Guan Yin & The Clam


Namo Guan Yin of the Clam

During the 6th-9th centuries in China, devotion to 33 manifestations of the Bodhisattva of Compassion Guan Yin (aka Kwan Yin, Kuan Yin, Quan Yin) became popular. The sets of 33, however, changed throughout those years.

The Clam Guan Yin eventually became number 25 of the 33. She is depicted seated on a shell and is known for her miracles in the palace of the Tang Dynasty Emperor Wen Zong who reigned from 826-840 A.D.

33 Sacred Prescriptions

I would imagine having the 33 manifestations would be something like a set of prescriptions for self-diagnosis. The devotee could choose a particular manifestation of this great being of compassion to focus on according to their specific need at the time.

And I think the “prescription” of number 25 of this set, addresses a lack of intuition-the question: “What am I not seeing that I need to see?” Perhaps the message is to listen to the still small voice of one’s own intuition. Or seek help for spiritual guidance when one is unsure of dangers lurking around the bend.

The Imperial Cook’s Discovery

caldronHere’s one story about the clam Guan Yin as I have translated it, with some added historical context.

One day, the imperial cook for Emperor Wen Zong was boiling some chicken eggs when suddenly he heard a sound from the cauldron. He attentively listened and in fact it was one egg in the cauldron crying out sorrowfully with all of its might, “Guan Yin Bodhisattva, save me!”

egg3When the Emperor first heard about it, he didn’t believe it. But later when it was confirmed, he said, “The Buddha’s power is vast” and he gave the mandate that chicken eggs were no longer to be used for food. (Click here to read Madame Blavatsky’s teaching on the significance of the egg and its sacredness to Isis.)

The Second Discovery

clam3Then another day in the imperial kitchen, the cook was boiling some clams. Again he heard a sound from the cauldron. It was a clam also crying out to the Bodhisattva Guan Yin. Thereupon he lit some incense and prayed fervently. Guan Yin then appeared in the form of the Mahasattva (Great Being).

The Emperor summoned the South Mountain Zen Master and asked him about it. The Zen Master said, “You have been faithful and strong in purpose, you deserve to be delighted by this blessing.”

But the Emperor wasn’t fully satisfied with this answer and replied, “I ponder the Mahasattva’s appearance, and I can’t fathom what this blessing is.”


Mahasattva Guan Yin

The Warning

The Emperor had good reason to be perplexed. The appearance of the Mahasattva Guan Yin was not a blessing per se, but a warning. Emperor Wen Zong was in danger.

But who could have properly interpreted this warning for him? The Zen Master was more interested in flattering him. And why didn’t Wen Zong send out a request for help? Was he too proud? Nations are won or lost based upon the correct interpretation of warnings, prophecies, and signs. Think of Joseph and his correct interpretation of the Pharaoh ‘s dreams.

Palace Intrigue and Imprisonment

Since the beginning of the ninth century, Tang emperors had been plagued by factions of eunuchs usurping power. It’s not entirely the eunuchs’ fault; it was the earlier Emperor De Zong (reigned from 780-805 A.D.) who gave them extraordinary power and influence. He removed his ministers and even the commander of his army and replaced them with his eunuchs. He believed the eunuchs would be faithful to him-those he knew and trusted as his caregivers since childhood.

eunuchTwo emperors before Wen Zong had been assassinated by court eunuchs and he himself was beleaguered by their destructive intrigues. He had planned a coup against them, but it backfired and the eunuchs executed many of Wen Zong’s prominent and most capable ministers. Then they put him under house arrest. So, for the rest of his life, he became the imprisoned little voice of the egg and the clam boiling in hot water and crying out for the merciful intercession of Guan Yin.

W. Q. Judge’s Perspective

wqjudge11“It is the attitude of the mind which draws the Karmic cords tightly round the soul,” Judge said, “It imprisons the aspirations and binds them with chains of difficulty and obstruction. It is desire that causes the past Karma to take form and shape and build the house of clay. It must be through non-attachment that the soul will burst through the walls of pain, it will be only through a change of mind that the Karmic burden will be lifted.” (“Karma,” Path Dec. 1886)

Heart Sutra Song

Vodpod videos no longer available.


Nicholas Roerich, Kuan-yin. 1933

kara_seal2© Kara LeBeau 2001, 2009 All rights reserved

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