Kannon bosatsu - Avalokitaśvara - Guanyin - Spyan-ras-gzigs - Nidubarüsheckchi etc……is a bodhisattva with a very interesting history.
Based on Brahmā, the God and creator of Hinduism Avalokitaśvara is the most worshipped and has the most forms of all the Buddhist Gods. A bodhisattva of the Mahāyanā Buddhist cults, he rose to popularity in the late 4th century C.E. and can be found right across Asia from India to Sri Lanka, Java, Cambodia, Thailand, Tibet, China, Korea and Japan.
Some cults of Buddhism recognise certain forms of Avalokitaśvara while others deny their existence, classifying them as illegitimate. The Tibetans consider the Dalai Lama as a living incarnation of Avalokitaśvara with all the attributes of the bodhisattva outlined in the sutras. The palace of the Dalai Lama is in fact considered to be the paradise of the deity on Earth.
In both Thailand and neighbouring Cambodia and Myanmar Avalokitaśvara is also worshipped as a “Lord of the world” and bringer of compassion and love.
Avalokitaśvara is usually represented standing with an effigy of Amitabha Buddha in his headdress. He carries the attributes of the lotus which in the Hindu scriptures represents purity, a water vase which quenches one’s thirst and Buddhist prayer beads. He can be found also sitting on a goose, a peacock, a pheasant or the fiery phoenix (itself originally Egyptian).
Interestingly, in China and Japan Avalokitaśvara is also often depicted as a female or androgynous. In China especially Avalokitaśvara seems to have become combined with Mary of Christianity at around the first century C.E. - when Assyrian migrants were introducing Christianity to northern China. These images carried over to Japan where they are known as Juntei Avalokitaśvara. Depicted as either a male or female (more often female) holding a baby wrapped in blankets this form of Avalokitaśvara was worshipped by Japanese Christian converts in the Tokugawa era (1600-1868) to save them from government persecution when Christianity was banned.
Combined over the years with Juntei Avalokitaśvara is the Shintõ God Koyasu-gami - herself an early Korean shaman connected with childbirth.
This is Benzaiten the Buddhist god of water and by extension everything that flows: water, words, speech, eloquence, music, and knowledge (knowledge flows forth from the mind).
Benzaiten or Benten is the Japanese name for the Hindu goddess Saraswati which was adopted into Buddhism.
The god Benzaiten arrived in Japan during the 6th century via the Chinese translations of the Sutra of Golden Light.
She is mentioned also in the Lotus Sutra and is depicted holding a biwa, a traditional Japanese lute.
Benzaiten has a close association with snakes and dragons and is often shown as a human headed snake as in this temple. This is due to a passage in the Rig-Veda (6.61.7) where Sarasvati is credited with killing the three-headed snake (Vritra).
During the Shinbutsu shugõ, the fusion of Buddhism and Shintõ, the Shintõ god Ugafukijin came to be fused with the Buddhist/Hindu god Benzaiten.
Ugafukujin is the Shintõ god of agriculture and Benzaiten is the Buddhist god connected with water which is indispensable to agriculture.
Benzaiten is both a Buddhist/Hindu god and a Shintõ god in Japan. People who wish to pray for their crops can pray to Benzaiten that she may provide a bountiful harvest.
Benzaiten is also one of the seven lucky Buddhist gods - the shichifukujin - worshipped by Japanese Buddhists.
you can see my photo set of this temple here on my flickr page
The wish fulfilling jewel.
On the tops of many Buddhist temples, on the tops of many stone lanterns, on the posts of most bridges across Japan, and in the hands (and on the areoles) of Jizõ Bosatsu (Ksitigarbha) one can often see an interesting “drop” shaped or “pointed ball” shaped decoration.
This is the wish fulfilling jewel or in Sanskrit cintāmaṇi (चिन्तामणि). In Japanese it is known as a hõshu or nyoi hõshu.
It is Hindu in origin, connected with the gods Vishnu and Ganesha, and was borrowed by Buddhists to represent the attainment of wisdom and the wish to attain enlightenment. It is claimed by Buddhists that it will allow one to see the holy retinue of Bodhisattvas and the Buddha in the Pure Land. It is commonly seen also in Tibet and India, but not often encountered in China.
In Buddhism it is a fabulous jewel that can grant wishes and satisfy desires. It represents the three treasures of Buddhism - the Buddha, the sangha (followers), and the Buddha Dharma (teachings).
Often represented on a lotus, in threes, or singularly on the top of pagodas, it came to be placed on bridges over moats at Buddhist temples. The bridge represents the crossing over from the deluded world to that of realisation.
The jewel used as a capping on bridges is also commonly called a giboshi which is the Japanese term for the Hosta. They are associated with the Hosta (Plantain lily Agavaceae) because of the similarity with the shape of the plants leaves and the shape of the jewel, these plants are often found in temple gardens as they are associated with the jewel.
Senju Kannon bosatsu (Avalokiteśvara) at Hase temple, Hase Kamakura, Kanagawa prefecture.
Senju Kannon bosatsu is a Buddhist god from the mixed Hindu-Buddhist cult of Mahayana Buddhism. He has many arms (supposedly 1,000 arms) each holding it’s own special representative attribute or forming a magical hand gesture.
On his head he has a Brahmin crown with 28 heads which represent the 28 protective genii who assist Senju Kannon in his task of teaching compassion.
The circular halos behind are of Greek origin and represent a holy person or god. The Greeks added halos to icons to infer supernatural status, just as they added them to representations of Jesus. The whole body aureole of clouds is to suggest that Senju Kannon is in heaven looking down.
In India he was always depicted as a male god, in China and Japan he later become an androgynous god with the features of a female, but with a moustache and adopting masculine stances.
Kannon bosatsu in any of the 33 forms in which he is depicted is primarily a god of compassion and his Indian name Avalokiteśvara means “one who looks down and listens.” So basically this is a god you can pray to because he/she/it listens.
The monk Kũkai (founder of the Shingon sect of magical Buddhism) claimed a form of this god visited him on his ship while travelling to China. He had a conversation with this god about taking the teachings of China back to Japan!
The face is all shiny because people touch and kiss it! To the Japanese this is an actual supernatural being, not just a statue. The god is living in the statue and the statue serves as a conduit to the god.
The ancient Hindu (Brahman) concept of life was that if you behave righteously, you can be reborn as a god. Many “Buddhists” today believe that if you are righteous you may be reborn as a human rather than an animal or plant or some other man-made deity living in another realm.
The Tibetans believe that their highest “Buddhist” teachers are reborn again as a human to be discovered and then “reminded” of their past life to take it up again and continue teaching!
This concept supposes that there is some enduring entity that persists and once it dies, somehow is reborn as something else.
This is Hindu thought (Brahmanism).
What many fail to see is that the historical Buddha himself denied such a concept. Later writings were written by Brahmans intent on reshaping Buddhism to fall into line with their doctrine of rebirth. The Buddha denied this eternalistic view. He denied flat out that there was any enduring soul or essence that passes from one being to another.
An awakened person can see quite clearly that there is no permanence to be found anywhere. All around us is subject to birth and decay. The eternalistic view simply doesn’t stand up. We should be aware of leanings of the mind in such matters, and wishful thinking. It is an extremely comforting thought, to believe that we do not die and instead simply pass from one life to another, and people who hold these beliefs are free to do so, but it isn’t what the Buddha taught and isn’t found within his Dharma.
The Buddha spoke of “rebirth consciousness” not reincarnation. With each new moment, everything around us is reborn, everything is in constant flux. All is impermanent and ever changing. Rebirth consciousness is the awareness that all about us, *this moment* is not *this new moment.* Every second all is changing, being reborn. Cells are dying and being exchanged. Nothing persists. Nothing repeats. Nothing returns.
Each moment is fresh and new.
The works attributed to Nargajuna further elaborate on this. There is nothing that endures and nothing that remains. According to the writings of Nargajuna the true meaning of impermanence is emptiness.
This teaching of impermanence, of emptiness, is incompatible with any idea of reincarnation. Reincarnation/rebirth makes the assumption that there is something that is impermanent that a “self” or entity exists that transcends impermanence.
Belief in reincarnation is antithetical to what the Buddha taught. It is anti-Buddhist. It is Hindu thought.
There is no way to hold a view of reincarnation without holding a view of permanence.