When we were living in China we were once taken to a temple where we saw a small statue of Guan Yin, the bodhisattva of compassion, with her thousand hands, each of which has an eye in the palm. I thought this was a grotesque image until someone explained that it was a metaphor for her compassion. It is said that Guan Yin has a thousand eyes to see the troubles of the world and a thousand hands to help.
I became fascinated by Guan Yin and continue to collect tales about her. In these days when so many are suffering from loss of jobs, loss of homes, who are sick and hungry I think of one story in particular.
One day Guan Yin was walking down the road, saddened by the cries of those who had nothing to eat. She stopped and looked down at a weed rustling in the breeze by the side of the road, a useless and noisy weed. She ripped open her bodice, and from her breasts dripped white drops of milk onto the useless plant. When she had given all her milk, she pressed harder till drops of blood fell. The white and red drops became grains of rice. Sometimes she is shown in a gown patterned with rice foliage in commemoration of this gift to humankind.
My porcelain Guan Yin is just one of the many images my friend Ken has given me over the years. This image shows her with a few of her many magic tools, a bottle of the dew of compassion that she sprinkles about, a little brush to brush away the distractions that plague us, various magic pills and fruits to cure what ails us. If anyone can tell me more about her iconography I would be very grateful.
The most recent image Ken sent me was this from YouTube.
“There is an awesome dance, called the Thousand-Hand Guanyin, which is making the rounds across the net. Considering the tight coordination required, their accomplishment is nothing short of amazing, even if they were not all deaf. All 21 of the dancers are completely deaf. Relying only on signal from trainers at the four corners of the stage, these extraordinary dancers deliver a visual spectacle that is intricate and stirring. Its first major international debut was in Athens at the closing ceremonies for the 2004 Paralympics. But it had long been in the repertoire of the Chinese Disabled People’s Performing Art troupe and had traveled to more than 40 countries. Its lead dancer is 29 year old Tai Lihua, who has a BA from the Hubei Fine Arts Institute. The video was recorded in Beijing during the Spring Festival this year.” Ken Beatty
May Guan Yin be ready with her dew of compassion this year, and may we all be ready to accept it and share it.