A Buddhist and Taoist goddess, bodhisattva i.e. the soul which has already broken away from saṃsāra, a wheel of incarnations, and yet made a conscious decision not to fall into the state of nirvana, but to remain among people to help them to release themselves from fears and egoistic thinking. Kuan Yin is a goddess of compassion for Buddhists and Immortal according to Taoistic beliefs. Her name is written in various ways (Kuan Yin, Quan Yin, Kwan Yin, Guan Yin, Guanyin, Kwannon*) and it means The One Who Hears the Cries of the World.
It has to be said that Buddhism is not the sort of religion teaching that there are some divine spirits which created the world and keep it in order just like most religions do. It does not mean that supernatural powers do not exist in Buddhism, it simply means that there is no strict division between people and gods because everything depends on the way of acting. Depending on your behaviour you can either move down in the wheel of incarnations or move up thus it is possible for a human being to acquire divine abilities thanks to the development, meditation and compassion. Despite geographical and cultural distance the Buddhist and Taoist legends about Kuan Yin amazingly resemble the ones of Christian saints.
The stories about Kuan Yin are numerous. She is generally perceived as a female form of Avalokiteśvara, the bodhisattva of compassion (bodhisattva may adapt any form, gender and age in order to help as many souls as possible). Even though she belongs to the religion which originates from India, she is most popular in China where she is worshipped both in Buddhism and Taoism. One of the myths says that Kuan Yin promised not to give up until she releases all the creatures from saṃsāra, however despite her great efforts there was still too many unhappy people. When she was trying to comprehend how to help them, her head shattered into eleven pieces. To help her Buddha gave her eleven heads so that she could hear all the cries of suffering but when she was trying to reach out her arms to help all the creatures who needed her, her arms became so busy that they shattered from being overloaded. Therefore Buddha gave her one thousand arms in order she could act successfully and in certain areas she is worshipped as Kuan Yin Of a Thousand Arms:
Many Buddhists believe that when they die, it is Kuan Yin who places their souls in the lotus flower and sends them to the land of Sukhāvatī.
In China she is widely known as Miao Shan who was born as a mortal woman in the royal family. When she grew up, her father Miao Chuang Yen decided to marry her to an influencial but soulless man. Miao Shan agreed obediently to do it on the condition that this marriage will relieve suffering caused by ageing, diseases and death. Her future husband was not capable to do it so a young princess decided to concentrate on religion and become a nun. Her father forced her to perform hard manual labour as a punishment and limited her food and water rations but this did not break her resistance. Miao Shan kept begging her father to let her stay in the convent instead of forcing her to marry and he eventually agreed. However, he commanded the monks to give his daughter the tasks she would not be able to accomplish to make her come back to the royal palace. This plan failed because Miao Shan was such a good girl that animals living in the neighbourhood were coming to the convent to help her in the night. In desperation the king set the fire to the covenant but the princess managed to extinguish the fire with bare hands without suffering from any burns. The king was so frightened that he condemned her to death. There are a couple of versions of what happened next.
The first version says that when she was about to be executed, a supernatural tiger carried her soul off to hell where demons surrounded her immediately to punish her as they always do with newcomers. However, Miao Shan played an instrument and the flowers started to blossom all around which completely surprised the demons. In fact simple appearance of the princess made hell turn into paradise. The second version speaks of how Miao Shan allowed the executor to kill her in order not to expose him to king’s anger. But no weapon wanted to deprive her of life: both axe and sword shattered into pieces when they touched her body and arrows intentionally missed the target. In the end the executioner understood that he had to kill Miao Shan with his own hands. When he was about to strangle her, the princess forgave him and took the karma for his deed as her own burden and this explains why she had to go to hell. When she saw the amount of suffering there, she was struck with such grief that she released all the good karma she had gathered throughout her numerous incarnations. This made so many souls free and completely recreated hell into heaven that its ruler Yanlou had no choice but to send her back to Earth to prevent further destruction of his realm. She appeared back near Fragrant Mountain which is her sacred place. Another version of this story says that Miao Shan did not die at all but instead was brought to the Fragnant Mountain by the tiger.
So how does this story end? Well, Miao Shan’s father fell ill with jaundice and no doctor could heal him. But then suddenly a monk appeared and revealed that the only medicine that would make the king healthy again was a mixture of an arm and an eye of a person completely deprived of anger who lived on Fragrant Mountain. When the ruler sent his servants to ask if she could sacrifice her body parts, Miao Shan agreed immediately to help her father. Miao Chuang Yen recovered indeed and went himself to Fragrant Mountain to express his gratitude personally. He was amazed when he discovered that the person who sacrificed herself was his own daughter. Begging for forgiveness he built a temple on the top of the mountain together with his wife and two remaining daughters. Miao Shan has become Kuan Yin of a Thousand Arms and ascended into heavens but on her way she heard weeping and looking from above she realized the magnitude of suffering. She decided to stay and she made an oath that she would not surrender until all the agonies stop. She settled down on the island Mount Putuo (Putuoshan) where she was meditating and helping sailors and fishermen to get back on the shore (she is believed to calm the waves down next to sharp rocks to protect boats and ships and that is why she is considered to be a patroness of the seamen).
Another popular myth about Kuan Yin is the one about a lame boy named Sudhana (Shan Tsai in Chinese version). He was a young boy so eager to study Buddhism that when he found out about an excellent teacher who lived on the Putuo island, he set off the journey to get there. When he arrived and talked to Kuan Yin, she was very much impressed by his willpower which enabled him reaching so distant place despite physical disability. However, she decided to try him and made an illusion of three pirates running towards her with swords and pushing her down the cliff. Sudhana limped towards the cliff too and fell down trying to save her but Kuan Yin stopped him half way thanks to her power, put him down on the ground and told him to walk ahead. It turned out that he was able to walk like a healthy man and when he looked into a pool of water, he noticed that he also became handsome. From that day Kuan Yin started to teach him the rules of Buddhism.
Many years later the son of King of Dragons, the ruler of the sea, was caught in the fishing net after he had assumed the form of a fish. While being on the land he was unable to turn into a dragon again and mighty as he was his father had no power over the land and could not help him. The prince wept piteously that he got stuck in another dimension and his cry penetrated both heaven and earth. Kuan Yin heard it and sent Shan Tsai to buy the fish. Her disciple soon realised where the fish was because it became the main attraction of a local fair as it remained alive long after being caught. People thought that eating such fish would provide them immortality and began fighting for it. Shan Tsai was begging the seller to spare the amazing fish but this made the crowd even more angry. Then the voice of Kuan Yin came from far reaching, stating that life belongs to the one who protects it, not to the one who destroys it. Hearing these words people understood their mistake and the crowd dispersed. Shan Tsai was able to take the fish to his teacher and she let it free into the sea where the prince transformed into a dragon. The ruler of the sea was so happy to have his son back that he sent his granddaughter Lung Nü (Dragon – Girl) to Kuan Yin with the Pearl of Light, a precious jewel which kept shining permanently from the inside. Lung Nü was so amazed by bodhisattva that she asked if she could become her disciple and Kuan Yin agreed on the condition that she would be the owner of the Pearl of Light. This is why the goddess herself is often depicted with a basket of fish and accompanied by children, Shan Tsai and Lung Nü. Shan Tsai is presented with his palms joint and knees slightly bent to remind that he was once crippled while Lung Nü is holding either a bowl or an ingot as a symbol of the Pearl of Light.
Not only people wanted Kuan Yin to teach them. Just as in the case of St Francis animals liked her, too. One day a little parrot went out to search for her mother’s favourite food but was caught and trapped by a hunter. When she finally set free, she discovered that her mother had died of hunger. She was weeping and she arranged a beautiful funeral for her and later she went to Kuan Yin to become her disciple. Goddess is sometimes depicted with a white parrot hovering to the right side of her with either a pearl or a prayer bead in its beak as a sign of love to parents.
Kuan Yin was very ingenious in finding the ways to help people. When she found out that the inhabitants of Quanzhou in province Fujian could not afford to build a bridge, she turned into a beautiful woman, got into a boat and offered to marry the man who was able to hit her with a silver coin while standing on the edge of the river. Because many tried it and missed, she soon gathered a large sum of money in the boat and the river.
Kuan Yin is very popular among Chinese Buddhists as a source of unconditional love and a saviour because in her bodhisattva vows she promised to answer every cry which will help to release a soul from its karmic vows. Some schools of Buddhism believe that Kuan Yin is not really a separate being full of compassion and love but the energy of compassion and love itself thus people who behave in non – egoistic and empathetic way are simply called guanyin. One of the main texts of Buddhism is the Heart Sutra which is not based on Buddha’s teachings but is attributed to Avalokiteśvara/Kuan Yin, the famous quote Form is emptiness, emptiness is form is included in this text. Kinara, main divine protector of Shaolin Monastery, was considered to be an incarnation of Kuan Yin. As a symbol of compassion she is also closely associated with vegetarianism, Chinese vegetarian restaurants are often decorated with her image. Chinese buddhists both in country and diaspora consider her to be a guardian of women and children** and believe she can grant a child to the parents who ask. A woman should offer a borrowed shoe in the temple of Kuan Yin and when the expected child is born, mother should take her shoe back and leave a pair of new shoes as a gift of gratitude. Kuan Yin also has the features of earth goddess because after a great flood she sent a dog with the grains of rice so that human beings could grow the plant and have food to eat. She is believed to be both a protectress of the unfortunate, the sick, the disabled, the poor, people in trouble and the goddess of luck and fortune. She is more and more often asked for protection during flights. In Asia it is not uncommon to come across syncretic images merging Kuan Yin with Saint Mary (the way of presenting them – a woman and a child – is similar). When Christianity was banned in Japan, some clandestine Christian groups were venerating Mary in disguise of Kuan Yin.
IMAGES, SYMBOLS AND ANIMALS
Kuan Yin is usually presented as a beautiful woman wearing white robes, sometimes with a royal necklace. She is sitting nobly and her eyes are lowered down to show that she is protecting the world. The goddess is holding a jar with fresh water in her left hand and a willow bough in the right one. There are also numerous versions of her local representations such as Kuan Yin of the South Sea where she is holding a basket with fish. Another popular image is Kuan Yin standing on a dragon accompanied with a white parrot and with Shan Tsai and Lung Nü standing by her side (or interchangeably a warrior Guan Yu, a historical figure from Three Kingdoms Period and another bodhisattva Skanda).
Positive: A person shown in this card is noble, high – minded and empathetic. This is someone who has an inner sense of justice, who believes deeply in what they do and whose thoughts are reflected in the way they behave. An opinion of others or material goods are not essential for such person. Their most common activity is working in an animal shelter or in a hospice or attending a peaceful manifestation for freedom or civil rights for oppressed. This person is often a vegetarian or a vegan.
Negative: a person who cannot refuse help and as a result takes the burdens of others on their own back. Someone with strong beliefs who does not accept the truths of other people.
Professions: teacher, volunteer, guardian, carer, priest/priestess or nun.
In the situation you are inquiring you should be gentle with yourself and others. Show sympathy. Listen to your protagonist even if you disagree. Do not judge. Do not try to be absolutely perfect. Do not expect too much from others. Forgive yourself and those around you what you have done or have not done. Open your own heart if you want people to love you. Do not be suspicious and think about people in a positive way. Avoid gossiping and talking behind someone’s back.
Sometimes you have to do something against social, logical and rational rules.
Do not compromise when it comes to doing good.
May your thoughts, words and deeds be one.
If you are in the relationship: possible problems caused by lack of understanding. Showing your partner love and listening to them may be a solution. Admitting you made a mistake or recognising at least some of your partner’s reasons is not something to be ashamed of, it is a sign of maturity.
If you are single: rather platonic than sensual love. Unfulfilled love. Being single by choice.
Do not expect big financial profits at the moment. This card suggests you rather appreciate positive working environment or try to amend it. Share what you have and support those in need.
You are overloading your body. You are not providing your organism with sufficient amount of nutrients. Strong influence of mind on body. Pay attention to circulatory system, especially in limbs. Possible amputation. Endangered parts of the body: heart and circulatory system.
Kuan Yin appears in all the decks I have come across, however none of these images is really adequate to her archetypal representations and personally I am not convinced by any of these cards.
Kuan Yin in Goddesses of the New Light by Pamela Matthews (I think it is the most beautiful image of all the decks)
Kuan Yin in The Goddess Oracle by Hrana Janto&Amy Sophia Marashinsky
Kuan Yin in The Goddess Wisdom Cards by Jill Fairchild, Regina Schaare & Sandra M. Stanton
Kuan Yin in The Goddesses Knowledge Cards by Susan Seddon Boulet&Michael Babcock
Kuan Yin in Oracle of the Goddess by Anna Franklin&Paul Mason
Kuan Yin in The Oracle of the Goddess by Gayan Sylvie Winter&Jo Dosé
Kuan Yin in The Goddess Oracle Deck by Thalia Took
Kuan Yin in Goddess Card Pack by Juni Parkhurst
Kuan Yin in Goddess Guidance Oracle Cards by Doreen Virtue
Kuan Yin in Ascended Masters Oracle Cards by Doreen Virtue
Kuan Yin in Goddess: A New Guide to Feminine Wisdom by River Huston&Patricia Languedoc
Kuan Yin in Goddesses&Sirens by Stacey Demarco&Jimmy Manton
Kuan Yin in The Goddess Power Pack by Cordelia Brabbs
Kuan Yin in Goddess Inspiration Oracle and in The Goddess Tarot by Kris Waldherr where she rather arguably represents the Major Arcane of Hanged Man
Kuan Yin in Universal Goddess Tarot by Maria Caratti&Antonella Platano, again I cannot agree with assigning her to the element of Fire (this burning convent is a poor association, Kuan Yin should be presented in the element of Water as the King of Cups)
Based on English Wikipedia.
*If you are interested in variety of her name’s versions, please check English Wikipedia.
**Pay attention to her name, ‘yin’ is a female element in the symbol of yin&yang.