Guanyin, Chinese Buddhist representation of compassion, often depicted with a vial of elixir in one hand, the nectar of immortality, and a willow branch in the other. Comparable in some ways to the Virgin Mary in Catholicism she will intercede for individual humans’ suffering. (Compassion vs. mercy; the later implies the action is coming from the agent or cause of the suffering.)

The willow symbolizes weeping, compassion and healing. In China willow bark was used for healing long before the first Buddhist missionaries from India arrived several thousand years ago.

Guan Yin

Danish author Isak Dinesen (Out of Africa) wrote, the third perfect form of happiness in life is the remission of pain.


While Guanyin was doing good deeds, her wicked father fell ill but the ever-compassionate Guanyin cut off her arms and plucked out her eyes to use as ingredients for a medicine that saved the old codger’s life. To show his gratitude he ordered the construction of a statue in her honor telling the sculptor to make the statue quanshou quanyan meaning “with completely formed arms and eyes.” The sculptor was probably from Henan and he misunderstood. He made the sculpture with qianshou qianyan “a thousand arms and eyes.” From that day on, Guanyin has been represented with a lot of arms and eyes.

According to the Garland Sutra, “The Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara lives in the Putuo Mountain.” It is said that Sudhana, another Bodhisattva has gone all the way to Putuo Mountain to pay homage to Avalokitesvara. Hsuan Tsang, the celebrated monk of the Tang Dynasty also paid visit to Putuo Mountain on his pilgrimage to India. Because the Putuo Mountain in India looked similar to China’s Mount Putuo, Mount Putuo of Zhejiang Province eventually became the domain of Avalokitesvara.

In China (2013) near Shanghai, Suzhou, Tongli Village and Lake Tai, I visited a temple on a small island. Too bad I was not clued in to this or I could have identified Guanyin.

My grandparents lived in China for most of 35 years beginning in 1901. In their memoir, Our Life:

We never visited Putu (Pu du in Ningpowhile we lived in Ningpo.About 1920 Edith and Frances visited it before Frances went to America to enter college.About 1930 when attending an Association meeting. Dr.Liu and I and others went to Pu tu and stayed over night and visited all the places of note. We ate imitation meat as no meat is permitted on the island.

There are two very large monasteries and many smaller ones and numerous small temples and shrines.We saw the end of a ceremony in the monastery in which we stayed. family had been there for a week to have masses said for their relatives and on the last day all the monks went down to the seashore to send the souls to the western heaven.It cost the family $1000U.S. Such ceremonies net the monasteries on the island over million dollars a year. By this means the temples and the monks are supported. There used to be two thousand monks but now the number is much reduced.

One of the curiosities is the body of a monk who starved himself to death and his body is covered with gold leaf and worshiped as an idol. Another is the huge footprint of Kwan Yin, the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy, who takes the place of Mary in Roman Catholicism, in the rock where she alighted on her flight from India. She was a man in India.The whole island is sacred to her.There is one alabaster image of her in one the temples.

The temple or monastery on the highest point on the island white glazed tile roofs. One of the largest temples has yellow glazed tiles.We talked with several abbots. They were mostly retired merchants who wished to get away from the world and no great interest in Buddhism or any religion.”

A recent study of almost 40 traditional and commonly available herbal medicines evaluated the extracts for 5 health promoting mechanisms and effects. It is noteworthy that unlike most reductionist allopathic medicine that would look to identify and isolate single constituents, thus often throwing the baby out with the bathwater, this study used the whole herb, root or seed. Among the authors’ conclusions:

“We provided evidence that each of these geroprotective PEs has different effects on cellular processes known to define longevity in organisms across phyla. Such effects include the following: 1) amplified mitochondrial respiration and membrane potential; 2) increased or decreased concentrations of ROS; 3) reduced oxidative damage to cellular proteins, membrane lipids, and mitochondrial and nuclear genomes; 4) enhanced cell resistance to oxidative and thermal stresses; and 5) accelerated degradation of neutral lipids deposited in LDs…

One of these extracts is the most potent longevity-extending pharmacological intervention yet described.”

That one is willow bark.

The study focused on actions or processes generally associated with health and longevity, not on specific pathologies. Don’t throw away your rat root for GI upset and colds. Don’t ditch the celery seed for sore joints. There is no suggestion that use of any of the herbs/spices is exclusive of others.

The 37 herbs tested included many of the recognized healthy cooking and medicinal plants. (One I did not see is turmeric.) The 6 identified as outstanding according to their criteria for longevity and health maintenance were black cohosh, passionflower, ginkgo, valerian, celery seed and willow bark.