Representations of the Buddhist goddess of mercy, Kuan Yin, appear throughout Oahu. This figure has now grown beyond her plantation roots to inspire woman seeking the pine feminine — a counterpoint to male-dominated religion.

Kuan Yin (also Kwan Yin) came to Hawaii with plantation workers. She was known as a bodhisattva, one who seeks enlightenment not only for his or herself but also for everyone. A Chinese Buddhist temple near Foster Botanical Gardens houses a large statue. The Japanese Buddhist Palolo Kwannonji Temple is dedicated to the same figure, known there as Kannon. There are several representations in Chinatown. Figures of Kuan Yin also show up in shops in Waikiki. We found one in the Valley of the Temples gift shop as well. She is often shown with a lotus flower or with a pitcher of oil being tipped out.

A University of Hawaii professor, Kathy Phillips, wrote a book featuring Kuan Yin in 2004. She sees the goddess as providing a female role model, a calm understanding soul. Phillips discussed Kuan Yin in a newspaper article written by Mary Kaye Ritz at the time her book was published. The article focuses on the way that Kwan Yin connects with women, embodying the concepts of compassion, enlightenment and mercy. This pine inspiration transcends religious boundaries. In an article on belief.net, Kwan Yin is described as a goddess who can “help you find compassion for yourself, and others.” Now, that’s an appeal that speaks to most women.

We visited the Kuan Yin Temple at 170 N. Vineyard Boulevard. I called ahead and was told we needed no special permission or reservation but they close each day at 2:30 pm. It was a welcoming, if subdued visit. As when visiting a church, it is assumed you know why you’re there. Religious items are available for sale but no special instruction or history/background is provided. It was a quiet, calm respite in our tours.

Background:

“Kwan Yin inspires women to find pine femininity,“ by Mary Kaye Ritz, HonoluluAdvertiser.com Tuesday, August 17, 2004.

This Isn’t a Picture I’m Holding: Kuan Yin, Kathy J. Phillips, University of Hawaii Press, 2004.

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