Guanyin, Song Dynasty

Guanyin, Song Dynasty

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Guanyin (Avalokitesvara)

The Buddhist scripture the Universal Salvation Chapter of the Lotus Sutra of the Sublime Dharma ( 妙法蓮花經普門品 Miaofa Lianhuang Jing Pumen Pin ) records that in a dharmic gathering, Bodhisattva Wujinyi asked Sakyamuni: " why does the Bodhisattva Guanshiyin have such a name?" The Bodhisattva Guanshiyin answered herself: " I attained Buddhahood in the endless kalpa, and was named Dingguang Buddha. But I felt sympathy for the worldly people suffering various disasters, and so reincarnated myself as the Buddha Guanshiyin. Whenever someone is confronted with miseries and calls the name of the Bodhisattva Guanyin, the Bodhisattva will know of it and save him from sufferings immediately. All will be saved. So I am named the Bodhisattva Guanshiyin".

Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara – Guanyin

This wooden statue of Avalokiteśvara is a bodhisattva from China’s Song Dynasty of about 960 – 1279. Seated in a position of the “royal ease” with the right hand resting on a bent right knee and the left hand in the gift-granting gesture. The image is dressed as an Indian prince with long and fluid garments and with sashes, scarves and jewels.

Bodhisattvas are a favorite subject in Buddhist art and are variably portrayed in different cultures as either female or male.

In Chinese Buddhism, Avalokiteśvara has become a somewhat different female figure called “Guanyin.” Guanyin is an East Asian bodhisattva commonly known as the “Goddess of Mercy” in English.

The Chinese name Guanyin is short for Guanshiyin, meaning “[The One Who] Perceives the Sounds of the World.”

Religion in Song China

Faith in China during the Song period had an increasing effect on people’s lives and beliefs as Chinese literature on spirituality became popular.

The principal deities of Daoism, Buddhism, plus Ancestral spirits and the many Chinese folk deities were worshipped with sacrificial offerings.

More Buddhist monks from India traveled to China during the Song Era than in the earlier Dynasties.

With the growing prosperity and economy during this period, increasingly more foreigners traveling to China to conduct their trade or live permanently, there arrived many foreign religions included Muslims, Jews, and Persians.

Song Dynasty

Emperor Taizu of Song founded the Song dynasty, which lasted from 960 to1279. The Song government was the first in world history to issue banknotes or paper money nationally and the first Chinese government to set up a permanent standing navy.

This dynasty also saw the first practical use of gunpowder, as well as the first discernment of true north using a compass.

Social life during the Song dynasty was vibrant. Citizens gathered at town and city centers to view and trade precious artworks, the populace intermingled at public festivals and private clubs, and cities had lively entertainment quarters.

The spread of literature and knowledge was enhanced by the rapid expansion of woodblock printing and the 11th-century invention of movable-type printing.

Technology, science, philosophy, and engineering flourished throughout the Song era.

The institution of the civil service examinations became even more prominent in the Song period, leading to a shift from the earlier military-aristocratic élite to a bureaucratic élite.


Originally, Guan Yin was shown as a male with an open dress revealing his chest and sometimes with a mustache. In modern times, the female form of Guan Yin has become very popular. Guan Yin is said to be androgynous. Ώ]

The Lotus Sutra describes Avalokiteshvara (Guan Yin) as a Bodhisattva who can take any form. He can transform into a male, female, adult, child, elder, human, or non-human, in order to teach the Dharma. The ''Lotus Sutra'' states that Guan Yin has 33 different manifestations. Seven of these are female.

Representations of Guan Yin in the Song Dynasty were masculine in appearance. Images and statues of Guan Yin during this time later became both genders because of the Lotus Sutra. Because Guan Yin is considered to be the personification of compassion and kindness, and a mother-goddess as well as a patroness of mothers and seamen, the representation of the Bodhisattva became mostly female around the 12th century. In the modern period, Guan Yin is often depicted as a beautiful, young white-robed woman, a depiction which derives from the earlier Pandaravasini form.

In China, he is often depicted as young and beautiful, wearing white robes and a necklace of Indian/Chinese royalty. In the left hand he holds a vase that contains the elixir of immortality and in the right hand, he holds a willow branch. He wears a crown with an image of Amitabha Buddha.

Guanyin, Song Dynasty - History

The Indian Region and the Far East

The great period of realistic painting dates from the accession of the northern Song dynasty (ad960-1127). The search for the absolute truth of nature culminated in the work of Fan Kuan (c.ad960-1026). In his Travels among Mountains and Rivers, the mountain scenery of northern China is depicted with such realism that the spectator is made to feel he is actually there. The powerful presence of the mountains is evoked in a simple and logical fashion, with particular emphasis on the vertical elements of the composition. In his Early Spring (1072), Guo Xi (c.1020-90) skilfully portrays a mountain landscape dominated by a towering peak, using gentle touches of light and shade to great effect. The carefree spirit of the painters of the early part of the dynasty is characterized by their far-reaching compositions. This was gradually lost to a stiffer style of impersonal, official court painting, which adhered to set formulae and inflexible schemes. The painters of the Academy school, founded by the emperor Hui Zong (reigned 1101-25), embodied this tendency, devoting themselves mainly to nature studies featuring flowers and birds. Li Tang (1050-1131) represents a transitional stage between these two styles although he belonged to the Academy school, his style was still strongly individual. His great mastery of the brush influenced two major painters of the southern Song dynasty (1127-1279): Ma Yuan (active c.1180-1224), and Xia Gui (active c.1200-40), both of whom also had links with the court. With these two artists, landscapes lost strength and monumentality, and became more delicate and imbued with a sense of sadness that verged on romanticism. Nevertheless, their contribution revived contemporary-painting with the introduction of a new type of decentralized perspective. Making freer use of the brush, they employed bold, vigorous strokes to depict the sharp outlines of mountains and trees. The melancholy spirit, typical of paintings of this period, was partly owing to the new political situation that resulted after the loss of the northern regions and the establishment of a new capital at Hangzhou in the south. Painting, now influenced by the soft landscape of southern China, became a means of communicating thoughts and emotions rather than a precise instrument for depicting external reality. It was no longer a matter of studying and describing nature but of borrowing its forms in order to express the sensations and spirituality of the artist. This was the period of the poetic style of painting established by Wang Wei, Su Dongpo (1037-1101), also known as Su Shi, Wen Tong (1018-79), and Mi Fu (1051-1107) were among the finest exponents of this form of impressionistic art. A sense of detachment was expressed in the starkness of the brushstroke, which became almost calligraphic -a simple mark that suggested and evoked more than it described.

Fan Kuan (c.960-1026) , Temple among Snowy Hills,
Southern Song dynasty,
early 13th century.
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.



In China, sculpture was traditionally a relatively popular means of expression, especially in a religious context. During the eastern Han dynasty (ad25-221). stone funerary sculpture -often of considerable dimensions - was produced alongside smaller objects of terracotta, gilded bronze, jade, and other materials. The spread of Buddhism from the fifth century onwards exercised a strong influence on this form of stone statuary. In the grandiose figures of Buddha and Bodhisattvas carved in the rock of the
cave temples of Yungang (Shanxi) under the Wei dynasty, the full, sensual forms found in Indian sculpture were interpreted in a more two-dimensional style. The combination of Buddhist art with the Chinese linear painting tradition resulted in a new form of expression. The stylization and spiritualiza-tion of figures became even more pronounced from the end of the fifth century, as seen in the caves (if Longmen in Henan and in the surviving bronze images of the time. During the Tang period. Buddhism reached its greatest development, although only a few specimens are known of the great seventh and eighth century pieces of bronze, wood, and clay sculpture. This is due largely to the purge of Buddhist art in the ninth century. Surviving pieces of sculpture from the Tang era include the beautiful mingqi-tiny glazed or painted figures that had been placed in tombs as part of the funerary furnishings since the Han period. Many splendid examples of wooden religious sculptures were produced during the Song dynasty: one of the more popular subjects of the 12th and 13th centuries was Guanyin, the merciful Bodhisattva. depicted standing or seated in a pose that evokes great serenity and dignity.

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J.J. Lally & Co., Oriental Art / New York City, New York

the compassionate bodhisattva shown wearing long robes and a simple crown, seated in a languid posture of royal ease with one foot resting on a lotus pod at the front of the stepped dais, within a stylized grotto of pierced rockwork rising in rippling pointed layers, the figure and shrine covered with thick gilding over gesso, the black patinated metal showing through in several places including the face with small features well cast in a benevolent gaze.

Height 8 5 &frasl8 inches (22 cm)

A similarly modelled gilt bronze figure of Guanyin on a stepped four-legged dais in the collection of the Freer Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. is illustrated by Munsterberg, Chinese Buddhist Bronzes, Tokyo, 1967, pl. 69.

Another bronze figure of Guanyin in the same pose but lacking both the rockwork back and the dais is illustrated in Gugong bowuyuan lidai yishuguan chenliepin tumu (Illustrated Catalogue of the Art Displayed at the Palace Museum), Beijing, 1991, p. 293, fig. 805. The same figure is also illustrated in Wenwu cangpin dingji biaozhun tuli: zaoxiang juan (Illustrated Important Chinese Cultural Relics Ranking Standard: Religious Sculptures), Beijing, 2011, p. 220, no. 170.

The stylized rockwork grotto and the posture of royal ease are associated with the avatar of Guanyin known as the South Sea (Nanhai) Guanyin, also referred to as the Water-Moon (Shuiyue) Guanyin. The cult of the South Sea or Water-Moon Guanyin arose in China in the Tang dynasty and became widely popular in paintings, literature and sculpture during the Song dynasty. Mount Potalaka, Guanyin&rsquos mountain home described in the Avatamsaka sutra, became identified in China with Mount Putuo, on a small island at the mouth of Hangzhou Bay, near Ningbo, Zhejiang province. Mount Putuo is known as one of the Four Sacred Mountains of Buddhism.

The Goddess of Compassion: Bodhisattva Guan Yin

Bodhisattva Guan Yin.

Swathed in white, standing atop a lotus pedestal, a willow branch in one hand, a vase of pure water in the other, Bodhisattva Guan Yin is a deity of mercy and compassion.

&ldquoShe who observes all sounds of suffering in the world&rdquo&mdashthat is the meaning of the name Guan Yin. Bodhisattva is a title that refers to a rank of spiritual attainment that is above Arhat and below Buddha.

Legends about Guan Yin first appeared in the Middle Kingdom more than two thousand years ago. Her popularity exploded around the Song Dynasty (960&ndash1279), and she continues to be hailed and worshipped as the &ldquoGoddess of Mercy&rdquo to this day.

One origins story tells it like this:

The Legend of Miao Shan

Long ago in a small Chinese state, a king had three daughters and, pursuing further worldly gain, he wanted to marry them off to suitable families. Yet his youngest, Miao Shan, had a different wish. She wanted to become a Buddhist nun and perfect herself through spiritual cultivation so that she could bring salvation to the world. Unsympathetic, the king disowned his daughter and sent her into exile.

Years passed, and the king became deathly ill. An old monk visiting the kingdom told him, &ldquoTo be cured, you must ingest a potion distilled from the arms and eyes of one who is willing to give them freely.&rdquo Desperate, the king implored his older daughters, who were unwilling to help. The monk offered, &ldquoOn top of Fragrant Mountain lives a bodhisattva of compassion. Send a messenger to her to plead for deliverance.&rdquo

This wandering monk proved to be none other than a transformation of Miao Shan. After years of arduous spiritual practice, she had become a bodhisattva. Having heard of her father&rsquos trouble, she morphed into the monk to advise the king. Then at the temple, she received her father&rsquos messenger in her true form and told him, &ldquoThis illness is punishment for past sins. But as his daughter, it is my filial duty to help.&rdquo She then removed her eyes and severed her arms for the messenger to take back.

Back in the kingdom, the old monk reappeared to concoct the magical elixir that gave the king a miraculous recovery. The king was extremely grateful toward the monk, who simply replied: &ldquoBest thank the one who made this sacrifice for you.&rdquo

So the king traveled to Fragrant Mountain. There, he was shocked to see his daughter presiding over hundreds of followers, and without arms and eyes! Tears fell from his kingly eyes as he came to realize all she must have suffered. However, Miao Shan received him benevolently, and bade him to live with compassion and to practice Buddhism. Then, a flash of light engulfed them all as she transformed into the divine image of a bodhisattva with eyes and arms restored.

In some versions of this legend, Guan Yin manifested with one thousand eyes and one thousand arms&mdashall the better for reaching out to all who suffer in the world.

Saving Villages

Popular stories about Guan Yin involve her transforming into unassuming characters to bring help to troubled people. In some regions, Guan Yin is depicted carrying a wicker basket, and is revered as the patron saint of sailors and fishermen.

One such legend takes place in a riverside village plagued by a gang of notorious bullies. After seeing the people&rsquos suffering, Guan Yin transforms into a beautiful young fisherwoman to pay the village a visit. The gang&rsquos leader falls in love on sight and wishes to marry her. But Guan Yin insists he first memorize Buddhist scriptures, abstain from eating meat, and perform good deeds. As a result, the entire posse relinquishes their weapons and change their ways. Thereafter, the village became a delightful place to live, and people everywhere came to know it as a place of compassion.

Rescuing Monks, and Monkeys Too

Guan Yin is a prominent figure in Journey to the West. One of the four classics of Chinese literature, it tells the tale of a Tang Dynasty monk&rsquos epic pilgrimage with three colorful and magical disciples. Written by Wu Cheng&rsquoen in the 16th century, the beloved adventure novel combines action, humor, and spiritual lessons. Shen Yun has presented adaptations of numerous stories from it.

The classic begins when Guan Yin instructs the emperor to call for a quest to retrieve Buddhist scriptures. She then enlists Monkey King, Pigsy, and Sandy as disciples for Tang Monk. Her intention? To have them make amends for causing trouble in the heavens, protect Tang Monk from peril and, most importantly, advance on their spiritual paths.

The whole way, the three disciples drive out evil and safeguard their master. However, sometimes even savvy Monkey is at a loss. But just as he would start tearing out his fur in frustration, Guan Yin would materialize with a solution! No wonder she became so popular!

This goddess of mercy can help solve any problem. But remember: she only helps those who lead a life of kindness, honesty, and mercy.

Ancient China was a land where gods and mortals lived in tandem and created a divinely inspired culture. And so it became that early Chinese history and mythology are wholly intertwined. Our new &ldquoMythistory&rdquo series introduces you to the main characters of the marvelous legends of China.

China in 1000 CE

As in earlier cities, the highest structure in Kaifeng , the Northern Song’s capital, was a pagoda . Although pagodas do not appear in this scroll, they dominated the skyline of many cities during the Song dynasty, as they had in the Tang dynasty. Like the spires of Europe’s cathedrals and churches, the city pagoda was often the first thing the traveler would see as he approached a city or town. (The city we see in the Beijing qingming scroll is unusual in having only one relatively obscure temple.)

Buddhism flourished in the Tang and Song dynasties along with religious Daoism and a revival of Confucian thinking (referred to as &ldquoNeo-Confucianism&rdquo).

The Bodhisattva Guanyin (Kuan-yin), Song (Sung) dynasty
Wood, gesso, and mineral pigments, and gold
© Minneapolis Institute of Arts

“[M]any historians agree that the last great moment in Chinese Buddhist sculpture occurred in the late Sung period, in the 12th and 13th centuries. Wooden sculpture at that time is perhaps the best we’ve ever seen.”
— Robert Jacobsen, curator of Asian art

More about the Kaifeng Pagoda

• Youguo Temple Iron Pagoda in Kaifeng of Henan Province [China Internet Information Center]
With a short description of the 11th-century “Iron Pagoda” in Kaifeng. Built in 1049, the pagoda is not actually made of iron, but its reddish glazed bricks and tiles give it that appearance.

• "Ancient China: The Iron Pagodo" by Ogibwa (Daily Kos) has excellent picture of the details on the exterior of the pagoda.

A Dehua Guanyin and lion group, Qing dynasty, late 18th-early 19th century

23 samedi Août 2014

A Dehua Guanyin and lion group, Qing dynasty, late 18th-early 19th century. Photo Sotheby&rsquos

The figure seated holding a scroll, dressed in long flowing robes opening at the chest to reveal a beaded necklace, one arm resting on a lion with books on its back, the lion with bushy eyebrows peering up at the deity, the back with a seal mark reading He Chaozong within a double-gourd. Height 8 1/2 in., 21.6 cm. Estimation 20,000 — 30,000 USD

Provenance: Ralph M. Chait, New York, 1977.



Kuan Yin in China

Along with Buddhism, Kuan Yin's veneration was introduced into China as early as the 1st century CE, and reached Japan by way of Korea soon after Buddhism was first introduced into the country from the mid-7th century.

Representations of the bodhisattva in China prior to the Song Dynasty (960-1279) were masculine in appearance. Images which later displayed attributes of both genders are believed to be in accordance with the Lotus Sutra, where Avalokitesvara has the supernatural power of assuming any form required to relieve suffering and also has the power to grant children.

Because this bodhisattva is considered the personification of compassion and kindness, a mother-goddess and patron of mothers and seamen, the representation in China was further interpreted in an all female form around the 12th century. In the modern period, Kuan Yin is most often represented as a beautiful, white-robed woman, a depiction which derives from the earlier Pandaravasini form.

One Buddhist legend presents Avalokitesvara as vowing to never rest until he had freed all sentient beings from samsara. Despite strenuous effort, he realized that still many unhappy beings were yet to be saved. After comprehending the great demand, he became overwhelmed and his head split into thousands of pieces. Fortunately, a Buddha assembled him back together again. With eleven heads gazing to the front and sides, Avalokiteshvara possesses the unique gift to see everywhere at once and reach out to the needy.

A character known as Kuan Yin is also mentioned in the Book of Lie Zi as a Taoist sage, but it is unclear if this refers to the Kuan Yin later venerated as a bodhisattva.

In China, it is said that fishermen used to pray to her to ensure safe voyages. The titles 'Kuan Yin of the Southern Ocean' and 'Kuan Yin (of/on) the Island' stem from this tradition.

Another story, possibly Taoist in origin, describes Kuan Yin as the daughter of a cruel father who wanted her to marry a wealthy but uncaring man. She begged to be able to enter a temple and become a nun instead. Her father allowed her to work in the temple, but asked the monks to give her very hard chores in order to discourage her.

The monks forced Kuan Yin to work all day and all night, while others slept, in order to finish her work. However, she was such a good person that the animals living around the temple began to help her with her chores. Her father, seeing this, became so frustrated that he attempted to burn down the temple. Kuan Yin put out the fire with her bare hands and suffered no burns. Now struck with fear, her father ordered her to be put to death. After she died she was made into a goddess for all of her kindness and began her journey to heaven. She was about to cross over into heaven when she heard a cry of suffering back on earth. She asked to be sent back and vowed to stay until all suffering had ended.

One version of this legend states that, at the point of Kuan Yin's father's execution of her, a supernatural tiger took Kuan Yin to one of the more hell-like realms of the dead. However, instead of being punished by demons like the other inmates, Kuan Yin played music and flowers blossomed around her. This managed to completely surprise the head demon. The story says that Kuan Yin, by being in that hell, turned it into a paradise.

Due to her symbolising compassion, in East Asia Kuan Yin is associated with vegetarianism. Chinese vegetarian restaurants are generally decorated with her image, and she appears in most Buddhist vegetarian pamphlets and magazines.

Watch the video: Guan Yin Chinese Song (July 2022).


  1. Thorpe

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    Wonderful, highly valuable message

  3. Fie

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  4. Saeweard

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