Himalayan Art Resources

Item: Mandala of Avalokiteshvara (Bodhisattva & Buddhist Deity) - Namka Gyalpo (Gaganaraja)

སྤྱན་རས་གཟིགས། 观音菩萨
(item no. 16)
Origin Location Tibet
Date Range 1500 - 1599
Lineages Uncertain
Size 66.04x62.87cm (26x24.75in)
Material Ground Mineral Pigment on Cotton
Collection Rubin Museum of Art
Catalogue # acc.# P1994.10.1
Notes about the Central Figure

Classification: Deity

Appearance: Peaceful

Gender: Male

Interpretation / Description

Avalokiteshvara, Ekadashamukha Mandala (Tibetan: chen re zi, shal chu chig kyil khor. English: the Circle of the Eleven Faced Lord Gazing on the World): surrounded by the four great mundane gods of the world placed in the four corners.

At the center of the mandala is Avalokiteshvara, peaceful in appearance, with eleven faces rising upward in groups of three, the 10th is wrathful and the face at the top is that of the buddha Amitabha. Each face has two eyes and long black hair flows across the shoulders. With 8 hands the first pair at the heart hold a precious jewel. The three right hands extended to the side are in the mudra of generosity, holding a Dharma wheel and a crystal prayer bead mala. The three on the left hold a water flask, a bow and arrow and a lotus blossom. Each face is adorned with a crown and earrings. Necklaces and bracelets adorn the neck and limbs and the lower body is wrapped with a skirt. Having the two legs together he stands atop a lotus flower surrounded by a nimbus and a smaller aureola about the heads.

The bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara is the patron deity of Tibet and appears in a variety of forms both peaceful, wrathful and in large mandalas surrounded by numerous deities. As a universal symbol he embodies the compassion of all buddhas of the ten directions and three times. In the standing form with 11 faces he is closely associated with the famous bhikshuni (nun) of Kashmir, Lakshmi (Tib.: Ani Palmo), who popularized a meditation practice incorporating a 2 day purification and fasting ritual. However in a large mandala with many deities such as this it was the Acharya Nagarjuna that was responsible for its introduction into Indian Buddhism. Lord Atisha, Rinchen Zangpo and others popularized this practice throughout Tibet.

History: At one time the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara made a promise that should he give rise to thoughts of self benefit may the head break into 10 pieces and the body into 1000. After continuously witnessing the misery of beings in various states of existence, discouraged, he gave rise to thoughts of seeking only his own happiness. At that very instant the head and body shattered. Calling out to Amitabha, the buddha came forth and spoke words of encouragement. Gathering up the 10 pieces of the head Amitabha constructed 10 faces - representing the 10 perfections. Gathering the 1000 pieces of the body he constructed another with 1000 hands each with an eye on the palm - representing the 1000 buddhas of the Golden Aeon. Finally he placed a duplicate of his own head at the crown - illuminating the entire threefold universe.

Jeff Watt 4-2001

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