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Kwan Yin

Mother of Mercy


by Estelle Daniels

Kwan Yin is one of the most widespread and variously depicted deities in India and China. She is also known as Guan Yin, Avalokita and Avalokiteshvara. She is a Bodhisattva, which means she achieved enlightenment yet chooses to stay in this plane of existence until all living beings have attained enlightenment also. Originally a Hindu deity, she also became a Buddhist Bodhisattva and was brought to China through Tibet during the Tang dynasty. She also appears in Japan and throughout Southeast Asia.

Kwan Yin is usually shown as a woman sitting or standing on a lotus. She has a serene expression, and is called the Mother of Mercy. She is the personification of compassion and love. She protects all women and children, and especially pregnant women and women in childbirth. She is the compassionate, the reliever of suffering, the remover of obstacles, and the comforter.

As Avalokiteshvara, this deity is able to assume whatever form is necessary to alleviate suffering. Avalokiteshvara was originally male, but the sex of Kwan Yin is usually female, though male versions of Kwan Yin also exist. The attributes of goodness, reliever of suffering and helper of mankind as well as being a Bodhisattva are universal to all her various forms.

She is the cosmic mother and guardian, especially of women and children. She is a Goddess of fertility and those who pray to her have found themselves able to conceive where they were barren before. She is the Goddess of health and healing and many miraculous cures are attributed to her intervention. She can bestow physical prowess in addition to health. She is also a guardian of education and knowledge and can bestow learning and wisdom to those who follow her ways. In China she is venerated by farmers as she has guaranteed the rice harvest for millennia.

She is also the Goddess of last resort, when all hope is gone Kwan Yin is the Mother of Mercy, the compassionate, the sympathetic who can answer the most desperate prayers.

She is called the Melodious Voice and is associated with music and song. All things pleasant and harmonious are beloved by her and can be bestowed by her. As Avalokiteshvara he created the chant "Om Mane Padme Om," the Jewel of creation in the Lotus.

Kwan Yin is depicted in many forms and her images are readily available. She can look Indian, Mogul or contemporary, she can be depicted as Chinese, as a young maiden or a more sedate matron. She is usually shown with some sort of flower or flowers, most preferably the lotus. She is usually serene and happy, or at least content.

I like Kwan Yin as she is a Goddess who has no enemies and being part of a greater pantheon is content as one of many deities I revere. She is not my main deity, but in times of pain or hurt she is there, the comforter the Universal Mother-Figure who will bind up my hurts, and rock me to sleep singing soothing lullabies. She helps remind me when compassion is called for. She helps me create a warm and loving home.

Kwan Yin is a very civilized Goddess, and she understands the ins and outs of modern-day life, commerce, business, work, and the need for leisure and the enjoyment of the fruits of one's labors. She is kind and gentle. She protects what is hers fiercely yet in a peaceable manner.

Sometimes it seems that Kwan Yin is a bit, well, boring. She has no great lore of stories. She has no tales of her friends and enemies. There are no real myths of her interaction with mortals, no miracles, no rescues, no last minute interventions and much needed help.

But myths and stories are not all of what makes a Goddess. She is real and revered in a wide area of the world. She is a vital and living Goddess. Her worship has been more or less continuous since she came on the scene. She is a Goddess well acquainted with the modern world and appreciates technology and the benefits as well as the pitfalls it can bring. She understands the pressures and obligations of modern-day living. I like her because she is always there ready to soothe, comfort and make things feel better. She is an ideal Deity for children because she is kind, gentle and compassionate yet protecting. She has a great number of "civilized" virtues and is a good role model for children, more so than some of the more raucous Deities like Ares or Thor. And as a guardian of learning she can help a child understand the gifts of schooling and knowledge.

When you have asked the other Deities for help, invoked them and asked for action, after all is said and done and you are lying in bed, feeling a bit hurt and alone, Kwan Yin will come and comfort you. She will soothe you and make things all better. That's just one of her roles, and she is a good friend to have. 

Blessed Be.

© 1998, 2003 Estelle Daniels, all rights reserved.