Why does bodhisattva Guanyin say that her items are expensive for some, but free for others?

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Jessica Pope eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Guanyin is a merciful deity prominent in a number of East and South Asian contemplative religious traditions. She appears as a central figurehead in Mahayanna Buddhism, and is held in particularly high esteem among practitioners of Zen Buddhism and Pure Land Buddhism.

Guanyin is famous for her vow to save all sentient beings from suffering. Legends and stories describing her selfless mercy abound. In these stories, Guanyin carries or uses various items to help beings in need. For example, in some stories, Guanyin uses her one thousand arms to reach out and embrace each human who calls upon her for help.

She also uses physical items to save people. For example, she often uses different plants -- lotus flowers, for example; or cherry blossoms -- to speak to humans supernaturally and to send them messages.

These objects -- Guanyin's thousand arms, her physical totems, and the various objects in the physical world that she uses -- are collectively referred to as her  "items." Guanyin says that her items are "free" to those willing to accept her help. This means that if a person has faith, they will easily be able to recognize and use her items. On the other hand, if a person suffers and yet does not call upon her, it will be very difficult for that person to use or even recognize Guanyin's items. Guanyin says that her items are expensive for such a person, because that person may have to experience much more suffering in their lifetime than someone with a greater storehouse of karmic faith will experience.