Indian Arts and Culture Buddhism The Bodhisattva's Thousand Arms Share Flipboard Email Print Buddhism Origins and Developments Figures and Texts Becoming A Buddhist Tibetan and Vajrayana Buddhism By Barbara O'Brien Zen Buddhism Expert B.J., Journalism, University of Missouri Barbara O'Brien is a Zen Buddhist practitioner who studied at Zen Mountain Monastery. She is the author of "Rethinking Religion" and has covered religion for The Guardian, Tricycle.org, and other outlets. our editorial process Barbara O'Brien Updated August 27, 2018 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. A Compassionate Bodhisattva 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.