It has been quite some time since I’ve watched a video of the Thousand-hand Guan Yin. It is a beautiful almost mesmerizing dance. I surfed across the dance on the internet about seven or eight years ago and watched it several times before researching its background.
Initially, the video appears to be generated through computer graphics. When one realizes the dance is performed by a troupe, their precision and execution is all the more amazing. What is even more amazing is that it is performed by the China’s Disabled Peoples Arts Troupe --- all of the dancers are deaf.
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.