Guanyin - the Goddess of Mercy

Guanyin - a Buddhist deity at Musée d'ethnographie, Dahlem, Berlin
Guanyin - a Buddhist deity China, Song Dynasty, wood AD 960-1278 Musée d'ethnographie, Dahlem, Berlin. CC Flickr User dalbera

Definition: The Bodhisattva Guanyin is a Chinese comforting and mother goddess, although sometimes she is a he. Maria Reis-Habito says the name means:

One who listens to the cries of the world.
She adds that it is a translation into Chinese of the Sanskrit Avalokiteśvara, used first in A.D. 252 in a translation of Pure Land Sutra. In this work, Guanyin's task is to bring people to Buddha Amitabha's "Pure Land." Guanyin is not yet a female.
It's not until the Song Dynasty, which began in the 10th century [see Chinese Dynasties Timeline] that Guanyin is finally associated with a particular time and place, as a princess named Miao-Shan who dies and returns to the land of the living, appearing as thousand-handed and thousand-eyed Guanyin to save her dying father.


  • "The Bodhisattva Guanyin and the Virgin Mary," by Maria Reis-Habito; Buddhist-Christian Studies (1993)
  • "Review: Kuan-yin: The Development and Transformation of a Chinese Goddess," by Daniel L. Overmyer; The Journal of Religion (Jul., 2002)
  • "The Development of Kuan Yin: Chinese Goddess of Mercy," by John H. Chamberlayne Numen (Jan., 1962)
  • "Guanyin" The Oxford Companion to World mythology. David Leeming. Oxford University Press, 2004

Also Known As: Kannon (Japan), Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara, (India), Chenrezig, Kanzeon, Buddhist Madonna

Alternate Spellings: Kuan-yin, Kuan-shih-yin

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Gill, N.S. "Guanyin - the Goddess of Mercy." ThoughtCo, Aug. 24, 2016, Gill, N.S. (2016, August 24). Guanyin - the Goddess of Mercy. Retrieved from Gill, N.S. "Guanyin - the Goddess of Mercy." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 26, 2018).