Legends of 1000 Armed Avalokiteshvara
Min Bahadur Shakya
Buddhist Himalaya: A Journal of Nagarjuna Institute of Exact Methods
Vol. II No. I & II (1989)
Copyright 1989 by Nagarjuna Institute of Exact Methods
The study of Avalokiteshvara and his forms has great importance for the student of Mahayana Buddhism. In the Mahayana Pantheon as developed in India, Nepal, Tibet, Japan, Mangolia, Bhutan, China and Korea, Avalokiteshvara is depicted in the text Gunakarandavyuha, Saddharmapundarika Sutra etc. According to these texts, he is personified as the symbol of compassion, He is frequently mentioned as the god of mercy who will help anybody who finds himself in trouble mentally or physically. He can infallibly eradicate all mundale sufferings. In order to achieve his ends, he can assume various forms, According to the text Karandavyuha Sutra he manifests all possible forms of life for the sake of ignorant and to bring liberation to living. It says: "As different people belonged to different faiths, this compassionate Bodhisattva was obliged to assume the shape of all gods of all faiths."
Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva of compassion, in front of Buddha Amitabha made to commitment to intentionally manifest into the three realms of Samsara in order to harrow the depths; that is to say, in order to stir from depths and completely liberate all sentient beings from samsara, and to be their supreme guide. Thus in the presence of Buddha Amitabha, Avalokiteshvara made this promise. Also he vowed that if by chance his compassion and his courageous mind of mercy for sentient beings were to decrease, then may his head and his body just completely crack and fall into one thousand pieces.
When Buddha was residing at the Veluvana garden he was surrounded by Arahats. There were five different divine rays coming out of his circle of hair between the eyebrows in the middle of the forehead and gradually it formed itself into a rainbow. Thereafter it went to the north in the direction of the Himalaya country of Tibet. At that time Buddha looked and smiled, then immediately Bodhisattva Sarvanivarana Viskambhi asked Buddha, What is the reason of your smiling, Lord? Buddha answered, "Noble boy! In the future there will be a pure Dharma through which one can be delivered to the path of liberation in the barbarian country of Tibet where there has never been a single Buddha for three junctions of time and there are uncountable demons and ghosts yet to time. "Therefore, Avalokiteshvara will tame those wild men, because once upon a time when he was a Bodhisattva he prayed to One thousand Buddhas Saying," May all the transcendent bless me to be able to time those beings who are into barbarian country. May you bless that barbarian country through my taming, May you bless me to become the parent of those ghosts and demons;. May you bless me to free all those beings.
Once Amitabha Buddha placed his hand on the head of Avalokiteshvara and commanded that noble son, "Now you be the one who can tame the animated beings of the barbarian snow land whereas not a singly Buddha of the Three times has been there. This is the fruit of your sincere prayer for the purpose you have wished. Those suffering beings will be emancipated from the three lower realms as soon as they see your young holy body and hear the sound of the six mystic syllables, Om mani padme Hum. May your Bodhimind be manifested to the minds of ghosts, demons, evil spirits and hobgoblins and may they be striving with their minds for the benefit of others like Bodhisattvas, instead, of harming others. May all carnivorous animals-such as tigers, leopards, bears and snow bears abandon the mind of eating others and turn into the love of parents for each other, seeing your holy body and hearing the sound of the six syllables.
After making such commitments and blessings from Buddha Amitabha, Avalokiteshvara went by way of international manifestations into the three realms of samsara to be the supreme guide for all sentient beings.
Thereby he went to Hell and emancipated them from both the hot and cold hells by teaching the On mani padme hum. Then he went to ghost realms and emancipated from hunger and thirst after giving a discourse on the same. After that he went to the animal realms and emancipated them from hardship in labour. Then he came to the human realms and emancipated them from the intense suffering of birth, old age, sickness and death by a discourse on the same, Thus he also went to Asura realm and Deva realm to free them from their respective sufferings.
So Avalokiteshvara went into of these realms of Samsara, and he absolutely emptied the ocean of sufferings. Following which he went back to Buddha Amitabha and he declared that the liberation had been affected.
Buddha Amitabha said to him," You should look back again into world!" And as he did, there he saw that once again sentient beings were in samsara and in sorrow, he became so discouraged as he saw that his "awakening mind (Bodhicitta) decreased in the moment he lost his courage. When he became discouraged, in that moment, the promise that he had made earlier declined.
The three realms of Samsara are Kamadhatu, the desire realm, the Rupa dhatu, the Form realm and the Arupya dhaty, the formless realm,. These three reams are so vast and so are the different types of suffering that sentient beings must experience in these realms. When Avalokiteshvara beheld that still sentient beings were in this type of suffering condition in these three realms respectively, he become overcome with sorrow, he become discouraged in the very presence of Buddha Amitabha. He felt how could the time come to ever liberate all sentient beings from this type of promise that he had made before, his head and body just cracked and fell apart into one thousand prices, and he fainted.
Avalokiteshvara, thus fainted, and Buddha Amitabha said to his "My son, where has your courage, your mental strength gone? He picked up all the pieces of his head and the body. At the same time he said," this happened because of your prayer. You deserve the praise of all Buddhas since your prayer was efficacious. However, Noble son Don't worry! Thereby he blessed his broken head into eleven faces and he sat upon those heads, and his broken body into one thousand hands like one thousand petals. Thereafter he said," I bow to you because your one thousand hands are the hands of the thousand universal emperors and those eyes in each of the hand palms are eyes of one thousand Buddhas who will appear in this fortunate aeon.