Gouache, 22 carat gold and acrylic on linen 37” x 42” 2010
Avalokiteshvara, also known as Chenrezi and Quan Yin, is a bodhisattva – a being who compassionately doesn’t enter nirvana so that he may aid the sufferings of the world. He is the quintessential essence of compassion, the active manifestation in the world of the boundless love and compassion of the Buddha Amitabha.
Ishvara means lord, and Avalokita is often translated as “one who looks down”. He is the patron and guardian of Tibet and her people. He has many forms, but here he is represented with 1,000 arms, giving him the ability to aid the suffering of many. Each hand has an eye that looks down compassionately on the world.
His mantra is “om mani padme hum”, and you see this painted everywhere you go in Tibet. He holds to his heart the wish-fullfilling gem of the Bodhichitta, the desire to grow spiritually. On his right, one hand holds a mala for reciting the mantra, another a wheel of combined spiritual teaching and benevolent governance, and the third reaches out in the boon granting gesture. On his left, he holds a lotus representing that the flowering of enlightenment lies in compassionate activity, a bow and arrow symbolizing meditation and wisdom, and a vase of elixir of immortality, symbolizing that enlightenment results in boundless life.
He has ten faces representing the fact that he has mastered all ten of the bodhisattva stages, and each face represents an attitude dominant at a particular stage. Three of the faces are loving, three are peaceful, and four are fierce. On top there is the head of Amitabha, symbolizing that Avalokiteshvara is really a buddha.
He has an antelope skin draped over his shoulders signifying his ascetic experience. Otherwise his garments and ornaments are typical of royal or celestial Bodhisattvas. He stands over a lake, created from the tears he shed when he saw the sufferings of the world.