Avalokiteshvara is an integral Bodhisattva figure that embodies the compassion of all Buddhas. This “Padmapani” Bodhisattva is largely depicted, sculpted, and portrayed as either male or female. It is also known as Chenrezig in Tibet, and Avloketesvar is in Cambodia.
Moreover, the female figure of Guanyin is an evolved form of the deity in Chinese Buddhism. In Japan, it is commonly known as Kanzeon or Kannon. The Newar community worships Avalokiteshvara as Jana Baha Dyah, Seto Machindranath, or Karunamaya. There is a unique chariot festival of Jana Baha Dyah or Seto Machindranath in Kathmandu every year.
Furthermore, Avalokiteshvara is a central figure of all forms of Buddhism. In some cultures, Avalokitesvara is a title reserved for those who have had a spiritual awakening and attained nirvana. According to myths, the deity postponed his Buddhahood to focus on the mission. The mission was to get rid of all the suffering and endless chain of rebirths from every sentient being in the world.
Similarly, the religious practices of worshiping the Avalokiteshvara is quite common in Buddhism. Various mantras of spiritual significance get chanted while praying the deity. Read further for the detailed description of Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara and other relevant information.
There are various interpretations of the name Avalokiteshvara. Ava means “down”, lokita or lok means “to notice, observe, and behold”, and finally Ishvara means the “lord”, “sovereign” or “master”. Hence, the combined form of these words means “the lord who looks in every direction” or “the lord that sees down on the world”.
The history of the deity coincides with the rise of Mahayana Buddhism. The Mahayana texts including the “Lotus Sutra” and “Flower Garland Sutra” arrived through the Silk Road in the common era. The Dunhuang in the Taklamakan desert became a cultural crossroads. Many travelers of various cultures came together in the desert.
Moreover, the images of the deity were widely depicted in ancient texts, and Buddhist paintings. The Chinese artists helped to make the deity significant in their respective cultures. The gender of Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara is mostly ambiguous and can be either male or female.
Furthermore, the Chinese then sculpted the famous Guanyin of the Southern Sea. The sculpture is an androgynous Bodhisattva form in a casually meditative mood. Six hundred years later, a Japanese artist sculpted seventeen inch high Nyoirin Kannon (ca 1693).
According to the Karandavyuha Sutra of the Mahayana Buddhism, the sun and moon were born from the eyes of Avalokitesvara, and Shiva from the brow. Similarly, Brahma was born from Avalokiteshvara’s shoulders, and Sarasvati from his teeth. Narayana was born from his heart and the winds from his mouth. Likewise, the sky was born from his stomach, and the earth from his feet.
According to the texts of Tibetan Buddhism, Tara came into existence through a single drop of tear shed by Avalokitesvara. The tear created a lake, and a lotus opening in the lake revealed Tara. Some versions also mention Tara emerging from the heart of the Bodhisattva. Vajrayana teachings regard Avalokiteshvara as a Buddha.
Om Mani Padme Hum
The six-syllable mantra Avalokiteshvara mantra of “Om Mani Padme Hum” is an important part of Mahayana Buddhism.
These ancient Indian texts have mentioned this mantra as an “innermost heart” of Avalokiteshvara.
The word “Mani Padme” means the “jewel in the lotus” in Sanskrit and symbolizes purity. The lotus flower is the most prominent Buddhist symbol that denotes the spiritual awakening of Lord Buddha. The syllabus “Om” and “Hum” are divine sounds on their own. In Tibetan Buddhism, the deity is also called Sadaskari or the “Lord of the Six Syllables”.
Moreover, Karandavyuhasutra mentions the connection of mantra and Avalokitesvara. It is a late 4th century CE to early 5th century CE religious text or ancient sutra. According to the sutra, the recitation of this Avalokiteshvara mantra can lead to the attainment of eight hundred samādhis.
The worship of the Bodhisattva is incomplete without the Avalokiteshvara mantra “Om Mani Padme Hum”. The Buddhist practice of reciting the six-syllable Sanskrit mantra started between the 4th and 5th centuries AD.
Moreover, reciting this mantra along with prayer beads is a traditional practice in Tibetan Buddhism. You can find the mention of this practice in sutras which are ancient Indian texts. The manuscript has many forms of instructions including reciting the mantra.
Furthermore, the mantra encompasses all the Buddhist teachings. The recital of the mantra requires proper breathing with accurate pronunciation of sequence of sounds. These words are not mere sounds and have a deeper meaning. Overall, the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara is an integral religious figure in all forms of Buddhism.
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