Who was Guanyin? Chinese Buddhist goddess

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a statue of Guanyin sitting with one knee up and her arm on her knee

Guanyin, from the Liao Dynasty (about 1000 AD)

Guanyin was a Chinese Buddhist goddess based on a real woman, the way Guanti was based on a real man. According to the story, her father murdered her. Guanyin went down to the underworld. But when she got there, she recited the holy books, and that prevented the god of the underworld from torturing the dead souls. He didn’t like that, so he sent Guanyin back to be alive again. (You might compare this to the Greek story of Orpheus and Eurydice.) When Guanyin came back to life, she spent all her time studying Buddhist ideas. So the Buddha made her immortal: she would never die.

Guanyin became the goddess of mercy and compassion. She was very popular. People who wanted her to help them shook rattles and set off firecrackers to get her attention. She is usually shown as a lady holding a baby, dressed in white, sitting on a lotus.

Stories about Guanyin seem to have actually gotten started from stories about a male Indian boddhisatva called Avalokitesvara. Somehow, along the way, Guanyin changed both her name and her gender!

More about the Chinese gods
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Bibliography and further reading about Guanyin and other Chinese gods:

Kuan-yin, by Chun-Fang Yu (2000). Not , but a detailed account of the historical development of this Chinese goddess.

The Gods and Goddesses of Ancient China, by Leonard Everett Fisher (2003). . One page for each god, with lots of pictures and some historical context.

Five Heavenly Emperors: Chinese Myths of Creation, by Song Nan Zhang (1994). Stories .

Chinese Mythology A to Z, by Jeremy Roberts (2004).

Dragons and Demons : Myths of China, by Stewart Ross (1998). A few Chinese stories, retold .

Dragons, Gods and Spirits from Chinese Mythology, by Tao Sanders (1983). More of a child’s encyclopedia.

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By | 2017-06-07T14:54:15+00:00 June 7th, 2017|China, Religion|0 Comments
Cite this page: Carr, K.E. Who was Guanyin? Chinese Buddhist goddess. Quatr.us Study Guides, June 7, 2017. Web. January 20, 2018.

About the Author:

Karen Carr
Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram, Pinterest, or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.

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