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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 15.5 inches X 20.0 inches
Size with Brocade 25.0 inches X 34.0 inches
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Viewed 17782 times since 25th Apr, 2013
This supremely drawn and painted thangka portrays Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara with thousand arms and eleven heads. Avalokiteshvara is one of the most popular deities of Mahayana Buddhism. He is the compassion of all Buddhas and the patron deity of Tibet. In this manifestation Avalokiteshvara is also known as Samantamukha or the “All-sided one” – the god who looks every direction to save all creature. The eleven heads of Avalokiteshvara are arranged in five series from below upwards of 3,3,3,1 and 1. The topmost head is that of Amitabha Buddha, the spiritual father of Avalokiteshvara. There are several legends of the origins of the Ekadashamukha Avalokiteshvara. According to one version, Avalokiteshvara managed to empty the hells and ensure that there was potential salvation for everyone. Enthused, he reported this to his spiritual father, Amitabha, who told him to take a look behind himself. Almost instantly the underworlds began filling up again with new sinners who had not escaped from samsara. Sinking into despair, Avalokiteshvara wept so pitifully that his head burnt. Amitabha attempted to assemble the pieces but did not entirely succeed. He supplemented the pieces to make nine complete faces, each with gentle expression. Above this he placed the blue demonic head of Mahakala that functions to ward off evil, and at the very top, for protection, his own head. Moreover it is also said that 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 universe, the eleventh face representing the all-encompassing Buddha wisdom. Ten of his faces also 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 thousand compassionate arms extend his helping hands toward all beings. Each hand has an eye to see their sufferings in innumerable worlds. According to a Tibetan tradition, thousand-armed Avalokiteshvara incarnated himself as a pious, monastic monkey and went to meditate in the mountains of Tibet. After being forcefully wooed by a charming impassioned ogre, he resigned his vows, married her, and produced the ancestors of the Tibetans. Thus he is considered to be their ‘Manu’ the actual progenitor of their race.

Later on Avalokiteshvara incarnated as the Tibetan king, Sron-btsan-sgam-po along with his companion Tara as their queens, and brought their first civilization. Moreover, 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. All the Dalai Lamas,Kings and Gesar of Ling are considered as incarnation of Avalokiteshvara. 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. The concept of thousand arms Avalokiteshvara corresponds to the essence of the Thousand Buddhas of the Bhadrakalpa. The eyes located in palms of all the hands means that nobody escapes Avalokiteshvara’s great compassion.

He is shown here standing on moon-disk on lotus in the center of the temple. The complexion of his body is white. The array of arms resembles a large halo encircling the gentle body against the aureole. His main arms hold the major symbols and perform the main gestures Bodhisattva. His right hands hold a rosary and a wheel of the teachings. His left hands hold a lotus, a bow 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 arms are in boon-granting gesture. The throne of Avalokiteshvara indicates that he has perfected the six-paramitas (transcendences).

He wears exquisitely designed jewelry - crowns, necklaces, hoop earrings, armlets, bracelets and anklets. The skin of antelope is over his left shoulder, referring to his ascetic experience. Moreover he wears silk scarves and floral dhoti.

The temple is decorated with floral motifs while the pillars depict elephants, lions and yoginis. The top center is filled with three votive stupas and just below is the figure of Shakyamuni Buddha. The foreground depicts vases and seven wrathful demonic faces. The background is filled with multi-color flowers and leaves. The extended brocade is woven with dharma chakra and stylized lotus flowers. This painting is very suitable for sadhana and practices of Avalokiteshvara.

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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