Faces of the Divine

KwanYin with Child

She who Hears the Cries of the World

I have been preparing some workshop offerings for the Changing Times Changing Worlds conference, a growing conference on metaphysical matters located in New England. This year, the conference will take place in Crowmwell, CT at the Radisson on Nov. 4-6. I am excited by the possibilities of this conference because, although the organizers are branching out, traditionally, it has been mainly a Pagan or Wiccan conference. The opportunity to participate has allowed me to think about different types of spirituality and the part of my spiritual practice that connects with different faces of the Divine.

I want to dedicate this writing to my mom, who taught me to value world culture, who loves children, and who tries to alleviate suffering where she can.

Today, I want to talk about KwanYin, who is thought to be a goddess, but who is actually the Boddhisatva of compassion, who hears the cries of the world and protects all of us, but especially mothers and children. One of the fascinating things about KwanYin is how a divine personality can change from one version in one tradition into a different one in another because of cultural influences.

KwanYin was originally a male personality from India called Avalokiteshvara, whose name loosely translates into “The lord who sees the cries of the world with compassion.”  The Chinese translation of this name is “Kwan Shih Yin.” In Buddhism, a boddhisatva is a person who could stop reincarnating and achieve nirvana, but who sacrifices their own release from human suffering because they are committed to doing all they can to alleviate the suffering of all humans everywhere.  In other words, even though they are super-enlightened souls, similar to saints or even deities in other religions, they won’t leave the planet until all the rest of us unenlightened people get our stuff together and free ourselves from the suffering of reincarnation.

In the traditions around Avalokiteshvara, he was thought to change his form and gender in order to more effectively teach, especially with children, so his form was flexible.  This is probably the origin of his association with children, which has become a large part of his “jurisdiction.”  In the 16th century, after Western missionaries came to China, images of the Virgin Mary with the baby Jesus influenced the way that Avalokiteshvara was presented, because the Christian iconography became popular.  After that point, in China KwanYin was predominantly depicted as female, even in those cases where the child is not present. In India, he remains as his original male form. KwanYin is one of the spirit people you seek out for help with pregnancy or children.

Depiction with obvious influence from the "Tenderness" icon style

Depiction with obvious influence from the “Tenderness” icon style in Christianity

KwanYin is often depicted as seated on the lotus, which shows her enlightened state, and her mantra is “Behold the Jewel in the Lotus/ Om Mani Padme Hum.”  She is usually depicted as pouring the waters of compassion and healing from a vessel in her hand, and holding the pearl of enightenment in the other.  Sometimes, she is shown as standing on the dragons or sea of the world, representing her ability to give peace that overcomes the turbulence of life.

If you are feeling a bit overwhelmed, worn out, or sad, ponder Kwan Yin and her gifts of compassion to soothe your spirit.

Kwan Yin Dragon

For more information, check out: http://www.buddhanet.net/e-learning/history/kuanyin-txt.htm