Goddess of Compassion and Mercy; Patron of Women and Children; Enlightened Bodhisattva, She who always observes and pays attention to sounds
Kwan Yin is usually depicted as a barefoot, gracious woman dressed in beautiful, white flowing robes, with a white hood gracefully draped over the top of the head and carrying a small upturned vase of holy dew. She stands tall and slender, a figure of infinite grace, her gently composed features conveying the sublime selflessness and compassion that have made her the favourite of all deities. She is typically shown standing on the back of a dragon, sitting on a lotus flower, or riding on clouds.
In Buddhism a bodhisattva is a person who has attained enlightenment but chooses to forgo Nirvana and remain in the world to help others. Kwan Yin is known to have many reincarnations and is sometimes conflated with the Hindu goddess Tārā. She is closely associated with the Buddha, and is also often tied with another goddess, Mazu. Sometimes they are described to be sisters.
She is generally regarded as the protector of women and children, but also seen as the champion of the unfortunate, the sick, the disabled, the poor, and those in trouble.
Kwan Yin may also be known as Quan Yin, Guanyin, and Dewi Kwan Im.
“At the time of Miao Shan’s conception the queen, Pao-ying, dreamed that she swallowed the moon. When the time came for the child to be born, the whole earth quaked, and wonderful fragrance and heavenly flowers were spread near and far. The people of that country were astounded. At birth She was clean and fresh without being washed. Her holy marks were noble and majestic, Her body was covered over with many-colored clouds. The people said that these were signs of the incarnation of a holy person. Although the parents thought this extraordinary, their hearts were corrupt, and so they detested her.”
Miao Shan was born a princess rejected at birth and abused by a father who had wanted a son. She had a sister with whom she was close, and was a studious and quiet daughter, spending much of her time reading or pursuing the arts.
When she grew old enough for her father to think about marrying her off to a powerful lord, she told him that she had no desire to marry, and that she would only agree to an arrangement if it would help solve three problems: the suffering of age, the suffering of sickness, and the suffering of death.
When her father asked who could ease all the above, Miao Shan pointed out that a doctor was able to do all of these things. Her father grew angry as he wanted her to marry a person of power and wealth, not a healer.
Unable to find a match that could meet her demands, he reluctantly agreed to allow her to join a Buddhist temple. Before letting her go, however, he ordered the monks to give Miao Shan the hardest work to discourage her, forcing the young girl to work day and night without sleep and little food, in the hope she would see sense.
But Miao Shan persisted diligently. Much to her father’s chagrin, the young forest animals who lived around the temple took pity on the young girl and began to help her with the chores. He became so enraged upon learning Miao Shan was getting help that he set fire to the temple, but she intervened and extinguished the flames with her bare hands. Now fearing that his daughter was possessed by some kind of demon, her father sentenced her to death.
On the day of Miao Shan’s death sentence, she went obediently to the execution block. But when the executioner brought his axe down upon her neck, the axe shattered into a thousand pieces. His sword also broke, and arrows from his bow veered off course. Seeing how much trouble she was causing the executioner, Miao Shan forgave him, let herself be killed, and absorbed the karma of his actions so he wouldn’t have to pay for her death in the afterlife.
When she arrived in Hell, the Earth around her burst into life with blossoming flowers. Seeing all the suffering souls around her, Miao Shan began to weep with sorrow. She released all the positive karmic energy she had accumulated and allowed millions of souls to escape from Hell. Yan Wang (the Chinese King of Hell), fearing that his whole kingdom would collapse, allowed her to return to Earth as the enlightened being, Kwan Yin.
Maio Shan suffered greatly in her mortal life, but never relinquished her strength or compromised her beliefs. She considered her exile as liberation, and accomplished a great many things in her long life. In some stories, it is even said she willingly gave up her limbs and eyes in order to heal her father, despite the tension of their relationship.
After her return to Earth, she was said to have stayed on the island of Mount Putuo where she practised meditation and helped sailors and fishermen who got stranded.
Kwan Yin’s exile took her into solitude, and she resided on the rocky island of Putuo for many years. Given her close associations with the goddess Tārā and Buddha, it’s likely she had a closes tie with the Tārās of the 5th Age, and possibly had a hand in the original creation of the organisation.
Popular stories about Kwan Yin involve her transforming into unassuming characters to bring help to troubled people. In some regions, Kwan Yin is depicted carrying a wicker basket, and is revered as the patron saint of sailors and fishermen.
She is often associated with the noble Qilin, a peaceful creature known only to punish the wicked; the dragon, symbolic of wisdom; and the sea turtle. She had two known acolytes, Shancai and Longnü, and was also attended by the heroic warrior Weituo. Her final companion was a white parrot.
S H A N C A I
A crippled boy from India who was very interested in studying the dharma, and when he heard that there was a Buddhist teacher on the rocky island of Putuo he quickly journeyed there to learn. Upon arriving at the island, he managed to find Kwan Yin despite his severe disability.
Kwan Yin, after having a discussion with Shancai, decided to test the boy’s resolve to fully study Buddhist teachings. She conjured the illusion of three sword-wielding pirates running up the hill to attack her. Then she took off and dashed to the edge of a cliff, the three illusions still chasing her. Shancai, seeing that his teacher was in danger, hobbled uphill. Kwan Yin jumped over the edge of the cliff, and soon after the three bandits followed.
Shancai, still wanting to save his teacher, managed to crawl his way over the cliff edge. He fell down the cliff but was halted in midair by Kwan Yin, who now asked him to walk. Shancai found that he could walk normally and that he was no longer crippled. When he looked into a pool of water he also discovered that he now had a very handsome face.
From that day forth, Kwan Yin taught Shancai the entire dharma.
L O N G N Ü
When the Dragon King’s third son was out for swim in the sea in the form of a carp, he was captured by a fisherman. Unable to transform into his dragon form due to being trapped on land, he was going to be sold and butchered at the local market.
Once Kwan Yin learned of his predicament, she gave Shancai all her money and sent her disciple to buy him from the market and set him free. Because the carp was still alive hours after it was caught, this drew a large crowd and soon a bidding war started due to people believing that eating this fish would grant them immortality. Shancai was easily outbid and begged the fish seller to spare the life of the fish, but it was to no avail and earned him the scorn of the people at the market. It was then that Kwan Yin projected her voice from far away saying:
“A life should definitely belong to one who tries to save it, not one who tries to take it”.
The crowd realising their mistake soon dispersed and Shancai was able to bring the carp back to Kwan Yin and return it to the sea.
As a reward for Kwan Yin saving his son, the Dragon King sent his granddaughter, a girl called Longnü (“dragon girl”), to present Kwan Yin with the Pearl of Light. The Pearl of Light was a precious jewel owned by the Dragon King that constantly shone.
Longnü, overwhelmed by the presence of Kwan Yin, asked to be her disciple so that she might study the dharma. Kwan Yin accepted her offer with just one request: that Longnü be the new owner of the Pearl of Light.
W E I T U O
Weituo was one of Miao Shan’s cruel father’s generals. He loved Miao Shan but realised he could not possibly be a proper partner to her, since she was a pure person. However, Weituo was inspired by Miao Shan’s kindness so he decided to stay faithful and devoted to Miao Shan, even if she wasn’t his wife. He vowed to always protect her.
W H I T E P A R R O T
A family of white parrots were known to nest in a tree. One young parrot in the family was especially intelligent, could recite sutras, chant the name of Amitābha, and even compose poetry. One day, the father parrot is killed by hunters. When the mother parrot goes to see what happened, she is blinded by the hunters. When the intelligent young parrot goes to find cherries to feed its mother, it is captured by the same hunters. By the time it escapes, its mother has died. After it has mourned the death of its mother and provided her with a proper funeral, the Earth God suggests that the parrot worship Kwan Yin. Kwan Yin, moved by the filial piety of the parrot, allows its parents to be reborn in the Pure Land.
In popular iconography, the parrot is coloured white and usually seen hovering to the right side of Kwan Yin with either a pearl or a prayer bead clasped in its beak.
The Monkey King was released from his mountain prison, where he had spent 500 years as punishment, by Kwan Yin on condition that he fulfil his destiny by accompanying the Buddhist monk Tang Sanzang to India to bring the Buddhist scriptures back to China. She gave the monk a magical band that would grant him control over the Monkey King. Once put on the band could not be removed, and at Tang’s behest would tighten and so inflict a terrible headache. She also gifted the Monkey King three special hairs, only to be used in dire emergencies. Thus under Tang Sanzang’s supervision, the Monkey King was allowed to journey to the West.
Whenever Tang and his travelling companions encountered a particularly difficult demon on their journey, Kwan Yin often stepped in to defeat the demon herself.
The pilgrimage took fourteen years. By the end of the journey Sun Wukong achieved enlightenment, and the band around his head naturally melted away.
She is possessed of a gentle soul, always desiring of peace and simplicity, which she either spends her life protecting or in search of. In each rebirth she is born with a close sibling, usually but not always a brother, and with an affinity for animals.
1st Age: Born as Chihiro Matsumoto, a former Atharim hunter who struggles to accept she has also been born a channeler.
3rd Age: Born amongst the Seanchan, she spends much of her youth collared as a damane trained for battle, before emancipation leads her to the White Tower. Following the Last Battle, she is instrumental in organising refuge for those displaced by the devastation, and ultimately ends her days in peace. See: Malaika.
5th Age: Kwan Yin, a goddess of compassion and mercy.
6th Age: Born a huntress in the wilds, preferring the company of animals over most people. She offers sanctuary to escaped slaves at her refuge of Lake Nemi. In myth she is remembered as the Roman deity, Diana.