Think I prefer this one.
Quan Yin's name is a translation of the Sanskrit name of her chief progenitor which is Avalokitesvara, also known as Avalokita. In its proper form it is Kuanshih Yin, which means "She who harkens to the cries of the world."
In both Taoism and Buddhism Kuan Yin is the goddess of compassion, she is the Japanese Bodhisattva Kannon or Kanzeon, and is identified with the Indian Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, including all of the scriptures which apply to him. Kuan (Shih) Yin means "the one who hears the cries of the world and comes."
In sculture and paintings, Kuan Shih Yin is variously depicted as male and female. These things happen.
Scholars believe that the Buddhist monk and translator Kumarajiva was the first to refer to the female form of Kuan Yin in his Chinese translation of the Lotus Sutra in 406 A.D. Of the thirty-three appearances of the bodhisattva referred to in his translation, seven are female. (Devoted Chinese and Japanese Buddhists have since come to associate the number thirty-three with Kuan Yin.)
Although Kuan Yin was still being portrayed as a male as late as the tenth century, with the introduction of Tantric Buddhism into China in the eighth century during the T'ang dynasty, the image of the celestial bodhisattva as a beautiful white-robed goddess was predominant and the devotional cult surrounding her became increasingly popular. By the ninth century there was a statue of Kuan Yin in every Buddhist monastery in China.
Despite the controversy over the origins of Kuan Yin as a feminine being, the depiction of a bodhisattva as both 'god' and 'goddess' is not inconsistent with Buddhist doctrine. The scriptures explain that a bodhisattva has the power to embody in any form--male, female, child, even animal--depending on the type of being he is seeking to save. As the Lotus Sutra relates, the bodhisattva Kuan Shih Yin, "by resort to a variety of shapes, travels in the world, conveying the beings to salvation."
No idea if this involves hot and cold running water.
Vaguely apropos to Jewish Task Force's righteous condemnation of Black History Month, education in the West (or mine, at least) doesn't really stress the movement of religion/philosophy/iconography between India, China, Tibet, Japan, Korea, Viet. . . um, them other Asian countries. There are quite a few. Not that Tibet is a country; it's an autonomous region of China. You know. Like Puerto Rico or Washington, DC.
We're only slowly getting a picture of Islam here, and that's colored by the fact that
6,000 5,000 nearly 3,000 Americans people from all over the world were killed in the 9/11 attacks. So it's a rather grim version of history, full of wars, conversion by sword and people whose names are spelled about twenty different ways using Roman characters.
Which is a bit like someone seeing Buddhist monks in Vietnam protest the war by self-immolation, and deciding that Buddhism is all about setting yourself on fire.
No, silly, that's the Falun Gong.
Added a few images from Isisdownunder's Kuan Yin Pictures and Information. There are also some nice images, and lots of info about various godesses, at the Erzulie-Lilith page of The Goddess In World Mythology site. If you're into that sort of thing.
As an ignorant Westerner, I have no clue about the significance of the gesture she's making with her right hand in that first picture. It's a wonder I'm even aware that it has a particular significance, really.
Update 2: Oh, right, forgot.
Today Kuan Yin is worshipped by Taoists as well as Mahayana Buddhists--especially in Taiwan, Japan, Korea and once again in her homeland of China, where the practice of Buddhism had been suppressed by the Communists during the Cultural Revolution (1966-69). She is the protectress of women, sailors, merchants, craftsmen, and those under criminal prosecution, and is invoked particularly by those desiring progeny.
I'd warn Michelle not to go invoking her because of that last bit, but doubt this would really be an issue.