Thousand-Hand Guan Yin

The grace and beauty expressed by these performers is nothing short of inspiring! As far as I can tell, this information is accurate: The first major international debut of this performance was in Athens at the closing ceremonies for the 2004 Paralympics. But it had long been in the repertoire of the Chinese Disabled People’s Performing Art Troupe and had traveled to more than 40 countries.

Disabled? Yep. All twenty-one of the dancers are completely deaf and receive their cues from trainers at the four corners of the stage. Wow. The lead dancer is twenty-nine-year old Tai Lihua, who has a BA from the Hubei Fine Arts Institute.

I now yield the floor to Derek Lin, who offers the following commentary on his website.

There is a phenomenon sweeping through Asia which is still relatively unknown in the West. We were privileged to see it in our trip to Taiwan. It is a stunning stage performance called Thousand-Hand Guan Yin.

The most incredible thing about the performance is that all the dancers are deaf. They are members of the China Disabled People’s Performing Art Troupe. None of them can hear the music—this makes their choreography a truly amazing achievement. The difficulties and challenges they encountered in training are beyond imagining.

The ultimate message of this performance can be summed up in the following words from Zhang Jigang, the choreographer who put it all together:

As long as you are kind and there is love in your heart
A thousand hands will naturally come to your aid.
As long as you are kind and there is love in your heart
You will reach out with a thousand hands to help others.


By Derek Lin 

Guan Yin is the bodhisattva of compassion, revered by Buddhists as the Goddess of Mercy. Her name is short for Guan Shi Yin. Guan means to observe, watch or monitor; Shi means the world; Yin means sounds, specifically sounds of those who suffer. Thus, Guan Yin is a compassionate being who watches for, and responds to, the people in the world who cry out for help.

Bodhi means wisdom or enlightenment; sattva means being or essence. Put the two together and you get bodhisattva, a being who is enlightened and ready to transcend the cycles of birth and death, but chooses to return to the material world in order to help other people reach the same level of enlightenment. This is the ultimate demonstration of pure compassion.

The thousand hands of this bodhisattva represent Guan Yin’s many abilities to render assistance. There are a thousand eyes on these hands which give Guan Yin great powers to observe the world. Guan Yin also has many faces so she can become who people need her to be, not necessarily herself, because her help is given in a way that is literally selfless.

Due to the widespread influence of Chinese culture, Guan Yin has become arguably the most popular and well-known bodhisattva in the world. This can sometimes lead to confusion as people erroneously equate Guan Yin with bodhisattva. For instance, quite a few people have already mistranslated the Chinese name of the performance to Thousand-Hand Bodhisattva.

Also, the deification of Guan Yin can lead to a misconception at a fundamental level. A bodhisattva is not a deity but a human being—a spiritually advanced human being. Although Guan Yin is depicted as a beautiful Asian woman, anyone can be a bodhisattva regardless of appearance, race and gender. Whenever you act in accordance with a natural impulse of total compassion, you have taken another step toward becoming a bodhisattva yourself.

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2 Responses to “Thousand-Hand Guan Yin”

  1. Carol Brenner Says:

    Hi Phil,

    Thank you for sharing this beautiful dance. Kuan is a favorite of mine. I just completed a full five-day class studying Kuan Yin and other Buddhist masters. I would like to share one of her 33 manifestations and accompanying mantra.

    The mantra is NA-MO I JU KUAN YIN. Phonetically: NAH-MO EE ROO GWAN EEN. Hail! (homage to the sacred name of) Kuan Yin of oneness.

    This mantra is an antidote to war. Kuan Yin rides upon the clouds and conquers thunder. She clears the air of debris, sounds and weather. Oneness demands resolution.

    The other comment I have is in response to Derek Lin’s description of Kuan Yin. Kuan Yin made her ascension just like Jesus Christ. However, she has foregone advancement in the cosmic hierarchy to stay with the earth and her evolutions until every last lifestream is ascended and free. She resides in her etheric retreat over Peking, China with other bodhisattvas committed to saving earth and her evolutions.

    Any one of us can aspire to be a bodhisattva. We can take the bodhisattva vow or simply live a life of selfless service to others, helping them advance spiritually. Some bodhisattvas like Babiji forego the ascension and remain on earth eternally youthful and free helping earth and her people transcend all limitations. The book “Autobiography of a Yogi” by Yogananda is a great place to learn more about this path. Also, John Blofeld’s book about Kuan Yin– “The Bodhisattva of Compassion.”

  2. Phil Bolsta Says:

    Thank you for that, Carol. I’m sure that many readers will find that information helpful!

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