The Origin of Kwan Yin, or Miao Shan
There are many legends about the origin of Kuan Yin, but this in one of the most popular.
In 7th century China, a king had three daughters, the youngest named Miao-Shan. At the time of
Miao-Shan's birth, the earth trembled and a wonderful fragrance and flower blossoms sprang up
around the land. Many of the local people said they saw the signs of a holy incarnation on her body.
While the king and queen were amazed by this blessing. Unfortunately, they were corrupt and saw
little value in a child who appeared pure and kind. When Miao-Shan got older, the king wanted to
find a husband for her. She told her father she would only marry if by so doing she would be able to
help alleviate the suffering of all mankind.
The king became enraged when he heard of her devotion to helping others, and forced her to slave
away at menial tasks. Her mother, the queen, and her two sisters admonished her, all to no avail.
In desperation, the king decided to let her pursue her religious calling at a monastery, but ordered
the nuns there to treat her so badly she would change her mind. She was forced to collect wood
and water, and tend a garden for the kitchen. They thought this would be impossible, since the
land around the monastery was barren. To everyone's amazement, the garden flourished, even in
winter, and a spring welled up out of nowhere next to the kitchen.
When the king heard about these miracles, he decided that he was going to kill Miao-Shan. After
all, the nuns who were supposed to have tormented her. But as his henchmen arrived at the
monastery, a spirit came out of a fog of clouds and carried her away to safety on a remote island.
She lived there on her own for many years, pursuing a life of religious dedication.
Several years later, her father became seriously ill. He was unable to sleep or eat; his doctors
believed he would certainly die soon. As he was about to pass, a monk came to visit the king. The
monk told the king he could cure the monarch, but he would have to grind up the arms and eyes of
one free from hatred to make the medicine. The king thought this was impossible, but the monk
assured him that there was a Bodhisattva living in the king's domain who would gladly surrender
those items if asked.
The king sent an envoy to find this unknown bodhisattva. When the envoy made the request,
Miao-Shan gladly cut out her eyes and severed her arms. The envoy returned and the monk made
the medicine. The king instantly recovered. When the king thanked the monk; he chastised the king
by saying, "You should thank the one who gave her eyes and arms." Suddenly, the monk
disappeared. The king believed this was divine intervention and after ordering a coach prepared
headed off with his family to find and thank the unknown bodhisattva.
When the royal family arrived they realized it is was their daughter, Miao-Shan, who had made the
sacrifice. Miao-Shan spoke up, "Mindful of my father's love, I have repaid him with my eyes and
arms." With eyes full of tears and hearts full of shame, the family gathered to hug Miao-Shan. As
they did so auspicious clouds formed around Miao-Shan. The earth trembled, flowers rained
down, and a holy manifestation of the Thousand Eyes and Thousand Arms appeared hovering in
And then, the bodhisattva was gone. To honor Miao-Shan the royal family built a shrine on the spot,
which is known as Fragrant Mountain.
BODHISATTVA (also spelled Boddhisattva): Literally means "enlightened being"; a soul who,
through compassion and altruism, has earned the right to leave this world of suffering and enter
nirvana, but has chosen instead to stay on Earth to instruct others to until all beings are
enlightened. A Bodhisattva acts as the key figure in Mahayana Buddhism.