When my brother Ken told me of his plans to travel to Thailand and Malaysia with his wife, I asked him to bring me a pendant or small statue of Kwan Yin. I first heard about her years ago while reporting on an upcoming visit of the Dalai Lama to Central New York, where I live and work as a writer. The woman, a Tibetan Buddhist, introduced me to the Buddha of Compassion, and I was interested in learning more about her.
Kwan Yin (also spelled Guanyin or Quan Yin, among other ways) is sometimes considered female; one translation of the holy figure’s name is “Perceiving the Sounds (or Cries) of the World.” She is considered a manifestation of the Divine Mother, revered in the same way Christians honor Mary, the mother of Jesus. Kwan Yin is said to have a thousand hands and a thousand eyes because she is always present to provide what people need.
My brother (who once asked me to bring from Rome a mini Colosseum, chariot and gladiators) agreed to put his wife Suat (We call her Sally) in charge of the search for a tasteful figurine. Ken’s brother-in-law, it turns out, considers Kwan Yin his personal Buddha. Mr. Wee said she chose him when he was a young man. Since then, he has studied her stories and honored her.
Ken figured he could cross one souvenir off his list. “Can you help me find a Kwan Yin for my sister?” he asked. Not so fast, Mr. Wee told him. “You can’t choose a Kwan Yin for your sister. Kwan Yin has to choose her.”
Mr. Wee offered to take Ken to the Kwan Yin Temple in Kuala Lampur, Malaysia’s capital. My brother doesn’t consider himself religious, but his temperament is attuned to the general philosophy of Buddhism. He says he was called by The Laughing Buddha many years ago.
At the temple, my brother took pictures of the gorgeous statues and abundant gardens as Mr. Wee and his wife chanted and lit incense.
Ken, shaped by Western thinking, asked Mr. Wee if the temple sold Kwan Yin souvenirs. “Ken,” Mr. Wee said, “You don’t understand. She has to choose you.” He collected some brochures and books for my brother to send me.
My brother and sister-in-law did bring me some trinkets from Malaysia. But no Kwan Yin statue from the temple. Instead, I got this terrific story. It’s the perfect souvenir.
P.S. Photos courtesy of Kenneth Gadoua of Eurl Digital Media.