Thursday, 24 June 2021

June Full Moon Altar: Kwan Yin


This month's full moon altar honours the Buddhist Bodhisattva, Kwan Yin. As an embodiment of the Divine Feminine, Kwan Yin is the Goddess of Compassion -- her very name means "She Who Hears the Cries of the World." See the small golden vase in her hand? It contains the healing Balm of Compassion composed of Kwan Yin's tears, collected as she weeps for the suffering of the world.


I found this lovely little porcelain statue of Kwan Yin about 20 years ago in an Edmonton second-hand store, with a small tag affixed which said "Chinese Lady $10." Clearly she went unrecognized in that store! For Pride month, Kwan Yin sits on a transgender flag altar cloth, flanked by two white lotus candle holders. 

Why is Kwan Yin the perfect Goddess to represent those who are non-binary, gender fluid or transgender?

Centuries ago, Kwan Yin originated in India as a male deity and was brought to China in that form. Ancient representations of Kwan Yin often include a pencil-thin moustache and a small goatee. But because compassion and mercy were categorized as "feminine" virtues, portrayals of Kwan Yin got progressively effeminate over time as artists tried to capture that essence in their work. During the Song Dynasty (1000-1200 C.E.), Chinese artists turned Kwan Yin into a woman once and for all.

So today Kwan Yin is a willowy figure in a flowing white dress and veil, with the hairdo and jewelry of a beautiful woman. But, in recognition of her male origins, she is always portrayed as completely flat-chested. Unlike virtually every other representation of the Divine Feminine, there are no big breasts for Kwan Yin! She is the most androgynous of all spiritual beings.


Kwan Yin's journey from one gender to the other mirrors the transgender/non-binary journey that so many people undertake today. Taking our cue from Kwan Yin, mercy and compassion should always be our response to that most profound of all transformations. It is quite literally a divine journey.

[First two photos © Debra She Who Seeks, June 2021; Third image is from the internet.]

42 comments:

Travel said...

How interesting, stay calm and sweet

Parnassus said...

Hello Debra, In addition to her characteristic attire and the bottle or vase you discussed, Kwan Yin (or Guan Yin) can have a number of other attributes, including a white bird, one or two children, a canopy, and is often seated on a lotus flower, dragon, or turtle. Your china figure is especially delicate and charming.
--Jim

Mistress Maddie said...

Lovely! I'd say Kwan Yin is the Goddess of Compassion was the perfect choice for the month of Pride. I love that your doing and sharing this each month.

Jamie Meyers said...

For someone who weeps for the suffering of the world, which is generally soul crushing, she looks pretty happy and serene.

Bob said...

That figurine is beautiful.

Moving with Mitchell said...

This is fascinating. Thanks! You have the most beautiful pieces of meaningful art. I love that Kwan Yin is sitting on the transgender flag! This warmed my heart.

Martha said...

Beautiful and very interesting too.

Sixpence Notthewiser said...

Love this altar!
And I love the colors of the Trans flag?

Now, this jumped to me, though:
"But because compassion and mercy were categorized as "feminine" virtues, portrayals of Kwan Yin got progressively effeminate over time as artists tried to capture that essence in their work."
Really.

XOXO

Debra She Who Seeks said...

@ Sixpence Notthewiser -- Yes, you can see that same feminization of facial features in some Jesus art too, especially if it's from the mid-20th century when gender roles were more rigid and inflexible.

This N That said...

Beautiful..Interesting story..Love the figurine..charming..

e said...

A perfect altar for the June full moon! **Chef's kiss**

Quan Yin (spell it how you like, she doesn't care) is at the top of my favorite Goddess list. I have a figure of her in almost every room of my house (minus the bathroom and kitchen!) If I see her likeness at a thrift store I almost always bring her home. Quiet Goddess of Compassion, how needed you are in this angry, tumultuous world!

brewella deville said...

Sounds like you rescued a little treasure.

bobbie said...

Wonderful story; beautiful altar! Good work ~

Susan said...

This is so fascinating - we need more Kwan-Yins in this world.

jaz@octoberfarm said...

very interesting. thanks for the enlightenment!

Polly said...

Interesting history. You found a bargain.

Marie Smith said...

You always make me think, Debra.

Tundra Bunny said...

Another interesting Goddess and altar! If you ever need a fundraising idea, consider producing a "Full Moon Altar Calendar"!

Janie Junebug said...

What a lovely figurine. She's much more than a "Chinese lady." Thank you for the information.

Love,
Janie

Bohemian said...

I have some Lovely Kwan Yin Antique Statues and I know what she represented, but I didn't know the whole back story about the transition from Male to Female as a Deity, that is fascinating. And yes, very appropriate for the Journey of the transgender/non-binary community, which my Grandson and one of my Granddaughters are a part of.

Magic Love Crow said...

I love your altar Deb! Thank you for telling us about Kwan Yin. I never knew this! Such an interesting and beautiful post! Big Hugs!

Debra She Who Seeks said...

@ Bohemian -- I'm glad your grandkids have such a loving and supportive grandmother in you! I suspect many grandparents these days are dealing with trans/non-binary and genderfluid issues with their grandkids. MANY.

Kirk said...

I have a darkening computer screen at the moment, but this goddess's message just lights it up!

Valerie said...

I love this. Thank you!

Busy Bee Suz said...

I love her and her transition is something to behold. Don't you wish we had MANY more of those vases of the healing balm of compassion? The world needs to bathe in it.

pam nash said...

Lovely - figurine and explanation. But she might need a larger vase as she weeps for the suffering in our current world.

Liz Hinds said...

Fascinating!

junemac2 said...

Hello my friend, I loved reading and learning about Kwan Yin. Thanks for that. I can never understand why people can not be seen as people, with their DNA mixes (all so varied) of both male and female traits. I have always believed that the person, the character and soul of anyone, is important, now the patterns of their genes. I feel the same way about all the ethnicities too. XXX

Miss Val's Creations said...

What interesting history behind this goddess transforming from male to female!

Richard said...

Thank you. That is a nice altar. I appreciate what you said .

Cynthia said...

She is grateful that you rescued her from the shop where she was known as "a Chinese lady."

Boud said...

Thank you, I learned a lot from this post. I knew none of it before. The stuff I learn in here!

Richard said...

Can you do something for us? Can you go search for that famous song? Oti mi plaches bubaiko? It is on YouTube and it is in Bulgarian but our friend Boyan Dobrev posted it a few years ago. Oti Mi Plaches Bubaiko.

Debra She Who Seeks said...

@ Richard -- Yes, here is the link to the song you mention. Sorry I don't know how to hyperlink it in a comment, but you can just copy & paste the url into your browser and get to it that way --

https://youtu.be/9cFaS_utkLc

Debra She Who Seeks said...

@ Richard -- I'm not sure if the url link is what you want or whether you would like to see the video posted on my blog (if you cannot access YouTube directly). If the link isn't what you are after, please clarify, okay?

Jennifer said...

I love Kwan Yin, and I never knew that she started life as a male! How wonderful!

Guillaume said...

For me the 24th is and always will be our Fête nationale/la Saint-Jean-Baptiste. And, this year, the night when the Habs eliminated the Golden Knights and earned for the first time in 28 years their place in the Stanley cup finale.

Martha said...

This is really fascinating! I had no idea what her story was!

Linda said...

Again you made a beautiful, serene and meaningful altar. The figurine is so lovely! What an interesting story this Goddess has, too, it's great to learn such things from you! A perfect altar for this month dear Debra!

Ur-spo said...

what a lovely story!
I plan on learning more about this deity.

Adam said...

That's pretty cool

baili said...

oh i loved this one sooo much dear Debra !

how amazing you could take care of this lovely and graceful statue for twenty years wow !

her story is heartwarming and her qualities are most powerful characteristics of Creator i believe
thank you for touching post friend!