Myths and Legends of China
The Goddess of Mercy
The Guardian Angel of Buddhism
As Mary is the guiding spirit of Rome, so is Kuan Yin of the Buddhist faith.
According to a beautiful Chinese legend, Kuan Yin. when about to enter Heaven, heard a cry of anguish rising from the earth beneath her, and, moved by pity, paused as her feet touched the glorious threshold. Hence her name ‘Kuan (Shih) Yin’ (one who notices or hears the cry, or prayer, of the world).
Kuan Yin was at one time always represented as a man; but in the T’ang dynasty and Five Dynasties we find him represented as a woman, and he has been generally, though not invariably, so represented since that time.
In old Buddhism Shâkyamuni was the chief god, and in many temples he still nominally occupies the seat of honour, but he is completely eclipsed by the God or Goddess of Mercy.
“The men love her, the children adore her, and the women chant her prayers. Whatever the temple may be, there is nearly always a chapel for Kuan Yin within its precincts; she lives in many homes, and in many, many hearts she sits enshrined. She is the patron goddess of mothers, and when we remember the relative value of a son in Chinese estimation we can appreciate the heartiness of the worship. She protects in sorrow, and so millions of times the prayer is offered, ‘Great mercy, great pity, save from sorrow, save from suffering,’ or, as it is in the books, ‘Great mercy, great pity, save from misery, save from evil, broad, great, efficacious, responsive Kuan Yin Buddha,’ She saves the tempest-tossed Page 252sailor, and so has eclipsed the Empress of Heaven, who, as the female Neptune, is the patroness of seamen; in drought the mandarins worship the Dragon and the Pearly Emperor, but if they fail the bronze Goddess of Mercy from the hills brings rain. Other gods are feared, she is loved; others have black, scornful faces, her countenance is radiant as gold, and gentle as the moon-beam; she draws near to the people and the people draw near to her. Her throne is upon the Isle of Pootoo [P’u T’o], to which she came floating upon a water-lily. She is the model of Chinese beauty, and to say a lady or a little girl is a ‘Kuan Yin’ is the highest compliment that can be paid to grace and loveliness. She is fortunate in having three birthdays, the nineteenth of the second, sixth, and ninth moons.” There are many metamorphoses of this goddess.
The Buddhist Saviour
“She is called Kuan Yin because at any cry of misery she ‘hears the voice and removes the sorrow.’ Her appellation is ‘Taking-away-fear Buddha,’ If in the midst of the fire the name of Kuan Yin is called, the fire cannot burn; if tossed by mountain billows, call her name, and shallow waters will be reached. If merchants go across the sea seeking gold, silver, pearls, and precious stones, and a storm comes up and threatens to carry the crew to the evil devil’s kingdom, if one on board calls on the name of Kuan Yin, the ship will be saved. If one goes into a conflict and calls on the name of Kuan Yin, the sword and spear of the enemy fall harmless. If the three thousand great kingdoms are visited by demons, call on her name, and these demons cannot with an evil eye look on a man. If, within, you have evil thoughts, Page 253only call on Kuan Yin, and your heart will be purified, Anger and wrath may be dispelled by calling on the name of Kuan Yin. A lunatic who prays to Kuan Yin will become sane. Kuan Yin gives sons to mothers, and if the mother asks for a daughter she will be beautiful. Two men—one chanting the names of the 6,200,000 Buddhas, in number like the sands of the Ganges, and the other simply calling on Kuan Yin—have equal merit. Kuan Yin may take the form of a Buddha, a prince, a priest, a nun, a scholar, any form or shape, go to any kingdom, and preach the law throughout the earth.”