Who Is Kuan Yin And What Gifts Can She Give You?
The Han dynasty ruled China from 206 BCE to 220CE. In the year 150CE, monks from India brought Buddhist beliefs and thoughts to China. China was already living immersed with the Tao. The monks integrated Taoist ideas and philosophy with Buddhist beliefs and thoughts. Taoists expanded their beliefs with Buddhist thoughts and beliefs, both systems benefited from one another. Han Buddhism emerged out of this merger.
One of the most popular figures from Han Buddhism is the female Goddess Kuan Yin. Having originated from India as Avalokiteshvara, lord who looks down with compassion, this Bodhisattva, this enlightened being, postponed Nirvana to help humanity.
Avalokiteshvara was held in high esteem in India, alongside the political elite. The Confucian philosophy held a strong place in the Chinese culture. As a powerful male figure, Avalokiteshvara couldn’t be accepted as an equal with the political power of Imperial China.
The Chinese integrated some of the philosophy of Indian Buddhism, but still held their own thought and culture in high regard. However, the Heart and Lotus Sutra of Buddhism, and a few other sutras were the most powerful for the Chinese. These sutras along with their own native sutras became the doctrine. New images of Avalokiteshvara came out of the old, as more and more of the masses had visions of a female nurturer of compassion, and replaced the masculine image with the feminine.
The foreign Avalokiteshvara gradually changed into Kuan yin. Kuan means “look deeply into” and Yin means “cries.” By the 10th century, Kuan Yin was completely embedded in the Chinese culture. In the 16th century she was nicknamed the Goddess of Mercy, by a Jesuit missionary seeing similarities between her and the Madonna.
Kuan Yin really cemented her status as the Goddess of Compassion from the story of Miao Shan. Miao Shan was the third daughter of a King. Miao Shan’s sisters were married and it was time for Miao Shan as well. Miao shan’s father arranged Miao Shan to marry a much older man. Miao Shan refused to obey her father, but the consequences were tough. Her father sent Miao Shan away to work as a laborer. She had to endure tough conditions and complete extremely hard tasks. However, mystical spirits helped support her in this time of need. After some time had passed, she was allowed to go to a nunnery, but the king burned down the building and executed Miao Shan. Her body was safe with the spirits as her soul toured hell; she saved souls there by preaching to them.
She returned to the world, meditated for nine years and achieved enlightenment. In this time the King became ill. Disguised like a monk Miao Shan went to the palace, and told the King there was only one remedy. The medicine would be the eyes and hands who never felt anger. She told the King where to find the person and when the king’s servants arrived, she gave up her own eyes and hands.
Weeks later, the King wanted to personally thank the person who saved his life. When he saw the woman, he knew she was his daughter. Overwhelmed with remorse, he and his family converted to Buddhism. Miao Shan then transformed into a thousand-eyed and thousand armed Goddess of Compassion, Kuan Yin.
The story of Miao Shan made Kuan Yin the Chinese model of Divinity. She was inducted as the Goddess of Compassion in the Neo-Confucianism period, where the philosophy and political thought was to sustain the social family system.
Chinese women like Miao Shan live under the patriarchal system. Socially women and men worship Kuan Yin as a fertility goddess. Kuan Yin can give the family a male child and continue the family name and religion. Kuan Yin is enshrined in every household: she found her home in China.
What can Kuan Yin teach us in our modern world?
Collectively, when we think of a person who is filled with compassion, we think of someone who is endowed with empathy for others. This is a great attribute to have, but when the person gets into relationships, the person they are attracted to most likely is devoid of empathy. The person who has this fabulous trait attracts narcissists.
The way to counteract this imbalance is to have empathy for others; but most importantly, for our self. We have to be an Avalokiteshvara or a Kuan Yin for ourselves, then for others. When a person hears the cries of others, we have to hear the cry of our own suffering as well.
Let’s not confuse compassion with feeling bad for someone else, or feeling bad for our own self -pity. When we feel pity for others or for our self, this leads us into a behavior to sacrifice our wellbeing. Sacrificing our own lives for others creates problems for us, mentally, emotionally and physically. When we sacrifice our lives, our stress hormones go through the roof. All of us on some level know it is not right to sacrifice our own needs for the sake of others, but we do it anyway. We just can’t seem to get out of our own way. We need to make the emotional connection that we are also worth the devotion to our self.
Masculine Avalokiteshvara and Feminine Kuan Yin are about Compassion of the heart and that never requires sacrifice; but a loving kindness for our self and others. Having compassion for others is masculine and having empathy for ourselves is feminine. Let’s marry Avalokiteshvara and Kuan Yin for a happily ever after, for our heart and for the heart of others!
Here are 2 gifts Kuan Yin can give you:
1) Have compassion for yourself:
Look deeply and hear the sorrow of your own suffering. Feel loving-kindness for yourself, forgive yourself. You are fabulous, don’t think this know this.
2) Have compassion for others:
Put yourself in another person’s situation, and feel their pain and joy. Be there for them in a time of need, and also celebrate their joy with them!
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