the most popular and beloved of the Mahayana bodhisattvas.
The name Avalokitesvara means something like "
the Lord who looks down on the World" or according
to another interpretation " the Regarder of the
Cries of the World". This bodhisattva is first
mentioned in the Lotus Sutra (approx. 1st century
AD) which together with the Karandavyuha Sutra describe
him as rescuing from all kinds of distress and danger
anyone who calls out his mantra, Om Mani Padme
Hum (Om the Jewel in the Lotus Hum).
This desire and ability to help all without distinction
is due to Avalokitesvara's great compassion, indeed
he is seen as the very embodiment of the Buddha's
India Avalokitesvara was usually
portrayed as a handsome young prince with the Buddha
nestled in his crown, or sometimes as an ascetic,
iconographically very similar to the Hindu
god Siva. He was also given some of Siva's names -
the Blue Throated One, Mahesvara etc. In Tibet he is often portrayed with a thousand arms, each
hand with an eye in it, symbolising the seeing and
reaching out to help those in distress. In China however
Avalokitesvara is more usually represented as a beautiful
white robed woman and is known as Kwan Yin. From Mongolia
to Sri Lanka, from Afghanistan
to Indonesia, the worship
of Avalokitesvara has long been popular, even fervent,
and has inspired some of the most beautiful examples
of Buddhist art.
On, In China. J. Blofield, Bodhisatva of Compassion.
Boston, 1988; in Sri Lanka, J.C. Holt, Buddha in
the Crown. Oxford, 1991.