Kwan Yin in Tibet: "Every person whose heart is moved by love and compassion, who deeply and sincerely acts for the benefit of others without concern for fame, profit, social position, or recognition expresses the activity of Chenrezig" (Bokar Rinpoche).
There are highly respected historical women in Buddhism, such as the Buddha's chief female disciples Khema Theri, Uppalavanna Theri, Maha Pajapati (the Buddha's stepmother and the first woman ordained as a nun), Maya Devi (the Buddha's birth mother), accomplished monastics and enlightened lay women. But no female is more famous than the Goddess of Compassion and Mercy, Kwan Yin.
She is a bodhisattva, a being vowing to become a buddha to rescue others from suffering. She is also known as Kwannon, Kannon, Kuanyin, Guanyin, Guanshi'yin, and many other names throughout the East. Just as famously, she is the inspiration for many characteristics attributed to Mother Mary.
She is the feminine manifestation of Avalokiteshvara, the male bodhisattva of compassion in Indian Buddhist lore. The name means "the lord who looks down." She remains male in Japan as Kannon Bosatsu, but even there is often depicted as female; the same happens in Tibet. Many believe that Kwan Yin is "both" masculine and feminine, male and female, yin and yang as called for by the situation. Such is the capacity of a "goddess" (devi).
Of course historically, Avalokita, as the bodhisattva of compassion is also known, was male. But in art as well as myth he evolved, combining with or being influenced by similar Chinese female characters to create the "goddess" the world knows as Kwan Yin.
She is depicted as a beautiful and graceful lady in flowing robes, extending mercy and comfort, sitting in meditation, overcoming dragons, and sometimes appearing in the manner of a Hindu deity with many arms (indicating the ability to do many things simultaneously). There are countless variations of stories, legends, prayers, and imagery for Kwan Yin. One very common origin-tale speaks of an exceedingly compassionate girl sentenced to death by her father. Her mantra is very famous.
Avalokiteshvara forms a protective trinity along with Manjushri and Vajrapani. He is the protector of the Lotus family of devas, which also includes Amitabha and Tara (wildmind.org)
Dharma protecting deity, an avian-hybrid kinnara (richard-seaman.com)
* Transcendence in India
* Women in Buddhism (DailyBuddhism.com)
* Religion21.com: Buddhism in the 21st Century
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Combining many characters: Considered a manifestation of Benzaiten by some, Kichijoten by others (Sanskrit = 'Sri-devi, Lakmi), the Buddhist goddess of beauty, luck, prosperity, and merit. "Daibenkudoku-ten is a manifestation of Kichijoten. Of Hindu origin. Born from the sea, the wife of Vishnu. It is believed that she grants prosperity and good luck. In Buddhism, she is worshipped as the wife of Bishamonten and the daughter of the Dragon King and Kishimojin (Sanskrit = Hariti). In Buddhism, she too presides over prosperity" (Sanjusangendo temple catalog).
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