The 1000-armed Buddha of Compassion
This deity is without a doubt (along with Tara) one of the most popular divinities in Tibet and is regarded as one of Tibet’s guardian deities, where he is known as Chenrezig – he who looks continuously with the eyes of compassion.
Avaloketeshvara is considered to be embodiment of the compassion of all the Buddhas, the Tibetan people have endless devotion for him, they will recite his mantra OM MANI PADME HOUNG for many hours, either while Meditating or performing Cora: circling stupas in a clockwise manner, it is believe that doing so increases the power of the Sadhana or act of Dharma.
Symbolism – Buddha of Compassion
The symbolism of Avaloketeshvara is complex, and there exist many many different interpretations. One of my favourites is: the thousand hands represent the thousand universal monarchs that rule our kalpa. The 1000 eyes on each of the hands represent the thousand Buddhas of this kalpa. The existing Buddhist text do not talk in years but in Kalpas, similar to Eons.
7 ways to recognize the Buddha of Compassion
Avaloketeshvara is the name given to a particular form of the Buddha of Compassion and is mostly recognizable by his thousand radiating arms.Yet there exists many forms of the Buddha of Compassion, but we will always be able to look for the ornaments he wears.
If you want to recognize the Buddha of Compassion look for the following 7 attributes :
- The Wish granting Jewels: Love and compassion that rescues those who suffer.
- The Mala : the mantra that pulls beings from suffering.
- The Wheel of Dharma : teaching for the good of all
- Bow and Arrow : Knowledge and Compassion
- Treasure Vase : contains the nectar of immortality
- Lotus : immaculate wisdom
Myth and Legend – 1000 armed Buddha of Compassion
The story of the 1000 armed Buddha of Compassion goes back to a popular part of the life of this Boddhisattva, this is the name given to a Buddha that remains in Samsara, in order to help other beings reach the state of Enlightenment.
Being the embodiment of compassion, Avaloketeshvara made the following promise, in the presence of Amitabha:
As long as there are souls that have not reached Enlightenment, I will strive for the good of all beings. If I were to break this promise, may my head split into 10 pieces and my body into 1000 pieces
To this Amitabha replied :
This promise is an excellent one! Myself and all the Buddhas of the three times, it is by similar engagements that we reached Enlightenment for the good of all. I will aide your noble heart to accomplish what your heart has promised
And so during an incalculable amount of time, the body of Avaloketeshvara emitted 6 rays of light that produced countless expressions working to relieve the suffering on the 6 worlds.
After having worked for many kalpas , Avaloketeshvara took a moment to see if there were still many beings to save from Samsara. But, much to his disarray he found that their number had only diminished by the slightest amount. Discouraged, he juged his task unnecessary; time would be better spent resting in the peace of Nirvana. With this single thought he had broken his promise and he began to shatter into hundreds of pieces.
In his anguish he called Amitabha to his rescue, who appeared immediately before him and proceeded to encouraged him to continue his endeavour. To give him even more power he recomposed his head giving him 9 peaceful heads and 1 irritated head,to enable him to see in all directions simultaneously. Crowned the 10 heads with his own to signify that he would always be with him.
He then took the pieces of his body, and created a new body from which radiated a 1000 hands marked with the 1000 Eyes of Compassion…
Forms of the Buddha of Compassion
There exists multiple forms of the Buddha of Compassion and here we have seen the 1000-armed form, while the aspect of Compassion is embodied in every form, each form has its own myth and attributes. As I explained earlier in this post, we much always look for his 7 ornaments, each representing an aspect of Compassion and Enlightenment.
The popular form of the Buddha of Compassion in Tibet is Chenrezig, the 4 armed form of the Buddha of Compassion.Yet again this form has its own story – but that will be for another blog post.
Here are an interesting link to consider if you want more information to practice compassion:
Dalai Lama Official site – He is the re-incarnation of the Buddha of Compassion for many Tibetan Buddhists.