Is Guanyin Bodhisattva (Pusa) a man or a woman?

Prior to the Tang Dynasty, all statues and pictures of Guanyin pusa were depicted as a man. To quote the Avatamsaka Sutra (Huayan Jing) - “the valour male Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva” affirms that Guanyin pusa was originally a man. However, Guanyin pusa may assume the appearance of either man or woman. As Guanyin pusa had vowed to help any sentient being who cries out his name, he may thus appear in an appropriate form, whether as a man or a woman, as called for by the situation that requires his support and protection.

In his endeavor to enlighten sentient beings, two possible reasons are postulated for Guanyin pusa to appear as a woman:

  1. The compassionate Guanyin pusa aims to help all sentient beings in need, especially those folks who faced the utmost hardships. In the old patriarchal days when women were undervalued by society as compared to men, it was inevitable that the womenfolk would have suffered much more hardship than the menfolk. In all likelihood, Guanyin pusa would have emerged as a woman so that she might teach them the Dharma, and thereby learn to liberate themselves from attachment and suffering.

  2. The inner refined quality of compassionate love among the womenfolk far surpasses that of the menfolk, just as a mother’s love for her children transcends the father’s love. Being all-loving and full of compassion, Guanyin pusa would manifest herself as a woman so as to exude her motherly, compassionate love for all sentient beings in need of help and support. Nonetheless, there is nothing concrete to infer that Guanyin pusa was originally a woman.

Extracted from: Master Yan Pei’s Notes and Discourse on “Bodhisattva’s Universal Door”

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