying a rosary. Putuoshan is still very active today as a pilgrimage site where she used to preach the Dharma. She still appears in visions to the faithful in the Cave of Tidal Sound or in the Purple Bamboo Grove.
Guanyin can choose to appear in many different forms in order to save human beings: she is the terrifying exorcizer Dashi, as well as a beautiful woman holding a willow branch and a vase of pure water or ambrosia. Her identity as the deity who answers all prayers is informed by these different myths and images. Her cult is celebrated on Miaoshan’s birthday, the nineteenth day of the second month, and on the day of Guanyin’s enlightenment, the nineteenth day of the sixth month (see Buddhist calendar), as well as on the occasion of the Qingming Festival and Ghost Festival, for the rescue of bad deaths.
Guanyin should also be viewed in connection with other female Chinese deities: Tianhou or Mazu (the Queen of Heaven; see Mazu), Bixia yuanjun (the Goddess of Azure Cloud) and Wusheng laomu (the Never-Born Mother). All of them had close bonds with different localities in their genesis, but came to enjoy a regional and even national cult following. They have their own mythology but also often claim to be related to Guanyin or to be her incarnation, like Chen Jinggu (Linshui furen) in Fujian (see Lüshan jiao (Sannai jiao)) whose mythology connects her with the episode of the building of the Loyang bridge by Guanyin. She would have been conceived through a drop of blood of the bodhisattva swallowed by her mother. Most of the time Guanyin is represented in the temples of these goddesses. They all embody different aspects of womanhood and ‘motherliness’ and also different religious and ritual traditions (Buddhist, Tantric or Daoist) syncretically. Women used to get together to recite Guanyin’s sutra, and she may possess mediums to deliver oracles.
In Chinese mythology, the ‘Horse-headed Guanyin’ (Hayagriva; Matou Guanyin) is also connected with the breeding of silkworms. Interesting themes appear through the cult of Guanyin, like her sexual transformation and a display of a rich and, at first sight, paradoxical sexual symbolism: refusal of marriage and filial piety, virginity and motherliness, chastity and sexual promiscuity as a homeopathic therapy to free men of sexual desire by satisfying them ‘once and for all’ (Yulan Guanyin) in a kind of conversion by love, assumed or denied. The theme of the visualization, and of the care taken by the goddess to create her own miraculous image, or to have the faithful carve, paint icons or incubate dreams in front of them is also very important. This iconography as well as folk literature (precious scrolls), plays and novels (Journey to the West) also played an important role in the spread of the cult.
See also: temple fairs

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Guanyin —   [»die Töne (der Welt) Hörende(r)«], Kuan yin, Guanshiyin [ ʃi ], Kuan shih yin, Sonderform des bei Gefahren und zur Erlangung von Kindersegen angeflehten Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara im chinesischen Buddhismus. Bis etwa im 9. Jahrhundert als… …   Universal-Lexikon

  • Guānyīn — Holzstatue, spätere Liao Dynastie, Provinz Shanxi Guanyin (chin. 觀音 / 观音, Guānyīn, W. G. Kuan yin) ist im ostasiatischen Mahayana Buddhismus ein weiblicher Bodhisattva des …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Guanyin — Holzstatue, spätere Liao Dynastie, Provinz Shanxi Guanyin (chinesisch 觀音 / 观音 Guānyīn, W. G. Kuan yin) ist im ostasiatischen Mahayana Bud …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Guanyin — Original name in latin Guanyin Name in other language Guanyin, Guanyin Zhen, guan yin, guan yin zhen State code CN Continent/City Asia/Shanghai longitude 32.90051 latitude 110.36785 altitude 196 Population 0 Date 2013 06 04 …   Cities with a population over 1000 database

  • Guanyin — 24° 50′ 40″ N 121° 12′ 19″ E / 24.844493, 121.205396 Guanyin (峨眉鄉) est une co …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Guanyin — /gwahn yin /, n. Buddhism. Kwan yin. * * *       in Chinese Buddhism, the bodhisattva of infinite compassion and mercy. See Avalokiteśvara. * * * …   Universalium

  • guānyīn — [ref dict= Universal (Ch Ru) ]观音[/ref] …   Chinese phonetic list

  • Guanyin — /gwahn yin /, n. Buddhism. Kwan yin …   Useful english dictionary

  • Guanyin, Taoyuan — Guanyin (觀音) is a rural township in western Taoyuan County, Taiwan Province of the Republic of China. Guanyin is also the name of a god in Taoism in Taiwan.* Area: 87.98 km² * Population: 59,863 people (2003) …   Wikipedia

  • Guanyin Statue of Hainan — The Guanyin Statue of Hainan, also known as Guan Yin of the South Sea of Sanya, is a 108 metre tall statueof the bodhisattva Guan Yin, sited on the south coast of China s island province Hainanin the Nanshan Culture Tourism Zone near the Nanshan… …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.