Guan Yin Goddess (Kuan Yin Goddess), the goddess of mercy, and friend of mankind is one of the most famous Chinese Buddha Images. Her name in Chinese means the name of the one who hears the cries of the world. She was an actual person who chose to follow the path of wisdom and service. After many incarnations, she was able to reach the nirvana, Buddhist ultimate goal. Nowadays, Guan Yin Goddess is an important element of Buddhism, especially in China and East Asian countries. In Japanese, Guan Yin Goddess is called Kannon or Kanzeon, which is much formal. The spelling of Kwannon also can be seen, due to the system of romanization. In Korean, Guan Yin Goddess is called Kwan-um or Kwan-se-um. She is called Quan Âm or Quan Thế Âm Bồ Tát in Vietnam.
It is believed that, along with Buddhism, Guan Yin Goddess was first introduced into China approximately in the 1st century and reached Japan in the mid of 7th century by the way of Korea.
Prior to the Song Dynasty (960-1279), Guan Yin Goddess’s appearance was masculine. However, image had changed later to be displayed in both genders in accordance with the Lotus Sutra. Her supernatural power allowed Guan Yin Goddess to assume any form required to relieve human suffering. As Guan Yin Goddess represented in China as the symbol of compassion and kindness, a mother goddess and patrons of mothers and seamen, the interpretation of Guan Yin Goddess was further depicted in an female form around the 12th century. Nowadays, Guan Yin Goddess is often seen as a beautiful, white-robed woman.
The origin of Guan Yin Goddess is still unknown. Although there are many legends about the origin, the following is one of the most popular.
In 7th century, Miao-Jueng, a Chinese Emperor, had three daughters. The youngest named Mian-Shan. At the time of Mian-Shan was born, people could smell a beautiful fragrance and flowers blossomed throughout the country. Many believed that this was the signs of a holy incarnation on her body.
Mian-Shan had been vegetarian since she was born, or in her mother’s womb as during her pregnancy, Mian-Shan’s mother could not eat any meat. When Mian-Shan grew up, she became very beautiful and elegant. Her mercy was highly recognized, even with a prisoner. As her parents saw little value in a female child, her parents wanted her to get married to a wealthy guy. In contrary, Mian-Shan wanted to become a nun, helping alleviate the suffering of all mankind. The Emperor and the Queen were so angry and forced her to stay away at menial tasks. Due to her strong determination, finally, the Emperor allowed her to pursue her religious calling at a monastery. However, the Emperor ordered the nuns there to offer her hard chores in order to discourage her. She was ordered to collect wood and water, and tend a garden for the kitchen as they thought these chores was impossible because the land nearby the monastery was dry and barren. Miraculously, even in the winter, the land flourished, and a spring welled up out of nowhere next to the kitchen. When the Emperor heard these, he decided to kill Mian-Shan. When the Emperor came to the monastery, a spirit came out of nowhere and carried Mian-Shan to a safe remote island. She pursued a life of religious dedication there many years.
Several years later, her father was seriously sick. He could not eat nor sleep. His doctors thought he would die soon. One day a monk came to visit the Emperor. He told the Emperor that his illness could be cured by the medicine made from arms and eyes of one free from hatred. The Emperor thought that this was impossible. However, the monk said that there was a Bodhisattva living in the Emperor’s territory, who would be willing to give those things if asked.
The Emperor sent an envoy to find this unknown bodhisattva. After the request, Mian-Shan instantly cut out her eyes and arms. The envoy returned. The Emperor recovered after he ate the medicine. The Emperor thanked the monk. However, the monk told him to thank the one who gave him eyes and arms. Suddenly, the monk disappeared. As a result, the Emperor and his family headed to meet that bodhisattva. When they realized that their daughter, Mian-Shan who made the sacrifice, their eyes were full of tears and hearts full of shame, then, the earth trembled. A holy manifestation of the Thousands Eyes and Thousands Arms appeared, hovering in the air. The Bodhisattva was gone since then.
Most disciples of Guan Yin Goddess do not eat beef as the legend stated that after the Emperor died, he was born as a cow for his next life due to his cruelty. As a result, the disciples do not want to eat Guan Yin Goddess’s father.