Avalokiteshvara has a special bond with the people of Tibet,
as while on his path to Buddhahood, this Boddhisattva returned back voluntarily
to lead all beings together to Buddhahood, thus away from all the material
aspects of the world. He is a manifestation of the self-born Amitabha Buddha
and is filled with infinite compassion and mercy for the people suffering pains
and loss in the whole world. Just like the way shown here, he sits on a lotus
pedestal in a meditation posture, decked up with charming jewels enhancing his
divine and beauteous aura. The name ‘Avalokiteshvara’ translates itself as, ‘the
lord who gazes down at the world’ and on seeing the immense sufferings of the
people, he couldn’t stop himself from crying, thus marked the birth of White Tara
and Green Tara.
This brass sculpture of Avalokiteshvara depicts him with
eleven heads and thousand arms, carved like a fan on either side enveloping his
body gracefully. Each of his arms carry thousand eyes each in the open palms
respectively and the longer arms hold the various Buddhist elements. It is said
that when lord Avalokiteshvara cried in anguish on seeing the unhappy beings
who were yet to be saved, Amitabha Buddha gave him eleven heads with which he
could hear the cries of the sufferers and help them. But when he tried to help
them, his two hands shattered into pieces, so Amitabha aided him by giving
thousand arms. Thus, the thousand pieces of Bodhisattva became an imposing
figure with a thousand arms, thousand eyes and eleven heads.
The sculptor has
amazingly carved this brass Avalokiteshvara statue with the anterior hands
joined in namaskara mudra and eyes half closed in a gesture of meditation.
Focus on the intrinsic carvings of the crown that is glorified on all his
eleven heads. He is a warrior Bodhisattva who with his selfless Buddha
manifestation took the step of returning back to the path of enlightenment to
help all and lead all to Buddhahood.
The bodhisattva of compassion, Avalokitesvara (Chenrezi to Tibetans) is portrayed here in his most powerful, royal form, with eleven faces, one thousand eyes, and one thousand arms. He is saluted in a common Tibetan prayer as "The holy Avalokiteshvara, who has the thousand arms of the thousand universal monarchs, the thousand eyes of the thousand Buddhas of this good eon, and who manifests whatsoever is appropriate to tame whatsoever!"
There are several versions of the legend explaining his eleven heads, but they all resolve themselves into the following:
Avalokiteshvara, the all pitying one, descended into hell, converted the wicked, liberated them, and conducted them to Sukhavati, the paradise of his spiritual father, Amitabha.
He discovered, however, to his dismay, that for every culprit converted and liberated, another instantly took his place. Legend claims that his head split into ten pieces from grief and despair on discovering the extent of wickedness in the world, and the utter hopelessness of saving all mankind. Amitabha caused each piece to become a head, and placed the heads on the body of his spiritual son, Avalokitesvara. Nine of the heads have benign faces and are depicted in three rows; the tenth has an angry face, while the head at the top is that of Amitabha.
All the heads, except that of Amitabha, is crowned. In contrast to the floral crowns of the three rows of heads, the top wrathful head is adorned with a crown of skulls.
At a symbolic level, eight of the heads represent the cardinal directions and their intermediate points, and the other three signify the zenith, the center, and the nadir.
Fascinating as this myth is, it probably disguises an earlier myth of cosmic creation in which a primal being created the universe by disintegrating his own person.
Amitabha further said to Avalokiteshvara that there was still another way to accomplish his goal. Mahakala, the wrathful aspect of Avalokitesvara, was then created to fight against negative forces with compassion and to destroy obstacles in the path towards righteousness, thereby helping all sentient beings reach enlightenment. The tenth wrathful head is thus that of Mahakala.
In addition Avalokiteshvara is given a thousand arms which form a mandala around his body and symbolize his pervasiveness. The palm of each hand is marked with an eye, the 'eye of mercy', to see the sufferings of all beings, and to help sentient beings overcome them.
The two central arms hold a wish-fulfilling gem; one main right arm is holding the wheel of combined spiritual teaching and benevolent governance; another upraised right hand holds the rosary. a left hand holds a bow and arrow, their pairing symbolizes the coincidence of wisdom and method, or the union of wisdom and concentration. Another upraised left hand holds a lotus in full bloom. This is a symbol of purity, renunciation, and divinity.
Of Related Interest:
Eleven Headed Thousand Armed Avalokiteshvara (Tibetan Thangka Painting)
Eleven Headed Thousand Armed Avalokiteshvara (Brass Statue)
Eleven Headed Thousand Armed Avalokiteshvara (Antiquated Sterling Silver Pendant)
Eleven Headed Avalokitesvara Chenresigs, Kuan-yin, or Kannon Bodhisattva: Its Origin and Iconography (Book)
The Bodhisattva Ideal: Buddhism and the Aesthetics of Selflessness (Article)
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