Kwan Yin

Kwan Yin

Close up of Kwan Yin's face
This bodhisattva had so many virtues, including omniscient wisdom.

I would like to share with you a little about the bodhisattva known as Avalokiteshvara or Kwan Yin. “Bodhi” means being awake and “sattva” means living being. So “bodhisattva” means an awakening being.

Avalokita is also a short name for Avalokiteshvara. This bodhisattva had so many virtues, including omniscient wisdom. Shakyamuni Buddha encouraged us to invoke or pay homage with sincerity of heart and mind to Avalokita when we are in the midst of danger or in need of help.

Names of the bodhisattva of compassion

This Bodhisattva has many names, images, and emanations. Sometimes Avalokita appears in male or female form in order to meet the needs of all living beings. In Chinese we call her Kwan-Yin, in Vietnamese we say Quan The Am, in Tibet he is called Chenresig, and in India Avalokiteshvara or Avalokita. We also know of this bodhisattva as Kannon or Kwannon or Guan-Yin in Japan, Korea and other parts of Southeast Asia. The Buddha referred to this Bodhisattva as Avalokiteshvara. I call her Quan The Am Bo Tat, the Vietnamese name.

In Chinese, Kwan-Yin literally means “she who observes sound”. In Vietnamese Quan The Am means “the one who listens and hears the cries of the world” and thus listens and hears in order to come and help. In Vietnam we pay homage to Quan The Am Bo Tat as our mother because of the great love this bodhisattva has for all living beings. She loves us as any great mother loves her own children: like an ocean of mercy without end. In Tibet and India this bodhisattva is also well known in the Perfection of Wisdom Sutra.

Compassion and transcendence

Shakyamuni Buddha gave Dharma teachings to people like us in the Mahayana texts. Here it was taught that through the compassion of Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara we can transcend our fear, and that our every need will be quickly answered when we pay homage or invoke this name with sincerity of heart and mind. This is what the Buddha said: Any human being who invokes Bodhisattva Avalokita with sincere heart and mind will be saved even from fires. A fire will become like water. If a person wishes to cause you harm and you chant this name, you will not be harmed or even lose a single hair on your head. If you meet your enemy and quote this name, this enemy will become your friend. If a person is persecuted, and that person invokes this name with sincerity of heart and mind, he or she will be free from bondage and all chains around that person’s neck will be broken. If a person has to travel to a place with no goodness and a lot of fear, that person has only to invoke this name without delay. That person will have no fear and he or she will return home safely. If a person has a lot of anger, greed or ignorance, they should chant this name with sincerity of heart and mind, and they will be released from the bondage of hatred, ignorance, anger or greed.

Avalokiteshvara can appear to be anyone in response to our prayers and request for help. Avalokiteshvara can be our father, our mother, our teacher, our family member, our friend or even our enemy.

For the Vietnamese, Quan The Am Bo Tat is an awakening being full of mercy and compassion. When Bodhisattva Avalokita reached the gate of nirvana this compassionate bodhisattva turned back and would not pass, instead vowing not to enter nirvana until all sentient beings realize enlightenment. Right now, Avalokita is still preparing for us the journey to enlightenment. Avalokita is truly a Buddha of omniscient wisdom and compassion.

Cultivating mindfulness and abandoning harmful actions

I also want to say that we need to become more peaceful toward ourselves and toward others. I know this is not easy. I still struggle with my own suffering and delusions in samsara. What I mean is this: in order for our lives to be happy and our prayers to be answered, we need to cultivate mindfulness and change our mind to be more positive and whole hearted. Quan The Am Bo Tat can help us only if we make an effort to abandon harmful actions and create beneficial ones.

May this little note help you to understand more about a compassionate bodhisattva named Avalokiteshvara. May all living beings, including myself and my family, be free from the sufferings and delusions of samsara. May we all find happiness in life and quickly become enlightened.

Venerable Thubten Chodron

Venerable Chodron emphasizes the practical application of Buddha’s teachings in our daily lives and is especially skilled at explaining them in ways easily understood and practiced by Westerners. She is well known for her warm, humorous, and lucid teachings. She was ordained as a Buddhist nun in 1977 by Kyabje Ling Rinpoche in Dharamsala, India, and in 1986 she received bhikshuni (full) ordination in Taiwan. Read her full bio.

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