Today is the birthday of Kuan Yin (also spelled Quan Yin, Quan Shi Yin, or Kuanyin.) In sanskrit, her name is Padma-pani which means “Born of the Lotus.”
Kuan Yin is regarded by the Chinese as the Goddess of Mercy. Kuan Yin was originally male until the early part of the 12th century.(Avalokitesvara, in sanskirt, her male form, was the Bodhivista of Compassion of Indian Buddhism which was introduced to China in the third century.)
Several stories exist about Kuan Yin. She was a Buddhist who, through great love and suffering during life, earned the right to enter Nirvana after death. While standing before the gates of Paradise, she heard a cry of anguish from the earth below. Turning back to earth, Kuan Yin renounced her reward of bliss eternal and in its place found immortality in the hearts of the suffering.
Quan means to inquire or look deeply into. Shi means the world of people or generations. Yin means cries. Therefore the Bodhivista of Compassion responds to the suffering cries that come down the generations.
Kuan Yin is portrayed in many forms, each revealing an aspect of her merciful presence. She is frequently portrayed as a slender female in flowing white robes and carrying in her left hand a white lotus, a symbol of purity. Her beauty, grace, and compassion have come to represent the ideal of womanhood in the East.
Kuan Yin is also known as the “bestower of children” where she may be portrayed as sitting on a lotus with a child at her feet, on her lap, or in her arms. Kuan Yin may also be depicted with a thousand arms, and a number of eyes, heads, and hands (sometimes with an eye in the palm of the hand.) In this depiction she is considered the omnipresent mother, looking in all directions, sensing the affliction of humanity, and extending her arms to alleviate them.
Symbols associated with Kuan Yin include a willow branch which she sprinkles with the divine nectar of life, a precious vase symbolizing the nectar of compassion and wisdom, a dove, a book or scroll of prayers, and a rosary adorning her neck.