The Bodhisattva's Thousand Arms

Bodhisattvas sometimes are pictured with multiple arms and heads. I didn't appreciate this symbolism until I heard this dharma talk by John Daido Loori, in which he said,

Every time there's a stranded vehicle on the side of the road and a motorist stops to help, Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva has manifested herself. Those characteristics of wisdom and compassion are the characteristics of all beings. All Buddhas. We all have that potential. It's just a matter of awakening it. You awaken it by realizing there's no separation between self and other.

Avalokiteshvara is the bodhisattva who hears the cries of the world and embodies the compassion of the buddhas. When we see and hear the suffering of others and respond to that suffering, we are the heads and arms of the bodhisattva. The bodhisattva has more heads and arms than anyone can count!

The compassion of the bodhisattvas does not depend on a creed or belief system. It manifests in the sincere, unselfish and unconditional response to suffering, not in the beliefs and objectives of the giver and receiver of help. As it says in the Visuddhi Magga:

Mere suffering exists, no sufferer is found.
The deeds are, but no doer of the deeds is there.

May response to suffering be unhindered.

Photo Caption: Thousand-armed Avalokiteshvara, 10th–11th century Korea, from the Guimet Museum, Paris.

Photo Credit: Manjushri / Flicker