Buddhist History - Kwan Yin, Goddess of Compassion

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Thailand Kwan Yin thousand arm amulet with gold case.

This is an overview of one of the most beloved goddesses in Thai culture…

Origins of Kwan Yin

The origins of the name Kwan Yin (Guanshiyin) can be traced back to around 400 AD in China. It is common to refer to her as a goddess, but originally this entity was viewed as either male or as not belonging to either sex. It is suggested that the idea of a goddess became popular when aspects of Kwan Yin were combined with legends of a Chinese princess (known for her kindness) who had lived around 700 BC. Kwan Yin has become an object of devotion for both Buddhists and Taoists in China. Her image will usually be familiar to anyone who has travelled in South East Asia or China.

Goddess of Many Names

Kwan Yin is popular throughout East Asia but there are variations in how the name is pronounced. In China this goddess is most commonly referred to as Guanyin while in Thailand she can be called:

  • Kwan Yin

  • Kuan Im

  • Chao Mae Kuan

  • Phra Mae Kuan Im

In English she can be referred to as the:

  • Goddess of compassion

  • Goddess of mercy

  • Bodhisattva of Compassion

Her original name is believed to be ‘Guanshiyin’ which can be roughly translated as meaning ‘listening to the cries of the world’.

Kwan Yin is a Bodhisattva

Kwan Yin is commonly referred to as a Bodhisattva. In Mahayana Buddhism these are enlightened beings who have decided to delay their own final nirvana (full Buddhahood). They do this so that they can help other sentient beings escape suffering. The fact that these saints are already enlightened means that there is no real benefit to them for taking on this role, but they do it out of compassion. The Bodhisattva makes a vow to help everyone achieve enlightenment, and they then devote themselves to this until their goal is achieved. Kwan Yin can be seen then as a beacon pointing other people toward the correct path away from suffering. It is also believed that she can intervene and offer practical help to people in their daily lives – much like the saints that Christians will turn to in their times of need.

Kwan Yin and Good Luck

Kwan Yin is most popular in places like Thailand because she is said to provide good luck. If people have an important event coming up like an exam, or they want to increase their chances of winning the lottery, they may turn their attention to this goddess and ask for help. The general idea is that by showing devotion to Kwan Yin it creates good karma which will lead to future rewards. This demonstration of devotion can be achieved by meditating on her goodness or by donating flowers, incense, and other gifts to her statues or image. In some parts of Thailand there are public statues devoted to Kwan Yin – the largest of these can be found in Hat Yai Municipal Park in southern Thailand near Malaysia.

Kwan Yin Images and Amulets

Kwan Yin with thousand arms amulet from Thailand.There are many different depictions of Kwan Yin, but she is usually wearing flowing white robes. Sometimes she will be depicted sitting in the lotus position but there are also plenty of images of her standing up – usually holding a flower or a water jar.

Amulets containing the image of Kwan Yin are believed to bring the wearer improved luck in their life, and she is also seen as a protector of sailors. This is one of the most popular amulets in Thailand, and it is of particular significance to those of Chinese descent. The devotion to Kwan Yin can be so strong that for some people it is almost a religion in itself – these are often individuals who believe they have already benefited from the help of this goddess. There are hundreds of different types of Kwan Yin amulet, and some of them are much sought after because they are believed to be particularly lucky. It is also becoming popular for people to travel up from Malaysia just to purchase this type of good luck object from one of the Thai temples – they can later sell them for a nice profit at home.

We have been having good sales of Kwan Yin amulets over the 4+ years we’ve sold Thai amulets. Kwan Yin is well known in Thailand and one of the top 5 gods featured on Thai amulets sold in Thailand. The way Thais pronounce her name is more like, “Gwan Im” or “Gwan Eem”, if you’re having trouble getting across to a magee or monk at the temple which amulet you are looking for.

Click to see our collection of Kwan Yin Amulets >



Below we have history about some important Buddhist figures and concepts.

Click one to see more:

The Buddha - Happy Buddha - Chinnarat Buddha - Somdej Buddha

Kwan Yin - Ganesh - Nong Kwak - Luang Phor Tuad 

Jatukam Ramathep - Thai Black Magic - Buddha Relics