Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: Building Bridges: A World Religions Program for 8th-9th Grades

Activity 3: Kuan Yin

Activity time: 30 minutes

Materials for Activity

  • Newsprint, markers, and tape
  • Leader Resource 1, Image of Kuan Yin
  • Optional: A variety of drawing materials such as crayons, pastels, and glitter pens
  • Optional: Music and music player

Preparation for Activity

  • Print Leader Resource 1, in color if possible.
  • Optional: Find some inspiring, suitable music to play during the art activity. Test your equipment and cue the music so it is ready to play.

Description of Activity

Youth envision and draw a physical embodiment of compassion and healing.

Show Leader Resource 1, Kuan Yin, and ask participants if it is a picture of the Dalai Lama. When they answer "No," explain that it is a picture of Kuan Yin.

Say, in these words or your own:

Some people say Kuan Yin is an earlier reincarnation of Avalokiteshvara, Bodhisattva of Compassion-the same bodhisattva that was reincarnated in the Dalai Lama. Martin Palmer, director of the International Consultancy on Religion, Education, and Culture, said, "The divine feminine cannot be suppressed for long. In China, it emerged by the transformation of the male into the female."

That is only one version of the story. Many legends exist about Kuan Yin.

She is the bodhisattva of compassion and healing. She is seen in temples and art throughout Asia, but she is a particular favorite in China, where she is the most popular divinity of all, and her birthday is celebrated annually. In China, Kuan Yin is represented in art more frequently than any other deity, yet she does not always look the same.

Ask: Why might there be multiple representations of Kuan Yin? What does it mean, that artists might visualize her differently?

Say you will give more information about Kuan Yin. Have a co-leader or youth volunteer. Post blank newsprint (you may need two sheets), write "Kuan Yin" across the top, and briefly note key words and phrases as you say them:

She is known by many names, including "Divine Mother" and "The Pearl in the Lotus," but a literal translation of her name is "One Who Hears the Cries of the World."

She symbolizes a love for all humankind that is so great, it can only be compared to the love a mother has for her child. Sometimes she is pictured holding a child.

It is said that as Kuan Yin reached nirvana and was about to leave the earthly world, she heard a human cry out in despair, and she turned back to become a bodhisattva.

Sometimes she holds a willow branch. Weeping willows illustrate compassion. They have thin branches that bend easily in the wind but are strong enough not to break. Willow trees are associated with both Lao Tzu-the author of the Tao Te Ching-and Confucius. Kuan Yin's image appears in both Taoist and Confucian temples.

Sometimes she holds a vase, symbolizing her infinite outpouring of compassion.

Sometimes she is pictured with a thousand arms, an eye in the center of the palm of each hand: a thousand arms to help, a thousand eyes to see all who need her.

You might see her holding a peacock feather, which, of course, also has an eye.

She might be depicted sitting on a lotus blossom or wearing white, to symbolize purity.

Ask participants to look at the list of items and images associated with Kuan Yin. Have them close their eyes and invite them to imagine what a bodhisattva of compassion and healing would look like to them, as you read the key words aloud.

After you read the list, invite participants to open their eyes, and use newsprint and the art supplies you have provided to capture their image. Tell the group they will have 15 minutes to work on their artwork. Optional: Play music, while the youth work.

Give a two-minute warning; then gather the group.

Allow volunteers to share about their artwork. Ask participants if they think meditating on the image they have created would remind them to be compassionate and loving.

Suggest they name their image, which was inspired by Kuan Yin, yet is not Kuan Yin. Invite them to take their image home and use it as a tool to help them live a more compassionate life.

Share the quote for this workshop:

Don't use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist; use it be a better whatever-you-already-are. - His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso

Then, say:

May it be so.