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In Buddhism, the word Avalokiteshvara or Avalokitasvara is used for a Bodhisattva who is the personification of the compassion of all the Buddhas. A Bodhisattva is a person who is on the path towards awakening or liberation from material bondage by following the principles of Buddhism. The Sanskrit term Avalokiteshvara is a combination of three words – Ava meaning “down”, Lokita meaning “to gaze, notice or observe '', and Ishvara meaning “lord”. Thus, the combined words refer to “lord who gazes down – at the world or the living beings”. It is believed that Avalokiteshvara has 108 Avatars and is variably depicted, portrayed, and described as either male or female. He looks at all the people of this world with his eyes of compassion and perceives their lamentations and sufferings. Avalokiteshvara is loved throughout the Buddhist community due to his causeless mercy and compassion upon the conditioned souls of this material world. In the Mahayana Buddhism tradition, the Lotus Sutra has a whole chapter on the doctrines of Avalokiteshvara. It describes him as a highly compassionate Bodhisattva who works selflessly to relieve the sufferings of those who call his name.

The Buddha answered Bodhisattva Akshayamati, saying: “O son of a virtuous family! If innumerable hundreds of thousands of myriads of kotis of sentient beings who experience suffering hear of Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara and wholeheartedly chant his name, Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara will immediately perceive their voices and free them from their suffering"

— The Lotus Sutra

The Lotus Sutra mentions that Avalokiteshvara can take up any form of God including Brahma and Indra, any gender - male or female, adult or child, to teach the principles of Dharma to all sentient beings. A total of 33 manifestations of Avalokiteshvara are described that include seven female manifestations as well.

Guanshiyin or Guanyin Avalokiteshvara

Avalokiteshvara is portrayed in a multitude of forms and several manifestations are described that suit the minds of different people. In Chinese Buddhism, he has evolved into the female form called Guanshiyin. The word Guanyin refers to “the one who hears the sounds or cries of the sentient beings”. She is often revered as the Buddhist

“Goddess of mercy”. She is also worshiped in some temples of Nepal, Tibet, and Sri Lanka. Her statues are widely depicted in Buddhist artistry works and are presented in famous museums around the world. However, people of other Buddhist communities believe that Guanyin possesses both masculine and feminine characteristics.

In modern-period Chinese art, she is portrayed as a young and beautiful woman wearing a white flowy robe seated on a large lotus bloom. In her left hand, she holds a vase that contains pure water, capable of relieving the suffering of people. The right-hand holds a willow branch to sprinkle the divine water. The halo around her head indicates her sacredness. Because Guanyin embodies compassion, she is also associated with vegetarianism, and her image is often depicted in most Buddhist vegetarian pamphlets and menus. She is highly venerated and immensely popular among Chinese Buddhists and is seen as a source of unconditional love.

Chenrezig Avalokiteshvara

Out of all the deities of Avalokiteshvara in the Tibetan Pantheon of Buddhism, Chenrezig is the most renowned. His Holiness the Dalai Lama is believed to be an incarnation of this Bodhisattva, a living symbol of boundless compassion. Chenrezig is conceptualized and visualized in various forms, with many faces and arms. He sits on a full-blown lotus crossing his legs. He is usually depicted having four arms that represent the four immeasurables; Immeasurable Compassion, Immeasurable Kindness, Immeasurable Joy, and Immeasurable Equanimity. His two arms join together at the heart in a prayer position holding a wish-fulfilling gem in between. With his upper left arm, he holds a lotus flower and with his other right arm, he holds a crystal rosary (mala) which he uses to count the repetitions of the mantra “Om Mani Padme Hum”, which means “Hail to the Jewel in the Lotus, which is capable of liberating all beings from their suffering”. His meditation is practiced by all the great Buddhists in the lineage of Tibetan Buddhism.

A big halo encircling his head represents his great purity and exalted position. He is always clad in the clothes of a Bodhisattva and wears the skin of an antelope on his shoulders. Bearing a soft smile on his beautiful face, he looks down upon the sentient beings with his eyes full of love and compassion.

Ekadashamukha Avalokitesvara

Ekadashamukha is an Eleven-faced manifestation of Avalokiteshvara in Buddhism. He is considered one of the six principal forms of the Bodhisattva that relieves all sentient beings from the six realms of material existence; the realm of Devas, the realm of Asuras, the realm of hungry ghosts, the hell realm, the animal realm, and the human realm. Ekadashamukha is believed to save those in the Asura realm.

The eleven heads of Ekadashamukha Avalokiteshvara represent the eleven kinds of ignorance or Avidya that the souls of this world are conditioned with, which the Bodhisattva removes. In most of the depictions of Ekadashamukha, out of his eleven heads, three bear a serene expression, characteristic of depictions of bodhisattvas, three sport a wrathful feature, three grin with fangs protruding upward from their mouths, one laughs exuberantly, whilst the final, topmost head is that of a Buddha, sporting a calming smile. 

Chintamanichakra Avalokiteshvara

This one another manifestation of Guanyin (in Chinese Buddhism) and is one of the six forms of the Bodhisattva. He is believed to save those beings in the realm of Devas. There are many small mantras associated with Chintamanichakra, some of which are recited in temples in morning rituals.

He is usually depicted as having six arms and wearing a crown on his head.  His first right hand touches his face softly, with his second right hand he holds a wish-fulfilling gem (Chintamani), and the third right hand holds a Japa Mala (prayer beads). His first left hand touches the rock he is sitting on, the second left hand holds a crimson lotus flower, and the third left hand holds the Dharmachakra (wheel of Dharma). He sits in a royal position atop a lotus on a rock protruding from the ocean, which is a symbol of Avalokiteshvara’s abode Mount Potalaka. The serene expression on his face represents his purity and compassionate nature toward all living beings.

Tara Avalokiteshvara

The deity of Tara is considered important in the Tibetan branch of Tantric Buddhism. She is the female aspect of Avalokiteshvara and is revered as a meditation deity, the embodiment of compassion and action. She remains popular in different forms and manifestations among different Buddhist communities throughout the world such as in Tibet, Nepal, and Mongolia. The two most common representations are Green Tara and White Tara.

White Tara is described as white and bright as the moon and is associated with longevity (of life) and counteracts illness, for which she is also known as the “Healing Goddess”. Green Tara (Khadiravani) is associated with protection from fear and eight obscurations: Ignorance, Pride, Jealousy, Anger, Wrong notions, Miserliness, Desire and Attachment, and Delusion.

Tara is revered as the Mother of mercy and compassion and has all the feminine qualities. She nurtures and protects all beings from all dangers, just as a mother is empathetic toward her children. Tibetan Buddhism describes 21 forms of Tara, having a certain color attributing to a unique feminine quality or principle in her. There are at least ten green, one red, five yellow, seven white, and two blue forms. She is portrayed in various forms as having either two arms or four arms, sitting or standing on a full lotus.

The image above shows White Tara seated on a full-blown lotus with both her legs crossed. Her complexion is radiant white and she has two arms and seven eyes; the third eye on her forehead and one on each hand and foot. She holds the Utpala lotus flower in her left hand, while the left hand is in the protective mudra. With her compassionate glance, she looks down at the people of this world, suffering the pangs of material existence. Why the Buddha Head Statue is Head and Shoulders Above the Rest.

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