Tuesday, December 14, 2010

guanyin, male or female?

when i visited the kong meng san phor kark see recently, i was puzzled to read on one of the information panels that guanyin bodhisattva was referred to as a 'he'. all along, i have seen guanyin protrayed in the female form, clad in a flowing white robe and holding a slim pitcher in one hand and a willow branch in the other. in fact, the usual name in english is 'the goddess of mercy' or 'the bodhisattva of compassion'.

i asked a buddhist friend if she knew the gender of guanyin. she told me that she had heard that guanyin was a buddha, meaning he was a man. another nominal buddhist friend told me that she knew that guanyin's origin was that of a male.

on checking wikipedia i found this: guanyin is the bodhisattva associated with compassion as venerated by east asian buddhists, usually as a female. it is generally accepted by buddhists that guanyin originated as avalokitesvara, which is her male form.

now, i have a clearer picture of things. i am enlightened to know that among the mahayana buddhists, the belief is that quanyin can manifest in many forms and either gender. to the taoists, however, guanyin has no other form than the feminine one. the taoist's version of the origin of guanyin differs from that of the buddhist's.

guanyin can assume many forms; guanyin is sometimes depicted as one having one thousand arms or one with as many eyes.


Icemoon said...

By right guanyin is androgynous like those hindu deities. perhaps the chinese disdain for androgynous forms turned guanyin into female (or male).

Guanyin is a female in Journey to the West but if we read Canonization of Deities (封神演义), Guanyin is a male (with a little moustache or beard I think). The deities inside (like erlang, nezha etc.) are all taoists.

so if you ask me the question, I'd say Guanyin was originally male but now depicted female.

Icemoon said...

Guanyin is only bodhisattva, not buddha. Big difference. In one version of the story, Guanyin refused to "upgrade" to buddha 'cos she wanted to save mankind. Buddhas are like Sakamuni (sp?) and Laughing Buddha. In Canonization of Deities, we find this Priest Randeng who is actually a buddha.

yg said...

icemoon, thanks for your input. your knowledge covers a very wide area. by the way, it's sakyamuni. gautama buddha belonged to a clan known as sakyas.