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Guanyin’s sphere of influence is all encompassing. She is a symbol of unconditional love, kindness and mercy, shielding and caring for the sick, the unwanted, the unlucky and the poor. As one who protects women and children, she is linked to fertility as well. In certain coastal and river regions of China, she is the patroness of fisher folk and sailors. Traders and businessmen see Guanyin as the goddess of good fortune.
During the mythical Great Flood, it is believed that Guanyin sent a dog down to earth with rice grains clinging to its tail; ever since, she has been worshiped as a rice goddess.
In another well-known legend, Guanyin vowed never to rest until she had liberated all sentient beings from the cycle of samsara (rebirth). So strenuous was this challenge that her head split into pieces. Amitabha Buddha came to her rescue, giving her eleven heads with which to listen to the pleas of sufferers. Hearing their cries, she extended her two arms out to them. Their numbers were too vast, her arms broke into smithereens. Amitabha again came to her rescue, giving her a thousand arms so that she may reach out to all who invoke her name. Statues and paintings of the thousand-armed Guanyin can be seen in Tibetan and other East Asian iconography.