Compassion and Peace as a Spiritual Guide The path to spiritual freedom is sought by many people in this world. Relief from suffering is sought by many more. In these times, in all times past, and probably in times to come, the need for a spiritual guide is apparent. Kwan Yin (Guan Shih Yin in China, Kannon in Japan) is a Buddhist goddess of compassion who provides this guidance and direction for countless people. Kwan Yin reflects the Mahayana Buddhist concept of bodhisattva, a being of pure compassion. A bodhisattva is a person who delays his or her full enlightenment in order to aid in the liberation of all beings.
Bodhisattva literally translates to Buddha to be, and it is only when all beings have been relieved from suffering that a bodhisattva will allow themselves to reach parinirvana. Kwan Yin illustrates the concept of a bodhisattva very well. In one story about the Thousand-Armed Guan Shih Yin (one of her better known manifestations), a Princess named Miao Shan was disowned by her father and sent to a nunnery. At the nunnery, she was forced to do the dirtiest jobs, but this did not break her spirit. Her father, the king, then sent soldiers to the nunnery to set it on fire. After performing a miraculous deed that extinguished the fire, Miao Shans father was even more incensed. He sent an executioner to kill her, and she was strangled to death.
After his awful actions, Miao Shans father became very ill with a sickness no doctor could cure. A monk told him to take the arm and the eye of one who is without anger, combine them into a medicine, and apply it. The monk told the king of a person who was without anger and who was willing sacrifice an arm and an eye for him. The person was Miao Shan, but the king did not know. When she heard of her fathers sickness, she smiled upon the messenger, gouged out her eyes and cut off both arms. After being cured, the king and queen went to thank the donor, and were horrified to find out it was Miao Shan. The king begged her forgiveness, and with that Miao Shan rose into the air and assumed the form of the Thousand-Armed and Thousand-Eyed Guan Shih Yin. The above is a traditional story that has been told over and over for hundreds of years.
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The transformation into a bodhisattva of compassion is clear, and one can see the absolute selflessness of Kwan Yin through it. The Pledge of Kwan Yin exemplifies both the Mahayana ideal of a bodhisattva, and Kwan Yins own devotion to being a Goddess of Compassion: Never will I seek nor receive private, individual salvation; never will I enter into final peace alone; but forever and everywhere will I live and strive for the redemption of every creature throughout the world from the bonds of conditioned existence. People all over the world experience suffering in all forms. Because of this suffering, and because of the lack of knowledge about what is to come, many people feel the need for guidance in this life. That one religion could be a better path of spiritual guidance than another is negligible. But the different paths that appeal to different lifestyles are intriguing. The image of Kwan Yin is exposed to people in many forms.
Statues, portraits, and icons of her are found throughout the world in Buddhist places of worship. Perhaps she is so appealing as a goddess of compassion because she is that, a goddess. Although men are just as capable of exuding compassion, a feminine figure is what many people would find more attractive as a sympathetic and warm image. As a woman of strength and compassion, Kwan Yin appeals to many women. To a western Buddhist, especially a female western Buddhist, Kwan Yin offers somewhat of an alternative to the spiritual path offered by the male-dominated Judeo-Christian religions. The image of God in most religions is that of a male, and Kwan Yin counters that image with one of breathtaking female beauty and serenity.
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By practicing exercises devoted to Kwan Yin, people such as Sandy Boucher feel closer to her and closer to their own path of spiritual enlightenment. These exercises can be anything: meditation, song, chanting, praying, and reading poetry or scripture about Kwan Yin. Perhaps the most effective way to embrace Kwan Yin, however, is to look inward and assess your own spiritual acts. When one understands their own acts and realizes the self-centeredness or selflessness in them, they are on the path or spiritual enlightenment. Kwan Yin, with her unfaltering compassion, leads Western women (and others of course) on a path that involves much self-insight and evaluation. Kwan Yin represents female power and presence that is lacking in ones own life, or that one simply needs to become aware of.
She embodies empathy and shows us our connectedness to all beings, and in doing so, cultivates a feeling or acceptance for oneself and all beings. Perhaps if more people followed the self-reflective and compassionate ways of Kwan Yin, or ways similar to hers, they would find in themselves the right path to spiritual enlightenment..