'Siva and Avalokitezvara

Georg von Simson g.v.simson at EAST.UIO.NO
Tue Dec 15 17:05:04 UTC 1998

N. Ganesan wrote:
>[...] see Lokesh Chandra,
>The Thousand-armed Avalokitezvara, New Delhi, 1988, especially Ch. 2
>18-28): "The Origin of Avalokita-svara/Avalokit-ezvara." [...]
>Have not seen this book yet. But, I have read a little
>on Avalokita-iizvara and Avalokita-svara (from Avalokita-lokasvara?).
>Avalokita -svara may be an ingenous way of delinking
>Avalokitezvara from Hindu ('Siva) connections.

It seems rather to be the other way round: the zivaitic avalokitezvara as
an ingenious way of delinking him from his origins. Lokesh Chandra's point
of departure are the two companions of Buddha in early Buddhist mythology
(in which rudra-ziva does not yet play any part): zakra (indra) as lord of
the sky, and brahmA sahAMpati as lord of the earth (sahA). Later, when the
buddha was seen as amitAbha, the two companions became the bodhisattvas
mahAsthAmaprApta and avalokitasvara, "He by whom the Sound (svara, word,
logos) is perceived".

>The problem is Hsuan Tsang translates iizvara
>and not svara into Chinese. He calls Avalokitezvara
>as Kuan tzu-tsai, Avalokita iizvara and not Avalokita Svara.
Yes, Hsuan Tsang translates avalokita Izvara, no doubt. But he is late, and
the older Chinese form of the name is, as you know, kuan-yin, where kuan
means "see" and yin "sound", which clearly points to avalokita-svara.

Your evidence of the relation between avalokitezvara and ziva is
impressive, but, as I would see it, it shows no more than the gradual
assimilation of the two gods (and I think we can call the bodhisattva a god
for all practical reasons). The reason why Narayan S. Rajan feels
uncomfortable with this identification is the other and less benign aspect
of ziva, present e.g. in the mahAbhArata or in the Vedic Rudra.


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