The Chinese transformation of Avalokitesvara

Chün-Fang Yü

640 Blz., ISBN 978-0-231-12029-6     
Columbia University Press, New York, 2001     

By far one of the most important objects of worship in the Buddhist traditions, the bodhisattva Avalokitesvara is regarded as the embodiment of compassion. He has been widely revered throughout the Buddhist countries of Asia since the early centuries of the Common Era. While he was closely identified with the royalty in South and Southeast Asia, and the Tibetans continue to this day to view the Dalai Lamas as his incarnations, in China he became a she - Kuan-yin, the "Goddess of Mercy"- and has a very different history. The causes and processes of this metamorphosis have perplexed Buddhist scholars for centuries.

In this groundbreaking, comprehensive study, Chün-fang Yü discusses this dramatic transformation of the (male) Indian bodhisattva Avalokitesvara into the (female) Chinese Kuan-yin - from a relatively minor figure in the Buddha´s retinue to a universal savior and one of the most popular deities in Chinese religion.

Focusing on the various media through which the feminine Kuan-yin became constructed and domesticated in China, Yü thoroughly examines Buddhist scriptures, miracle stories, pilgrimages, popular literature, and monastic and local gazetteers - as well as the changing iconography reflected in Kuan-yin's images and artistic representations - to determine the role this material played in this amazing transformation. The book eloquently depicts the domestication of Kuan-yin as a case study of the indigenization of Buddhism in China and illuminates the ways this beloved deity has affected the lives of all Chinese people down the ages.

"Chün-Fang Yü´s Kuan-yin is a tour-de-force that will not find any peer for decades to come." - Stephen F. Teiser, Princeton University

"A Major contribution to our understanding of Kuan-yin (Kannon) in East Asian Buddhism, giving a most lucid account of the concept of the compassionate bodhisattva and of the religious practices devoted to this ´Goddess of Mercy´ as she has become popularly known in the West." - Wm. Theodore de Bary, John Mitchell Mason, Professor Emeritus and Provost Emeritus, Columbia University.

"Without a doubt, Chün-Fang Yü´s Kuan-yin will surely become the starting point for all future research on this extraordinarily popular Buddhist figure. Yü leaves no stone unturned in her quest to describe Kuan-yin in all her complex glory. The book is sui generis for Buddhist Studies." - Victor H. Mair, University of Pennsylvania

Chün-Fang Yü is professor and chair of the Department of Religion at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey. She is the author of The Renewal of Buddhism in China: Chu-hung and the Late Ming Synthesis (Columbia) and coeditor of Pilgrims and Sacred Sites in China.

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