Arachnae's Metaphysics

Quan Yin, Goddess of Compassion

Revered by both Taoists and Buddhists, Quan Yin is variously considered a goddess, an immortal, an ascended master, and a boddhisatva, or one who has attained enlightenment but defers nirvana to assist others in their own ascensions. Deferring the state of nirvana is the ultimate sacrifice one can make, and Quan Yin (also Kwan Yin, Kuan Yen, and so on) is renowned for her compassion for the suffering of mortals.

A variety of legends 'explain' her backstory; one of the most popular describe her as the devout daughter of a rich man who wanted his daughter to marry a wealthy but unkind man. Holding out for a kind man, the girl was punished by her father by being secluded as a drudge in a monastery, where the monks set her to all the hardest tasks. They assigned so many chores to the recalcitrant maid that it left her no time to sleep. Some forms of the legend take on a Disney flavor, as the local animals come to her rescue and perform many of her chores, giving her time to eat and sleep. The legends have variety of versions of the father's recanting (or not), but all end with her turning her back on 'heaven' to stay on earth to assist in the elevation of mankind.

It is interesting to note that Quan Yin was originally a male figure, often a pure youth; over time the image morphed into a female, and for a period Quan Yin could be depicted either as male or female, but after the tenth century, had completed the transition to complete feminity. She is usually depicted as a lovely lady in flowing robes, with a veil or hood draping the back of her head. She often is shown holding a vase or vial, which is said to hold dew or pure water, with which she can purify anything.

Other Quan Yin symbolism - a willow branch, to symbolize flexibility and endurance; a fish or basket of fish - in parts of China she is the patron of fishermen; a rolled scroll, representing the teachings of the Buddha. She is sometimes shown seated on a large lotus, from which, in some legends, she was born. She is also sometimes shown holding an infant. Although the legendary Quan Yin was not a mother, she is often compared to the Virgin Mary, and can be appealed to for fertility and other maternal concerns.

Her legendary compassion for all creatures makes her the patron of vegetarians. One of the best-loved goddesses in the eastern pantheon, Quan Yin is worthy of a place on anyone's home altar.