Quan Yin is one of the most universally beloved of deities in the Buddhist tradition. Also known as Kuan Yin, Quan’Am (Vietnam), Kannon (Japan), and Kanin (Bali), She is the embodiment of compassionate loving kindness. As the Bodhisattva of Compassion, She hears the cries of all beings. Quan Yin enjoys a strong resonance with the Christian Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and the Tibetan goddess Tara.
In many images She is depicted carrying the pearls of illumination. Often Quan Yin is shown pouring a stream of healing water, the “Water of Life,” from a small vase. With this water devotees and all living things are blessed with physical and spiritual peace. She holds a sheaf of ripe rice or a bowl of rice seed as a metaphor for fertility and sustenance. The dragon, an ancient symbol for high spirituality, wisdom, strength, and divine powers of transformation, is a common motif found in combination with the Goddess of Mercy.
Sometimes Quan Yin is represented as a many armed figure, with each hand either containing a different cosmic symbol or expressing a specific ritual position, or mudra. This characterizes the Goddess as the source and sustenance of all things. Her cupped hands often form the Yoni Mudra, symbolizing the womb as the door for entry to this world through the universal female principle.
Quan Yin, as a true Enlightened One, or Bodhisattva, vowed to remain in the earthly realms and not enter the heavenly worlds until all other living things have completed their own enlightenment and thus become liberated from the pain-filled cycle of birth, death, and rebirth.
There are numerous legends that recount the miracles which Quan Yin performs to help those who call on Her. Like Artemis, She is a virgin Goddess who protects women, offers them a religious life as an alternative to marriage, and grants children to those who desire them.
The Goddess of Mercy is unique among the heavenly hierarchy in that She is so utterly free from pride or vengefulness that She remains reluctant to punish even those to whom a severe lesson might be appropriate. Individuals who could be sentenced to dreadful penance in other systems can attain rebirth and renewal by simply calling upon Her graces with utter and absolute sincerity. It is said that, even for one kneeling beneath the executioner’s sword already raised to strike, a single heartfelt cry to Bodhisattva Quan Yin will cause the blade to fall shattered to the ground.
The many stories and anecdotes featuring this Goddess serve to convey the idea of an enlightened being who embodies the attributes of an all pervasive, all consuming, unwavering loving compassion and who is accessible to everyone. Quan Yin counsels us by Her actions to cultivate within ourselves those particular refined qualities that all beings are said to naturally possess in some vestigial form.
Contemplating the Goddess of Mercy involves little dogma or ritual. The simplicity of this gentle being and Her standards tends to lead Her devotees towards becoming more compassionate and loving themselves. A deep sense of service to all fellow beings naturally follows any devotion to the Goddess.