The Eternal Mother – Guan Yin
This profound and beautiful sculpture depicts the loving and self-sacrificing Chinese mother goddess Guan Yin. Her full name translates as “observing the sounds of the world”, hence she is goddess of mercy and compassion. She is identified with the South Asian Buddhist male bodhisattva, Avalokiteshvara – however – it is said that there are also references to her as a mother goddess in the older Daoist religion.
Bodhisattvas are beings who have reached a state of enlightenment and are given the choice to enter into nirvana. Through their compassion they decline in order to help rescue other souls. After the historical Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama), Guan Yin and Avalokiteshwara (one and the same) are arguably the next most venerated and important bodhisattvas. Guan Yin is usually depicted holding a lotus blossom or willow twig in one hand, and a vase containing a heavenly amrut, or nectar of immortality.
She bears a resemblance to the Virgin Mary (whose depictions may have inspired Chinese artists), and to the Hindu goddess Lakshmi.
Liao Dynasty Guan Yin
Inherent in the balanced composition, graceful posture, and delicate carving of this sculpture lies a sense of ancient gravitas and sublimity.
Vovinam Buddhist Temple Sculpture of Guan Yin
16th Century Bronze Avalokiteshwara at the British Museum.
Like Guan Yin, Avalokiteshwara is the bodhisattva of compassion. He can be identified by his crown, in which sits a small statue of the bodhisattva Amitabha who is his spiritual guide. Like his Chinese counterpart, he holds a lotus flower in one hand, symbolising enlightenment. He is usually depicted white in colour, and is pure in mind, body and speech. Like Guan Yin, he listens to the prayers of all sentient beings in times of difficulty. Recent western scholarship suggests that Avalokiteshwara may bear some relation to the more ancient preserver god, Vishnu.
Sandstone figure of the Boddhisatva Avalokiteshvara (Guanyin)
Six Dynasties period, Northern Qi dynasty (AD 550-577)
Statue of Eleven-Headed Avalokiteshvara, Toyuk, Chinese Tang Dynasty import, 7th century, Wood, H 38 cm, Museum of Asian Art, Berlin.
This sinuous Sinhalese statue at the British Museum, represents Tara, a female aspect of Avalokiteshwara.
Ravi Varma, Lakshmi
Raphael, Madonna of the Meadows, c.1505