Compassionate bodhisattva who is described in the Land of Bliss sutras as standing by the side of Amida to welcome the deceased to the afterlife. In China, Avaoliteshvara became a feminine deity, Kuan yin.
Avalokitesvara (lit. "Lord who looks down") is a bodhisattva who embodies the compassion of all Buddhas. He is one of the more widely revered bodhisattvas in mainstream Mahayana Buddhism. In China and its sphere of cultural influence, Avalokitesvara is often depicted in a female form known as Guan Yin. (However, in Taoist mythology, Guan Yin has other origination stories which are unrelated to Avalokitesvara.)
Avalokitesvara is also referred to as Padmapani ("Holder of the Lotus") or Lokesvara ("Lord of the World"). In Tibetan, Avalokitesvara is known as Chenrezig, and is said to be incarnated in the Dalai Lama, the Karmapa and other high Lamas. In Mongolia, he is called Megjid Janraisig, Xongsim Bodisadva, or Niduber Ujegci.
Amongst the most important celestial bodhisattvas in Mahayana Buddhism, Avalokitesvara is the embodiment of compassion.
Sanskrit; Kannon (Japanese), Chen Resig (Tibetan), Kwan Um (Korean); the bodhisattva of compassion.
The boddhisattva of compassion. Avalokiteshwara is often represented by a female figure, or an ambiguous one, in the Mahayana tradition. (See image at right).
Avatokiteshvara (Avalokiteśvara), Skt.; one of the most important bodhisattvas of the Mahāyāna. The literal meaning of Avalokiteshvara is variously interpreted. One interpretation is the “Lord Who Looks Down,” in which the last component of the name is taken to be ishvara, “lord.” Another interpretation is “He Who Hears the Sounds [Outcries] of the World” or also the “Sound That Illumines the World,” in which svara, “sound” is regarded as the final component of the name. In any case, Avalokiteshvara embodies one of the two fundamental aspects of buddhahood, compassion (karunā), in virtue of which he is often given the epithet Mahākarunā, “Great Compassion.” The other fundamental aspect of buddhahood is wisdom (prajñā), which is embodied by the bodhisattva Mañjushrī. Avalokiteshvara is the power of the buddha Amitābha manifested as a bodhisattva and appears as his helper. His limitless compassion expresses itself in his wonderful ability to help all beings who turn to him at times of extreme danger. In folk belief, Avalokiteshvara also protects from natural catastrophe and grants blessings to children.
In China Avalokiteshvara is venerated under the name Kuan-yin, in Japan under the name Kannon (also Kanzeon and Kwannon), and in both countries is generally considered to be female. The Tibetan form of Avalokiteshvara is Chenresi.
In the Mahayana Buddhist tradition, along with Manjushri, one of the principle bodhisattvas is Avalokiteshvara, "the one who listens to the sounds of the world." Just as Manjushri is the embodiment of wisdom and the cutting of the sword, so Avalokiteshvara is the embodiment of compassion. Just as Manjushri is related to seeing, the seeing of light, enlightenment, so Avalokiteshvara is related to hearing. Wisdom has a masculine, assertive quality; compassion, listening, has a feminine receptive quality.
(Even though Avalokiteshvara started out as a masculine figure, it has been transmuted over the years. Most people see it as feminine precisely because of this receptive, undiscriminating, open hearted quality.)
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