The Imagery of Kwan Yin

uan Yin is depicted in various forms and poses. She always appears cloaked in white, the color of purity, and her gowns are long and flowing. Often she will be holding a rosary in one hand, a symbol of her devotion to Buddhism and its tenets. She will also have either a book (The Lotus Sutra, which refers back to her origins), or a vase, which symbolizes her pouring compassion on to the world.

Other times, she might be holding a willow branch, which is a symbol of being able to bend (or adapt) but not break. The willow is also used in rituals and has had medicinal purposes as well. Often, she will be seen holding a child, a reminder of her role as the patron saint of barren women.

Another common appearance of Kuan Yin is one having a thousand arms, with eyes in the palms or holding different objects, such as those mentioned above. Her arms allow her to help stop the suffering of those all around the world, while the thousand eyes help her see anyone who may be in need.  Or, you might see Kuan Yin standing with a peacock, since the spread tail feathers of a peacock look like they have eyes in them.

She might be seated or standing on a lotus blossom, which is one of the main symbols of Buddhist purity, since it a beautiful flower that grows out of mud. The meaning is that our hearts should be pure like the lotus flower, even though our lives might be surrounded by dirty (or impure) people and situations.

There are numerous other forms of Kwan Yin throughout Asia; in Japan alone there are 33 different manifestations. You will find shrines dedicated to her not only in China, but in Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Korea, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Viet Nam. You will find images of her not only at Buddhist temples, but also in Taoist and Confucian temples.


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