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Guanyin in Meditation with Attendants
Item No. 16240

19th Century, Buddhist, China
Wood with Polychrome
10.5" x 5.5" x 0"
( 26.67 x 13.97 x 0 cm)
(H x W x D)

This delicately carved image of Guanyin represents her with her two attendants, who flank her standing atop lotus buds. On her right is Sudhana, a young male pilgrim with his hands held in prayer and in reverence for Guanyin. Sudhana is described in one of the Chinese sutras associated with Guanyin (Avatamsaka Sutra) as spending his youth seeking the truth. He visits fifty-three teachers, of which Guanyin is the twenty-eighth “good friend” he consulted, while Guanyin sat on a diamond boulder in a clearing in a luxuriant area and preached the Dharma to him.

On Guanyin’s left is the Dragon Princess (Longnu). According to the Sutras, Guanyin visited the palace of the Dragon King to share with him her dharani or incantations that are part of the esoteric scriptures. It was believed that when a person called the name of Guanyin three times and chanted the dharani, he or she would be saved from all kinds of disasters. The dharani was particularly important for women, since it is believed to save them from difficult and life-endangering childbirths. If a person is faithful in chanting the dharani, he or she will be able to have a vision of Guanyin while alive and, having been freed from all sins, will not suffer either rebirth in the four woeful realms of hell or problems from hungry ghosts, animals and angry demigods. The effect of this dharani is said to be so powerful that not only will the devotee’s desires be completely fulfilled in this life, but she will also see the Buddha and never leave his side after death. In gratitude, the Dragon King’s daughter presented Guanyin with a precious jewel of unparalleled worth.

Artists depicted Guanyin accompanied by Sudhana from the twelfth century onwards, and the Dragon Princess became Guanyin’s companion centuries later. Chun-fang Yu, believes that the tradition of a “pair of male and female attendants, symbolizing yang and yin, started with Taoism. I believe that these two attendants are the Buddhist counterparts to the Taoist Golden Boy (Jintong) and the Jade Girl (Yunu) who had been depicted as the attendants of the Jade Emperor since the Tang.” (1)

1. Chun-fang Yu, Kuan-yin The Chinese Transformation of Avalokitesvara, Columbia University Press, 2001, page 440.

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