Every Lunar New Year, I work with a local bookbinder to produce seed syllable prints to gift my friends. This year’s card invoked Avalokiteshvara, perhaps the most widely venerated of all bodhisattvas and the principal speaker of the Heart Sutra. Avalokiteshvara’s qualities and powers are extolled by the Buddha in chapter 25 of the Lotus Sutra. Primary among these is the ability to take an infinite variety of forms—from the most exalted to the humblest; human, nonhuman, female, male, other—to help sentient beings. Avalokiteshvara is therefore represented with a wide array of iconography, is called with different mantras, and is invoked with a number of seed syllables: here, VŪ, written in Siddham script.

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