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Avalokiteśvara- The Bodhisattva of Compassion

Page history last edited by Liz Chavez 14 years, 3 months ago

 Avalokiteśvara- The Bodhisattva of Compassion



Avalokitesvara sits in many, if not most, of the photos seen in a meditation pose, offering himself to the world around. He is sitting with one set of hands in front of his chest, preforming the Uttarabodhi Mudra. This is when a Bodhisattva places his two hands together, toughing the index fingers and the other fingers inter winded with each other. This gesture is supposed to represent supreme enlightenment. The other set of hands, shown in the picture above, display the Jnana Mudra. A mudra of teaching with the fingers touching to form the wheel of law. The arms themselves represent the four immeasurables: immeasurable kindness, immeasurable compassion, immeasurable joy, and immeasurable equanimity. The outer right hand is holding crystal beads like the ones used to count mantras.  This is because like the constant counting of beads, Avalokitesvara is continuously benefiting all sentient beings.  In his outer left hand, he holds a lotus flower. This bodhisattva has the "halo"like circle above his head showing his impermanence and greatest, much like a God. Also in this image there is great images of richness and nature. This could show the importance of Avalokitesvara's greatness and devotion to the world. This picture would be used mostly for a worship and rememberance of the great Bodhisattva that is awaiting his enlightenment until every person on the world has reached nirvana.  


What Avalokitesvara teaches us and Background:


      Avalokitesvara is the bodhisattva who teaches us and embodies compassion for all that are affect by her and for all Buddhas. In Tibet, he is know as Chenrezig, and said to be a reincarnation of the Dalai Lama. This is a key component to the idea of how important Avalokitesvara is to the culture and beliefs of Buddhism because he has presented herself as a bodhisattva that represents the religion itself and helps people understand the ideas that are placed before them with Avalokitesvara in mind. Avalokitesvara shows us one of the greatest ideas of merit making possible in the Buddhist tradition, compassion. Without compassion one would not have the ability to follow the bodhisattva ideals and suggestions on how to live ones life. 

     The name Avalokitesvara meaning is as important as her presence in the Buddhist tradition. "Ava" means down, "lokita" means to notice or behold and "svara" can be defined as lord or ruler. All of these placed together show that he was the holder and ruler of many great thoughts and ideas. He was the bodhisattva that held the idea of compassion and acceptance of all in order to help the many followers of Buddhism reach nirvana or complete the circle of Samsara. 

     Avalokitesvara teaches us patience as well as compassion. He has withheld his own Buddhahood until he has helped every sentient being on earth achieve nirvana. This is something that every person could connect to because it allows us to understand the idea of compassion, patients and giving. Without these things people would be no where, and they would never be able to reach nirvana. 

     Avalokitesvara, being the Bodhisattva of compassion, has six different forms within the Mahayana tradition. 'Great compassion, great loving-kindness, lion-courage, universal light, leader amongst gods and men, and the great omnipresent Brahman" (Avalokitesvara, wikipedia.com).







This is a modern drawing of Avalokitesvara, showing the many hands that he had to help the many people of the world reach nirvana. 

www.joyofsects.com/.../ 03/nothing-doing.shtml













This is a picture of an actual recreation of Avalokitesvara many

by many women, to represent the many arms he had. 

vweb.youth.cn/.../ 200808/t20080801_763820.htm 


A luminous being of light-

Avalokitesvara is the Buddhist deity that is most connected with light. According to the stories, Avalokitesvara was created from a ray of light which emanated from Amitabah Buddha. Avalokitesvara is commonly described as radiating light which shines over all sentient beings and all corners of the universe.


The creator of the universe-

It is believed that the whole cosmos exists as a manifestation of avalokitesvara’s creative activity. In Tibetan writings, he not only created the world and the Hindu gods, he also created the buddhas and the Buddha-fields.


Creation of Tibet-

Once there was a monkey who was an incarnation of Avalokitesvara. He lived in the mountains and practiced meditation. One day, a demoness saw and fell in love with Avalokitesvara. After many unsuccessful attempts to court him, she threatened to bring disaster on all the living beings in the area if he did not marry her. The confused monkey went to Avalokitesvara to find out what to do. He told the monkey to marry the demoness. The monkey and the demoness were married and had six children. These six children were the progenitors of the Tibetan people. Thus, all Tibetans are direct descendants of a manifestation of Avalokitesvara.


Vow to save all sentient beings-

Another prominent story tells of Avalokitesvara vowing to not rest until he had freed all sentient beings from samsara. After strenuous effort, he realized that still many unhappy beings were not saved yet. The struggle to comprehend so many needs caused his head to split into eleven pieces. Then, Amitabha Buddha gave him eleven heads with which to hear the cries of the suffering. He hears the cries and attempts to reach out to all of those in need, but his two arms shattered into pieces. Once more, Amitabha came to his aid and invests him with a thousand arms with which to aid the suffering of multitudes.


Many Himalayan versions of the previous tale include eight arms with which Avalokitesvara skillfully upholds the dharma, each arm possessing its own particular implement. 



Avalokitesvara is important not only in Tibetan’s understanding of their history but he is also very important in their practice of Buddhist meditation. Most prominently in practices of tantric visualization. Avalokitesvara, as the embodiment of compassionate action, is extremely important. In tantra, practitioners create visualizations which are structured so as to bring about experiential realizations of Buddhist teachings.


In early Tibet Avalokitesvara played an important role in replacing the pre-Buddhist funeral rituals with Buddhist ones.


There are two hymns to Avalokitesvara found in the Dunhuang manuscripts. The first hymn praises the 108 qualities of the bodhisattva. The second hymn is to Cintamanicakra, whose mandala is described as an embodiment of the mind’s true nature:


If you meditate on this mandala of mind itself,

The equality of all mandalas,

Conceptual signs will not develop.

Conceptualization is itself enlightenment.

With this non-abiding wisdom

All accomplishments will be perfected.




Mantras and Prayers

O Mani Padme Hū / Om Mani Padme Hum 

Avalokitesvara’s mantra



This mantra is one of the best and widely known Buddhist mantras.  The mantra is often translated as “o the jewel in the lotus hū; mani meaning jewel and padme meaning lotus.  The mantra’s symbolic interpretation, then, is the joining of the qualities of wisdom (the lotus) and compassion (the jewel).  This mantra is found in The Heart Sutra—one of the most popular sutras in the Mahāyāna canon.  


Another less literal interpretation of Avalokitesvara’s sutra comes from an early Tibetan text from the 9th century.  This text is a commentary on Sanskrit grammar and favors an alternate reading of the mantra, and treats it as an invocation. 

‘In this mantra o is uttered first because it is the essence of the five wisdoms;  which is to be translated as "be mindful of this" is placed at the end, so the actual vocative (or: invocation) in between consists of mai, to be translated as "jewel" and padme... ("lotus") which is the same word in Tibetan so remains unchanged in translation.

So, to this "jewel-lotus" an invocation by means of a salutation is addressed, which results in the application of case ending -e in the syllable me, which is to be translated as "O!", so that the translation of the example is: "O, jewel-lotus!".’

Verhagen, P.C. "The mantra o mai-padme hū in an early Tibetan Grammatical Treatise,"Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies. 13 (2) 1990. p.134-5. I have ommitted Tibetan equivalents, and paretheses indicating interpolations in the translation.


A typical Tibetan interpretation relates each of the six syllables to the six possible realms of existence.  Avalokiteśvara appears in each realm offering what the inhabitants need in order to awaken from that state. When the mantra is written in Tibet each of the letters are often colored to match the color of Avalokiteśvara's manifestation in that realm.

A Mani stone carved and painted

with "O Mani Padme Hūṁ" 


















hungry ghosts






The mantra then is seen as activating that aspect in the universe which frees beings in whatever realm they are in.  This is often considered far more important than the dictionary definitions of the words which make it up.


This mantra is also carved into rocks in order to gain merit, as seen on the Mani stone above.  The accumulated rocks are then formed into walls or placed in significant places.  “Om Mani Padme Hum” is also carved into or written upon Mani wheels and is then spun to gain merit.  There is usually small scrolls with the mantra written upon them-another method of merit making-packed into the wheel as well.  The merit gained from spinning these wheels is said to accumulate the same amount of merit as if one had repeated the mantra themselves. 



A Mani stone wall, a of place for Buddhists to go and receive merit. 



This is a photo of Mani wheels that are spun for merit by Buddhists, many in Homage of Avalokitesvara.


In Tibet near Yushu, someone carved “Om Mani Padme Hum” into a frozen lake.  The tallest letters are nearly 50 meters high. 

The giant mantra can be seen from Google Maps here:http://maps.google.co.uk/maps?f=q&hl=en&geocode=&time=&date=&ttype=&q=32.909982,97.04612&ie=UTF8&t=h&z=16&iwloc=addr&om=0 or the coordinates are 32.909982,97.04612.  The large carvings are slightly more north than the coordinates, so drag the image north a little bit to see the carvings.  


So why is this mantra so popular and what does the mantra do for the individual?  One plausible explanation given by monks is that, by chanting Avalokitesvara’s mantra over and over, we will come to see how much compassion Avalokitesvara has for all sentient beings and experience the overwhelming compassion ourselves.  By realizing that we are all no different from Avalokitesvara we become aware of increased compassion in our lives and this eventually leads to awakening as wise and compassionate buddhas.  





     The best and most common way Buddhists would show their respect for and pay homage to Avalokitesvara would be to chant his mantra.  His mantra is simply called "mantra of Avalokitesvara" and can be heard here:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cVKSCqs1Ezo&feature=related.  That was a Tibetian rendition of the mantra but all forms carry the same message.  Another chant used to pay homage to the great Avalokitesvara would be one called " Namo Avalokitesvara", which actually means "homage to Avalokitesvara". A singing example of this mantra can be seen here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vYxBjORpXCc .  Although in these examples the mantras are sung and have added music, most often these two mantras of Avalokitesvara are chanted repeatedly.  Another example of a chant Buddhists use to pay respect to Avalokitesvara is the " High king Avalokistesvara Sutra".  This sutra is the most used sutra to pay homage to Avalokitesvara  The chants are lead by the monks and allow for the laity to be able to chant along and gain merit. The full text and translation can be found at: http://www.buddhistsutras.org/sutra/highking_sutra_en.htm  

     Because Avalokitesvara is the Buddha of compassion and a savior bodhisattva, there is great appeal towards him.  In most households one can find either a shrine or a tapestry dedicated specifically and only to Avalokitesvara.  This is so when one begins to meditate he or she has a visual reference to help one achieve a calm mind in order for one to succeed in his or her spiritual journey. 


How does Avalokitesvara fulfill the bodhisattva vow of benefitting all sentient beings?


     Avalokitsvara is able to help all sentient beings because of his postponed enlightenment. This allows him to stay within samsara where he can benefit all other beings. To Avalokitesvara, the Bodhisattva of compassion, helping all sentient beings is the reason for existence and is the essence of his being.  The Tibetan translation of his name is "one who watches with a steady gaze" because he sees and hears the suffering from all beings so that he can save them. He is seen as the supreme savior of all beings and a guard between the last Buddha, Sakyamuni, and the next Buddha, Maitreya. He helps beings in many ways like protecting them from harm, healing them once they are harmed and showing them the correct way when they stray from the path to nirvana. In order to help people, Avalokitsvara is able to take many shapes and forms. He can be manifested in whatever form necessary for the circumstances and mental capacities of the people he is helping. He has been known to save people from physical harm such as drowning and being murdered as well as saving them from the three mental poisons (passion, hatred, and delusion) and sets them back on the path to enlightenment. Avaloketesvara also benefits beings through their meditation and veneration of him. He is the embodiment of ultimate compassion and the other three immeasurables kindness, joy and equanimity. Through meditation and veneration of him, these qualities are brought out and realized.










Kodi  -kodi.kassell@colorado.edu

Logan - Logan.loeb@colorado.edu

Liz - chavez.et@gmail.com

lance- nicholas.heyward@colorado.edu

Tyler - tyler.seibert@colorado.edu 


Comments (18)

patricia melero said

at 9:41 pm on Apr 9, 2010

Great job i think the layout is fluid. I really am intrigued by avolokitsvara as our world needs to find more compassion towards others and ultimately within ourselves. Embedding some of the you tubes would have been a great addition, regardless excellent project! 4

Brent Goebel said

at 7:41 pm on Apr 10, 2010

This is really well organized. I feel like its not overwhelmingly too much information or too many visuals. The images are great, very colorful and different types of visuals. I really like the women stressing all the hands. Well done! 4.5

Marnie said

at 10:44 pm on Apr 10, 2010

I really like your page! It's very well organized and looks like one full project rather than three or four seperate projects put together. Maybe some YouTube videos could have added to it but otherwise I really liked all the information and pictures! 4

spilot said

at 9:39 am on Apr 11, 2010

Well organized indeed. Some great imagery. There are three youtube videos, which I think is plenty.

elias.dequiroz@colorado.edu said

at 11:37 pm on Apr 11, 2010

I liked the layout of the page. The whole thing was informative and documented who Avalokitesvara was and why he/she was important. My only criticism is that I would have liked to see more pictures. 4.5

jack.bradley@... said

at 5:52 am on Apr 12, 2010

the information about the mantras and methods of paying homage to avilokitesvara was very interesting. i was also impressed with your research into the myths and legends surrounding him. nice job on the videos too!

nathan.bosso@colorado.edu said

at 9:07 am on Apr 12, 2010

Page is very nicely organized with a lot of information and the videos were a nice addition.

emily.haugh@... said

at 9:31 am on Apr 12, 2010

I think the subtitles were really helpful in organizing your page to keep your reader informed of the information you were about to present. It would have been nice to see more images with each images iconography being explained individually. 4/5

millicent.rugg@... said

at 9:51 am on Apr 12, 2010

The flow of the page was great! I really liked the picture of the real woman with all the arms, very neat. You completed a large amount of research for all sorts of areas and all the different traditions, I felt very informed when I was done viewing the page.

Brittany Woods said

at 10:44 am on Apr 12, 2010

Though all sections appear relevant and fascinating, overall organization seems to flit around slightly. But I like how you posed certain section headers as questions, then used the body to answer them. Overall, well done; I found the mantra information especially interesting.

sydney said

at 10:51 am on Apr 12, 2010

I was especially interested in the photograph of the woman and the many arms of other women portraying Avelokitesvara. I'm curious as to why he is being portrayed by women, it seems pretty unconventional but the picture is stunning. I would have liked to see a little more on his role of creator of the universe, but overall this page is great!

abigail.worsnop@... said

at 8:55 pm on Apr 12, 2010

I was very impressed by this page. There is tons of information, yet it is presented in an accessible way, and therefore doesn't seem overwhelming. I particularly like the variety of images, as well as the accompanying captions. The images were well-chosen and do much to show the great variety of iconography associated with Avalokitesvara.

Amber Solinger said

at 10:41 pm on Apr 12, 2010

Great page! Very well organized and easy to follow. The google maps image really is amazing, nice contribution. Your choice of pictures were great, however I'd like to have seen more.

casey.helmig@colorado.edu said

at 1:10 pm on Apr 13, 2010

I thought your page was really well organized, which made it very interesting and enjoyable to read through. There is a lot of great information provided, as well as tables, pictures and youtube videos- great job incorporating all types of visuals! Good job!

Noel.Smith@Colorado.EDU said

at 11:48 am on Apr 14, 2010

Lots of great content, I also really liked alot of the iages you guys used. Great Job

Ashley Herzberger said

at 12:12 pm on Apr 14, 2010

I really liked the design of this page. There was a nice mix of text and photos, and the inclusion of the chart was really helpful. A few things I would have liked more detail on include a little more depth on the different forms of Avolokitesvara mentioned in the second section. I found this interesting, and would have liked to know a little bit on each one. Also, I found the creator of Tibet myth to be very interesting and was wondering if that myth proliferates all across Buddhism, or only in Tibet?

kate.levin@... said

at 11:36 am on Apr 15, 2010

Really interesting and informative. 5/5

hgayley@... said

at 8:56 pm on Apr 17, 2010

Lots of nice detail in this project! Glad that you picked up on Avalokitesvara's role in myths of the origins of the Tibetan people, though I would like to see a citation for the unusual claim that he is a "creator of the universe." In general, Buddhism eschews such cosmological creation stories.

Particularly nice section on Avalokitesvara's mantra OM MANI PADME HUM and the way it takes physical form in prayer wheels and on mani stones for Tibetans to make merit by circumambulating. I think I mentioned in class that the translation "the jewel in the lotus" is incorrect, and the better translation is: "oh jewel-lotus one" as an epithet for Avalokitesvara, which you also mention. I'm glad that you included the breakdown of how Tibetans understand the six syllables to relate to the six realms of existence! While reciting the mantra, Tibetans cultivate compassion, i.e. the wish to free all sentient beings from suffering.

Parts are a bit jumbled. Yes, Avalokitesvara changes gender in his various manifestations, but there is still no need for gender bending within sentences (i.e. "he has presented herself"). In another reversal, you have Avalokitsevara as an emanation of the Dalai Lama, rather than the Dalai Lama as an emanation of Avalokitesvara! Also, the homage section seems to repeat much of what was covered in more detail in the mantra section.

In terms of iconography, I agree with others that there could have been more images and specific attention to the different forms of Avalokitesvara. Overall, good work! 4 – Prof HG

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