Avalokiteshvara, 4 armed Form:
He is a bodhisattva who looks with unwavering eyes. He is the embodiment of all the buddhas' infinite compassion.
In his 4-armed form of Avalokiteshvara, he is white in color. His first two hands are pressed together at his heart. This indicates his vow to Buddhas and Bodhisattvas to protect all sentient beings from suffering. The hands hold a wish-fulfilling jewel, which symbolizes Avalokiteshvara's compassionate Bodhichitta.
His other right hand holds a crystal rosary symbolizing his ability to liberate beings from Samsara. It also reminds us to recite his six-syllable mantra, OM MANI PADME HUM.
In his left hand, he holds the stem of a blue Utpala flower. It symbolizes his stainless and compassionate Bodhichitta motivation. The Utpala in full bloom together with two buds represents the three times. His compassionate wisdom encompasses past, present, and future.
The skin of a wild deer is draped over his left shoulder. This represents his compassionate and kind nature. He is also capable of subduing the untamed delusions.
According to a traditional commentary:
This deer is lived in mountains between snows and rocks. It has enormous physical strength. At this same time, he is extremely compassionate too.
One day, the hunters entered its territory and pretended to fight among themselves with swords. Upon seeing this, the deer becomes impatient. He then with compassion, emerges to mediate between them. This provided the hunters, the opportunity to kill the deer. But merely touching its skin with one's feet calms the mind and endows it with bliss.
Significance of Deerskin in spiritual practice
The deerskin also serves as a reminder to develop strong and stable concentration. This is a significant aspect of meditation. Ancient Indian traditions recommend that meditators sit on deer skins to insulate themselves from disruptive, earth-transmitted energies. This tradition is still followed to date.
Successful meditation requires the ability to control and direct mental and physical energies. This is a difficult aspect as we are continually distracted by external forces.
The full cross-legged position together with the other aspects of meditation helps to center our energies. We cannot benefit others if we ourselves are distracted by the shifting Wordly energies.
Iconography of 4 armed Avalokiteshvara
Avalokiteshvara is dressed in silken robes, to depict the Indian royal look. He wears various jeweled ornaments, such as bracelets, necklaces, anklets, etc . They symbolize his mastery of the perfections of generosity and morality. As a prince, he wears his black hair long, upper half knotted high on his head and the rest flowing down to his shoulders. Just as a prince, this bodhisattva is the spiritual son and heir to the king-like buddhas. Upon his head is a five jeweled crown. It represents the five buddha families. He is seated within a transparent aura in a peaceful scene of hills and lakes.
He gazes upon the beings with heartfelt compassion. He wishes that they are separated from all kinds of mental and physical sufferings. Each syllable of his mantra is directed towards a specific realm.
OM white gods
MA green demigods
NI yellow humans
PAD blue animals
ME red Pretas
HUM black hell-beings
When we recite the mantra, we visualize the colored light radiating towards all beings in each realm. These lights pacify our particular suffering and guide us to the path to liberation.
Mantras work on several different levels. On the most basic vibrational level, they derive their power from their very sound.
The deep experiences of these words of mantras are filled with enlightening inspiration and blessings. Reciting OM MANI PADME HUM with strong faith is effective in countering the negative forces. These forces drag us down into the recurring miseries of the six samsaric realms.
Mantra is also effective in various ways. All of the 84,000 teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha can be explained in terms of these six syllables, OM MANE PADME HUNG.
Among many, here is one way to understand its meaning:
Meaning of Mantra Om Mane Padme Hung
The syllable OM appears at the opening of all mantras. It is composed of three elements in Sanskrit and stands for the three doors of our present body, speech, and mind.
MANI means "jewel" and stands for an enlightened being's compassionate method. Compassion fulfills the desire of all beings to be separated from suffering.
PADME comes from "The Padma" which means lotus. It symbolizes the wisdom of ultimate reality. A lotus is unstained by the mud out of which it grows. Similarly, wisdom is unstained by all hindering conceptions of inherent self-existence.
Finally, the syllable HUM is made up of five elements representing the five Buddha families. Our ordinary mental and physical constituents are transformed when full enlightenment is achieved.
So, the mantra OM MANI PADME HUM is understood as follows:
Through the blessings of Avalokiteshvara and the practice of method and wisdom, we transform our body, speech, and mind. We meet the full enlightenment of the five buddha families.
How was Thousand Armed Avalokiteshvara formed?
In one sutra, Shakyamuni himself declared that Avalokiteshvara had a special relationship with the snowy land of Tibet. He prophesied that in the future he would subdue its barbarous inhabitants and lead them along the path to enlightenment. In a vow by Avalokiteshvara, he stated his compassionate intention:
“May I be able to establish in emancipation all the living beings in the barbaric Land of Snow, where beings are so hard to discipline and none of the buddhas of the three times has stepped... May I be able to mature and emancipate them, each according to his way? May that gloomy, barbaric country become bright, like an island of precious jewels."
Shakyamuni related how Avalokiteshvara took miraculous birth. A shaft of light emanated from the heart of Amitabha Buddha and transformed into a radiant lotus. Within this lotus, the four-armed Avalokiteshvara rose. Amitabha predicted that this aspect will subdue the Tibetans.
In front of Amitabha, Avalokiteshvara repeated his vow to work tirelessly for the welfare of all beings. With compassionate motivation that he declared that,
"Until I relieve all living beings, may I never, even for a moment, feel like giving up the purpose of others for my own peace and happiness. If I should ever think about my own happiness, may my head be cracked into ten pieces...and may my body be split into a thousand pieces, like the petals of a lotus"
Thereafter he entered a profound state of meditative absorption. He remained uninterruptedly for a very long time. He recited the six-syllable mantra, directing his compassionate intention to all sentient beings. He wished that all of them would be free of their suffering.
Finally, he arose from his deep absorption and surveyed the Land of Snow. He was bitterly disappointed to realize that he had helped only a small number of beings. The vast majority remained still trapped within their delusions.
In desperation, he called out, "What is the use? I can do nothing for them. It is better for me to be happy and peaceful myself."
As soon as he uttered these words, by the power of his previous vow, his head split into ten pieces. His body split into a thousand, causing him unbearable pain.
He cried out to Amitabha, who immediately appeared before him. The Buddha of the West looked at him and told him not to despair.
All circumstances come from cooperative causes
Conditioned at the moment of intent.
Every fortune which arises to anyone
Results from his own former wish.
Your powerful expression of supplication
Was praised by all the buddhas;
In a moment of time,
The truth will certainly appear.
Amitabha restored his broken body. He figured his torn flesh into a thousand hands, each with its own wisdom eye. He transformed the shattered pieces of his head into ten faces. Among these faces, 9 were peaceful and one wrathful. Now, he could look in all directions. Finally, to show how pleased he was with his Avalokiteshvara, he crowned the bodhisattva's ten faces with a replica of his own.
Thus, the eleven-faced and the one-thousand armed aspect of Avalokiteshvara formed.
This form is widely loved by Tibetans. Along with a jewel, rosary, and lotus, he is holding a vase, a bow, and a wheel. The rest of the hands makes the mudra of bestowing realizations.
He remains the patron deity of Tibet. Tibetans claim the descent from Avalokiteshvara, in the form of a monkey, have sired the original inhabitants of Tibet.
He has appeared in many forms to propagate and defend Buddhist teachings.
He has been identified with the first of Tibet's great religious kings: Songtsen Gampo, Guru Rinpoche, Atisha's renowned disciple Dromtonpa and His Holiness Gyalwa Karmapa, the head of the Kagyu tradition of Tibetan Buddhism.
Through the lineage of Dalai Lama, Avalokiteshvara's compassionate influence has poured into Tibet. The widespread activities of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, has radiated its influence far beyond Tibet. Tibetans recite the following four-line prayer regularly as long-life prayer.
In the heavenly realm of the snowy mountains,
The source of all happiness and help for beings
Is Tenzin Gyatso: Avalokiteshvara in person.
May his life be secure for hundreds of eons.
A popular practice centered upon this figure of universal compassion:
A Noble Avalokiteshvara, a treasure of compassion,
Together with your retinue, please listen to me.
May you quickly rescue me and my fathers and mothers,
the six kinds of beings, from drowning in samsara's ocean.
I request that we may quickly attain
The profound and vast Bodhichitta.
May all our karma and delusion
Accumulated since beginningless time
Be purified by the nectar of your compassion.
With your outstretched hands
Please lead us to the Blissful Land.
I request that you and Amitabha
Become our spiritual masters in all future lifetimes.
Guide us along the noble and flawless path
And quickly lead us to Buddhahood.