'Siva and Avalokitezvara

N. Ganesan naga_ganesan at HOTMAIL.COM
Thu Dec 17 08:44:18 EST 1998

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".

In the Lotus Sutra of KumArajIva's translation (400 AD),
Avalokitasvara (avalokitezvara in available Sanskrit maunscripts) is
larger than either Brahma or Zakra.

  "If they need King Brahma to be saved, immediately he becomes
   King Brahma and preaches the Law for them;
   If they need lord Shakra to be saved, immediately he becomes
   lord Shakra and preaches the Law for them"
    (p. 301, Burton Watson's translation, Columbia UP, 1993)

Clearly, Avalokitezvara does not appear to be direct
descendant of Brahma in the Lotus sutra from the above
statement. He is, in fact, a greater god  larger than
Powers of Sky (Indra) or Earth (Brahma).

This Lotus sutra quote clearly acknowledges Brahma
and Zakra, the Earth and Sky powers, as early attendents
to AmitAbha. But both are much lower in stature
compared to Avalokitezvara.

Textually, Avalokitezvara's appearance is Southern.
Nagarjuna in Suhrllekha to Gotamiputra SatakarNi
advises the King to pray to Avalokitezvara and AmitAbha.
The Lotus sutra (2nd century AD) has the first detailed
description of Avalokitezvara. Lotus sutra contains
passages that point to a Southern origin.
GaNDavyUha, a Southern text, places Avalokitezvara
and 'Siva Mahadeva right next to each other.
This should be quite significant.

> From the time Buddhism arrived in South India,
2nd century AD, Avalokitezvara is linked to
'Siva (Izvara).

I realize that one or two Avalokitezvaras have
been found in Gandhara in 2-3rd centuries
(first published by Ananda Coomaraswamy.)
At the same time as SaddharmapuNDarika
and GaNDavyUha. That is the nature of
development of Indian art history.
May be contemporaneous Southern,
not so elaborate, Avalokitezvaras were
made in wood, but not available today.
Note that the first bronze ever found in South India
is a Pallava avalokitezvara (5th century AD).
It is published in C. SivaramamUrti,
South Indian bronzes, 1963.

In South India, devotional piety (later this developed
into Hindu bhakti movement) is what made Mahayana buddhism
acceptable. From second century AD, 'Siva-Avalokitezvara
syncretism developed, much before KumArajIva
or Central Asian sutra fragments.

There is no earlier occurence of avalokitasvara
than avalokitezvara occurences I gave.

A humble request for Dr. Jonathan Silk: Can you please summarize
the 1936 avalokita/apalokita and the R. Stein's paper
some time for me please? Within the next 2 months is
fine for me.

N. Ganesan

Note: In all the Avalokitezvara works, I would rather doubt that
the Southern Indian dimension will be explored at all.

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