Kwan Yin (a.k.a. Guanyin, Avalokiteśvara) is an important figure in Mahayana Buddhism. But I recently noticed a statue of Kwan Yin on the grounds of a local Theravada monastery. I looked up Kwan Yin on Wikipedia and a connection to Theravada Buddhism wasn't clear, but the article did list translations of her name in Thai and Sinhalese; both areas where Theravada Buddhism is predominant. I also saw mention of a statue of Avalokiteśvara listed in a very old guide to Bodhgaya. Is this figure part of early Buddhism? Or simply beloved by many?

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    from my adventures on wikipedia, i found that Thailand and much of Southeast Asia was Mahayana until about 900 to 1100 AD. Not sure how true it is.
    – Anthony
    Jan 15, 2015 at 3:32
  • I've also read much more interesting claims that Mahayana scriptures were taught within many Theravada lineages until their suppression for various reasons. Again, grain of salt as I can't source it but would like to explore the history.
    – Anthony
    Jan 15, 2015 at 5:51
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    @qweilun, interesting as a scholarly topic plus a good reminder to not get too attached to what ya think ya know. Hoping someone can point to a reference. :)
    – Robin111
    Jan 15, 2015 at 10:47

1 Answer 1


Kwan Yin wasn't taught by the Buddha in the Pali suttas and I'm certain Kwan Yin isn't mentioned in the Pali commentaries. Usually the teachers in the Theravada tradition strictly base how they teach on the Pali Canon but a lot of times they aren't so strict. There are Theravada teachers that are more like Mahayana teachers and Mahayana teachers that are more like Theravada teachers. In the end, the tradition one chooses isn't as important as the teacher one chooses.

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