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Seated Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara – Guanyin (Asian Art Museum – San Francisco)

Seated Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara - Guanyin - Asian Art Museum - San Francisco

Seated Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara – Guanyin

This gilt bronze statue of Avalokiteśvara is a bodhisattva who embodies the compassion of all Buddhas. Sitting in the posture of “royal ease” with the right hand resting on a bent right knee and the left leg hanging over the seat. The image is dressed as an Indian prince in long and fluid garments with sashes, scarves and jewels.

Bodhisattvas are a favourite subject in Buddhist art and are variably depicted, described and portrayed in different cultures as either female or male. In Chinese Buddhism, Avalokiteśvara has become a somewhat different female figure Guanyin. Guanyin is an East Asian bodhisattva commonly known as the “Goddess of Mercy” in English. The Chinese name Guanyin is short for Guanshiyin, meaning “[The One Who] Perceives the Sounds of the World”. The bodhisattva’s full Chinese name Guanshiyin, as translated from the Sanskrit by a Chinese monk in the mid 600’s.


Guanyin or Guan Yin is the most commonly used Chinese translation of the bodhisattva known as Avalokiteśvara. Guanyin refers to the Buddhist bodhisattva associated with compassion but also applies to the bodhisattva as adopted by other Eastern religions such as Daoism,  where she is revered as an immortal. Guanyin is highly revered as the principle of compassion, mercy and love. The act, thought and feeling of compassion and love is viewed as Guanyin. A merciful, compassionate, loving individual is said to be Guanyin. A meditative or contemplative state of being at peace with oneself and others is seen as Guanyin.

Several large temples in East Asia are dedicated to Guanyin. Statues of Guanyin are a widely depicted subject of Asian art and found in the Asian art sections of most museums in the world. The reference to Guanyin as the “Goddess of Mercy” stems from early Jesuit interpretations of the deity’s function.

Due to Guanyin’s interpretation as compassion, in East Asia, she is associated with vegetarianism. Buddhist cuisine is generally decorated with her image, and she appears in most Buddhist vegetarian pamphlets and magazines.


In Buddhism, a Bodhisattva is anyone who has generated an Enlightenment and Compassionate mind to attain Buddhahood for the benefit of all sentient beings. Bodhisattvas are a popular subject in Buddhist art.

Guanyin’s name in various Cultures

  • Gwun Yam or Gun Yam in Cantonese Chinese
  • Kwun Yam in Hong Kong
  • Kun Iam in Macau
  • In Hokkien, she is called Kuan Im or Kuan Se Im
  • In Japanese, Kannon or more formally Kanzeon
  • In Korean, Gwan-eum or Gwanse-eum
  • In Thailand, Kuan Im, Phra Mae Kuan Im or Chao Mae Kuan Im
  • In Burmese, Guanyin is Kwan Yin Medaw
  • In Vietnamese, Quan Âm or Quán Thế Âm.
  • In Indonesian, the name is Kwan Im or Dewi Kwan Im.
  • In Malaysian Mandarin, the name is GuanYin Pusa, Guan Shi Yin Pusa
  • In Khmer, the name is Preah Mae Kun Ci Iem.
  • In Sinhalese, the name is Natha Deviyo
  • In Tibetan, the name is Chenrézik
  • In Hmong, the name is Kab Yeeb.


  • The “Royal Ease posture” is one of the most frequently-seen forms taken by Guanyin.
  • This sculpture of Guanyin can be seen as being either male or female.

Explore Buddhist Art

Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara – Guanyin

  • Title:               Seated Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara – Guanyin
  • Chinese:         觀世音,  观世音
  • Burmese:        ကွမ်ယင်မယ်တော်
  • Vietnamese:   Quan Âm
  • Thai:               กวนอิม
  • Dates:             1366 – 1466
  • Provenience:   China
  • Period:            Yuan dynasty (AD 1271–1368) to the Ming dynasty (AD 1368–1644)
  • Materials:        Gilt Bronze
  • Museum:         Asian Art Museum – San Francisco

Explore the Asian Art Museum – San Francisco


“Keep your mind clear and your heart open so that you can hear your truth .”
– Kuan Yin Quote


Photo Credit:JOM