The Pledge of Kwan Yin by Wayne Gatfield

“Never will I seek nor receive private, individual salvation; never will I enter into final peace alone; but forever and everywhere will I live and strive for the redemption of every creature throughout the world from the bonds of conditioned existence.

The above is the pledge made by Kwan Yin and which each one of us can take when we feel the time is right.

Kwan Yin is the Goddess of compassion in China, Japan and a few other Asiatic countries, where she is revered by millions.  There are countless shrines to her and she is prayed to for all manner of things from the safe birth of a child to having good luck in business and even gambling.  The 100 poems of Kwan Yin can be used as a method of divination as well as subjects for meditation.

But there is a much deeper aspect to this wonderful Being as we shall discover in this article.  Originally Kwan Yin was a male deity, Avalokiteshvara.   It is popularly said that Avalokiteshvara and Kwan Yin are incarnations of Amitabha Buddha, who in Buddhism is regarded as the Buddha of Infinite Light and also of Boundless Love.

In certain schools of Buddhism, such as the Pure Land school in Japan, it is believed that to call the name of Amitabha Buddha by use of the Mantra Namu Amida Butsu will help them to realize enlightenment and be reborn in the Pure Land, which is a Buddhist heaven in the Western Paradise. This is because Amitabha Buddha made a vow to help humanity and to save those who called on his name.  Esoterically this refers to the power of the Buddha Nature within each one of us –the Pure Land symbolic of a state of being and not a location.

Somewhere along the line this male deity became female.  In my research I came across quite a few reasons for this, one being that with the advent of Christianity into China and the appearance of the Virgin Mary, as often happens, the prevalent culture integrated the Blessed Virgin into their beliefs and hence Kwan Yin arose.  I tend to think that it was to make the whole teaching more accessible to the ordinary people, as compassion can be more easily identified with a beautiful woman than a rather unapproachable deity.  Nurturing, caring and compassion are usually more associated with the female nature whether we are talking about women or the Yin energies within each one of us.

 Avalokiteshvara was anthropomorphised into a being with a thousand arms and an eye in the centre of every hand, meaning to show his compassion for all beings and his all-seeing nature as well as his ability and willingness to help all living things.  But it paradoxically made him seem rather cold and distant to the ordinary man and woman.  Kwan Yin is much more approachable and motherly in her appearance though she also occasionally appears in paintings in the thousand armed form, but it is much rarer.

The name Kwan Yin literally means to “perceive sound” and we will look into this later.

 But let’s first explore the fascinating and popular culture of Kwan Yin.

As the Dalai Lama is said to be an incarnation of Avalokiteshvara so Kwan Yin is also said to have her incarnations. It is also hinted that she may still be incarnating in a lineage of female spiritual figures, a fact perhaps hidden from the profane.

Symbols characteristically associated with Kwan Yin are a willow branch held in her right hand usually, with which she sprinkles the divine nectar of life; and in her left hand a precious vase symbolizing the nectar of compassion and wisdom, the hallmarks of a bodhisattva; a dove, representing fruitfulness and fertility on many different levels; a book or scroll of prayers which she holds in her hand, representing the dharma (teaching) of the Buddha or the sutra (Buddhist text) ; and a rosary adorning her neck with which she calls upon the Buddhas for assistance when needed or perhaps the Buddha nature or universal life force.

 Two more things that are associated with Kwan Yin (and Avalokiteshvara) are the mantra Om Mani Padme Hum, translated as “Hail to the Jewel in the Lotus” or “Hail to the Higher Self” and the “Heart Sutra”  – a short but very succinct Buddhist teaching in which the idea that “form is emptiness and emptiness is form” is put forward. This is echoed in the teaching in the “Voice of the Silence” by HP Blavatsky, stating that we should study the “ fullness of the seeming void and the voidness of the seeming full.” 

 HP Blavatsky writes in the “Secret Doctrine”: “Vach and Kwan-Yin are both the magic potency of Occult sound in Nature and Ether — which “Voice” calls forth Sien-Tchan, the illusive form of the Universe out of Chaos and the Seven Elements.”

Well, in a “labyrinth of words the mind is lost like a man in a thick forest”, as the Sage Shankaracharya says.  Just this quote from HP Blavatsky has so many aspects to it that is would require a study course, so let’s try to extract something pertinent from this labyrinth of words if we can. Let’s try to make the ideas live for us in our very Being.  If we can think of this voice, this sound, not as a cold scientific fact but as  something inspiring uplifting and beautiful – something that is our witness, our resting place, our asylum and our friend,    that will always be there to guide us in the darkness of our lives, then it begins to have meaning for us not as a subject for intellectual study but as a reality in our day to day lives.   This is what really matters to us, not just words on paper.  It is this harmonious sound that called forth the universe into being at the end of the long pralaya (a time of apparent rest); it is this sound that started the motion that stirred the atoms into the correspondences and connections that started the illusive forms of this universe out of chaos and the seven elements. It is a feeling of infinite tender compassion and mercy.

It is said that Kwan Yin, like Avalokiteshvara, is the embodiment of the compassion of all the Buddhas and provides a focal point for many people to come into contact with an actualisation of that compassion so that it becomes real to them.  In that way it is helpful to many.

But for those who need something deeper and are not satisfied with any concepts that delimit the scope of the consciousness in us they may need to pass beyond any formalised imagery and enter the silence which always speaks to us.  Silence to the physical ears is sound on a different level- the harmonious sound that forever reverberates at our core.

This is indeed the highest and purest we can possibly achieve-but for those of us who may not have reached this state there are many stages on the path and many find comfort in highly spiritual concepts like that of Kwan Yin – who is the highest and purest of all concepts issuing from the collective mind of Humanity and expressing something within inexpressibly beautiful and tender which consecrates our whole being and provides  a gateway to the Good the True and the Beautiful and then beyond to something far more wondrous.

We can all try to live in the Light of the pledge to the limits of our ability.  Just little acts of kindness set us along the Path towards Oneness with all our fellow seekers on this planet.  Love for all things should be our ever-growing inspiration, if we have chosen that life.  It should never be ‘heavy’, but joyous.  We all have talents we can use to give hope to those who feel they have lost their way, whether those talents are artistic, scientific or practical.  Never must we despair, but always see a way through the darkness that society seems to revel in.  We need to believe in the power of the Spirit to bring about a transformation in the world for the good of all.  We must Have faith in this despite what the world throws at us and to fix our consciousness on that which is beyond change.

May the energy and spirit of Kwan Yin touch us all today. May we all come to realize and live a life of compassion, doing what little we can to ease the suffering that is so prevalent in the world today.

Published by hermesrisen

writer, theologian and broadcaster, my work can be found at Colyn Boyce is co-editor for Hermes Risen and is a writer, photographer and all round good guy.

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