Avalokiteśvara – The embodiment of compassion
Avalokitasvara is the bodhisattva who embodies the compassion of all Buddhas.
Table of Contents
- 1 - The personified compassion
- 2 - The Buddhist tell of Avalokiteśvara
- 3 - An important deity in Tibetan Buddhism
- 4 - Forms, emanations, sutras & mantras
- 4.1 - Dalai Lama
- 4.2 - Karmapa
- 4.3 - Avalokiteśvara
- 4.4 - Ekajati
- 4.5 - Saraswati
- 4.6 - Om mani padme hum
- 4.7 - Sitatapatra
- 4.8 - Kurukullā
- 4.9 - Parnashavari
- 4.10 - Hayagriva (Buddhism)
- 4.11 - Heart Sutra
- 4.12 - Tara (Buddhism)
- 4.13 - Usnisavijaya
- 4.14 - Eleven-Faced Avalokitesvara Heart Dharani Sutra
- 4.15 - Nīlakaṇṭha Dhāraṇī
- 4.16 - Praises to the Twenty-One Taras
- 4.17 - Seto Machindranath
- 4.18 - Ushnishasitatapattra
- 4.19 - Cintāmaṇicakra
- 4.20 - Kāraṇḍavyūha Sūtra
- 4.21 - Gandavyuha
- 4.22 - Six Guanyin
- 4.23 - Cundi (Buddhism)
- 4.24 - Mount Potalaka
The personified compassion
In Sanskrit, Avalokiteśvara is also referred to as Lokeśvara (“Lord of the World”).
An etymology of the Tibetan name Chenrézik gives the meaning of one who always looks upon all beings with the eye of compassion.
The Buddhist tell of Avalokiteśvara
One prominent Buddhist story tells of Avalokiteśvara vowing never to rest until he had freed all sentient beings from saṃsāra.
Despite strenuous effort, he realizes that many unhappy beings were yet to be saved.
After struggling to comprehend the needs of so many, his head splits into eleven pieces.
Amitābha, seeing his plight, gives him eleven heads with which to hear the cries of the suffering.
Upon hearing these cries and comprehending them, Avalokiteśvara tries to reach out to all those who needed aid, but found that his two arms shattered into pieces.
Once more, Amitābha comes to his aid and invests him with a thousand arms with which to aid the suffering multitudes.
The Bao’en Temple located in northwestern Sichuan has an outstanding wooden image of the Thousand-Armed Avalokiteśvara, an example of Ming dynasty decorative sculpture.
An important deity in Tibetan Buddhism
Avalokiteśvara is an important deity in Tibetan Buddhism. He is regarded in the Vajrayana teachings as a Buddha.
In Tibetan Buddhism, Tãrã came into existence from a single tear shed by Avalokiteśvara.
When the tear fell to the ground it created a lake, and a lotus opening in the lake revealed Tara.
In another version of this story, Tara emerges from the heart of Avalokiteśvara. In either version, it is Avalokiteśvara’s outpouring of compassion which manifests Tãrã as a being.
Mahāyāna Buddhism relates Avalokiteśvara to the six-syllable mantra oṃ maṇi padme hūṃ.
In Tibetan Buddhism, due to his association with this mantra, one form of Avalokiteśvara is called Ṣaḍākṣarī “Lord of the Six Syllables” in Sanskrit.
Recitation of this mantra while using prayer beads is the most popular religious practice in Tibetan Buddhism.
Another popular religious practice associated with om mani padme hum is the spinning of prayer wheels clockwise which contains numerous repetitions of this mantra which effectively benefits everyone within the vicinity of the practitioner.
Forms, emanations, sutras & mantras
Avalokiteśvara has an extraordinarily large number of manifestations in different forms including wisdom goddesses Vidyaas, directly associated with him in images and texts.
This is a list of some of the more commonly mentioned forms, emanations, sutras and mantras related to Avalokiteśvara among different Buddhist schools around the world.
Dalai Lama is a title given to spiritual leaders of the Tibetan people.
They are part of the Gelug or “Yellow Hat” school of Tibetan Buddhism, the newest of the schools of Tibetan Buddhism.
The Dalai Lama title was created by Altan Khan, the Prince of Shunyi, granted by Ming Dynasty, in 1578. The Dalai Lama is considered to be the successor in a line of tulkus who are believed to be incarnations of Avalokiteśvara, a Bodhisattva of Compassion.
The name is a combination of the Mongolic word Dalai meaning “ocean” or “big” and the Tibetan word (bla-ma) meaning “master, guru”.
Karmapa is the head of the Karma Kagyu, the largest sub-school of the Kagyupa, itself one of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism.
Düsum Khyenpa, 1st Karmapa Lama (1110–1193), was a disciple of the Tibetan master Gampopa.
A talented child who studied Buddhism with his father from an early age and who sought out great teachers in his twenties and thirties, he is said to have attained enlightenment at the age of fifty while practicing dream yoga.
He was henceforth regarded by the contemporary highly respected masters Shakya Śri and Lama Shang as the Karmapa, a manifestation of Avalokiteśvara.
Avalokitesvara is a bodhisattva who embodies the compassion of all Buddhas.
Portrayed in different cultures as either male or female, Avalokitesvara is one of the more widely revered bodhisattvas in mainstream Mahayana Buddhism, as well as unofficially in Theravada Buddhism.
He has 108 avatars, one notable avatar being Padmapāṇi, the one who holds the lotus (padma).
In Tibet, he is known as Chenrézik. In East Asia, he is commonly known as Guānyīn.
Ekajaṭī or Ekajaṭā,, also known as Māhacīnatārā, is one of the 21 Taras. Ekajati is, along with Palden Lhamo deity, one of the most powerful and fierce goddesses of Vajrayana Buddhist mythology.
According to Tibetan legends, her right eye was pierced by the tantric master Padmasambhava so that she could much more effectively help him subjugate Tibetan demons.
Saraswati is the Hindu goddess of knowledge, music, arts, wisdom and nature.
She is a part of the trinity of Saraswati, Lakshmi and Parvati.
All the three forms help the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva in the creation, maintenance and destruction of the Universe.
Saraswati became a prominent deity in Buddhist iconography – the consort of Manjushri in 1st millennium CE.
In some instances such as in the Sadhanamala of Buddhist pantheon, she has been symbolically represented as Tara.
Om mani padme hum
The six syllables, om mani padme hum, mean that in dependence on the practice of a path which is an indivisible union of method and wisdom, you can transform your impure body, speech, and mind into the pure exalted body, speech, and mind of a Buddha.
The six-syllabled Sanskrit mantra is associated with the four-armed Shadakshari form of Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva of compassion.
It first appeared in the Mahayana Kāraṇḍavyūhasūtra where it is also referred to as the sadaksara (six syllabled) and the paramahrdaya.
Sitātapatrā is a protector against supernatural danger. She is venerated in both the Mahayana and Vajrayana traditions.
She is also known as Uṣṇīṣa Sitātapatrā. It is believed that Sitātapatrā is a powerful independent deity emanated by Gautama Buddha from his uṣṇīṣa.
Whoever practices her mantra will be reborn in Amitābha’s pure land of Sukhāvatī as well as gaining protection against supernatural danger and witchcraft.
Kurukulla is a female deity of the Lotus family, associated with the activity of magnetization or enchantment.
She is usually depicted as red in colour, in dancing posture and holding a flowery bow and arrow.
She is also one of the Twenty-One Taras mentioned in the ancient Tara tantras.
Parnashavari also spelt as Paranasavari is a Hindu deity adopted as Buddhist deity of diseases, worship of which is believed to offer effective protection against out-breaks of epidemics.
Parnasabari is also depicted in some images of the Pala period found in Dhaka, as a main goddess and escorted by Hindu deities Jvarasura and Shitala.
Both of these escorts are disease related Hindu deities.
In India, the Kurkihar hoard contains seven bronze images of Parnasabari belonging to 10th- 12th century AD.
In Buddhism, Parnasabari is depicted as an attendant of the Buddhist deity of same name, Tara also considered a female aspect of Avalokiteshvara.
In Tibetan and Japanese Buddhism, Hayagrīva is an important deity who originated as a yaksha attendant of Avalokiteśvara or Guanyin Bodhisattva in India.
Appearing in the Vedas as two separate deities, he was assimilated into the ritual worship of early Buddhism and eventually was identified as a Wisdom King in Vajrayana Buddhism.
The Heart Sūtra is a popular sutra in Mahāyāna Buddhism.
Its Sanskrit title, Prajñāpāramitāhṛdaya, can be translated as “The Heart of the Perfection of Wisdom”.
In the sutra, Avalokiteśvara addresses Śariputra, explaining the fundamental emptiness (śūnyatā) of all phenomena, known through and as the five aggregates of human existence (skandhas): form (rūpa), feeling (vedanā), volitions (saṅkhāra), perceptions (saṃjñā), and consciousness (vijñāna).
Avalokiteśvara then goes through some of the most fundamental Buddhist teachings such as the Four Noble Truths, and explains that in emptiness none of these notions apply.
This is interpreted according to the two truths doctrine as saying that teachings, while accurate descriptions of conventional truth, are mere statements about reality — they are not reality itself — and that they are therefore not applicable to the ultimate truth that is by definition beyond mental understanding.
Thus the bodhisattva, as the archetypal Mahayana Buddhist, relies on the perfection of wisdom, defined in the Mahāprajñāpāramitā Sūtra to be the wisdom that perceives reality directly without conceptual attachment, thereby achieving nirvana.
Tārā embodies many of the qualities of feminine principle.
She is known as the Mother of Mercy and Compassion.
She is the source, the female aspect of the universe, which gives birth to warmth, compassion and relief from bad karma as experienced by ordinary beings in cyclic existence.
She engenders, nourishes, smiles at the vitality of creation, and has sympathy for all beings as a mother does for her children.
Uṣṇīṣavijayā is a buddha of longevity in Buddhism. She wears an image of Vairocana in her headdress.
With Amitayus and Sitatara, she constitutes the three Buddhas of long life.
She is one of the more well-known Buddhist divinities in Nepal, Tibet, and Mongolia.
Eleven-Faced Avalokitesvara Heart Dharani Sutra
The Heart-dhāraṇī of Avalokiteśvara-ekadaśamukha Sūtra is a Buddhist text first translated from Sanskrit into Chinese on the 28th day of the third lunar month of 656 CE, by Xuanzang.
The title in Tibetan language is Spyan-ras-gzigs-dbang-phyug-shal bcu-gcig-pa, while the Sanskrit title recovered from the Tibetan translation is Avalokiteśvara ikadaśamukha dhāraṇī.
Alternatively, the sutra’s title has been translated as the Eleven-Faced Avalokitesvara Heart Dharani Sutra by Professor Ryuichi Abe.
The Nīlakaṇṭha Dhāraṇī, also known as the Mahākaruṇā(-citta) Dhāraṇī, Mahākaruṇika Dhāraṇī or Great Compassion Dhāraṇī,, is a Mahayana Buddhist dhāraṇī associated with the bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara.
Different versions of this dhāraṇī, of varying length, exist; the shorter version as transliterated into Chinese characters by Indian monk Bhagavaddharma in the 7th century enjoys a high degree of popularity in East Asian Mahayana Buddhism – especially in Chinese Buddhism – comparable to that of the six-syllable mantra Oṃ maṇi padme hūṃ, which is also synonymous with Avalokiteśvara.
It is often used for protection or purification.
Praises to the Twenty-One Taras
Within Tibetan Buddhism, Tara has 21 major forms in all, each tied to a certain color and energy.
And each offers some feminine attribute, of ultimate benefit to the spiritual aspirant who asks for her assistance.
Praises to the Twenty-One Taras is a traditional prayer in Tibetan Buddhism to the female Bodhisattva Tara also known as Ārya Tārā, or Jetsun Dolma.
Seto Machindranath, also known as Janabaha Dyo, Avalokiteśvara, Karunamaya, Guanyin is a deity worshiped by both Hindus and Buddhists in Kathmandu, Nepal.
The temple of Seto Machindranath is located in Jana Bahal (also known as Machhindra Bahal) in central Kathmandu.
The temple is believed to have been established around the 10th century. Seto Machindranath is worshiped as an aspect of Avalokiteshvara.
Every year, the deity’s image is placed in a chariot and paraded around Kathmandu in a festival known as Jana Baha Dyah Jatra.
The deity is bathed and repainted every year as a ritual that symbolizes the changes occurring throughout one’s life.
Thousand-Armed Ushnishasitatapattra is a special form of the goddess Tara (Buddhism), a female form of the thousand-armed Avalokiteshvara.
Her iconography is probably the most complex in the Tibetan Buddhist pantheon.
The goddess has as many heads and legs as she has arms. She tramples on both human beings and animals.
Pressed under her feet, they symbolize egocentric existence, while the function of her umbrella is to protect all beings from all fears.
Cintāmaṇicakra is a bodhisattva and a manifestation of Avalokiteśvara. He is counted as one among six forms that represent salvation afforded to beings among the six realms of samsara.
The Kāraṇḍavyūha Sūtra is a Mantrayāna sūtra which extols the virtues and powers of Avalokiteśvara, and is particularly notable for introducing the mantra Om mani padme hum into the sutra tradition.
The Gaṇḍavyūha Sutra is a Buddhist Mahayana Sutra of Indian origin dating roughly c. 200 to 300 CE.
The term Gaṇḍavyūha is obscure and has been translated variously as Stem Array, Supreme Array, Excellent Manifestation.
The Sanskrit gaṇḍi can mean “stem” or “stalk” and “pieces” or “parts” or “sections,” as well as “the trunk of a tree from the root to the beginning of the branches”).
Peter Alan Roberts notes that “as the sūtra is composed of a series of episodes in which Sudhana meets a succession of teachers, the intended meaning could well have been ‘an array of parts’ or, more freely, ‘a series of episodes.'”
He also notes that the term gaṇḍa can also mean “great” or “supreme” in some circumstances and thus some translators have rendered this compound as Supreme Array.
In East Asian Buddhism, the Six Guanyin is a grouping of six manifestations of the bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara, known as Guanyin (Guanshiyin) in Chinese and Kannon (Kanzeon) in Japanese.
In China, the Thousand-Armed manifestation of Guanyin is the most popular among her different esoteric forms.
Similarly in Japan, several local manifestations of Guanyin, known there primarily as Kannon or, reflecting an older pronunciation, Kwannon, have also been developed natively.
Cundī is a bodhisattva and an incarnation of Avalokiteśvara.
While Cundī is less well known in Tibetan Buddhism, she is revered in East Asian Buddhism.
In China, she is known as Zhǔntí Púsà or Zhǔntí Fómǔ
She is also sometimes considered a manifestation of Guanyin and in this form she is called Zhǔntí Guānyīn.
She is known as Junje Gwan-eum Bosal in Korean, while in Japan she is known as Jundei Kannon.
Mount Potalaka, which means “Brilliance”, is the mythical dwelling of the Buddhist bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara, said to exist in the seas south of India.