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Avalokiteśvara

Avalokiteśvara (Skt., ‘the lord who looks in every direction’, or ‘of what is seen’). One of the most important bodhisattvas in Mahāyāna Buddhism. He embodies compassion (karuṇā), and is thus called Mahākarunā (the other necessary constituent of a buddha being wisdom, prajña, which is embodied in Mañjuśri). Avalokiteśvara is the manifestation as bodhisattva of the power of the equally compassionate buddha, Amitābha (Amida). He is the supremely compassionate helper, and is often depicted with a thousand arms and a thousand eyes for that purpose. He is also eleven-headed, because when he looked at suffering humanity, his head split open from pain. From a single tear shed by Avalokiteśvara, Tārā was born who ferries the faithful across on their way to nirvāna, or to the Western Paradise (see SUKHĀVATĪ). He responds instantly to all who ‘with all their mind call on his name’.

In China, Avalokiteśvara is known as Kuanyin, ‘he who hears the sound of the world’. In addition to the characteristics and representations of Avalokiteśvara, Kuan-yin frequently has a child on one arm, and appears (under Taoist influence of complementary properties) increasingly with feminine characteristics. She becomes the all-compassionate mother-goddess, perhaps the most popular deity in China, represented in a flowing white robe, holding a lotus.

In Japan, ‘he’ (see below) is known as Kannon (Kanzeon, Kwannon), the Bodhisattva of Compassion, one of the most popular deities in Mahāyāna Buddhism. According to the Lotus Sūtra, Kannon perceives the sufferings of all sentient beings and devises ways to assist them, to answer their prayers, and to lead them to salvation. This compassion of the Bodhisattva is reflected in his fuller name Kanzeon, meaning ‘He Who Regards the Cries of the World’. In Japan, as in China, Kannon was frequently portrayed in feminine form, possibly stemming from the Lotus Sūtra's statement that the Bodhisattva will take on the guise of a woman or any other figure in order to lead sentient beings to salvation, and perhaps suggesting feminine representation to be more expressive of compassion.

In Tibet, he is known as sPyan-ras-gzigs, or in the West as Chenrezi. The king Songsten-Gampo who brought Buddhism into Tibet (see TIBETAN RELIGION) is regarded as an incarnation of Avalokiteśvara, as are the successive Dalai Lamas.

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Avalokitesvara

Avalokitesvara In Buddhism, one of the most distinguished of the bodhisattvas. Noted for his compassion and mercy, he remained on Earth in order to bring help to the suffering. Dalai Lamas are considered reincarnations of Avalokitesvara.

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