Lecture outline 9


Guanyin :

Feminization and




• Avalokitesvara (India), Lokesvara

(Cambodia), Lokanatha (Burma),

Natha Deviyo (Sri Lanka), Chenresig


• Kennon or kwannon (Japan)

• Kwanse’um (Korea)

• Quan-am (Vietnam)


• Originally a minor figure in some major

Mahayana scriptures such as the Vimalakirti


• Figured prominently in the Huayan Sutra and the Lotus Sutra.

• Most prominent in the Pure Land Sutras,

• Chief attendant to Amitabha Buddha

• another is Mahathamaprapta

• Prominent in Chinese Buddhist art

• Water-moon, White-robed, Fish-basket, Clamdwelling, Wife of Mr. Ma

Guanyin and


Polychromed Wood

95 x 65 inches

(241.3 cm)


Shanxi Province

Liao Dynasty

(A.D. 907-1125)

Guanyin, Late Northern Song Dynasty


Feminization of

Guanyin and Gender


• Guanyin’s feminization in the context of traditional

Chinese culture and of gender relations

Why must Guanyin have become a goddess anyway?

• Chinese image of male/female differences

– Chinese conceptualization of the quality of compassion: it is a female/maternal virtue

– Chinese cultural tradition defines:

•intellect and reason as masculine traits,

•whereas emotion and feeling as feminine ones

In a Chinese family:

• father is regarded as strict, mother compassionate (Yanfu


• Wisdom is an attribute of father; compassion, that of mother

Bodhisattva, large wood sculpture, Song Dynasty

• Indian view:

– Mother, symbol of wisdom

– Father, love

– Wisdom is a dominant feminine quality

– Compassion, masculine

Guanyin Must be Feminine: other rationales

• Absence of powerful female deities

– Nu Wa, Queen Mother of the West were shortlived

– Male gods dominated the pantheon of Chinese folk religions

– A female Guanyin is the mother figure par excellence; she “loves” indiscriminatingly

Further Feminization of Guanyin

• Scriptural basis of Guanyin’s female identity

• In the “Universal Gateway” chapter of the

Lotus Sutra, 7 of the 33 manifestations are feminine

•Nun, lay woman, wife of an elder, householder, official, Brahmin, and girl.

• In the Surangama Sutra, 6 of 32 manifestations are feminine

•Nun, lay woman, queen, princess, noble lady, virgin maiden.

• Sectarian religions in late imperial China appropriated Guanyin through these:

– production of new apocryphal scriptures, such as

The True Scripture of Guanyin’s Original Vow of

Universal Salvation

– Creation of new identity of Guanyin

– Elevation of Guanyin’s status to that of the Buddha

– Often referred to as “Venerable/S upreme Mother


Indigenous/Apocryphal Scriptures

 Reasons for the making of indigenous/apocryphal Chinese scriptures:

 Promoted the interest of the ruling authority

 Criticized policies of the ruling authority

 Reconciled differences between Buddhism and traditional

Chinese thoughts, both Confucianism and Daoism

 Advocated/proselytized a specific faith

 Enhanced a cult of a national hero/heroine

 Promised cures, blessings and other miracles to help maintain people’s well-being

 Artistic representations, dating from

10th century, as portrayed in the

Guanyin jing are found in Dunhuang


 mural Paintings

 Illustrated booklets

 Sculptures

 All Inspired new female divinities in post-Tang times:

 The Princess Miao Shan

 The Queen of Heaven, or Mazu

 The Princess of Azure Clouds (Bixia yuanjun)

 The Unborn Mother (Wusheng laomu)

Guanyin’s Image Multiplied

 Guanyin assumed different forms, they authenticated and reinforced one another

 The Fish-basket Guanyin,

 Guanyin of the South Sea

 White-robed Guanyin

 Women (artists) contributed to Guanyin’s feminization,

 Guanyin and the veneration of Her, somehow, did/could not empower women

Myths and Legends

“Euhemerize” Guanyin

• Give him birthday

• Establish his sacred abode in Mt. Putuo in Eastern


• Transform his gender and identity

• Creating “Princess Miao-shan” stories and icons

• Fictional accounts in “precious scrolls”, e.g.,

Precious Scroll of Xiangshan (Hsiang-shan)

• Fictional accounts in novels

Miao-shan Legend


• Lay society created a new image and identity of Guanyin: (5 th c)

• A woman who saved, healed, …people

• a filial girl who refused to get married

• Lay society spread Miao-shan story and

Guanyin worship

• Important themes:

• “gift of the body”—body parts as gifts

• Filial piety expanded to repayment (paying back debts owed to parents)

• Chanting evokes Guanyin’s salvific response

• “Great compassion dharani”

• “Guanyin meditation mudra”

1000-armed Kannon (Senju Kannon)

8th century, Fujii-dera (in Osaka)

Avalokitesvara in Angkor, Cambodia: Lokesvara

Vietnam, Hanoi region

Tibetan form of

Avalokiteśvara ( Four-armed


Avalokiteshvara in South Vietnam

(8th and 9th century Bronze,

Museum of the history of Ho Chi

Minh City),

Seated statue of Senju-Kannon,

Kyoto, Sanjusangen-do

Guanyin (Kuan-yin)

Assumes the Role of a Savior

 The Lotus Sutra (chap.

“ Universal Gateway ” )

 The Contemplation Sutra

( or The Sutra of

Visualization on Amitayus


 The Surangama Sutra

 The Karandavyudha Sutra

By Wu Daozi,

Tang Dynasty

 Guanyin’s abilities:

 Transformation in the sense of polymorphism

 thirty-three forms

 Can transgress all distinctions of gender, age, social or spiritual status

 Can be a Buddha, Brama, a Brahman, an elder, a rich man’s wife, a sovereign or a simple official, a minister or a monk, a boy or a girl, a divinity, a yakşa or a nāga,

Palmer’s Book

 The authors give the following reasons for the feminization/gender change of Guanyin in


 Appearance of Virgin Mary’s image in China along with the spread of Christian churches (strictly

Nestorian Christianty’s church) in Tang times.

 The quest for and interest in the Divine Feminine to compensate for the patriarchal or male-dominated nature of Buddhism

 competition with Daoism, in which Queen

Mother of West was its goddess, impelled

Buddhists to created a female deity for


 If “compassion,” considered by the Chinese a woman’s quality, is Avalokitesvara’s attribute, he has to be female

 child-bearing image of Guanyin was influenced by images of Isis/Mary/Mother of Christ

 the spread of Guanyin from China to Korea and Japan, and religious elements in these two countries, such as their goddesses, also helped multiply Guanyin’s female forms

 Countless stories about miracles associated with Guanyin have been told or heard. A recurrent theme in these stories is that people are miraculously rescued from perils when they see the epiphany of Guanyin

 The book also tells the legend of Princess

Miao Shan (pp.36 on) told in the 12 th century

 Locations related to the myths and legends of Guanyin

 Hangzhou (p.37 on)

 Xianshan (p.40)

 and Putuo Mountain (p.41) (originally a

Daoist mountain, called Meicen Shan)

Avatamsaka Sutra (the Huayan Jing, or Flower

Ornament Sutra/Flower Garland sutra), tells stories about Sudhana ( 善財童子 , Child of

Wealth) meeting 53 spiritual masters who help him attain enlightenment;

 the 28 th true friend/spiritual master that he encounters is Guanyin who lives on an island called Potalaka described as “an isolated place at the end of the ocean” and identified as

Putuo Mountain

 In China, some sixty (64) ethnic minority peoples also help shape female images of

Guanyin and spread cult of Guanyin

 As mentioned earlier, Guanyin can also be found in Daoist temples, which are supposed to honor Daoist deity Heavenly Venerable Savior from Suffering, Guanyin’s double. In other words, Guanyin transcends barriers between

Buddhism and Daoism

 Countless stories/legends related to Guanyin have been/are being/will be told and recorded

 Many originate from Buddhist apocryphal scriptures, or indigenous Buddhist scriptures

 These scriptures emerged as early as the Tang Dynasty and continued to multiply later on

 Among Palmer’s three types of Guanyin tale, the first type “Guanyin in Creation Myth” is based on indigenous

Buddhist scriptures whose stories are repeatedly modified and expanded