Goddesses in the Dirt: Kwan Yin - Goddess of Compassion (we need you now more than ever)

Unearthing the Divine Feminine, one archetype at a time....
 Goddesses in the Dirt - Issue #23: Kwan Yin - Goddess of Compassion 

A 61 year old man falls in a crowd running into Target on Black Thursday. As he suffers a heart attack, people step over his body to get into the store. A two year old girl wanders away from her mother in a busy marketplace in China. She steps into traffic and gets run over - twice - while passersby continue with their day.

These tragedies force us to ask the question: Where is the spirit of compassion in humanity? 

Ironically, the goddess Kwan Yin - the goddess of compassion - has her origins in China. Also known as Quan Yin, Tara, Amitabha and Kannon, she is the goddess who forgoes the bliss of Nirvana, or eternal salvation, choosing instead to save all the children of humanity. She is the descendent of Avalokitesvara, a Sanskrit name which means "She who harkens to the cries of the world."

The iconography of Kwan Yin is varied - often she wears flowing white robes and holds a white lotus flower in her left hand, a symbol of purity. Sometimes she is depicted as a many-armed figure, with each hand containing a different symbol of compassion, some forming a yoni mudra, or door for entry to this world through the womb or female principle. 
As the enlightened one, she made a vow to remain in this earthly realm until all sentient beings have attained enlightenment and have become freed of the often pain-filled cycle of birth, death and rebirth. 

There is little dogma involved with the contemplation of Kwan Yin. All that is necessary is to develop an inner sense of devotion and service to this world. Doing so has the effect of leading us to become more compassionate and loving ourselves. 

The writer Don Miguel Ruiz says that what really matters in life is to be what we really are - to be authentic, to enjoy life and to be love. Not the symbol of love which humans have distorted, but real love, the feeling that cannot be put into words. The kind of love which - in a most extreme form - motivates a person to run into a burning house to rescue a stranger, and most recently in the news - gave a group of people the strength to lift a car off a victim trapped underneath. 

Kwan Yin seemed absent in the tragic stories of the man and the little girl, but her spirit manifested. Eventually an old man came to the rescue of the child in the marketplace. Sadly, she had passed on, but the man carried her back to her mother, who was hanging out the laundry and had been unaware she was missing. In a heart wrenching and tragic tale that points up how some do not value human life, the most deeply ironic footnote was the old man's profession...a garbage collector. 

I'd like to think the holidays are a good time to contemplate Kwan Yin and try to connect to our own inner spirit of compassion. No matter how much damage we humans do to ourselves and to one another, we always have the ability to choose our emotional response in any situation. Kwan Yin is patient with us: ever present, she is always waiting to manifest, and eternally ready to teach the lesson of compassion and love. 

Photos from Google images


  1. In Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada, there is a large Buddhist temple dedicated to the Ten Thousand Buddhas. On the right hand side of the gate, in very large red letters, is inscribed "Na Mo Amitabah", Now, thanks to you, I know what it means.

  2. How wonderful! In the Christian tradition we gave the Virgin Mary different qualities, calling her the Madonna of this or that. I guess all cultures crave to elevate our nature to a better stand.

  3. What a great post, you are so right, we do need more than ever to think about this life and how we act in this world and how we care for each other. Thank you !

  4. I think your last words were the most important to me. That we have the ability to choose our actions of compassion. We need to recognize that it needs to come to the forefront.

  5. The video of that little girl in China is horrifying. Hopefully, Kwan Yin will make a return soon because heavens know, we need her.

  6. We can always choose kindness instead of anger or fear or jealousy, and compassion instead of revenge. We humans can be so terribly cruel and self-centered, but we have the ability to grow above ourselves. May the Goddess help us!
    I so like your collection of goddesses, Amanda.

  7. Amanda you always know so many details of cults and relegions, is it somehow also connected with the profession you chose? I guess it must be.

  8. once again, you prove a great teacher. Good message in a world of crazy,,,:)

  9. I am wishing your Goddess series was a book so i could dip into it again and again. Cant you make a blog book of it so i can order a copy, plus copies for all my pals?? i just love this series - it is entirely inspirational x

  10. Amanda, your post opens up a well of hurt I cannot delve too deeply into, at the moment. Please forgive me for not commenting of some of what you have written. I did, however, want to share with you that I had pomegranate seeds in a beautiful and delicious salad, last week-- and that the experience was ever-so-slightly mystical for me.

  11. Dear Amanda, although (as you know), I was raised Catholic....the older (and hopefully wiser)I become, the more I learn....through you and through two other great friends of mine, I have learned and researched Kwan Yin...and yes, I believe LOVE and COMPASSSION are two traits the world needs to embrace wholeheartedly.

    I feel for Suze.... she seems to be going through what I have been this past month....sometimes, grief and loss are just overwhelming.... but, how wonderful she enjoyed the beauty and magic of pomegrantes!

    Love, always,

    ♥ Robin ♥

  12. JUst found your blog and am enjoying it,Ithaka is one of my favourite poems! all the best Angela.

  13. Compassion is, indeed, something which is greatly lacking in our world. Stories like the ones you recounted sicken me. We have become worse than animals.

  14. Dear Amanda, what a beautiful and foremost touching post. Compassion is indeed not in overabundance in our world.
    The two stories you mention here are very, very sad. For some reason the one about the little girl brought back the memories of a horrid image I saw online a few years back, of a dead newborn infant (a girl) lying in a gutter of a busy road in China, a sight to which passerby's are seemingly oblivious...
    Loved your last paragraph, it carries hope.;)
    Have a lovely end of the week dear Amanda,

  15. My lesson on compassion came three years ago.It was when one night my husband woke up with horrible leg pain.After almost four months in the hospital,a dozen or so doctors,9 operations,my husband ended up loosing his leg.I will never in my life forget lack of compassion my husband recieved by his doctors and nurses and staff.I was blessed to have had the chance to stay with him all day,everyday...I was in shock at the beginning...didnt know what to ask and even what was going on,but it was when I finally learned how to communicate in a way that they would no longer look through my husband,but rather AT my husband.To most of them,he was a number.They cared perhaps,but maybe they were to tired to really care.Or maybe they just wanted to get home...or maybe they just had to many other patients to deal with.

    and so I asked.
    do you have a spouse?
    whats his/her name?
    Can you imagine his/her in that bed,screaming in pain?
    Now answer the question again,please.
    and they did...
    but this time,they not only saw my husband,they saw their spouse,and wanted to do what was best for him.

    I'm getting emotional as I even write this.It was the lack of compassion that made me want to crawl under a rock and hide forever.

    But there were a few,that looked at us,and saw us,really saw us.I remember them the most.I remember their kindness....and it is they that taught me the lesson of true compassion.

    Thank you for sharing this post sweet Amanda.I am so thankful for you.Big Hugs,Cat

  16. dearest cat,

    i am so completely moved by your comment that i will need to answer you privately in an email. i cannot imagine the pain that your husband and you had to go through with his medical situation compounded by the coldness of the staff. all i can say is that, through your words and your actions you taught them something they desperately needed to learn. let us hope that they treat future patients much more lovingly as a result — and look at them as their own family member.

    goddess bless both you and your husband....and thank you from the bottom of my heart for sharing such a personal and powerful story.

    with love and the deepest of respect,


  17. Thank you for this insightful post. Compassion is so sorely missing now a days.

  18. Yes, we could certainly do with a bit more Kwan Yin in this world.

  19. If only everyone worshipped the goddess of compassion...poor little girl. The world could be a kinder and safer place.

  20. paul - glad to spread the word of amitabha.

    rosaria - the bvm has many versions. sometimes i wonder if it's because the church is so male oriented that the only major female figure in their midst needs multiple personas.

    mina - so great to see you♡

    farmchick - we always have the choice - unfortunately it isn't always an easy one.

  21. sara - maybe 2012 will be the year of kwan yin?

    geli - goddess help us indeed! i'm having a lot of fun writing these articles ~ xox

    ola - as an archaeologist, i've studied mythology and mystery cults for years - but it's become a true personal interest beyond the academic - i find it endlessly fascinating.

    glenn - thank you♡

  22. val - so glad you enjoy this series ~ i would love to write a book about goddesses - and am actually considering doing something related to the subject matter - when it comes to goddesses i don't rule anything out! xx

    suze - i'm sorry that this touched on a painful subject for you - there are so many difficult things to face in this world. i appreciate your focus on the positive things in life, and, as you say, it is a good season to enjoy the beauty of the pomegranate ~ xx

    robin - you too have struggled through a difficult period and my heart goes out to you♡

    may december bring more happiness and joy your way dear robin~


  23. angela - ah - another ithaka fan! welcome and thanks for visiting!

    loree - we humans are capable of such depraved acts and exalted acts too. i pray for more of the latter in 2012.

    zuzana, i had not heard about the infant girl....how utterly horrific.

    makes me wonder what kind of world we live in. but then again, i try to remember all the good things we are capable of and pray for more of that in the new year. xx

  24. yoli - good to see you ~ xxa

    dd - couldn't we? maybe we can send out a special request for 2012.

    sarah − yes it would be a better place. i believe if we want to venerate kwan yin, we all already have a temple of compassion within ourselves. we just need to visit it more often.


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