Who is Kuan Yin?
Kuan Yin (also spelled Guanyin and Quan Yin) is a well known figure in the Buddhist pantheon. In Sanskrit, her name is Padma-pâni, which translates to "Born of the Lotus. Kuan Yin is the goddess of compassion and manifests whenever there is someone who needs her. Due to her association with compassion, Kuan Yin is often used as a symbol for vegetarianism. It is quite common to see her image in Buddhist vegetarian magazines, pamphlets, and more. She is often viewed as the female version of Avalokiteśvara, a bodhisattva who embodies the compassion of all the Buddhas.
What is Her Story?
Long ago in a Chinese state there was a king who had three daughters. He hoped to marry each one off to a suitable family but his youngest, Miao Shan, wanted to become a Buddhist nun to learn more about spirituality and bring salvation to the world. Disgusted by this, the king disowned her and sent her to live in exile. Years later the king fell very ill. A wandering monk came to his aid and told him the only way to save himself was to make and ingest a potion made from the eyes and arms of someone who gave them willingly. Unbeknownst to the king this monk was his youngest, Miao Shan, in transformation. After years of studying she had become a bodhisattva. Having heard of her father's illness she morphed herself into the monk in order to share her wisdom. In her transformation she told the king to reach out to the bodhisattva of compassion who lived atop the mountain. She told him to send a messenger to plead for help.
At the top of the mountain, in her true form, she received the messenger. Despite knowing that his illness was a result of past sins she willingly gave him her eyes and arms as it was her filial duty to help her father. Back in the kingdom, once again disguised as the old monk, she made the potion and saved her father. The king, now saved, cried out in gratitude. The monk told him he ought to visit the mountain top and thank the person who saved him, and so he did. When he reached the temple atop the mountain he was deeply saddened to see his own daughter, who he had banished, without eyes and arms presiding over her hundreds of followers. He finally came to understand the suffering she must have undergone but instead of anger Miao Shan met him with benevolent love and urged him to follow the ways of Buddhism and live a life of compassion. Then, with a bright flash of light, she was transformed into the divine image of a bodhisattva with her eyes and arms restored.