As is well known, Avalokiteśvara is a bodhisattva representative of Mahāyāna Buddhism, and beliefs in Avalokiteśvara have flourished wherever Buddhism, especially Mahāyāna Buddhism, spread in Asia. Partly because the characteristic of assuming various forms to save people in distress was attributed to Avalokiteśvara, there evolved six, seven, and thirty-three forms of Avalokiteśvara, who also amalgamated with earth goddesses such as Niangniang 娘娘, and in Japan pilgrimages to sites sacred to Avalokiteśvara have been long established among the general populace, typical of which is the pilgrimage to thirty-three temples in the Kansai region (Saigoku sanjūsansho 西國三十三所). There exists much prior research on Avalokiteśvara, who was accepted in various forms in many regions to which Buddhism spread, and on his iconography, concrete representation, and cult. But on the other hand it is also true that there remains much that is puzzling about the name “Avalokiteśvara” and its meaning, origins, and background. In the following, having first provided a critical overview of recent relevant research, I wish to reconsider the meaning and background of his original name (avalokita-īśvara, -svara, -smara, etc.) in relation to the story of Brahmā’s entreaty, a perspective that has been largely missing in past research.
Preamble 1 1. Recent Research on Avalokiteśvara’s Original Name 1 2. The Buddha’s Surveyal (ava-√lok) of the World and Brahmā’s Entreaty 4 3. Avalokiteśvara’s Name and Its Meaning 7 Conclusion 10 References 11