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Paintings > Thangka > Thousand Arms of Compassion
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Thousand Arms of Compassion

Thousand Arms of Compassion

Thousand Arms of Compassion

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Tibetan Thangka Painting

Size of Painted Surface 17.0" X 22.5"
Size with Brocade 28.5" X 37.0"
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Viewed 3803 times since 2nd Oct, 2008
Avalokiteshvara is the Bodhisattva of compassion and the manifestation of compassion of all Buddhas. Buddhist legend claims that Avalokiteshvara manifested himself 333 times on earth for the purpose of saving mankind, and that all the manifestations were human, with the exception of the miraculous horse Balaha, and masculine, with exception of the female forms of Kuan-yin in China and Kwan-non in Japan. He is supposed to have been incarnate in the Tibetan king sRong-tsan-sgam-po, as well as in every successive Dalai-Lama, and is the principal tutelary deity of Tibet. There are 108 different forms of Avalokiteshvara, each with his own mantra. Moreover Tibetans believe that the legendry Bodhisattva, the eleven-faced, thousand-armed Avalokiteshvara, incarnated as a pious, monastic monkey and went to meditate in the mountains of Tibet. After forcefully wooed by a charming, impassioned Himalayan ogre, he resigned his vows, and produced the ancestors of the Tibetans. Thus he considered to-be their "Manu", the actual progenitor of their race. In addition Avalokiteshvara is considered to be the deity who still incarnates as their lama teachers, helping them with their arduous liberating evolution and instructing them in the wisdom that makes it possible. His most famous verse reads, "Your thousand arms, the thousand world emperors, your thousand eyes, the thousand Buddhas of the good eon, you show whomsoever whatsoever civilizes them – I bow to holy Avalokiteshvara!" Thus the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara represents the force of compassion that the Tibetan considered responsible for the transformation of Tibet from an ordinary land of violence and egotism to a paradise of the Dharma of Om Mani Padme Hum – the mantra of universal compassion.

This supremely beautiful black painting of the Bodhisattva of compassion is perhaps one of the finest black thangkas. The painting portrays this incarnation of inconceivable mercy in his most powerful forms, with eleven faces, one thousand eyes, and one thousand arms. The thousand compassionate arms extend his helping hands toward all beings. Each hand has an eye to see their sufferings in innumerable worlds. Ten of his faces indicate his attainment of ten Bodhisattva stages, with the eleventh, the face of Amitabha Buddha, indicating his being the incarnation of the universal compassion of all Buddhas. The ten faces may also stand for his looking after beings throughout the ten directions of face, the eleventh face representing the all-encompassing Buddha wisdom. Texts relate that three of the heads are Bodhisattva heads, three are fierce, three are peaceful, one is a wrathful head of Mahakala, and the final one is Avalokiteshvara's spiritual father, Amitabha Buddha.

Avalokiteshvara stands frontally on a floral disk on lotus flower on mountainous landscape. The array of arms resembles a large halo encircling the gentle body against the aureole. The eight main arms hold the major symbols and perform the main gestures Bodhisattva. His right hands hold a rosary and a wheel of the teachings, and make the boon-granting gesture. His left hands hold a lotus, a bow and arrow, and a vase of elixir. In front of his heart his two hands are held in the prayer gesture, holding the wish-fulfilling gem. His remaining 992 arms are in boon-granting gesture.

Avalokiteshvara is adorned with crown, earrings, necklaces, armlets, bracelets, and anklets; floral flowing scarf and dhoti with multicolored leggings. The skin of antelope is over his left shoulder and tied diagonally like a scarf, referring to his ascetic experience.

At the top of the picture sits Amitabha Buddha in clouds with rainbow light, while both the upper corners are filled with stylized clouds. At the bottom, in the centre, is a lake over which are auspicious offerings. Each side of the Bodhisattva's aureole and foreground are filled with finely drawn high peaks, covered with snow, lakes, trees, rock formations, waterfall, auspicious offerings and natural vegetation. The bottom left and right corners depict pairs of swan and antelope, respectively.

This description is by Dr. Shailendra K. Verma, whose Doctorate thesis is on "Emergence and Evolution of the Buddha Image (From its inception to 8th century A.D.)".

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