Avalokiteshvara, the most important of the bodhisattvas, leads us to realize that everything that has happened in our lives, whether directly or indirectly, is the result of our aspirations. We create our own reality. Avalokiteshvara enlightened compassion is here depicted in the thousand arms and eyes manifestation, symbolic of his endless compassion to all sentient beings.
Sitting on the spheres of sun and moon supported by a blossoming lotus, Avalokiteshvara, the "bodhisattva of great compassion," wears the silk robes and jeweled ornaments of a bodhisattva, a celestial being who returns to the world to bring others to the realm of enlightenment. Two hands hold against his heart a wish - fulfilling gem, a symbol of the mind's enlightened potential for great compassion. His other hands hold a crystal rosary and the lotus of transcendent wisdom. At the heart of the cosmos of compassion is the vision of the inseparability of all existence. Harm to others brings harm to oneself; kindness to others brings forth kindness; generosity induces wealth and abundance; miserliness creates inner poverty. The world reflects our level of consciousness. Free from the bonds of greed and aggression, one sees the world as a realm of illusions created out of hope and fear. The deities of the Buddhist pantheon transport us, not to some alternate reality, but into a deeper vision of the world of which we are an inseparable part. These deities are not icons of hope or escape, but expressions of our deepest potential. Avalokiteshvara, empathy and compassion, dwells in the hearts of all beings, a latent energy giving rise to all other virtues.
The Dalai Lama said, "Religions are basically inventions of the human mind... Compassion is fundamental to our nature. To achieve it we do not need to become religious, nor do we need any ideology. All that is necessary is for us to bring forth our basic human qualities." The compassion expressed in the iconography of Avalokiteshvara became the foundation for Tibetan civilization. The mantra most commonly intoned by Tibetans of all walks of life is that Avalokiteshvara or, as he is known in Tibet , Chenrezig. The mantra Om Mani Padme Hum converts the mind from self - serving thoughts and invokes the spirit of universal compassion represented by Avalokiteshvara's archetypal form. Although mantras defy literal interpretation, the Sanskrit syllables that invoke the energies of selfless compassion translate roughly as, "The jewel (of compassion) and the lotus (of wisdom) dwell in the innermost heart." As his Holiness the Dalai Lama stated, "The real Avalokiteshvara is compassion itself... an ideal quality which we must strive to cultivate to a limitless degree."
AVALOKITESHVARA: THE THOUSAND ARMS OF COMPASSION
In Buddhist legend, the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara vowed to liberate all beings from suffering, but when he realized the magnitude of his task, his head exploded into countless pieces. His body was then reassembled by the Buddha Amitabha and the bodhisattva Vajrapani - the "wielder of the thunderbolt" (pictured in the lower right corner) - into this omniscient form, with eleven heads and a thousand arms. Each of Avalokiteshvara's hands displays an all Seeing Eye, symbolizing the union of wisdom and skillful means. The first two hands hold a wish - fulfilling gem, a symbol of the deepest powers of the human psyche. The next five hold a lotus, a bow, a vase, a rosary, and a wheel. The eighth holds an arrow in the open - palmed gesture generosity. An archetype of boundless compassion, Avalokiteshvara's multiple rows of heads are crowned by the fierce blue face of Vajrapani and the red face of Amitabha - symbols, respectively, of uncompromising compassion and the boundless light of the awakened mind. Buddhist tradition speaks of two levels of bodhichitta, or compassionate mind. On the relative level, compassion consists of intentional acts of kindness. On an absolute level, bodhichitta requires a total recognition of the non dual nature of reality. Abiding in the selflessness of our true nature, compassionate actions occur spontaneously without thought or premeditation, as expressions of enlightened awareness. The thousand - armed Lokeshvara, or "lord of the universe," is the form of Avalokiteshvara that emanates in this world system as the Dalai Lamas of Tibet. His Holiness the Dalai Lama continuously emphasizes the practicability of the Buddhist path. "Meditation should form the basis for compassionate action," he says, or universal responsibility, should be expressed in deeds." The basis for these actions lies in the qualities embodied in the celestial image of this bodhisattva of universal compassion. "Try to develop a good heart, a warm heart, a compassionate heart," the Dalai Lama urges. "This is very important for society as well as for one's own health and peace of mind. To reject belief in formal institutionalized religion is perfectly all right, but to reject a good heart is destructive to oneself and others."
Compassion sets in motion an exponential multiplication of our powers. We might even feel as thought we have the power of a thousand arms, a thousand eyes, and the nine heads of Buddha..