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Guanyin on a Lotus with a Fish and Dragon
Item No. 19006

18th - 19th Century, Buddhist, China
Wood with Polychrome
13.5" x 6" x 4"
( 34.29 x 15.24 x 10.16 cm)
(H x W x D)


The Guanyin of the South Sea is one of the most popular depictions of this Bodhisattva during the Ming and early Ch’ing period. In this manifestation, she is a form of White Clad Guanyin “combined with swirling waters, leaping fish or placid seas.” (Palmer p.41). Palmer states that as the devotion to Kuan spread eastward from the mountainous regions of North China to the coastal areas such as Shanghai, Hong Kong or Canton, stories associating her with the seas, especially around Pu To Shan proliferated and she became identified as the guardian of the seas. In these areas, “it is as protectress on the seas that Kuan Yin is most important.” (Palmer p. 41)

In this statue, Guanyin sits on a lotus throne above the ocean in which swim a dragon with a flaming pearl in its claw and fish with its head and tail exposed above the waves. According to Chamberlain (page 73), “When dragons are depicted they seem to revolve around a red orb which is sometimes described as the sun, the moon, the unity of Yin and Yang, or the night shining pearl… The pearl itself symbolizes perfection.” (p. 73)

She sits on a double tiered lotus throne. The lotus is one of the most significant symbols of Buddhism, and, as thrones, they can only be used support enlightened beings such as Buddhas or bodhisattvas. The lotus “symbolizes purity, because it grows out of the mud but is not defiled, and perfection because its fruits were said to be ripe the moment the flower blossomed just as Buddha’s words of truth bear immediately the fruit of enlightenment. The petals of the flower are seen as spokes of the wheel of the law of perpetual cycles of existence along which all unenlightened sentient beings are destined to pass.” (Chamberlain p. 73)

Guanyin is seated in padmasana (lotus position) with her hands in dhyana mudra (meditation) with the right hand on top of left. Her face is bent slightly forward as if listening to the cries of her devotees. Her eyes are cast down below arched carved eyebrows which meet above her straight nose and smiling mouth. She wears a black with blue robe with red borders on the outer garment and red ribbon tied at the waist of her skirt. Her legs are covered by the robes, and there is a scarf down her shoulders. There is a large indentation on the back of throne with a vertical shaft, possibly for easy carrying or transport for a devotee while he or she traveled. On the Bodhisattva’s back is a carved bung which is still closed. Much of the original lacquer and pigmentation remain on this charming well carved statue.

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.

Jonathan Chamberlain, Chinese Gods, Selangor Danul Ehsan, Malaysia, Pelanduk Publications 1987.

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 University Press, New York, 2002.

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

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

Martin Palmer and jay Ramsay with Man Ho Kwok, Kuan Yin: Myths and Prophecies of the Chinese Goddess of Compassion, Harper Collins, London, 1995.

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.

The Lotus Sutra, Translated by Burton Watson,, Guanyin the Compassionate Savioress

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