1850s Guan Yin Statue Artifact Highlight #22

This small statue was donated to our collection in 1974. It is a figure of Guan Yin (Guanyin or Kuan Yin), the Goddess of Mercy in Chinese Buddhism. It dates to around 1850. The statue is made of polychromed wood in red, gold, green and blue colors. The figure is sitting cross-legged in solitary meditation on a cushion of red and pink flowers holding a scroll of papers in her left hand.

Religion was important to Chinese immigrants living far from home. They brought with them images of Buddha and Guan Yin who was, and still is, a very popular figure in Chinese culture and was revered by Buddhists and Taoists.

Her importance is sometimes compared to the Virgin Mary in Christianity because she is the source of unconditional love, compassion, and kindness. She offers protection to women and children and anyone affected by pain and fear.

Guan Yin worship originally came from India around 1st century AD, and spread to China, Japan, and many other Asian countries. She is often depicted in white robes sitting or standing on a lotus flower, which is a symbol of purity, fertility, peace, and harmony.

Wat Huay Pla Kang, Thailand

Guan Yin is the Chinese version of the Indian Buddhist deity Avalokitesvara, who embodies the compassion of all Buddhas and is portrayed as either male or female. Guan Yin is a Bodhisattva, or a person who achieved enlightenment but refused to become a true Buddha and enter Nirvana, or release from suffering, out of compassion for other beings who suffer.

According to a legend, before she became a goddess Guan Yin was a girl named Miao Shan. She became a Buddhist nun against her father’s wishes and was executed for disobeying him. When she arrived in Hell, she released all her positive karmic energy and helped millions of suffering souls to escape. She then returned to Earth as the enlightened being Guan Yin. Our statue holds a scroll which represents the Buddhist text, or the sutra, which Guan Yin recited.

The statue was donated by Mikkel Thompson, who was part owner of The Exit Shop, a bookstore in old town Auburn, until 1971.

Aubun Journal December 18, 1969