Guanyin in Meditation with Aureole with Attendants
Item No. 16536
18th - 19th Century, Buddhist, China
Lacquer over Wood
19" x 6.75" x 6"
( 48.26 x 17.145 x 15.24 cm)
(H x W x D)
Guanyin sits in padmasana, the lotus position, feet under her robes, with her hands in dhyana mudra in meditation in her lap. Guanyin's face is calm and serene with some pigmentation remaining. The chignon on her head is tied with ribbon on top of the hair across her forehead, and two long thin tendrils extend behind her ears to the center of her seated body.
She is placed upon a three tiered pedestal, with the top tier decorated in red pigment with a faded gold color curved design. She is framed by a body length aureole, a sign of her enlightenment. The outer portion of the aureole ends in a pointed tip which is topped by the flames of Buddhism and the sides contain a pair of dragons chasing a round object. The round object is symbolic of many objects and has been described as the sun, the moon, the symbol of thunder rolling, the egg emblem of the dual influences of nature, the unity of Yin and Yang, the night shining pearl or the “pearl of potentiality”.
The pearl, in Chinese Chu, symbolizes perfection and, when it is associated with Guanyin, it is often referred to the night shining pear. Chamberlain explains it on a spiritual level stating that it “aids metaphysical vision.”
Her two attendants, the Dragon Princess --Lung Nu in Chinese—on the right and Sudhana, ---Shen Tsai which means God of Wealth or Hong Hai Er which means Red Boy --- (Wikipedia) on the left stand on a spiral cloud their hands held in reverence. Lung Nü often holds the Pearl of Light and Sudhanna holds his palms joined to display his respect with his knees slightly bent to show that he was once crippled.
The story of Sudhana is described in the The Avatamsaka Sutra, (Flower-Ornament Sutra and details his pursuit of Enlightenment, traveling to numerous spiritual advisers, including Guanyin, who subsequently became the equal of the Buddhas in one lifetime. His journey illustrates the importance of gaining wisdom and compassion before one is able to reach enlightenment.
According to the folk piece The Complete Biography of Guanyin, written in the 16th century, Sudhana was a disabled orphan from India who traveled to the Island of Putuo to learn the Buddhist Dharma from Guanyin. To test Sudhana’s sincerity, Guanyin created the illusion that bandits were forcing her to jump from a cliff. Seeing his teacher in danger, Sudhana limped up the hill and jumped after her. Guanyin saved him in mid air, cured him of his disability, made him a handsome young man, and based on his loyalty, made him her permanent attendant.
The background of the Dragon Princess is found in a legend about the Dragon King, ruler of the sea, who had a son who was caught by a fisherman. When Guanyin heard the son call out to Heaven and Earth for assistance, she sent Sudhana with all her money to help. The fisherman was selling the son at the fish market, but, since the fish remained alive a long time in captivity, many buyers thought eating such a special fish would bestow immortality. The price then exceeded Sudhana’s funds, so he seized the fish and begged the monger to release it. When the angry crowd tried to pry the fish from Sudhana, Guanyin projected her voice from afar saying, "A life should definitely belong to one who tries to save it, not one who tries to take it." In shame, the crowd dispersed and Sudhana brought the fish to Guanyin, who released it where it was transformed back to a dragon and returned home.
Also, Guanyin taught the Dragon King her dharani or incantations. When a person calls Guanyin three times and chants the dharani, he/she will be saved from all types of disasters. If a person faithfully chants the dharani, he/she will have a vision of Guanyin while alive and, having been freed from sins, will not suffer rebirth in the four woeful realms of hell. The effect of this dharani is so powerful that the devotee’s desires will be completely fulfilled in this life, and he/she will see the Buddha and never leave his side after death.
In gratitude, for the dharanis and for saving his son, the Dragon King sent his granddaughter, Lung Nü to Guanyin with a gift, the Pearl of Light, a precious jewel which shone perpetually and enabled Guanyin to read the Dharma in the darkness. When the dragon princess asked to be her disciple forever to study and spread the Dharma, Guanyin bestowed upon her the Pearl of Light.
The faces of these figures have been eroded over time, and their features are blurred. Much of the aureole has been encrusted with residue from incense burned in front of it as offerings over the centuries which has covered the original red pigmentation below, indicating that it was an image much revered over the centuries. The statue is charming, and carvings with Guanyin and her attendants standing before an aureole are relatively rare.
Jonathan Chamberlain, Chinese Gods, Pelanduk Publications, Selangor (Malaysia) 1997.
Chun-fang Yu, Kuan-yin The Chinese Transformation of Avalokitesvara, Columbia University Press, 2001
C.A.S. Williams, Chinese Symbolism and Art Motifs, Castle Books, New Jersey 1974.
www.ymba.org/han/hanap2sd.htm1,"Appendix II: The Youth Sudhana Meets his First Teacher (Avatamsaka Sutra, chapter 39.)
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