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According to Mahāyāna doctrine, Avalokiteśvara is the bodhisattva who has made a great vow to assist sentient beings in times of difficulty and to postpone his own Buddha-hood until he has assisted every sentient being in achieving emancipation.

The story of the founder of Buddhism is one of the world’s great archetypal tales of spiritual awakening. He was born Siddhartha Gautama in the sixth century BCE, the son of a prince who ruled a small kingdom in what is now Nepal. Siddhartha led a sheltered existence until the age of twenty-nine, when he left his life of ease and set out to find a solution to the problem of suffering. For years he wandered as a homeless ascetic, practicing severe austerities that brought him to the brink of death but no nearer to his goal. He then abandoned asceticism for a "middle way." Sitting down under a tree, he vowed to remain there until he realized the truth. After a night of deep meditation, his Enlightenment came at dawn, and he was thereafter known as the Buddha, the "Awakened One."
Sculptures of Bodhisattvas
Bodhisattvas are ‘beings destined for Awakening’, preparing, through their merits and their virtues, to become Buddhas.
For most of the followers of Mahayana Buddhism, the Bodhisattvas represent intermediaries between the inaccessible, unimaginable and indescribable Buddha (conceived as a supreme deity, Vairocana or Adi Buddha, and the beings living on this earth of impermanence and imperfection. They are the divine intercessors, the ‘heroes of charity and sacrifice’,’ endowed with all virtues and qualities, possessing all strengths and an unshakable resolution In the accomplishment of their vows. They are perfect models, dear to the hearts of the faithful, because, endowed with tenderness and sensitivity, they are closer to them.

Devoted to the salvation of the suffering world, they do not enter final Nirvana — which is why they are not normally represented in Samadhi (meditative concentration) with the hands in Dhyana mudra, but in more dynamic postures. They are eminently active beings: they have taken the ‘vow to experience all torments in the place of living beings. Thus their appeal is immense throughout the world of Mahayana Buddhism, and the number of their representations is considerable. They are assigned many names which reflect the qualities or activities attributed to them, because a number of these Bodhisattvas are worshipped according to their attributes.

The Bodhisattvas are always represented clothed as princes and adorned with thirteen ornaments including a crown with five gems, earrings, a necklace, armlets, bracelets, anklets, long necklaces, scarves and a belt. Their crowns may bear the effigy of their ‘spiritual father’, one of the five Dhyani Buddhas. Their hair is tied in a high chignon and they have an urna on the forehead. They are usually represented standing when worshipped alone, and seated when accompanied by a Dhyani Buddha.

The sects of Tibetan Buddhism in Tibet and Nepal usually represent five Bodhisattvas — Avalokiteshvara, Manjushri, Maitreya, Vajrapani and Bhaishajyaguru.

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