Booklet of the Avalokitesvara Sutra


This booklet is one of the thousands of copies of the Lotus Sūtra that were found in Dunhuang. The scripture, which is one of the most influential in Mahāyāna Buddhism, appears to have been extremely popular, possibly because of its emphasis on the role of compassionate bodhisattvas.

What is this text about?

Chapter 25 of the Lotus Sūtra focuses on the Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara and became increasingly singled out as a separate, standalone text. The deity’s name in Chinese is Guanyin, short for Guanshiyin, which means ‘Perceiver of the World’s Sounds’ and refers to his ability to hear the prayers of any being calling upon him for help. The text details how he assumes thirty-three different emanations to rescue people facing various difficult situations, such as fire, drowning, shipwreck, robbery and imprisonment.

Why choose to write it as an illustrated booklet?

The diminutive size and format of the booklet probably made it portable and easy to consult. It is also illustrated with colourful scenes, laid in the upper part of each folio, above the columns of text. This visual narrative, by complementing the written content of the sūtra, would have been particularly useful to those who were illiterate or semiliterate. The thick paper and relatively rough handwriting may also indicate that this item was intended for personal use.

Full title:
Chapter 25 of the Lotus Sutra 妙法蓮花經觀世音菩薩普門品第卄五 (Miaofa lianhua jin Guanshiyin Pusa pumen pin di er shi wu)
c. 10th century
Booklet / Manuscript
Held by
British Library

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