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Guanyin unveiled

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Ho, Hsiu Chen Julia




Doctor of Philosophy in Religious Studies


Santucci, James A.
Lancaster, Lewis R.
Long, Darui


My study of the mythology surrounding Guanyin through the engagement of historical records led me to the conclusion that the relationship between Buddhism on the one hand and indigenous cultural and religious traditions on the other was more significant than previously suspected. As we increasingly considered Guanyin's relation to the Chinese cultural, religious, historical, and social contexts over time, it has become ever more evident why Avalokiteśvara could and did become a goddess in China. Furthermore, another realization that arose is that Guanyin was regarded, perceived, and understood differently by diverse areas of society. This disparity is due in part to the two lines of inquiry along which Western knowledge of Chinese religion developed. The first proceeded from the study of the elite tradition, which investigated the ideas and authors of the Confucian, Buddhist, and Daoist texts. Scholars, especially historians of intellectual history and those within the humanities, were interested primarily in the history of ideas, in major thinkers, in formative scriptures, in the work of visual artists, and in formal religious institutions. The second type of inquiry began with the folk religion and drew on fieldwork investigating the beliefs and rituals of primarily uneducated people. These social scientists concentrated on the diffused form of Chinese religion as manifested in family life and village communities; texts of the elite tradition were marginalized as were religious professionals. These two approaches have still not been resolved, and questions about the relationships between written and oral traditions, elite and popular culture, philosophy and religion, singular or multiple religious traditions are still being debated. However, the main concern of Chinese religion is salvation; not only salvation from the ills of this life, but salvation from the inevitable punishment of evil deeds committed in this life. In China, the Buddhist doctrines of karma and rebirth had profoundly influenced the Chinese people. Temples dedicated to Guanyin are to be found all over China, and she unquestionably occupies a supreme place in the affection of the people as one whose tender heart of compassion is always responsive to the cry of the afflicted. Indeed, no divinity holds as large a place in popular worship as Guanyin; this is due to the mysterious and merciful function that the Bodhisattva fulfills in the Buddhist world and in the popular culture of China.

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