Avalokiteśvara (/ˌʌvloʊkɪˈteɪʃvərə, ˌʌvə-/ UV-loh-kih-TAY-shvər-ə, UV-ə-; Sanskrit: अवलोकितेश्वर) is a bodhisattva who embodies the compassion of all Buddhas. This bodhisattva is variably depicted, described and is portrayed in different cultures as either female or male. In Chinese Buddhism, Avalokiteśvara has become the somewhat different female figure Guanyin. In Cambodia, he appears as Lokesvarak, and in Japan he is called Kanzeon or Kannon.
1 Etymology 2 Origin
2.1 Mahayana Account 2.2 Theravāda Account 2.3 Modern scholarship
3 Mantras and Dharanis 4 Thousand-armed Avalokiteśvara 5 Tibetan Buddhist Beliefs Concerning Chenrezig 6 Manifestations 7 Gallery 8 See also 9 Notes 10 References 11 External links
Etymology The name Avalokiteśvara combines the verbal prefix ava "down", lokita, a past participle of the verb lok "to notice, behold, observe", here used in an active sense; and finally īśvara, "lord", "ruler", "sovereign" or "master". In accordance with sandhi (Sanskrit rules of sound combination), a+iśvara becomes eśvara. Combined, the parts mean "lord who gazes down (at the world)". The word loka ("world") is absent from the name, but the phrase is implied. It does appear in the Cambodian form of the name, Lokesvarak. The earliest translation of the name into Chinese by authors such as Xuanzang was Guānzìzài (Chinese: 觀自在), not the form used in East Asian Buddhism today, Guanyin (Chinese: 觀音). It was initially thought that this was due to a lack of fluency, as Guanzizai indicates the original Sanskrit form was actually Avalokitasvara, "who looks down upon sound" (i.e., the cries of sentient beings who need help). It is now understood that was the original form, and is also the origin of Guanyin "Perceiving sound, cries", a translation furthered by the tendency of some Chinese translators, notably Kumārajīva, to use the variant 觀世音 Guānshìyīn "who perceives the world's lamentations"—wherein lok was read as simultaneously meaning both "to look" and "world" (Sanskrit loka; Chinese: 世; pinyin: shì). The original form Avalokitasvara appears in Sanskrit fragments of the fifth century. This earlier Sanskrit name was supplanted by the form containing the ending -īśvara "lord"; Avalokiteśvara does not occur in Sanskrit before the seventh century. The original meaning of the name fits the Buddhist understanding of the role of a Bodhisattva. The reinterpretation presenting him as an īśvara shows a strong influence of Hinduism, as the term īśvara was usually connected to the Hindu notion of Vishnu (in Vaishnavism) or Śiva (in Shaivism) as the Supreme Lord, Creator and Ruler of the world. Some attributes of such a god were transmitted to the bodhisattva, but the mainstream of those who venerated Avalokiteśvara upheld the Buddhist rejection of the doctrine of any creator god.
14th Dalai Lama, at his enthronement ceremony, February 22, 1940 in Lhasa, Tibet
In Sanskrit, Avalokiteśvara is also referred to as Padmapāni ("Holder of the Lotus") or Lokeśvara ("Lord of the World"). In Tibetan, Avalokiteśvara is Chenrézik, (Tibetan: སྤྱན་རས་གཟིགས་) and is said to emanate as the Dalai Lama the Karmapa and other high lamas. An etymology of the Tibetan name Chenrézik is spyan "eye", ras "continuity" and gzig "to look". This gives the meaning of one who always looks upon all beings (with the eye of compassion). Origin
Avalokiteśvara painting from a Sanskrit palm-leaf manuscript. India, 12th century.
Mahayana Account According to the Kāraṇḍavyūha Sūtra, the sun and moon are said to be born from Avalokiteśvara's eyes, Shiva from his brow, Brahma from his shoulders, Narayana from his heart, Sarasvati from his teeth, the winds from his mouth, the earth from his feet and the sky from his stomach. In this text and others, such as the Longer Sukhavativyuha Sutra, Avalokiteśvara is an attendant of Amitabha. Some texts which mention Avalokiteśvara include:
Longer Sukhāvatīvyūha Sūtra Lotus Sutra Kāraṇḍavyūhasūtra Heart Sutra (Heart Sūtra) Nīlakaṇṭha Dhāraṇī Sutra Eleven-Faced Avalokitesvara Heart Dharani Sutra Cundī Dhāraṇī Sūtra
The Lotus Sutra is generally accepted to be the earliest literature teaching about the doctrines of Avalokiteśvara. These are found in the Lotus Sutra chapter 25 (Chinese: 觀世音菩薩普門品). This chapter is devoted to Avalokiteśvara, describing him as a compassionate bodhisattva who hears the cries of sentient beings, and who works tirelessly to help those who call upon his name. A total of 33 different manifestations of Avalokiteśvara are described, including female manifestations, all to suit the minds of various beings. The chapter consists of both a prose and a verse section. This earliest source often circulates separately as its own sutra, called the Avalokiteśvara Sūtra (Chinese: 觀世音經; pinyin: Guānshìyīn jīng), and is commonly recited or chanted at Buddhist temples in East Asia.
Four-armed Tibetan form of Avalokiteśvara.
When the Chinese monk Faxian traveled to Mathura in India around 400 CE, he wrote about monks presenting offerings to Avalokiteśvara. When Xuanzang traveled to India in the 7th century, he provided eyewitness accounts of Avalokiteśvara statues being venerated by devotees of all walks of life, from kings, to monks, to laypeople.
Avalokiteśvara / Padmapani, Ajanta Caves, India
In Chinese Buddhism and East Asia, Tangmi practices for the 18-armed form of Avalokiteśvara called Cundī are very popular. These practices have their basis in early Indian Vajrayana: her origins lie with a yakshini cult in Bengal and Orissa and her name in Sanskrit "connotes a prostitute or other woman of low caste but specifically denotes a prominent local ogress ... whose divinised form becomes the subject of an important Buddhist cult starting in the eighth century". The popularity of Cundī is attested by the three extant translations of the Cundī Dhāraṇī Sūtra from Sanskrit to Chinese, made from the end of the seventh century to the beginning of the eighth century. In late imperial China, these early esoteric traditions still thrived in Buddhist communities. Robert Gimello has also observed that in these communities, the esoteric practices of Cundī were extremely popular among both the populace and the elite. In the Tiantai school, six forms of Avalokiteśvara are defined. Each of the bodhisattva's six qualities are said to break the hindrances respectively of the six realms of existence: hell-beings, pretas, animals, humans, asuras, and devas. Theravāda Account
Bronze statue of Avalokiteśvara from Sri Lanka, ca. 750 CE
Veneration of Avalokiteśvara Bodhisattva has continued to the present day in Sri Lanka:
In times past both Tantrayana and Mahayana have been found in some of the Theravada countries, but today the Buddhism of Ceylon, Burma, Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia is almost exclusively Theravada, based on the Pali Canon. The only Mahayana deity that has entered the worship of ordinary Buddhists in Theravada countries is Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara. In Ceylon he is known as Natha-deva and mistaken by the majority for the Buddha yet to come, Bodhisattva Maitreya. The figure of Avalokitesvara usually is found in the shrine room near the Buddha image.
In more recent times, some western-educated Theravādins have attempted to identify Nātha with Maitreya Bodhisattva; however, traditions and basic iconography (including an image of Amitābha Buddha on the front of the crown) identify Nātha as Avalokiteśvara. Andrew Skilton writes:
... It is clear from sculptural evidence alone that the Mahāyāna was fairly widespread throughout [Sri Lanka], although the modern account of the history of Buddhism on the island presents an unbroken and pure lineage of Theravāda. (One can only assume that similar trends were transmitted to other parts of Southeast Asia with Sri Lankan ordination lineages.) Relics of an extensive cult of Avalokiteśvara can be seen in the present-day figure of Nātha.
Avalokiteśvara is popularly worshiped in Myanmar, where he is called Lokanat, and Thailand, where he is called Lokesvara.
Wood carving of Lokanat at Shwenandaw Monastery, Mandalay, Burma
Modern scholarship Avalokiteśvara is worshipped as Nātha in Sri Lanka. Tamil Buddhist tradition developed in Chola literature, such as in Buddamitra's Virasoliyam , states that the Vedic sage Agastya learnt Tamil from the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara; the earlier Chinese traveler Xuanzang recorded the existence of a temple dedicated to Avalokitesvara in the South Indian hill Potalaka, a Sanskritzation of the Pothigai hill where Tamil Hindu tradition places Agastya having learnt the Tamil language from the deity Siva. Avalokitesvara worship gained popularity with the growth of the Abhayagiri Vihara's Tamraparniyan Mahayana sect.
Pothigai Malai in Tamil Nadu, proposed as the original Mount Potalaka in India
Western scholars have not reached a consensus on the origin of the reverence for Avalokiteśvara. Some have suggested that Avalokiteśvara, along with many other supernatural beings in Buddhism, was a borrowing or absorption by Mahayana Buddhism of one or more deities from Hinduism, in particular Shiva or Vishnu, although the reason for this suggestion is because of the current name of the bodhisattva: Avalokiteśvara. The Japanese scholar Shu Hikosaka on the basis of his study of Buddhist scriptures, ancient Tamil literary sources, as well as field survey, proposes the hypothesis that, the ancient mount Potalaka, the residence of Avalokiteśvara described in the Gaṇḍavyūha Sūtra and Xuanzang’s Great Tang Records on the Western Regions, is the real mountain Pothigai in Ambasamudram, Tirunelveli, Tamil Nadu. Shu also says that mount Potalaka has been a sacred place for the people of South India from time immemorial. It is the traditional residence of Siddhar Agastya, at Agastya Mala. With the spread of Buddhism in the region beginning at the time of the great king Aśoka in the third century BCE, it became a holy place also for Buddhists who gradually became dominant as a number of their hermits settled there. The local people, though, mainly remained followers of the Hindu religion. The mixed Hindu-Buddhist cult culminated in the formation of the figure of Avalokiteśvara. The name Lokeśvara should not be confused with that of Lokeśvararāja, the Buddha under whom Dharmakara became a monk and made forty-eight vows before becoming Amitābha. Mantras and Dharanis
OṂ MAŅI PADME HǕṂ. The six syllable mantra of Avalokiteśvara written in the Tibetan alphabet.
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 along with prayer beads is the most popular religious practice in Tibetan Buddhism. The connection between this famous mantra and Avalokiteśvara occurs for the first time in the Kāraṇḍavyūhasūtra. This text is first dated to around the late 4th century CE to the early 5th century CE. In this sūtra, a bodhisattva is told by the Buddha that recitation of this mantra while focusing on the sound can lead to the attainment of eight hundred samādhis. The Kāraṇḍavyūha Sūtra also features the first appearance of the dhāraṇī of Cundī, which occurs at the end of the sūtra text. After the bodhisattva finally attains samādhi with the mantra "oṃ maṇipadme hūṃ", he is then able to observe 77 koṭīs of fully enlightened buddhas replying to him in one voice with the Cundī Dhāraṇī: namaḥ saptānāṃ samyaksaṃbuddha koṭīnāṃ tadyathā, oṃ cale cule cunde svāhā. In Shingon Buddhism, the mantra for Avalokiteśvara is On aruri kya sowa ka (Japanese: おん あるりきゃ そわか) The Nīlakaṇṭha Dhāraṇī is an 82-syllable dhāraṇī for Avalokiteśvara. Thousand-armed Avalokiteśvara
Thousand-armed Avalokiteśvara. Guanyin women's vihara, Anhui, China
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 still 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 attempts 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. Tibetan Buddhist Beliefs Concerning Chenrezig Avalokiteśvara is an important deity in Tibetan Buddhism, and is regarded in the Vajrayana teachings as a Buddha. In Tibetan Buddhism, Tara 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 Tara as a being. Manifestations
Magnificent clay images of Amoghpasha Lokesvara flanked by Arya Tara and Bhrikuti Tara enshrined at the side wing of Vasuccha Shil Mahavihar, Guita Bahi, Patan : This set of images is popular in traditional monasteries of Kathmandu Valley, Nepal.
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Avalokiteśvara has an extraordinarily large number of manifestations in different forms (including wisdom goddesses (vidyaas) directly associated with him in images and texts). Some of the more commonly mentioned forms include:
Sanskrit Meaning Description
Aryavalokitesvara Sacred Avalokitesvara The root form of the Bodhisattva
Ekādaśamukha Eleven Faced Additional faces to teach all in 10 planes of existence
Sahasra-bhuja Sahasra-netra Thousand-Armed, Thousand-Eyed Avalokitesvara Very popular form: sees and helps all
Cintamāṇicakra Wish Fulfilling Avalokitesvara Holds the bejeweled cintamani wheel
Hayagrīva Horse-necked one Wrathful form; simultaneously bodhisattva and a Wisdom King
Cundi Extreme purity Portrayed with many arms
Amoghapāśa Unfailing Rope Avalokitesvara with rope and net
Pāndaravāsinī White and Pure
Parnaśabarī Cloaked With Leaves
Raktaṣadakṣarī Six Red Syllables
Śvetabhagavatī White Lord
Udakaśrī Auspicious Water
Gandhāran statue of Avalokiteśvara, abhaya-mudrā. 3rd century CE.
Indian cave wall painting of Avalokiteśvara. Ajaṇṭā Caves, 6th century CE.
1000 armed Avalokiteshvara dated 13th - 15th century AD at Saspol cave(Gon-Nila-Phuk Cave Temples and Fort) in Ladakh, India
Torso of Avalokiteśvara from Sanchi in the Victoria and Albert Museum
Cambodian statue of Avalokiteśvara. Sandstone, 7th century CE.
Avalokiteshvara sandstone statue, late 7th century CE.
Padmapani holding a lotus. 8th-9th century Sailendran art, Plaosan temple, Java, Indonesia.
Eight-armed Avalokiteshvara, ca. 12th-13th century (Bàyon). The Walters Art Museum.
Avalokiteshvara from Bingin Jungut, Musi Rawas, South Sumatra. Srivijayan art (c. 8th-9th century CE)
The bronze torso statue of Padmapani, 8th century CE Srivijayan art, Chaiya District, Surat Thani Province, Southern Thailand.
The Privy Seal of King Ananda Mahidol of Thailand show a picture of a Bodhisattva, based on a Srivijayan sculpture of Avalokiteśvara Padmapani which was found at Chaiya District, Surat Thani Province.
The stone head of Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva, discovered in Aceh. Srivijayan art, estimated 9th century CE.
Malaysian statue of Avalokiteśvara. Bidor, 8th-9th century CE.
Chinese statue of Avalokiteśvara looking out over the sea, c. 1025 CE.
Chinese hanging scroll depicting Shancai, Avalokiteśvara and Longnü, Yuan Dynasty.
Korean painting of Avalokiteśvara. Kagami Jinjya, Japan, 1310 CE.
Nepalese statue of Avalokiteśvara with six arms. 14th century CE.
Japanese painting of meditating. 16th century CE.
Avalokiteśvara, crimson and gilded wood. Restored in 1656 CE. Bút Tháp Temple, Bắc Ninh Province, Vietnam
Tibetan statue of Avalokiteśvara with eleven faces.
Malaysia Kek Lok Si Temple in Air Itam, Penang. The world tallest octagonal pavilion to shelter the Goddess of Mercy statue.
Esoteric Cundī form of Avalokiteśvara with eighteen arms.
Thousand-armed Avalokiteśvara bronze statue from Tibet, circa 1750. Birmingham Museum of Art
Mongolian statue of Avalokiteśvara (Migjid Janraisig). Tallest indoor statue in the world, 26.5-meter-high, 1996 rebuilt, (1913)
Avalokiteśvara in the form of Cintamani Wheel Avalokiteśvara. A dhāraṇī written in Sanskrit in the Siddhaṃ script behind. Singapore.
Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, Ming Dynasty, Guimet Museum
Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva in Daan Park, Taipei, Taiwan
Statue of Avalokiteśvara, date unknown, bronze and gold
Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara from the Museum of Vietnamese History
Painting of Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva. Sanskrit Astasahasrika Prajnaparamita Sutra manuscript written in the Ranjana script. Nalanda, Bihar, India. Circa 700-1100 CE
Guanyin Ishvara Pure Land Buddhism Vishnu Dalai Lama
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Wikimedia Commons has media related to Avalokiteshvara.
Wikiversity has learning resources about Yoga oracle#81 The Blessing of the Karmapa (meditating on a Thanka of Avalokitesvara)
The Origin of Avalokiteshvara of Potala An Explanation of the Name Avalokiteshvara The Bodhisattva of Compassion and Spiritual Emanation of Amitabha - from Buddhanature.com Depictions at the Bayon in Cambodia of Avalokiteshvara as the Khmer King Jayavarman VII Mantra Avalokitesvara Avalokiteshvara at Brittanica.com Chenrezig Tibetan Buddhist Center of Philadelphia
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Afghanistan Bangladesh Bhutan Cambodia China India Indonesia Japan Korea Laos Malaysia Maldives Mongolia Myanmar Nepal Pakistan Philippines Russia
Singapore Sri Lanka Taiwan Thailand Tibet Vietnam Middle East
Argentina Australia Brazil France United Kingdom United States Venezuela
Timeline Ashoka Buddhist councils History of Buddhism in India
Decline of Buddhism in India
Great Anti-Buddhist Persecution Greco-Buddhism Buddhism and the Roman world Buddhism in the West Silk Road transmission of Buddhism Persecution of Buddhists Banishment of Buddhist monks from Nepal Buddhist crisis Sinhalese Buddhist nationalism Buddhist modernism Vipassana movement 969 Movement Women in Buddhism
Abhidharma Atomism Buddhology Creator Economics Eight Consciousnesses Engaged Buddhism Eschatology Ethics Evolution Humanism Logic Reality Secular Buddhism Socialism The unanswered questions
Temple Vihara Wat Stupa Pagoda Candi Dzong architecture Japanese Buddhist architecture Korean Buddhist temples Thai temple art and architecture Tibetan Buddhist architecture
Bodhi Tree Budai Buddharupa Calendar Cuisine Funeral Holidays
Vesak Uposatha Magha Puja Asalha Puja Vassa
Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi Kasaya Mahabodhi Temple Mantra
Om mani padme hum
Mudra Music Pilgrimage
Lumbini Maya Devi Temple Bodh Gaya Sarnath Kushinagar
Poetry Prayer beads Prayer wheel Symbolism
Dharmachakra Flag Bhavacakra Swastika Thangka
Temple of the Tooth Vegetarianism
Abhijñā Amitābha Avalokiteśvara
Brahmā Dhammapada Dharma talk Hinayana Kalpa Koliya Lineage Maitreya Māra Ṛddhi Sacred languages
Siddhi Sutra Vinaya
Bahá'í Faith Christianity
East Asian religions Gnosticism Hinduism Jainism Judaism Psychology Science Theosophy Violence Western philosophy
Bodhisattvas Books Buddhas
Buddhists Suttas Temples
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Avalokitesvara (Guanyin) Manjushri Samantabhadra Kshitigarbha Maitreya Mahasthamaprapta Ākāśagarbha
Skanda Sangharama (Guan Yu)
Padmasambhava Mandarava Tara Vajrapani Vajrasattva Sitatapatra Cundi
B. R. Ambedkar Bhaishajyaraja Candraprabha Nagarjuna Niō Shantideva Supratisthitacaritra Supushpachandra Suryaprabha Vasudhara Visistacaritra Visuddhacaritra
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Saddharma Puṇḍarīka Sūtra
Threefold Lotus Sutra: Innumerable Meanings Sūtra Sutra of the Lotus Flower of the Wonderful Dharma Samantabhadra Meditation Sūtra
Bodhisattva Buddha-nature Emptiness Eternal Buddha Six Pāramitās Skillful Means Ten Suchnesses
Bodhisattvas Avalokiteśvara (Guanyin) Firm Practice Maitreya Manjusri Medicine King Never Disrespectful Pure Practice Samantabhadra Superior Practice Unlimited Practice
Buddhas Abundant Treasures Buddha Akshobhya Majestic Voice King Śākyamuni Buddha Vairocana (in Samantabhadra Meditation Sūtra)
Devas Brahmā Hārītī (her ten daughters and her give a Dharani) Nagakanya (female naga and daughter of Nagaraja who turns into a Bodhisattva and then Buddha instantly) Śakra
Śrāvakas Ānanda Aniruddha Kauṇḍinya Mahā-Kāśyapa Mahā-Kātyāyana Maha-Maudgalyayana Mahāprajāpatī Gautamī Nanda Pūrṇa Rāhula Śāriputra Subhūti Upāli Yasodharā
Nichiren Buddhism Tiantai Buddhism (J. Tendai, K. Cheontae)
WorldCat Identities VIAF: 27871