Himalayan Art Resources

Buddhist Deity: Avalokiteshvara Main Page

Avalokiteshvara Main Page | Avalokiteshvara Outline Page | Bodhisattva Main Page

Database Search: All Images | Paintings | Sculpture | Mandalas

Tibetan: Pagpa Chenrezig ('phags pa spyan ras g.zigs)

Made famous in the Sutras as a bodhisattva, an aspirant to enlightenment, in the Vajrayana system of Northern Buddhism - in the Tantra texts - he is acknowledged as a fully enlightened Buddha manifesting in a vast array of meditational forms for the benefit of all living beings. The most common Sanskrit names for the deity in general and those found in Vajrayana Buddhism are Lokeshvara, Avalokita, Avalokiteshvara, Lokanata and Mahakarunika. After that there are scores of names for specific forms of Lokeshvara - peaceful, wrathful and in-between. The Sanskrit word 'arya' meaning 'noble' or 'noble one' is often used at the beginning of the name for each of the Eight Great Bodhisattvas as well as notables such as Tara.

There are Two Main Topics, or Divisions, for the subject of Avalokiteshvara:
- Non-iconic (narrative based): a student of the Buddha from Mahayana literature
- Iconic (meditational deity): based on the Tantra (Vajrayana) literature

The early promoters of the practices of Lokeshvara were Jowo Atisha, Bari Lotsawa, Mitra Yogin, Machig Labdron, Kyergangpa, Tsembupa, and for the Nyingma 'Revealed Treasure' there was Ngodrub, Nyangral Nyima Ozer and others. Only Atisha promoted the practice of Lokeshavara as important and as one of the Four Deities of the Kadampa. Later, it is said that Machig Labdron was likely the first to associate the early beginnings of the Tibetan people with the creation myth of Lokeshvara emanating as a monkey and mating with a demoness. A survey of the writings of the early Sakya and Kagyu teachers reveals very quickly that Avalokiteshvara was not an important or overly popular practice. Three forms stand out as being more popular than others, they were the Amoghapasha, Chaturbhuja and Simhanada. Through Jowo Atisha and the Kashmiri nun Bhikshuni Shri we get all the various traditions of the Eleven Faced and Thousand Armed Lokeshvara.

Padmapani, as a name for Lokeshvara, is a Sanskrit term meaning 'lotus holder' primarily coming out of the Sutra literature and Mahayana tradition of Buddhism. The Tibetan language translation of the name Padmapani is not easily found in the Tibetan literature. The name is also not commonly, if ever, found in Vajrayana Buddhism where the forms of Lokeshvara are understood as meditational deities with clear descriptions and meanings taught in the various Tantras and commentarial material. (It is interesting to note that in the study of Art History the term Padmapani is almost exclusively used with reference to sculpture and not painting).

Common Names:
- Avalokita, Chenrezi, All-seeing One
- Avalokiteshvara, Chenrezi Wangchug, All-seeing Universal Lord of the World
- Lokeshvara, Jigten Wangchug, Universal Lord of the World
- Lokanata, Jigten Gonpo, Lord of the World
- Mahakarunika, tugje Chenpo, Great Compassion

Avalokiteshvara is considered the patron bodhisattva of Tibet and is found in all of the Tibetan Buddhist traditions. There are numerous New (Sarma) lineages and varying forms of practice that span all four tantric classifications as well as uncounted old oral traditions (Kama) and Treasure (Terma) traditions from the Nyingmapa School. [Further description and bibliography].

Principal Subjects & Topics:
- Narrative Forms
- Meditational Deity Forms
--- Primary Figure
--- Secondary Figure
- Peaceful Forms
- Wrathful Forms
- Others...

Avalokiteshvara Types & Forms:
- Amoghapasha (Arya Amoghapasha Kalparaja, Arya Amoghapasha Hridaya Nama Mahayana Sutra, Arya Amoghapasha Paramita Shatparipuraya Nama Dharani)
- Chaturbhuja (Four Armed) (Karandavyuha Sutra)
- Chintamani Lokeshvara
- Eight Fears Lokeshvara
- Eleven Faces (All Traditions) (Arya Avalokiteshvara Ekadashamukha Nama Dharani)
- One Thousand Arms (Maha Karunika Dharani Sutra)
- Eye Clearing Avalokiteshvara
- Jinasagara
- Khasarpana
- Mani Mantra
- Resting in the Nature of Mind (Semnyi Ngalso)
- Shristhikantha (Rakta) (Karandavyuha Sutra)
- Simhanada Lokeshvara
- Pagpa Lokeshvara Sculpture (108 Temples)
- Avalokiteshvara (Pema Lingpa)
- Others...

Avalokiteshvara Miscellaneous Forms, Postures & Topics:
- Miscellaneous Forms
- Red Avalokita (Standing)
- Red Forms (Rakta)
- Two Armed
- Seated Holding a Lotus
Standing Holding a Lotus (Padmapani)
- Relaxed Posture
- Thinking Posture
- Lineage Paintings
- Mandala (All)
- Potalaka
- Textile
- Peaceful Forms
- Semi-Peaceful Semi-wrathful Forms
- Wrathful Forms
- Others...

Lokeshvara Based on Appearance:
Two Arms:
- Amoghapasha
- Chintamani Lokeshvara
- Jinasagara (Mitra Tradition)
- Khasarpani
- Pagpa Lokeshvara Sculpture (108 Temples)
- Shristhikantha (Rakta)
- Simhanada
- Two Armed
- (Pema Lingpa Tradition)
Four Arms:
- Amoghapasha
- Chaturbhuja (Four Armed)
- Chaturbhuja Wearing a Tiger Skirt
- Eye Clearing Avalokiteshvara
- Jinasagara
Six Arms:
- Amoghapasha
Eight Arms:
- Amoghapasha
- Eight Fears
Twelve Arms:
- Amoghapasha
- Wrathful Lokeshvara
One Thousand Arms:
- Eleven Faces (All Traditions)
- Eleven Faces, Namka Gyalpo
- Shristhikantha (Universal Form)

Jeff Watt 2-2007 [updated 9-2014]