A bodhisattva is a Buddhist divinity who has achieved the highest possible level of transcendence but continues to refuse to make It to heaven in order to aid the earthbound. The bodhisattva, widely recognized in Sanskrit as Avalokitevara, can hold both male and female aspects and is affiliated with the characteristics of kindness and forgiveness; its Chinese embodiment, Guanyin, has always been illustrated as female and interprets as 'observer of sounds.' Buddhists believe Guanyin can listen to the screams of everyone who endure on Earth and assist them to redemption.
Chenrezig: Unifying compassion and unconditional love are at the core of every bodhisattva's spiritual practice, and nowhere is this more clearly evident than in Chenrezig. In several instances, he is the stereotypic articulation of benevolence, which is considered necessary for enlightenment. He appears as a particular being or, more frequently, as a stereotypical bodhisattva who is the classic articulation of every Buddha's adoration across the whole of mahayana Buddhism. He made numerous trips into the diverse aspects of creation of all beings, from the greatest domains of the gods up to the most pathetic hells, experiencing great empathy for all living creatures. The further he saw of the turmoil and hardship that permeated everywhere, the further he was pinned to be of aid. He said, “May my body be crushed into a million pieces if I ever exhaust this good work”. Having followed that, he went to the most horrible hell and emancipated as many creatures as were responsive to his doctrines. He worked his way upwards through the realms until he finally showed up at the deva realms.
Manjushri: Manjushri, the Bodhisattva of Intellect, tends to hold a blade in one hand and a Prajnaparamita Knowledge text in the other. The manuscripts of the Prajnaparamita (Brilliance of Knowledge) are believed to be the nearest Buddhists ever came to putting reality (an insurmountable challenge) into utterances. As a mindfulness practice, Manjushri is a striking image chosen to represent ever-present knowledge in addition to the blade of knowledge and understanding to completely remove all illusions.
Goddess Tara: Tara is revered as the deity of love, kindness and protection in both Buddhism and Hinduism. She is a symbolic representation of the female primitive energy known as shakti in Hinduism. The name is taken from the Sanskrit root tar, which implies "security." This translates roughly as "star" in plenty of other Indian languages. In fact, she is deemed as the female Buddha in certain cultures. She is currently the most prevalent divinity in Tibetan Buddhism today. Tara is the second of the top ten divinities of knowledge (dasa mahavidyas). Tara appears in varied incarnations in some cultures; the two best known are White Tara, the epitome of kindness and harmony, and Green Tara, the wonderful defender and overcomer of hurdles.
Maitreya: Maitreya is the forthcoming Buddha who is set to teach spirituality in the new millennium. He concentrated his spiritual practice on profound love while exercising as a bodhisattva. He not only instructed others to follow this route, but also meditated on it continuously, regularly stationing himself at a city's gate and pondering deeply on love and compassion. His meditation was just so potent that people who pass by close enough just to touch his feet would encounter deep affection. This delighted the tathagatas of the ten orientations, who applauded his actions and prophesied that Love would be his name in all of his future existences as a bodhisattva and a buddha. This is the way he earned his name.
Q1. Who are the renowned Bodhisattvas?
Avalokiteshvara, Manjushri, Maitreya, and Vajrapani, Mahasthamaprapta, Samantabhadra, Kshitigarbha, and Sarvanivarana Vishkambhin are the eight famous bodhisattvas.
Q2. How are Bodhisattvas respected?
Buddhists revere and worship buddhas and bodhisattvas in the exact same way in which they would worship gods.
Bodhisattvas are ‘beings destined for Awakening’, preparing, through their merits and their virtues, to become Buddhas.
For most of the followers of Mahayana Buddhism, the Bodhisattvas represent intermediaries between the inaccessible, unimaginable and indescribable Buddha (conceived as a supreme deity, Vairocana or Adi Buddha, and the beings living on this earth of impermanence and imperfection. They are the divine intercessors, the ‘heroes of charity and sacrifice’,’ endowed with all virtues and qualities, possessing all strengths and an unshakable resolution In the accomplishment of their vows. They are perfect models, dear to the hearts of the faithful, because, endowed with tenderness and sensitivity, they are closer to them.
The sects of Tibetan Buddhism in Tibet and Nepal usually represent five Bodhisattvas — Avalokiteshvara, Manjushri, Maitreya, Vajrapani and Bhaishajyaguru.
Devoted to the salvation of the suffering world, they do not enter final Nirvana — which is why they are not normally represented in Samadhi (meditative concentration) with the hands in Dhyana mudra, but in more dynamic postures. They are eminently active beings: they have taken the ‘vow to experience all torments in the place of living beings. Thus their appeal is immense throughout the world of Mahayana Buddhism, and the number of their representations is considerable. They are assigned many names which reflect the qualities or activities attributed to them because a number of these Bodhisattvas are worshipped according to their attributes. Bodhisattvas appear only in imagery from the Esoteric and Mahayana traditions.
Bodhisattvas are usually depicted as less austere or inward than the Buddha. As the deity of compassion, Bodhisattvas are typically represented with precious jewelry, elegant garments and graceful postures. The most common Bodhisattva posture is that of a relaxed seated posture with the legs loose and resting as they may with either the right or left leg pendant. This posture is depicted in art as synonymous with both the Royal Ease and Sattva Posture.
Esoteric sects, found largely in Tibet and Japan, use mudras most extensively, both in practice and in art. Hand gestures are also used by bodhisattvas. The Sanskrit term vara, also known as varada, highlights the Buddha granting the vow. Despite this reference to Shakyamuni, this gesture is more commonly exhibited by bodhisattvas. Varada is also a frequent symbolic gesture for Avalokiteśhvara, the bodhisattva of compassion, who is considered as the most popular bodhisattva in the Mahayana tradition.
The Avalokiteshwara is usually shown holding a lotus and or rosary and he is sometimes accompanied by female attendants. In the Kashmiri/ Western Tibetan sculptures of Avalokiteshvara, he is depicted standing in Tribhanga (triple-flexion) posture atop a lotus that rests on a stepped plinth. His right hand is held in the gesture of reassurance (Abhaya mudra) and his left-hand grasps a lotus that rises from his left foot. Other Kashmiri works show Avalokishvara in various tantric forms with multiple arms and attributes. Two other Bodhisattvas, Maitreya and Manjushri are also quite popular.
Maitreya is identified by the stupa adorning his headdress and the flask held in his hand. Manjushri bears a sword with which he pierces the veil of ignorance and a book that symbolises knowledge.
In contrast to the humble Shakyamuni Buddha, bodhisattvas are represented as affluent princes with strong young bodies, royal raiments and elaborate jewelry. This opulent secular attire indicates that a bodhisattva “participates fully in worldly life” to help others progress towards enlightenment. His jewelled ornaments represent spiritual perfections (paramitas) or virtues that he as a bodhisattva has developed and used to fulfil his compassionate mission. The male Bodhisattvas are always represented clothed as princes and adorned with thirteen ornaments including a crown with five gems, earrings, a necklace, armlets, bracelets, anklets, long necklaces, scarves and a belt.
Their crowns may bear the effigy of their ‘spiritual father’, one of the five Dhyani Buddhas. Along with the ornaments are five silken garments: blue silk scarf, five-coloured crown pendants, white upper garment, lower skirt, and sleeves or a long scarf for dancing. Their hair is tied in a high chignon and they have an urna on their forehead. An interesting deviation from the description discussed above can be seen in the Gandhara art of the fourth-fifth century where the head of the sculpture of a bodhisattva can be seen with elaborate turban and cascading locks.
There are several different systems for describing the attire and jewelry of the figures with some changes between male and female. They are usually represented standing when worshipped alone and seated when accompanied by a Dhyani Buddha.
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