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Bodhisattvas - artelino

A Boddhisattva.Bodhisattvas are special helpers for followers of later forms of Buddhism (Mayhayana and Vajrayana), benign and altruistic beings who have already reached enlightenment and thus could enter Nirvana (the great and eternal bliss).

But they refuse out of compassion to do so as long as there are still other beings, especially humans, who have not yet reached this state.

Bodhisattvas - Buddhist's Little Helpers

The concept of Bodhisattvas was unknown to the teachings of the historical Buddha and early Buddhism. It was more or less construed into the original teachings of the Sakyamuni Buddha circa 500 years after his earthly disappearance. Early Buddhism, known as Hinayana Buddhism, does not know any gods or saints. Not even the historical Buddha wanted to be venerated, nor did he want his image to be shown.

According to Buddha's teachings, the individual alone is responsible for his actions. By leading a moral life, and by meditation, one can achieve a better reincarnation in one's next life, and thus can finally reach Nirvana, the eternal bliss.

No gods you can pray to when being desperate? No saints you can ask for help if you are in need? That is a bit tough for most people and the common man and woman. Therefore, about 500 years after the historical Buddha, these little helpers, called Bodhisattvas stepped on the stage. This new and easier to practice direction of Buddhism was called Mahayana.

Let us take a look at some of the better-known Bodhisattvas in the Buddhist pantheon.

Avalokiteshvara - the Workaholic

Avalokiteshvara with a thousand arms. Avalokiteshvara - four arms.

Avalokiteshvara is the most popular one among the Bodhisattvas. His Sanskrit name means 'the one who gazes upon the world with suffering in his eyes'. In Tibetan he is called Chenrezig. The Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo and all Dalai Lamas including the current 14th Dalai Lama are considered to be reincarnations of Avalokiteshvara. No wonder that he is so much revered.

The stupid thing about Avalokiteshvara is the fact that he can have plenty of different appearances and names. In Nepal alone he is said to have 108 forms. Lokeshwara, Lokanatha, Machendranath, Padmapani, Kharacheri, Kuanyin (Chinese) or Kannon (Japanese). That's all him.

There are two basic forms how he is depicted. One is with a thousand arms and eleven heads and in standing position. The other popular image is Avalokiteshvara sitting on a lotus throne with four arms and one head. I personally remember this as the 'high end version' and the 'light version' of Avalokiteshvara.

On Tibetan thangkas you can often see a red Buddha painted on top of Avalokiteshvara. That is Amitabha, the Buddha in Red. There is a special story about these two. One day Avalokiteshvara, in his relentless endeavor to help all others 24 hours a day and 7 days a week, tried to assist too many beings at the same time. Thus his arms fell in pieces. And when he racked his brains so hard how to help others with his compassion, his head exploded. But Amitabha came to his rescue and not only reassembled him, but equipped him with this multitude of heads and arms to make him more efficient and stress-prone.

Manjushri - the Gentle One

Bodhisattva Manjushri.In Buddhist books Manjushri is characterized as the 'Lord with the Melodious Voice' or 'The God of Divine Wisdom' or 'Of Pleasing Splendor' or 'Of Charming Beauty' or 'Gentle Glory'. His face expression is indeed gentle. But in his right hand he is always holding this huge sword in such a menacing pose. At least this makes him easily recognizable by us poor Westerners who have not grown up with this confusing Buddhist pantheon.

Manjushri in Tibetan is Yampelyang - sounds really strange.

Taras - The Benign Ones

White Tara - Bodhisattva. Green Tara - Bodhisattva.

The Taras are the good girls from the neighborhood. They are young, good-looking and always wear a pleasant and benign face expression. Impossible that these cute girls could ever be bad-tempered! On the contrary, they are always ready to help others with a smile on their face and a lotus flower on their shoulders.

There are about 20 Taras. Each has a different color. But only two are of importance, the Green Tara and the White Tara. The rest of them are supporting actors.

Taras are called Drölmas in Tibetan.

Vajrapani - Walking on the Wild Side

Bodhisattva Vajrapani.Oh Vajrapani, what went wrong with you? While all other Bodhisattvas have a gentle and friendly appearance, you look like the first prize winner of a wild Halloween party. Or are you the guy who must look evil to do good?

Vajrapani is one of the 'wrathful deities'. Buddhism had a hard stand when it came to Tibet. Before, Tibetans practiced an animistic religion full of demons, magic, sorcerers and ghosts. It is called the Bön religion.

In order to facilitate the diffusion of Buddhism, all these odd demons were assigned a new task, as protectors of Buddhism. Funny. That's why we enjoy today all these strange creatures on Tibetan arts and crafts. OK, I should mention that some came actually from India.

Maitreya - Buddha in Waiting

Future Buddha and Bodhisattva Maitreya.

Maitreya is a very special kind of Bodhisattva. He is actually meant to become the Buddha of the future and come down to earth in human shape roughly 4,000 years after the historical Buddha Gautama Siddhartha disappeared into Nirvana.

And as idleness is not a Buddhist virtue, Maitreya uses the time until his mission will start as a Buddha, to get some experience as a Bodhisattva. A kind of warming-up job for him. Maitreya's residence from which he operates his temporary job, is called Tushita Heaven.

Maitreya is called Jampa in Tibetan.

More Bodhisattvas?

There are plenty of more Bodhisattvas. But the ones presented on this page are the major ones in Tibetan and Nepalese culture and religion.

Dieter Wanczura, September 2010.

Last Updated on Saturday, 30 October 2010 22:47  

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