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Kwan Yin and Compassion

Author: David Salisbury
Posted: November 30th. 2008
Times Viewed: 3,222

Eastern Chinese Buddhist tales always depict the great Goddess Kwan Yin as perhaps the most revered of them all. For obvious reasons, she's been one of my favorite Goddess images for years, as she is widely known as "Mother of Compassion" or "Bringer of Mercy". She's known for coming to the aid of all those who suffer and she never turns a blind eye to the pain of any sentient being no matter what form they take.

One tale describes her love so fierce that upon trying to hear the voices of so many suffering souls, her head split into pieces. When she tried to reach out her arms to save them all, she realized she didn't have enough so her two arms split into one thousand. She was granted the ability to ease the hurts and pains of the world because her compassion showed no limits.

Sometimes as an activist, I see so many horrible things that it makes my head feel like it can split into pieces as well. With all the hurt and all the pain in every corner of the Earth, it's a wonder that any compassionate being could allow such things to happen. From this, I remember that Kwan Yin is also about personal responsibility. She didn't rely on others to save the world to ease the cries of the voices she heard. She did something about it even though it meant turning herself into a completely different person. She became a savior.

Once we learn to stop being victims, we can begin to realize how much power we really have and how much our compassion can guide us and give us the strength to do unimaginable things. Legend tells of a crippled boy named Shan Tsai who traveled to the island of Putuo to learn the teachings of the Buddhist Dharma. Upon arriving he discovered Kwan Yin. She tested the boy’s compassion by conjuring three pirates to chase after her. Shan Tsai chased after the pirates who ran near the edge of a high cliff in an effort to throw Kwan Yin off. In the boys haste to save his teacher, he fell off the cliff. To his relief, Kwan Yin halted him in mid-air. After that, Shan Tsai realized he could walk again, enabling him to walk the earth in the good service of the world.

Think about that for just a moment. How often have you been reluctant to take a leap of faith and give something up that you love even though you know that it could make someone else’s life better. As a follower of Goddess teachings, I believe it’s within all of us to make kind decisions that benefit others in positive ways.

Simple choices like watching what we say or think about others, making informed choices about the resources we use, and considering where the food we eat comes from. Kwan Yin is often depicted in Chinese vegetarian restaurants for that same reason. She's here to tell us that simple choices have powerful effects. The lotus she sits upon blooms from the water creating ripples all around it.

We are the lotus and the changes we make during our time on Earth are the ripples. We can all lead normal lives and show our compassion with no limits all at the same time. The thousand arms of Kwan Yin remind us of this limitless compassion.

Compassion isn't like a bowl of soup that you can take a few spoonfuls from at a time. It's a waterfall of ever flowing grace that is within us to let flow. The world thirsts for the water of compassion so don't just give out sips.

The original Sanskrit work for compassion was Karuna. There we see the root word "ru" or "to weep". The standard dictionary describes compassion as pity for those less fortunate. I believe this to be an empty definition.

Followers of Kwan Yin and all eastern spirituality knew Karuna as an undeniable sense of oneness with everything around you. It's the sense of knowing that when one injustice is done to someone, it is indeed done to all.

One might say this is even the pure definition of modern Wiccan belief- being one with nature and your own personal universe. Yet how can we ascribe to oneness when we go around flaunting a gross lack of compassion in everything we do?

While many of us chant at our altars for a better life while wearing our sweat shop clothing and eating our paper-wrapped hamburgers, our prayers quickly gain a hollow ring. If there has been one thing that my Paganism has taught me in nearly a decade, it’s that The Goddess only believes in us if we believe in ourselves.

In most of the ancient heroic mythos we see heroes as ordinary citizens who stood up for something and were later immortalized for their bravery and personal strength. From our earlier story, Shan Tsai certainly wasn't given the upper hand when chasing after his teacher's attackers. He let his compassion guide him to (quite literally) the end of the Earth.

I call upon anyone who truly believes in the inner wisdom of The Goddess to really let your compassion guide you to the ends of the Earth. No, it won't require you to split your head or mutate your arms into a thousand pieces. Start by taking little steps in your life to honor your own Karuna. This could be incorporating more vegetarian meals into your diet, making a commitment to recycle, using more public transportation, or volunteering at your favorite nonprofit.

Just because we might not be able to stop all suffering doesn't mean that we shouldn't stop any. If anything, open your ears to the suffering voices around you. Lend a hand to the voices that have been silenced.

Kwan Yin is always listening, and we should be too.

Magick of the Godes and Goddesses by D.J. Conway
The Goddess Companion by Patricia Monaghan

Copyright: David Salisbury


David Salisbury

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