Guan Yin is a Bodhisattva. A Bodhisattva is one who has reached Nirvana and achieved Enlightenment, but has chosen to remain on earth to soothe the pain of humankind and to lead them to Enlightenment. Guan is the goddess of compassion, and she is the only female Bodhisattva. However, she was not always female.
In the beginning, the god of compassion was Avalokite vara, and he was male. The Buddhist god of compassion remains male today in both India and Tibet. But when Buddhism was brought to China in the fifth century it was difficult for the Chinese to relate to a male god of compassion. In the Taoist tradition the god of compassion was female. And so, over time the two traditions merged and the result was a female Buddhist goddess of compassion. When her gender changed her named changed as well and she became Guan Yin.
Guan Yin is often shown holding a child in her arms. This is because she is the Buddhist saint of barren women. The child is a symbol that shows that she hears their cries for children. The whiteness of her clothing is the symbol of purity. Sometimes she is depicted holding a mala in one hand. This symbolizes her devotion to Buddhism. When we see Guan Yin with the lotus blossom we are reminded that though our lives might be surrounded by the mud of misery we can attain enlightenment. Often statues of Guan Yin show her with many arms, and an eye in the palm of each hand.
An old Chinese fairytale depicts the story of how Guan Yin came to be and how she earned her thousand arms and eyes. In China during the 7th century a king had three daughters. The greatest desire of his third and youngest daughter was to be a nun. However, the king wanted her to marry. When she protested, the king became angry and flew into a rage. He ordered her to serve the family by doing the most menial tasks, such as scrubbing chamberpots and growing vegetables in barren rocky ground. He was sure that such tasks would humble her and make her change her mind and follow his wishes. But it was not to be.
She was able to grow beautiful vegetables in the garden. When the king saw that his plan was foiled he was very angry and order her execution. The executioner was a kind-hearted man, and he devised a way to make the sword break into a thousand pieces and leave the girl unharmed. When the king saw that the execution was not successful he took matters into his own hands and managed to kill her himself.
Upon the young girl's arrival in the underworld, the fires of hell were put out. The king of the underworld did not appreciate the changes that she brought to his kingdom and so he returned her to the land of the living, riding in the heart of a lotus bloom. When she arrived in the land of the living she made her home on the top of Putuo, an island in the sea. She lived here for many years healing the sick and saving mariners from shipwreck.
Guan Yin's father became ill, late in his life, and he was told that the only thing that could heal him was the eyes and arms of a compassionate soul. Upon hearing this, the girl willingly gave her arms and eyes so that he might be healed. Not knowing who she was, he approached her to give his thanks. As he recognized her as his daughter, and understood her sacrifice a cloud descended upon her. When the cloud went away the holes that were once her eyes and arms had been replaced by a thousand eyes and arms.
Article Source: http://EzineArticles.com/?expert=Sylvia_Smelcer