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Wooden statue, later Liao Dynasty , Shanxi Province

Guanyin ( Chinese  觀音  /  观音 , Pinyin Guanyin , W.-G. Kuan-yin ) is in the East Asian Mahayana - Buddhism , a female Bodhisattva of compassion , but also revered in popular belief as a goddess, while the male Bodhisattva originally Avalokiteshvara was.

Guānyīn is the Chinese variant of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara. In Japan it is known as Kannon ( 観 音 ), in Vietnam as Quan Âm or Quan Thế Âm Bồ Tát ; in Korea as Kwan Seum Bosal (also: Kwan-um or Kwan-se-um ). Another, older name for them is Guānzìzài ( 觀 自在  /  观 自在 , Japanese Kanjizai ).

As one of the most revered figures of East Asian Buddhism, she can be found numerous in iconography , texts and practiced religion. Kannon is the most popular deity in the Buddhist pantheon. Since the cult's arrival in Japan in the late 6th century, people have sought solace and happiness in her.


Porcelain statue, Ming Dynasty
Statue of Guanyin in Shuanglin Si Monastery in Pingyao
Statue of Guanyin in Mueang Boran in Thailand

 /  , guān is the character for "look at, look at, take a look at something", or "view, view", , yīn is "sound, sound, sound". The name Guānyīn (Japanese Kannon , Kor. Gwan-eum ) is the short form of Guānshìyīn ( 觀世音  /  观世音 , Japanese Kanzeon , Kor. Gwan-se-eum ) and means "perceiving the sounds of the world".


Although Guanyin is often assigned to Buddhism, the deity also plays an important role in Daoism. It is already mentioned by Liezi , who was born around the 3rd century BC. u. Z. lived long before Buddhism came to China.

The Lotus Sutra of the Mahayana - Buddhism was repeatedly translated into Chinese. The most important translation comes from Kumarajiva and was completed in 406 . The name of the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara was translated from Sanskrit into the Chinese name Guānshìyīn.

Guānyīn plays a central role in the Heart Sutra .

Many statues were made in China . At first, according to the translation, Guānyīn was represented as a man. As it spread in the country, the content of the sutra was often mixed up with existing religious beliefs and practices.

In the Táng dynasty ( 618 to 907 ) there was tolerance and there were intensive encounters between many religions. The Lotus Sutra was popular because of its emphasis on compassion. But especially in popular piety there was a great need for a deity with feminine attributes. A popular goddess of the time was Xīwángmǔ , the queen mother of the West from Daoism . By mixing these and other religious ideas, the “goddess” Guānyīn emerged over the course of time. She can assume 33 different roles in the Lotus Sutra, seven of which are female.

In the 9th and 10th centuries, Guanyin was increasingly portrayed as a woman in northwest China. In the 12th century, ancient stories of goddesses and heroes were associated with Guanyin even in religious centers.

When Portuguese Jesuits came to China in the late 16th century, Chinese artists viewed the Madonna statues as a representation of Guanyin and began to make new statues based on this model.

Other representations of Guānyīn are based on Avalokiteshvara . She has many eyes so that she can see the suffering all over the world, and many arms so that she can help everywhere. In literary terms it is described as having 1000 eyes and 1000 arms. Most statues of the "1000-handed" Kannon (Japanese: Senju kannon ) have only 42 arms. It is based on the belief that there are 25 “worlds”. The Kannon has 2 "normal" arms and 40 arms that save living beings in the worlds (in one world each, and 24 of them are therefore not visible). 40 × 25 = 1000, which explains the name. (There are a few statues that actually have 1,000 arms.)

In Japan she is often depicted as Jūichimen Kannon with eleven heads. These symbolize the ability to see in all directions (to be all-seeing). The 11-person Kannon of the Yakushi-ji in Nara is one of the most famous.

These pictures are supposed to express the ideal of a deity who sees everything and helps everyone and is therefore extremely busy.

Myths and Legends

There are innumerable stories of the power and miraculous help that is said to come from Guanyin. The individual stories are told in different versions. The most important stories can be divided into three groups:

Guanyin as creator

This story describes the need for a wise and benevolent ruler for a people to live together.

In the beginning of time, Guanyin lived with all creatures on earth. She showed them how to live and how to treat others. Everyone lived happily together under her tutelage. In the event of disagreement, they asked Guanyin for advice and a good solution was found.

But the day came when Guanyin had to return to heaven. Now much hostility broke out among living beings. Her lamentation was so loud that it was finally heard by Guanyin ...

The legend of Miào Shàn

This story is the most famous and contributed most to its popularity.

The story is about the princess Miào Shàn ( 妙善 ). Since the king and his wife are bad people, they do not see the good in their daughter. She does not allow herself to be distracted by the harassment of her parents. Miào Shàn renounces the world and goes to the monastery. In the end, parents realize their daughter's true greatness and become better people.

In some representations, Miào Shàn is described as an earlier incarnation of Guānyīn.

Guānyīn and the sea

On the coast of China there were many cults around sea goddesses, which often only have regional significance. Many stories tell of travelers or sailors who were miraculously saved. The old stories are told today with Guanyin as a helper.

On the island of Pǔtuó , 110 km from Nìngbō , on the shipping route from Japan to Taiwan , lies the mountain P Schtuóshān . This used to be a sacred mountain of Daoism. In the late 14th century it became a center of Guanyin worship and a sacred mountain for Buddhists.

Psychological interpretation

The analytical psychology in the tradition of Carl Gustav Jung applies Guanyin be particularly significant expression of the mother archetype .



  • Martin Palmer, Jay Ramsay, Man-Ho Kwok: Kuan Yin. Myths and Prophecies of the Chinese Goddess of Compassion . Thorsons, San Francisco 1995, ISBN 1-85538-417-5
  • Chün-fang Yü: Kuan-yin, The Chinese Transformation of Avalokitesvara . Columbia University Press, 2001, ISBN 0-231-12029-X
  • John Blofeld: Bodhisattva of Compassion. The Mystical Tradition of Kuan Yin . Shambhala, Boston 1988, ISBN 0-87773-126-8
  • Daniela Schenker: Kuan Yin - companion on the spiritual path . Hans-Nietsch-Verlag, Freiburg 2006 (presentation from an esoteric point of view)

Web links

Commons : Guanyin  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Kannon iconography in Japan

Guanyin Legends (Günter Trageser)

Individual evidence

  1. Kwan Seum Bosal - Our Holy Mother. (No longer available online.) Archived from the original on February 27, 2012 ; Retrieved December 15, 2010 . Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  2. Kuan (Kwan) Yin Goddess. Retrieved December 15, 2010 .
  3. Zeno: Full text philosophy: Liä Dsi: The true book from the source of the source. Stuttgart 1980, pp. 51-52 .: 4th ... Retrieved on April 22, 2020 .