Chenrezig is a bodhisattva who embodies the compassion of all Buddhas. He is one of the more widely revered bodhisattvas in mainstream Mahayana Buddhism. He is also known as Kuan-Yin / Guanyin (Chinese), Lokeshvara (Sanskrit) and Kannon (Japanese).
A total of 33 different manifestations of Chenrezig are described in Buddhist literature, including female manifestations, all to suit the minds of various beings.
In Sanskrit, Chenrezig is also referred to as Padmapāni ("Holder of the Lotus") or Lokeśvara ("Lord of the World").
In Tibetan, Chenrezig is known as Jainraisig/Chenrezig and is said to be incarnated in the Dalai Lama, the Karmapa and other high lamas.
Chenrezig, which means "sound perceiver", literally "he who looks down upon sound" i.e., the cries of sentient beings who need his help, was originally depicted as a male bodhisattva, and therefore wears chest-revealing clothing and may even sport a moustache. In other traditions, he may be depicted more often in female form (Guanyin) or even androgynous.
The Lotus Sūtra describes him as a bodhisattva who can assume any form required to relieve suffering, and also has the power to grant children (possibly relating to the fact that in this Sutra, unlike in others, both men and women are believed to have the ability to achieve enlightenment). He is therefore seen as a savior, both spiritually and physically. The sutras state that through his saving grace even those who have no chance of being Enlightened can be Enlightened, and those deep in negative karma can still find salvation through his compassion.
Similarly, in Pure Land Buddhism, Guanyin is described as the "Barque of Salvation". Along with Amitabha Buddha she temporarily liberates beings out of the Wheel of Samsara by placing them in the heart of a lotus and then sending them home to the Western Pure Land of Sukhāvatī, where they will have the chance to accrue the necessary merit so as to be a Buddha in one lifetime.
In Tibetan Buddhism, Tara came into existence from a single tear shed by Chenrezig. When the tear fell to the ground it created a lake, and a lotus opening in the lake revealed Tara. In another version of this story, Tara emerges from the heart of Chenrezig. In either version, it is Chenrezig's outpouring of compassion which manifests Tara as a being.
Mahāyāna Buddhism relates Chenrezig to the six-syllable mantra: OM MANI PADME HUM. Due to his association with this mantra, in Tibetan Buddhism Chenrezig is also called Shadakshari, which means "Lord of the Six Syllables." Recitation of this mantra along with prayer beads, is the most popular religious practice in Tibetan Buddhism.
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