Avalokitesvara is likely the bodhisattva most widely revered among Buddhists; this is especially true considering the distinctively East Asian form known as Guan Yin or Kannon, which is covered in a separate article. In Vajrayana Buddhism Avalokitesvara is also known as Padmapāni, the Holder of the Lotus. In Theravada Southeast Asia, Avalokitesvara is known as Lokesvara.
Origin of the concept
The exact origin of the religious practices relating to Avalokitesvara is unclear. Some Western scholars have suggested that the concept of Avalokitesvra, along with many other supernatural beings in Buddhism, was based on a Hindu deity absorbed by Mahayana teaching as an aspect of the historical Buddha Shakyamuni. The word avalokita means "seeing or gazing down" and īśvara means "lord" in Sanskrit. Īśvara is also an alternate name for the Hindu god Shiva, who seems to also have acted as an inspiration for some of Avalokitesvara's depictions in art.
According to Mahayana doctrine, Avalokitesvara was a person who has made a great vow to listen to the prayers of all sentient beings in times of difficulty, and to postpone his own Buddhahood until he has helped every being on Earth achieve enlightenment. Sutras associated with Avalokitesvara include the Lotus Sutra, particularly the 25th chapter, which is sometimes referred to as the Avalokitesvara Sutra, and the Heart Sutra.
Other manifestations popular in Tibet include Sahasra-bhuja (a form with a thousand arms) and Ekādaśamukha (a form with eleven faces).
In Tibetan Buddhism, White Tara acts as the consort and energizer of Avalokitesvara. According to popular belief, Tara came into existence from a tear of Avalokitesvara. When the tear fell to the ground, it created a lake, and a lotus opening in the lake revealed Tara. Another version of this tale tells that Tara emerged from the heart of Avalokitesvara. In both, it is Avalokitesvara's outpouring of compassion which manifests Tara as a being.
Tibetan Buddhism relates Avalokitesvara to the six-syllable mantra Om Mani Padme Hum, also spelled Om Mani Peme Hung and Om Mani Padme Hon. It is for this reason that Avalokitesvara is also called Shadakshari, Lord of the Six Syllables.
In the Tibetan tradition, Avalokitesvara is seen as arising from two sources. One is the relative source, where in a previous kalpa (era), a devoted, compassionate Buddhist monk became a Bodhisattva, thus giving the present kalpa its form of Avalokitesvara. That is not in conflict, however, with the ultimate source view, which is Avalokitesvara as the universal manifestation of compassion. In brief, it may be said that the Bodhisattva is the anthropomorphised vehicle for the actual deity, serving to bring about a better understanding of Avalokitesvara to humankind.
Avalokitesvara has an extraordinarily large number of manifestations in different forms. Some of the more commonly mentioned forms include:
|Amoghapāśa||不空羂索||fukūkenjaku||Holder of the Infallible Lasso|
|Cintāmani-cakra||如意輪||nyoirin||Holding the Jewel and Wheel||Holds the jewel Cintamani|
|Ekādaśamukha||十一面||jūichimen||Eleven-Faced||Additional faces to teach all in 10 planes of existence|
|Hayagrīva||馬頭||bato||Horse-Headed||Wrathful form; simultaneously boddhisattva and a Wisdom King|
|Pāndaravāsinī||白衣||byakue||White and Pure||the direct forbear of Guan Yin|
|Parnaśabarī||Cloaked With Leaves|
|Rakta Shadaksharī||Six Red Syllables|
|Sahasra-bhuja Sahasra-netra||千手千眼||senjūsengan||Thousand-Armed, Thousand-Eyed||Very popular form: see and helps all|
- Wikipedia (2005). Avalokitesvara. Retrieved July 8, 2005.