'Siva and Avalokitezvara

Georg von Simson g.v.simson at EAST.UIO.NO
Thu Dec 17 12:14:08 UTC 1998

N. Ganesan wrote:
>Prof. G. v. Simson wrote:
>*When Buddhism arrived in South India, the popular
>*bodhisattva avalokitasvara could without major difficulties
>*be adapted to the benign South-Indian god 'Siva (dakSiNamUrti).
>*  Is this model still far away from yours?
> My model would replace the above with something like:
>"When Mahayana deity Avalokitezvara was developed in
>South India, the popular bodhisattva avalokitezvara
>meant to the masses, their always familiar god, iizvara. A small
>group of learned monks developed the smart explanation
>on avalokitasvara which can be linked to Brahman,
>attested earlier as assistant to Buddha. They admitted
>Avalokitezvara with the satisfaction that A. is after all old
>assistant to Buddha. This explanation was sometimes carried to
>Gandhara and China also."
>  Would like to hear your views on this scenario.
>The two terms might have started concurrently in time -
>avalokitezvara among the masses, avalokitasvara among
>a small elite group. The available ratio of svara to
>iizvara supports this statement. There is only one
>fragment mss. saying avalokitasvara.
>The earliest occurences of Avalokitezvara are Southern
>(saddharmapuNDarika, suhrllekha).
>GaNDavyUha (2-3rd cent. AD) places Avalokitezvara and
>Mahadeva right next to each other. It says Avalokitezvara's
>permanent home is in South India.
>Devotinal piety was hard to resist by priests or monks.
>We know for sure the later Hindu bhakti as a mass movement
>was first established in the Tamil India and spreads
>northward, both in 'Saivism and Vaishnavism. The foundations of
> Mahayanism also are from devotional piety stemming
>from the masses. Avalokitezvara, who is first attested
>in Southern texts, whose residence is South India
>may well be a precursor to bhakti movement three
>centuries later.
>N. Ganesan
It might very well be that you are right. The reason for my entering this
discussion was that I remembered Lokesh Chandra's theory and just wondered
whether in the meantime anybody had refuted it (I have not read all the
literature Jonathan Silk was kind enough to draw our attention to, because
MahAyAna Buddhism is not my field of study). The evidence for
avalokitasvara seems to be weak indeed, and if there were not the Chinese
translation "Kuan Yin", which seems to confirm it, one could perhaps follow
M. Deshpande's suggestion (see 15 Dec.) and try to eliminate the problem by
finding a Prakrit explanation. In one of the manuscripts from Central Asia
(to be dated around 500 AD), a protection magic (vidyA) written in a hybrid
language and unregulated orthography (published in Sanskrithandschriften
aus den Turfanfunden, Ed. by E. Waldschmidt, Vol. 3, Wiesbaden, 1971, Ms.
no. 844) we find the formula:
   namo buddhAya dharmAya sa(M)ghAya arya-(a)palokidasvaraya (sic!  some
lines later we read: aryavalok(i)t(...) bodhisatvaya)  mahasatvaya
sarvvakarmasadhakaya abhayadataya! ("Obeisance to the Buddha, the dharma,
the sangha, to the noble Apalokidasvara, (the bodhisatva), the great being
who accomplishes all works (finishes all karma?) and grants safety").
Allow me to withdraw from the discussion with this pious little contribution!


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