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Kuan-yin : the Chinese transformation of Avalokitesìvara [Paperback]

Chün-fang Yü
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)

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Book Description

September 15, 2000 023112029X 978-0231120296

By far one of the most important objects of worship in the Buddhist traditions, the bodhisattva Avalokitesvara is regarded as the embodiment of compassion. He has been widely revered throughout the Buddhist countries of Asia since the early centuries of the Common Era. While he was closely identified with the royalty in South and Southeast Asia, and the Tibetans continue to this day to view the Dalai Lamas as his incarnations, in China he became a she -- Kuan-yin, the "Goddess of Mercy" -- and has a very different history. The causes and processes of this metamorphosis have perplexed Buddhist scholars for centuries.

In this groundbreaking, comprehensive study, Chün-fang Yü discusses this dramatic transformation of the (male) Indian bodhisattva Avalokitesvara into the (female) Chinese Kuan-yin -- from a relatively minor figure in the Buddha's retinue to a universal savior and one of the most popular deities in Chinese religion.

Focusing on the various media through which the feminine Kuan-yin became constructed and domesticated in China, Yü thoroughly examines Buddhist scriptures, miracle stories, pilgrimages, popular literature, and monastic and local gazetteers -- as well as the changing iconography reflected in Kuan-yin's images and artistic representations -- to determine the role this material played in this amazing transformation. The book eloquently depicts the domestication of Kuan-yin as a case study of the indigenization of Buddhism in China and illuminates the ways this beloved deity has affected the lives of all Chinese people down the ages.

Frequently Bought Together

Kuan-yin : the Chinese transformation of Avalokitesìvara + The Kuan Yin Chronicles: The Myths and Prophecies of the Chinese Goddess of Compassion + Bodhisattva of Compassion: The Mystical Tradition of Kuan Yin (Shambhala Classics)
Price for all three: $65.30

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Editorial Reviews


A major case study of the Mahayana concept of upaya... excellent and comprehensive.

(Journal of Religion)


Without a doubt, Kuan-yin will surely become the starting point for all future research on this extraordinarily popular Buddhist figure.... The book is sui generis for Buddhist Studies.

(Victor H. Mair, University of Pennsylvania)

Product Details

  • Paperback: 688 pages
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press (September 15, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 023112029X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0231120296
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.3 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,049,020 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
35 of 35 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Asian Studies Revelation March 28, 2002
Finally, here is an historically-oriented, multi-disciplinary view of Buddhist practice and iconography that is well-written and impeccably researched. Yu looks at Kwan Yin through a Chinese-American lens, carefully examining past scholarship and then giving her own persuasive appraisal of the Chinese cult of the Compassion Mother. Rather than seeing Kwan Yin as a simply a version of White Tara or some other female Buddhist deity, Yu shows how Kwan Yin was a uniquely Chinese version of the compassion Buddha, Avalokiteshvara. Examining the bureaucratic hierarchy of Chinese society, Yu concludes that there was "too much yang and not enough yin." Kwan Yin became popular as a gentle, compassionate savioress who appeared to monks, child-bearing women and children. Yu's command of art history and iconography deserve tremendous credit. Her discussion of lay buddhism and Chinese folktales is absorbing. If you are at all interested in a more intellectual, historical look at Chinese Buddhism, give this book a look.
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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thorough, historical survey of the Chinese goddess July 23, 2004
As the author states, western interest in eastern religion, and feminism has greatly expanded the interest in Kuan-Yin, but it also misappropriated, either smearing her and other female goddesses into a translucent light blue, elevator muzak "great goddess". This makes learning more about the worship and ritual of this goddess a treacherous course, with a lot of books in the market not really discussing anything of the fascinating unique Chinese beliefs (in fact, this can be said about the entire "neo-pagan" mavement).

Having recently travelled with my wife and in-laws to Hong Kong, and escorted my chinese wife and mother-in-law to the Wong Tai Sin temple during the Chinese New Year, I wanted to learn more about the indigenous beliefs and history of Guan-Yin, and eventually decided on Chun-Fang Yu's book.

Like Walter Burkett's Greek Religion, it is not a light, fluffy telling of tales, but a detailed exploration of the goddesses origin, sources and changes in both myth and ritual over time. She starts with the original, the MALE indian bodhisattva Avelokitesvara, and the source suttras, and then discusses how it became a female goddess. The text is amazingly well researched and thorough.

However, the additional pleasure in the novel comes from Yu's own personal experience with Guan-Yin, starting with her grandmother, and this direct connection is interwoven throughout the book, so instead of a dry scholarly approach, we have a book created by an author whose approach to a loving topic is not to skim over it, but to pursue it in full depth. I can't think of a better tribute.
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12 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars scholarly and fun to read February 3, 2003
The best book I have read on Quan Yin and her history. Yu Chunfang has done a masterful job of exploring the history of the savior Quan Yin and makes it a pleasure to read - rather than an academic reference type book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A serious journey to the heart of Kuan Yin October 3, 2008
Chun-Fang Yu's research into the evolving of Kuan Yin in Chinese Buddhist history is both thorough and scholarly. Well worth reading by those interested in the history of Chinese Buddhism or in having a deeper understanding of the part Kuan Yin plays in the lives and hearts of many.

Malcolm Hunt, Brisbane, Australia
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