Dressed in white robe, standing atop a grand dragon (sometimes a lotus pedestal), a willow branch in one hand and a water jar in the other, Bodhisattva Guan Yin is a goddess of mercy and compassion. What is Bodhisattva? Well, Bodhisattva is a being of enlightenment who has earned to leave the world of suffering and is on his or her way to become a Buddha. The white robe is a symbol of purity. The water jar contains pure water, the divine of nectar of life and the willow branch is used to sprinkle the divine nectar of life upon worshippers to bless them with physical and spiritual peace. In addition, the meaning of the name “Guan Yin” is “observing all sounds of suffering in the world”.
Legend has it that Guan Yin first appeared in China more than two thousand years ago. In Song Dynasty (the 11th century), her popularity exploded and she continues to be hailed and worshipped as the Goddess of Mercy to this day. There are lots of myths about Guan Yin and here comes a popular story:
Long ago in a small state in China, a king had three daughters. To pursue further wealth and power, he wanted to marry them off to a suitable family. However, his youngest daughter, Miao Shan, had a different goal. She wanted to become a Buddhist nun and bring salvation to the world. Her father gradually lost his patience and forced her to hard labor and reduce her food and drink in the hope to make her yield, but all failed.
Eventually the king allowed her to work in a temple but asked the monks to assign Miao Shan to hard labors in order to discourage her. Miao Shan then had to work long hours to finish her chores. Because she was such a good person, the animals living around the temple voluntarily helped her with her chores. Seeing what happened, her father became so frustrated and ordered to have the temple burnt down. The brave Miao Shan put out the fire with her bare hands but suffered no burns. Now struck with fear, her father ordered her to be put to death. As the executioner tried to carry out his mission, his axe shattered into pieces. He then tried a sword which was also broken.
Miao Shan realized she had to die so the executioner wouldn’t face severe consequences. She accepted her fate and spared the executioner from punishment and guilt. After she died, her spirit descended to hell. She witnessed the suffering and horrified beings there and was overwhelmed with grief. According to legend, she then released all the good karma that she had accumulated through her many lifetimes and freed many suffering souls back to earth. To prevent utter destruction of his kingdom, the Emperor of Hell had no choice but to send her back to earth. Guan Yin could go to heaven but had given up the bliss of nirvana. Instead she engaged in society, sharing with others the insights of Buddhism and helping people in need.
You can sometimes find a cute boy and girl alongside Guan Yin. They are the acolytes of Guan Yin who were assigned by the Jade Emperor.