Friday, March 12, 2010

Bodisattvas of Compassion

Jataka Tales

The term Bodhisattva refers to someone on the path to Awakening. The Mahayana has conceived them as having renounced the ultimate state out of pure compassion towards all beings, and can therefore refers to anyone en route. In non-Mahayana Buddhism, it usually refers either to Maitreya, the Buddha of the Future, or to the historical Buddha Gautama prior to his enlightenment - either during the life in which he became enlightened or in one of the innumerable lives before that in which he was developing the requisite virtues for enlightenment, such as generosity. The stories of these lives are called the Jatakas, or 'birth stories', and they are a very frequent subject of Buddhist art.

Among the Bodhisattvas, it is Avalokitesvara who has the largest number of forms and is perhaps the most venerated and most popular Buddhist deity. His sex, originally masculine, is sometimes considered feminine in China and Japan, although this discrimination is unsupported by any canonical text. And was often considered in China and Japan as the 'mother of the human race' and, in this respect, worshipped in the form of a woman.
Avalokitesvara is known from very early in the development of the Mahayana doctrines and, until Buddhism disappeared from India, enjoyed great favour there. His cult passed from India to South-East Asia and Java, where it met with great success, and also in Nepal, Tibet (where he arrived with Buddhism and where King Srong-btsan Sgam-po, 519-650, was considered to be his incarnation), and in China, from where he went on to Korea and Japan. All these countries imagined him in different forms according to their own temperaments and spirituality.