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Khasarpana Lokesvara.jpg
Avalokite?vara holding a lotus flower. N?land?, Bihar, India, 9th century CE.
(IAST: Avalokite?vara)
Lokanat (IPA: [l?k?na?])
Chinese, or ?
(Pinyin: Gu?nzìzài Púsà, Gu?nshìy?n Púsà or Gu?ny?n Púsà
(Cantonese: Gun1 Zi6 Zoi6 Pou4 Saat3, Gun1 Sai3 Jam1 Pou4 Saat3 or Gun1 Jam1 Pou4 Saat3)
Japanese(), () or ?(?)
(romaji: Kanjizai Bosatsu, Kanzeon Bosatsu or Kannon Bosatsu)
Khmer? , ,
(Avalokitesvarak, Avalokesvarak, Lokesvarak)

(RR: Gwanseeum Bosal)
Thai RTGSPhra Avalokitesuan

Wylie: spyan ras gzigs
THL: Chenrézik
uán T? T?i B? Tát,
Quan th? âm B? tát,
Quan âm B? tát,
Ph?t Bà
Venerated byMahayana, Vajrayana, Theravada, Confucianism Taoism, Chinese Folk Religion
P religion world.svg Religion portal

Avalokite?vara or Padmapani (English: UV-?l-oh-kih-TAY-shv?r-?[1]) is a bodhisattva who embodies the compassion of all Buddhas. This bodhisattva is variably depicted, described and portrayed in different cultures as either male or female.[2] In Tibet, he is known as Chenrezig. In Chinese Buddhism, Avalokite?vara has evolved into the somewhat different female figure Guanyin, also known in Japan as Kanzeon or Kannon. In Nepal Mandal this figure is known as Jana Baha Dyah, Karunamaya, Seto Machindranath.


The name Avalokite?vara combines the verbal prefix ava "down", lokita, a past participle of the verb lok "to notice, behold, observe", here used in an active sense; and finally vara, "lord", "ruler", "sovereign" or "master". In accordance with sandhi (Sanskrit rules of sound combination), a+vara becomes e?vara. Combined, the parts mean "lord who gazes down (at the world)". The word loka ("world") is absent from the name, but the phrase is implied.[3] It does appear in the Cambodian form of the name, Lokesvarak.

The earliest translation of the name Avalokite?vara into Chinese by authors such as Xuanzang was as Gu?nzìzài (Chinese: ), not the form used in East Asian Buddhism today, Guanyin (Chinese: ). It was initially thought that this was due to a lack of fluency, as Guanyin indicates the original Sanskrit form was instead Avalokitasvara, "who looked down upon sound" (i.e., the cries of sentient beings who need help).[4] It is now understood Avalokitasvara was the original form,[5][6] and is also the origin of Guanyin "Perceiving sound, cries". This translation was favored by the tendency of some Chinese translators, notably Kum?raj?va, to use the variant Gu?nshìy?n "who perceives the world's lamentations"--wherein lok was read as simultaneously meaning both "to look" and "world" (Sanskrit loka; Chinese: ?; pinyin: shì).[4] The original form Avalokitasvara appears in Sanskrit fragments of the fifth century.[7]

This earlier Sanskrit name was supplanted by the form containing the ending -vara "lord"; but Avalokite?vara does not occur in Sanskrit before the seventh century.

The original meaning of the name fits the Buddhist understanding of the role of a bodhisattva. The reinterpretation presenting him as an vara shows a strong influence of Hinduism, as the term vara was usually connected to the Hindu notion of Vishnu (in Vaishnavism) or ?iva (in Shaivism) as the Supreme Lord, Creator and Ruler of the world. Some attributes of such a god were transmitted to the bodhisattva, but the mainstream of those who venerated Avalokite?vara upheld the Buddhist rejection of the doctrine of any creator god.[8]

14th Dalai Lama, at his enthronement ceremony, February 22, 1940 in Lhasa, Tibet

In Sanskrit, Avalokite?vara is also referred to as Padmapi ("Holder of the Lotus") or Loke?vara ("Lord of the World"). In Tibetan, Avalokite?vara is Chenrézig, (Tibetan: ) and is said to emanate as the Dalai Lama,[9] the Karmapa[10][11] and other high lamas. An etymology of the Tibetan name Chenrézik is spyan "eye", ras "continuity" and gzig "to look". This gives the meaning of one who always looks upon all beings (with the eye of compassion).[12]


Avalokite?vara painting from a Sanskrit palm-leaf manuscript. India, 12th century.

Mahayana account

According to the K?raavy?ha S?tra, the sun and moon are said to be born from Avalokite?vara's eyes, Shiva from his brow, Brahma from his shoulders, Narayana from his heart, Sarasvati from his teeth, the winds from his mouth, the earth from his feet, and the sky from his stomach.[13] In this text and others, such as the Longer Sukhavativyuha Sutra, Avalokite?vara is an attendant of Amitabha.[14]

Four-armed Tibetan form of Avalokite?vara.

Some texts which mention Avalokite?vara include:

The Lotus Sutra is generally accepted to be the earliest literature teaching about the doctrines of Avalokite?vara.[15] These are found in Chapter 25 of the Lotus Sutra: Universal Gate of Bodhisattva Avalokite?vara (Chinese: ). This chapter is devoted to Avalokite?vara, describing him as a compassionate bodhisattva who hears the cries of sentient beings, and who works tirelessly to help those who call upon his name. A total of 33 different manifestations of Avalokite?vara are described, including female manifestations, all to suit the minds of various beings. The chapter consists of both a prose and a verse section. This earliest source often circulates separately as its own sutra, called the Avalokite?vara S?tra (Chinese: ?; pinyin: Gu?nshìy?n j?ng), and is commonly recited or chanted at Buddhist temples in East Asia.[16]

When the Chinese monk Faxian traveled to Mathura in India around 400 CE, he wrote about monks presenting offerings to Avalokite?vara.[17] When Xuanzang traveled to India in the 7th century, he provided eyewitness accounts of Avalokite?vara statues being venerated by devotees from all walks of life: kings, to monks, to laypeople.[17]

Avalokite?vara / Padmapani, Ajanta Caves, India

In Chinese Buddhism and East Asia, Tangmi practices for the 18-armed form of Avalokite?vara called Cund? are very popular. These practices have their basis in the early Indian Vajrayana: her origins lie with a yakshini cult in Bengal and Orissa, and her name in Sanskrit "connotes a prostitute or other woman of low caste but specifically denotes a prominent local ogress ... whose divinised form becomes the subject of an important Buddhist cult starting in the eighth century".[18] The popularity of Cund? is attested by the three extant translations of the Cund? Dh?ra S?tra from Sanskrit to Chinese, made from the end of the seventh century to the beginning of the eighth century.[19] In late imperial China, these early esoteric traditions still thrived in Buddhist communities. Robert Gimello has also observed that in these communities, the esoteric practices of Cund? were extremely popular among both the populace and the elite.[20]

In the Tiantai school, six forms of Avalokite?vara are defined. Each of the bodhisattva's six qualities are said to break the hindrances respectively of the six realms of existence: hell-beings, pretas, animals, humans, asuras, and devas.

Therav?da account

Bronze statue of Avalokite?vara from Sri Lanka, ca. 750 CE

Veneration of Avalokite?vara Bodhisattva has continued to the present day in Sri Lanka:

In times past both Tantrayana and Mahayana have been found in some of the Theravada countries, but today the Buddhism of Ceylon, Burma, Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia is almost exclusively Theravada, based on the Pali Canon. The only Mahayana deity that has entered the worship of ordinary Buddhists in Theravada countries is Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara. In Ceylon he is known as Natha-deva and mistaken by the majority for the Buddha yet to come, Bodhisattva Maitreya. The figure of Avalokitesvara usually is found in the shrine room near the Buddha image.[21]

In more recent times, some western-educated Therav?dins have attempted to identify N?tha with Maitreya Bodhisattva; however, traditions and basic iconography (including an image of Amit?bha Buddha on the front of the crown) identify N?tha as Avalokite?vara.[22] Andrew Skilton writes:[23]

... It is clear from sculptural evidence alone that the Mah?y?na was fairly widespread throughout [Sri Lanka], although the modern account of the history of Buddhism on the island presents an unbroken and pure lineage of Therav?da. (One can only assume that similar trends were transmitted to other parts of Southeast Asia with Sri Lankan ordination lineages.) Relics of an extensive cult of Avalokite?vara can be seen in the present-day figure of N?tha.

Avalokite?vara is popularly worshiped in Myanmar, where he is called Lokanat or lokabyuharnat, and Thailand, where he is called Lokesvara. The bodhisattva goes by many other names. In Indochina and Thailand, he is Lokesvara, "The Lord of the World." In Tibet he is Chenrezig, also spelled Spyan-ras gzigs, "With a Pitying Look." In China, the bodhisattva takes a female form and is called Guanyin (also spelled Kwan Yin, Kuanyin or Kwun Yum), "Hearing the Sounds of the World." In Japan, Guanyin is Kannon or Kanzeon; in Korea, Gwan-eum; in Vietnam, Quan Am.[24]

Wood carving of Lokanat at Shwenandaw Monastery, Mandalay, Burma

Modern scholarship

Avalokite?vara is worshipped as N?tha in Sri Lanka. Tamil Buddhist tradition developed in Chola literature, such as in Buddamitra's Virasoliyam , states that the Vedic sage Agastya learnt Tamil from Avalokite?vara. The earlier Chinese traveler Xuanzang recorded a temple dedicated to Avalokitesvara in the South Indian Mount Potalaka, a Sanskritzation of Pothigai, where Tamil Hindu tradition places Agastya having learnt the Tamil language from Shiva.[25][26][27] Avalokitesvara worship gained popularity with the growth of the Abhayagiri vih?ra's Tamraparniyan Mahayana sect.

Pothigai Malai in Tamil Nadu, proposed as the original Mount Potalaka in India

Western scholars have not reached a consensus on the origin of the reverence for Avalokite?vara. Some have suggested that Avalokite?vara, along with many other supernatural beings in Buddhism, was a borrowing or absorption by Mahayana Buddhism of one or more deities from Hinduism, in particular Shiva or Vishnu. This seems to be based on the name Avalokite?vara.[7]

On the basis of study of Buddhist scriptures, ancient Tamil literary sources, as well as field survey, the Japanese scholar Shu Hikosaka proposes the hypothesis that, the ancient mount Potalaka, the residence of Avalokite?vara described in the Gaavy?ha S?tra and Xuanzang's Great Tang Records on the Western Regions, is the real mountain Pothigai in Ambasamudram, Tirunelveli, Tamil NaduKeralaborder.[28] Shu also says that mount Potalaka has been a sacred place for the people of South India from time immemorial. It is the traditional residence of Siddhar Agastya, at Agastya Mala. With the spread of Buddhism in the region beginning at the time of the great king A?oka in the third century BCE, it became a holy place also for Buddhists, who gradually became dominant as a number of their hermits settled there. The local people, though, mainly remained followers of the Tamil Animist religion. The mixed Tamil-Buddhist cult culminated in the formation of the figure of Avalokite?vara.[29]

The name Loke?vara should not be confused with that of Loke?varar?ja, the Buddha under whom Dharmakara became a monk and made forty-eight vows before becoming Amit?bha.

Hindu tradition

In Hindu tradition, he has been depicted as an emanation of Shiva.[30]

Mantras and Dharanis

O? MA?I PADME H. The six syllable mantra of Avalokite?vara written in the Tibetan alphabet.

Mah?y?na Buddhism relates Avalokite?vara to the six-syllable mantra o? ma?i padme h. In Tibetan Buddhism, due to his association with this mantra, one form of Avalokite?vara is called ?ak?ar? "Lord of the Six Syllables" in Sanskrit. Recitation of this mantra while using prayer beads is the most popular religious practice in Tibetan Buddhism.[31] The connection between this famous mantra and Avalokite?vara is documented for the first time in the K?raavy?has?tra. This text is dated to around the late 4th century CE to the early 5th century CE.[32] In this s?tra, a bodhisattva is told by the Buddha that recitation of this mantra while focusing on the sound can lead to the attainment of eight hundred sam?dhis.[33] The K?raavy?ha S?tra also features the first appearance of the dh?ra of Cund?, which occurs at the end of the s?tra text.[19] After the bodhisattva finally attains sam?dhi with the mantra "o? ma?ipadme h", he is able to observe 77 kos of fully enlightened buddhas replying to him in one voice with the Cund? Dh?ra: nama? sapt?n samyaksa?buddha kon tadyath?, o? cale cule cunde sv?h?.[34]

In Shingon Buddhism, the mantra for Avalokite?vara is On aruri kya sowa ka (Japanese: )

The N?lakaha Dh?ra is an 82-syllable dh?ra for Avalokite?vara.

Thousand-armed Avalokite?vara

Thousand-armed Avalokite?vara. Guanyin women's vihara, Anhui, China

One prominent Buddhist story tells of Avalokite?vara vowing never to rest until he had freed all sentient beings from sa?s?ra. Despite strenuous effort, he realizes that many unhappy beings were yet to be saved. After struggling to comprehend the needs of so many, his head splits into eleven pieces. Amit?bha, seeing his plight, gives him eleven heads with which to hear the cries of the suffering. Upon hearing these cries and comprehending them, Avalokite?vara tries to reach out to all those who needed aid, but found that his two arms shattered into pieces. Once more, Amit?bha comes to his aid and invests him with a thousand arms with which to aid the suffering multitudes.[35]

The Bao'en Temple located in northwestern Sichuan has an outstanding wooden image of the Thousand-Armed Avalokite?vara, an example of Ming dynasty decorative sculpture.[36][37]

Tibetan Buddhist beliefs

Avalokite?vara is an important deity in Tibetan Buddhism. He is regarded in the Vajrayana teachings as a Buddha.[38]

In Tibetan Buddhism, Tãrã came into existence from a single tear shed by Avalokite?vara.[2] When the tear fell to the ground it created a lake, and a lotus opening in the lake revealed Tara. In another version of this story, Tara emerges from the heart of Avalokite?vara. In either version, it is Avalokite?vara's outpouring of compassion which manifests Tãrã as a being.[39][40][41]


Magnificent clay images of Amoghpasha Lokesvara flanked by Arya Tara and Bhrikuti Tara enshrined at the side wing of Vasuccha Shil Mahavihar, Guita Bahi, Patan : This set of images is popular in traditional monasteries of Kathmandu Valley, Nepal.

Avalokite?vara has an extraordinarily large number of manifestations in different forms (including wisdom goddesses (vidyaas) directly associated with him in images and texts). Some of the more commonly mentioned forms include:

Sanskrit Meaning Description
?ry?valokite?vara Sacred Avalokitesvara The root form of the Bodhisattva
Ek?da?amukha Eleven Faced Additional faces to teach all in 10 planes of existence
Sahasrabhuja Sahasranetra Thousand-Armed, Thousand-Eyed Avalokitesvara Very popular form: sees and helps all
Cint?ma?icakra Wish Fulfilling Avalokitesvara Holds the bejeweled cintamani wheel
Hayagr?va Horse-necked one Wrathful form; simultaneously bodhisattva and a Wisdom King
Cund? Extreme purity Portrayed with many arms
Amoghapa Unfailing Rope Avalokitesvara with rope and net
Bh?kuti Fierce-Eyed
P?ndarav?sin? White and Pure
Par?a?avar? Par?a?abar? Cloaked With Leaves
Rakta?adak?ar? Six Red Syllables
?vetabhagavat? White Lord
Udaka?r? Auspicious Water


See also


  1. ^ "Avalokitesvara". Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary.
  2. ^ a b Leighton, Taigen Dan (1998). Bodhisattva Archetypes: Classic Buddhist Guides to Awakening and Their Modern Expression. New York: Penguin Arkana. pp. 158-205. ISBN 0140195564. OCLC 37211178.
  3. ^ Studholme p. 52-54, 57.
  4. ^ a b Pine, Red. The Heart Sutra: The Womb of the Buddhas (2004) Shoemaker 7 Hoard. ISBN 1-59376-009-4 pg 44-45
  5. ^ Lokesh Chandra (1984). "The Origin of Avalokitesvara" (PDF). Indologica Taurinensia. International Association of Sanskrit Studies. XIII (1985-1986): 189-190. Archived from the original (PDF) on June 6, 2014. Retrieved 2014.
  6. ^ Mironov, N. D. (1927). "Buddhist Miscellanea". Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland. 59 (2): 241-252. doi:10.1017/S0035869X00057440. JSTOR 25221116.
  7. ^ a b Studholme p. 52-57.
  8. ^ Studholme p. 30-31, 37-52.
  9. ^ "From Birth to Exile". The Office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Archived from the original on 20 October 2007. Retrieved .
  10. ^ Martin, Michele (2003). "His Holiness the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa". Music in the Sky: The Life, Art, and Teachings of the 17th Karmapa. Karma Triyana Dharmachakra. Archived from the original on 14 October 2007. Retrieved .
  11. ^ "Glossary". Dhagpo Kundreul Ling. Archived from the original on 2007-08-08. Retrieved .
  12. ^ Bokar Rinpoche (1991). Chenrezig Lord of Love - Principles and Methods of Deity Meditation. San Francisco, California: Clearpoint Press. p. 15. ISBN 0-9630371-0-2.
  13. ^ Studholme, Alexander (2002). The Origins of Om Manipadme Hum: A Study of the Karandavyuha Sutra. State University of New York Press. pp. 39-40.
  14. ^ Studholme, Alexander (2002). The Origins of Om Manipadme Hum: A Study of the Karandavyuha Sutra. State University of New York Press. pp. 49-50.
  15. ^ Huntington, John (2003). The Circle of Bliss: Buddhist Meditational Art: p. 188
  16. ^ Baroni, Helen (2002). The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Zen Buddhism: p. 15
  17. ^ a b Ko Kok Kiang. Guan Yin: Goddess of Compassion. 2004. p. 10
  18. ^ Lopez 2013, p. 204.
  19. ^ a b Studholme, Alexander (2002). The Origins of O? Ma?ipadme H: A Study of the K?raavy?ha S?tra: p. 175
  20. ^ Jiang, Wu (2008). Enlightenment in Dispute: The Reinvention of Chan Buddhism in Seventeenth-Century China: p. 146
  21. ^ Baruah, Bibhuti. Buddhist Sects and Sectarianism. 2008. p. 137
  22. ^ "Art & Archaeology - Sri Lanka - Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara".
  23. ^ Skilton, Andrew. A Concise History of Buddhism. 2004. p. 151
  24. ^ https://www.thoughtco.com/avalokiteshvara-bodhisattva-450135
  25. ^ Iravatham Mahadevan (2003), EARLY TAMIL EPIGRAPHY, Volume 62. pp. 169
  26. ^ Kallidaikurichi Aiyah Nilakanta Sastri (1963) Development of Religion in South India - Page 15
  27. ^ Layne Ross Little (2006) Bowl Full of Sky: Story-making and the Many Lives of the Siddha Bh?gar, pp. 28
  28. ^ Hirosaka, Shu. The Potiyil Mountain in Tamil Nadu and the origin of the Avalokite?vara cult
  29. ^ Läänemets, Märt (2006). "Bodhisattva Avalokite?vara in the Gandavyuha Sutra". Chung-Hwa Buddhist Studies 10, 295-339. Retrieved .
  30. ^ Doniger 1993, p. 243.
  31. ^ Studholme, Alexander (2002). The Origins of O? Ma?ipadme H: A Study of the K?raavy?ha S?tra: p. 2
  32. ^ Studholme, Alexander (2002) The Origins of O? Ma?ipadme H: A Study of the K?raavy?ha s?tra: p. 17
  33. ^ Studholme, Alexander (2002). The Origins of O? Ma?ipadme H: A Study of the K?raavy?ha S?tra: p. 106
  34. ^ "Saptako?ibuddham?t? Cund? Dh?ra S?tra". Lapis Lazuli Texts. Retrieved 2013.
  35. ^ Venerable Shangpa Rinpoche. "Arya Avalokitesvara and the Six Syllable Mantra". Dhagpo Kagyu Ling. Archived from the original on 27 September 2007. Retrieved .
  36. ^ Guxi, Pan (2002). Chinese Architecture -- The Yuan and Ming Dynasties (English ed.). Yale University Press. pp. 245-246. ISBN 0-300-09559-7.
  37. ^ Bao Ern Temple, Pingwu, Sichuan Province Archived 2012-10-15 at the Wayback Machine
  38. ^ - . ? ? ?. .-?-, 2002. ?. 19 (in Russian)
  39. ^ Dampa Sonam Gyaltsen (1996). The Clear Mirror: A Traditional Account of Tibet's Golden Age. Shambhala. p. 21. ISBN 978-1-55939-932-6.
  40. ^ Shaw, Miranda (2006). Buddhist Goddesses of India. Princeton University Press. p. 307. ISBN 0-691-12758-1.
  41. ^ Bokar Tulku Rinpoche (1991). Chenrezig, Lord of Love: Principles and Methods of Deity Meditation. ClearPoint Press. ISBN 978-0-9630371-0-7.


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