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Guanyin in Teaching Mudra (Vitarka)
Item No. 16124

18th Century, Buddhist, China
Lacquer over Wood and Polychrome
42.5" x 17" x 12"
( 107.95 x 43.18 x 30.48 cm)
(H x W x D)

This statue of a seated bodhisattva is a portrait of simple elegance and power. The image probably represents Guanyin, although it does not contain definitive symbols of her, such as an Amitabha Buddha in her crown.

The image is finely carved with few decorative details. The crown which comes to a point (now missing due to age) is unadorned. Her hair is very simple, pulled back and flowing slightly down the back of her head. The face, elegantly carved in contemplation expression is tilted forward as if to hear all the cries and prayers of her devotees. The eyes are cast down to view the devotees below her, as the statue was originally placed in niche above eye level. There is a small round bump in the center of her forehead, an urna, which is a "spiral or circular dot placed on the forehead of Buddhas or bodhisattvas as an auspicious sign, sometimes though to represent wisdom." (Wikipedia)

She is simply clad. She has a shawl over her shoulders extending to the back of the figure and placed over an outer robe. The outer garment is open at the front and bordered with a round red hem and reveals a bare chest with a pectoral like necklace and a high shirt tied at the waist with a ribbon.

She sits in padmasana with her legs covered. Her right hand is raised in front of her chest in vitarka, or the explanation mudra with the middle finger and the thumb touching. According to McArthur, "The joining of these fingers "forms a circle that represents perfection, or enlightenment."(McArthur p. 42) This mudra is closely associated with Guanyin as it represents "teaching the dharma, or Buddhist law and is believed to convince listeners of the truth of the dharma."(McArthur p.42).

Her left hand rests on her knee clasping a rosary, a symbol of her devotion to Buddhism and its tenets and the means of her calling upon the Buddhas for assistance." (geocities) Guanyin is associated with the rosary from her birth, as she was born with a rosary in one hand and a white lotus in the other.(compass) According to another source, "It is taught that the beads represent all living beings and the turning of the beads symbolizes that Avalokitesvara (she is known as Guanyin in Mahayana Buddhism) is leading them out of their state of misery and repeated rounds of rebirth into Nirvana."(geocities)

She sits on a high pedestal tall topped by two large lotus leaves (one is now decayed)and an open lotus with pointed petals. The lotus is one of the major symbols of Buddhism, representing purity and rebirth. "Buddhists believe that just as the lotus flower rises unsoiled from the mud an mire to blossom above the water's surface, so cam the human heart or mind develop the virtues of he Buddha, transcending desires and attachments to reveal its pure nature." (Markell p.75)


Bagyalkakshmi, “The Creation of Goddess of Mercy from Avalokitesvara” in Across the Himalayan Gap, New Deli, Gyan Publishing House, 1998.

John Blofeld, Bodhisattva of Compassion: The Mystical Tradition of Kuan Yin, Denver, Shambala Publications, 1978.

Jose Ignacio Cabezon, “Mother Wisdom, Father Love: Gender-based Imagery in Mahayana Buddhist Thought,” in Buddhism, Sexuality, and Gender, Jose Ignacio Cabezon, ed., State University of New York Press, Albany, 1992.

Anthony Flanagan, Buddhism: An Introduction: Buddhist Symbols,

Eloise Hart, “Kuan Yin: Goddess of Mercy, Friend of Mankind,” Sunrise Magazine, December, 1984/January, 1985.

Chun-Fang Yu, Kuan-yin: The Chinese Transformation of Avalokitesvara, New York, Columbia University Press, 2001.

Chun-Fang Yu, “Kuan-yin: The Chinese Transformation of Avalokitesvara” in Latter Days of the Law: Images of Chinese Buddhism 850-1850, Marsha Weidner, Ed. Honolulu, University of Hawaii Press, 1994, p.151-182.

Patricia Eichenbaum Karetzky, Images of Asia: Chinese Buddhist Art, Oxford Univesity Press, New York, 2002.

Gill Farrer-Halls, The Feminine Face of Buddhism, Godsfield Press, Illinois, 2002.

Cari and Jon Markell, ed., Masterpieces of Buddhist Art: The Works of Korean National Treasure Master Jin Hyung Lee Seoul, Yeogin Gallery of Buddhist Art, 2007.

Meher McArthur, Reading Buddhist Art: An Illustrated Guide to Buddhist Signs and Symbols, London, Thames and Hudson, 2002.

Barbara Reed, “The Gender Symbolism of Kuan-yin Bodhisattva,” in Buddhism, Sexuality and Gender, in Buddhism, Sexuality, and Gender, Jose Ignacio Cabezon, ed., State University of New York Press, Albany, 1992.

Web Sources, Guanyin the Compassionate Savioress, Alex Chew, QUAN-YIN:The Goddess of Compassion and Mercy

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