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Avalokiteshvara ( Sanskrit , m, अवलोकितेश्वर. Avalokiteśvara ) is Mahayana - Buddhism the Bodhisattva of universal compassion (Sanskrit karuna ). Chenrezig ( Tibetan སྤྱན་ རས་ གཟིགས Wylie spyan ras gzigs ) is considered the patron saint of the country of Tibet. The feminine form in China is Guanyin , in Japan Kannon and in Vietnam QuanÂm .

His pure land is called Potala . Tara is considered an emanation from him.

Kannon ( Nagano , Japan )


Bodhisattva ( Guanyin ) from the time of the Sui Dynasty

Avalokiteshvara literally means “the Lord who looks at (the world)”, composed of ishvara (“lord / ruler”) and avalokita (“contemplating”; passive participle of the verb avalok, “perceive”, here exceptionally with an active meaning). The word loka ("world") is not included in the name, but is supplemented accordingly. According to the current state of research, however, the name was originally Avalokitasvara, composed of avalokita and svara "sound, tone", ie "perceiver of tones" (meaning: hearer of the complaints of living beings). This corresponds exactly to the Chinese translation Guanyin (観 音). The more recent form of the name with the change in meaning to ishvara was first documented in Sanskrit in the 7th century and has been in common use since then, the original, however, proven in the 5th century.

The original meaning of the name is consistent with the Buddhist understanding of a bodhisattva. The later reinterpretation as a "ruler" shows a strong influence of Shaivism with its conception of Ishvara as a god ruling the world. Attributes of this god were transferred to the bodhisattva. Nevertheless, the devotees of Avalokiteshvara largely stuck to the Buddhist rejection of a creator god.


In the East Asian countries he is known by different names:

  • Chinese : Guanyin観 音 / 观音 or Guanshiyin觀世音 / 观世音 ("perceiving the sounds of the world")
  • Korean : 관세음 Kwan (se) Um or Gwan (se) -eum (with the same meaning as in Chinese)
  • Japanese : 聖 観 音 (Sho-) Kannon , also 観 世 音 , Kanzeon ("hearing the voices of the world") or older Kanjizai or Kōzeon ( 光 世 音 , "the voice of the world of light")
  • Tibetan : སྤྱན་ རས་ གཟིགས , Spyan ras gzigs, pronunciation: Chenrezi, also Chen rezig [roughly German: Tschenresi (g) ]
  • Mongolian :ᠨᠢᠳᠦ
    , Nidubarüsheckchi, ᠵᠠᠨᠷᠠᠶᠢᠰᠢᠭ, Анрайсиг , Dschanraisig
  • Vietnamese : Quán Thế Âm

Different manifestations

Avalokiteshvara is the bodhisattva of whom most of the different manifestations are known. Although bodhisattvas, since all opposites are considered to have been overcome, actually have no gender and there are no references to female bodhisattvas in the canonical texts of Buddhism, female representations of Avalokiteshvara (Guanyin, Quan-âm , Kannon) and gained great popularity.

There are also other manifestations of the Avalokiteshvara.

literally: "ruler of the world" (Sanskrit: ishvara - "ruler", loka - "place / world"); Lokeshvara was particularly widespread in the historical Khmer Empire of Angkor until the 14th century , after which the population switched to Theravada Buddhism, which is the only Bodhisattva who knows Maitreya .
literally: "who holds the lotus (Padma) in his hand".

Eleven-headed Avalokiteshvara

Eleven-headed Avalokiteshvara (China)

In the esoteric ( tantric ) traditions, Avalokiteshvara is often depicted with eleven heads and 1000 arms holding many different attributes or making flowers rain.

Legend of the eleven-headed thousand-armed Avalokitesvara

According to legend, the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara is said to have already made it up as a prince to assist all beings in their liberation. And he had taken an oath never to let up in it, or it would shatter into a thousand pieces. So he stayed in the intermediate state ( bardo ) between life and death. According to legend, he roamed all areas of living being. Whether gods, humans, animals or demons , he stayed everywhere and supported the beings to free themselves from suffering . As he looked around and looked at his work, he saw that a myriad of suffering beings had streamed after. He doubted the fulfillment of his vow for a moment and then burst into a thousand pieces. Buddhas are said to have shot up from all directions to pick up the pieces. Thanks to his supernatural abilities, Buddha Amitabha , the Buddha of discriminating wisdom, put Avalokiteshvara back together. This time, however, he gave him a thousand arms, each with one eye in the palms, and eleven heads. He wanted to ensure that Avalokiteshvara could serve the beings even more effectively.


The 1000 arms symbolize the compassionate activity of all 1000 Buddhas who, according to tradition, will appear in this happy Kalpa ( Buddhist-mythological age ). In the Tibetan culture, the ritual on the eleven-headed Avalokiteshvara (Nyungne ritual) is of great importance. It was spread in Tibet by the Indian nun Palmo in the 10th century. Strong healing effects are ascribed to this ritual and it is therefore also called “Omnipresent Salvation”. Palmo attained enlightenment through the practice on Avalokiteshvara.

Invocation of Avalokiteshvaras

OM MA NI PE ME HUNG - The mantra Avalokitesvaras
Tibetan thangka : Guhyasamâja -Avalokiteshvara, Ming dynasty , 17th century

In Tibetan Buddhism , Avalokiteshvara is also considered to be the embodiment of the compassion of all Buddhas of all time. Many masters, including the Dalai Lama in particular , are regarded as embodiments ( emanations ) of Avalokiteshvaras. By far the most popular invocation formula ( mantra ) is Om mani padme hum (more correctly: Om Manipadme hum). Manipadma , often imprecisely translated as “jewel in the lotus flower”, was originally a female name, which is used here in the vocative because of the invocation and therefore has the ending -e . Manipadma means "jewel lotus" and is still used today as a female given name in India. Apparently what was meant was a female appearance of the Bodhisattva or a female deity.

The jewel stands for all-encompassing compassion, hence this mantra is also known as the mantra of compassion. The mantra is first attested in the Karandavyuha Sutra, which was probably written as early as the late 4th or early 5th century in Kashmir and, according to legendary tradition, reached the court of the Tibetan King Lha Thothori Nyantsen (5th century). The six syllables, considered individually, should each have their own effect. They are traditionally assigned to the six aspired perfections and the six areas of existence to be overcome in samsara:

  • OM - frees from the suffering of the divine realms
  • MA - freed from the suffering of the demigod realms
  • NI - frees from suffering in human areas of life
  • PAD - frees you from suffering in animal areas
  • ME - frees from the suffering of the areas of hunger ghosts
  • HUM - freed from the suffering of the hell areas

The author of the Karandavyuha Sutra was not yet aware of the assignment of the syllables to individual areas and effects .

Another interpretation relates to Mount Kailash in the middle of its Himalayan environment.


  • Margareta von Borsig (ex.): Lotos Sutra - The great book of enlightenment in Buddhism. Verlag Herder, new edition 2009. ISBN 978-3-451-30156-8 (chap. 25)
  • Kubo Tsugunari, Yuyama Akira (tr.) The Lotus Sutra . Revised 2nd ed. Berkeley, Calif .: Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, 2007. ISBN 978-1-886439-39-9 PDF (1.6 MB)
  • Getty, Alice: The gods of northern Buddhism: their history, iconography and progressive evolution through the northern Buddhist countries, Oxford Clarendon Press 1914 digitized
  • Chün-fang Yü: Kuan-Yin: The Chinese Transformation of Avalokitesvara, Columbia University Press (2001), ISBN 978-0-231-12029-6
  • Holt, John. Buddha in the Crown: Avalokitesvara in the Buddhist Traditions of Sri Lanka, Oxford University Press, New York, 1991. ISBN 0195064186

Web links

Commons : Avalokiteshvara  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Commons : Kannon  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Alexander Studholme: The Origins of Om Manipadme Hum. A Study of the Karandavyuha Sutra, Albany (N. Y.) 2002, p. 55.
  2. Studholme p. 57.
  3. Studholme pp. 55-57.
  4. Studholme p. 54.
  5. Studholme p. 58 f.
  6. Studholme pp. 110-112; see. August Hermann Francke: The meaning of Om Mani Padme-Hum . In: Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 1915, p. 397.
  7. Example ( Memento from December 9, 2007 in the Internet Archive )
  8. Studholme p. 14.
  9. Studholme pp. 108-109.