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by Dr. Davide Torri

Avalokiteśvara is the great Bodhisattva of Compassion. The most popular bodhisattva also knows as Padmapāṇi (Sanskrit), "the lotus-holder." His cult, diffused from India to South-East Asia, China and Japan together with the Mahayana tradition, was introduced in Tibet during the seventh century.

King Songtsen Gampo, held responsible for the introduction of Buddhism in Tibet due to his invitation to Buddhist masters, Padmasambhava among them, is often depicted as an emanation of Avalokiteśvara. Considered the Protector of Tibet, he is also believed to have emanated various masters and spiritual leaders in the course of time. The Dalai Lamas since the sixteenth centuries are believed to be his incarnations.

Avalokiteśvara is often considered the "bridge" for the time between the life of the Siddhārtha Gautama, the Śākyamuni Buddha, and the advent of the future Buddha, Maitreya.

According to a famous Tibetan sacred book, the Maṇi bka'-'bum, "the Hundred Thousand Words of the Jewel," Avalokiteśvara was born from a ray of light released by Amitābha upon the world through his right eye. Avalokiteśvara is venerated in both Mahayana Buddhism and Theravada Buddhism.

Article details:

  • Also known as:
  • Etymology:
    He Who Looks Down in Mercy

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