the Bodhisattva of Great Compassion
A gorgeous statue
For years I’ve been very intrigued by this statue of Guan Yin. It is known as the most beautiful statue outside China. It’s actually one of my all-time-favorite Buddha statues, and it can be viewed in the Nelson Atkins Museum in Kansas City, USA.
Guan Yin is dressed in the fabrics and scarves of royalty form Indian and Chinese descent.
Guan Yin sits here in the ‘Royal Ease pose’, a relaxed pose where she rests on her left arm, with her right leg up, and her right arm resting on her right knee.
I say ‘her’, but this statue is actually quite androgynous, with a male body but very fine and female features.
In different traditions Guan Yin may be depicted as either a male or female manifestation of Great Compassion.
Buddhism traveled to China
Guan Yin (also written as Kuan Yin, Kwan Yin or Guan Shi Yin) came from the male bodhisattva Avalokitesvara.
When Mahayana Buddhism traveled to China in the 1st century AD through the Silk Routes, it became very popular, just as the bodhisattva of Compassion who traveled along with the Dharma texts.
The Sanskrit word ‘Avalokitesvara’ means ‘The One who hears the cries of the World’ and this was literally translated into Chinese as ‘Guan Shi Yin’. It was later abbreviated to Guan Yin.
This deity is not only very popular in China, but also made her way to Korea and Japan. You can also find her in Malaysia and in the past 10 years she’s become very popular in Thailand as well.
From male to female
Over the centuries the Indian male deity Avalokiteshvara first slowly transformed into an androgyn figure in China, and later on became the very famous female deity Guan Yin, also known as the Goddess of Mercy.
How to draw and paint Guan Yin
This month I gave an extended weekend course to my students in The Netherlands on how to draw Guan Yin according to the Buddhist tradition.
I taught them how to draw her in 2 manifestations: the standing deity wearing a white robe and holding both a water vase and a twig branch, and the sitting one in Royal Ease pose, from the statue above.
> Guan Yin drawings of my students can be seen here on my Facebook page
In the mornings we started with a meditation on Guan Yin and compassion, and during the course I also gave several slideshows and lectures to explain the why and how of Guan Yin’s transformation.