The Four Exalted Brothers
According to The Clear Mirror of the Royal Genealogies (Gyalrab Salwai Melong) attributed to Sakyapa Sonam Gyaltsen (1312-1375 CE), the great Tibetan Emperor Songtsen Gampo (617-47 CE) decided that he had to make various statues of his yidam (tutelary deity) to be of benefit to sentient beings within his realm.
While he was in meditation, the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas revealed a pure vision to him. In the vision he was shown a ‘self-arising’ Avalokiteshvara statue made of sandalwood, located in Southern India. This was significant to the emperor as Avalokiteshvara was his yidam or personal meditational Buddha. At this point, it is said that a monk crowned with Buddha Amitabha on top of his head, emanated from the hair between the emperor’s eyebrows and was given the name Akaramatishila. This monk was dispatched to retrieve this statue, which he found in the form of an eleven-faced Avalokiteshvara. He brought the statue back to Tibet and presented it up to the emperor who was very pleased. Immediately, a thought came to the emperor that there was yet another ‘hidden’ emanated statue that would be of tremendous benefit to generations of sentient beings.
The emperor prayed to his yidam and a spectacle unfolded before his very eyes. From the chest of the self-arisen statue, a ray of light emerged and the emperor followed it with his eyes. The light pointed in the direction of the border between Nepal and India and he saw a white sandalwood tree within a dense forest. The tree was shining brightly and from it, the four self-arising brothers appeared. Hence, Akaramatishila was dispatched once more, this time to find the sandalwood tree. After several attempts, the monk finally found the sandalwood tree.
After combing through the dense forest of Southern Nepal for a long, the monk came across a herdsman who was tending many cows in a forest. That evening, the cows’ owner said to the herdsman, “You have been milking my cow!” The herdsman denied it and said that he had not done so. He explained that the cows were left to wander in the forest by themselves. The next day, the herdsman, accompanied by the owner, followed the cows to investigate the matter. They beheld the cows circumambulating the sandalwood tree that radiated light. The milk flowed from the owner’s cow, from her udders, and nourished the tree. The spectacle amazed the two of them. They told the monk and he realised that this was the tree that he had been searching for.
As he was about to cut the tree down, the tree spoke. The upper part of the trunk said to cut slowly as he would go to the settlement of Mangyul (near Kyirong). This self-arisen statue would later be known as the Noble Wati. Then a sound emerged from a portion under Noble Wati and said that he would go to the city of Yam-bu (or Yam-bha) Ya-‘gal. This self-arisen statue would be known as Noble U-Gang. Then another voice emerged from under him. The voice said that he would go to the border of India and Nepal. This self-arisen statue would be known as Noble Jamali. Finally, the fourth voice said that he would go to the snowy peaks of Tibet in order to be Emperor Songtsen Gampo’s yidam. This self-arisen statue would become be known as Noble Lokeshvara of Potala. Collectively, these four statues are known as The Four Exalted Brothers.
The Four Exalted Brothers are in the form of the standing Kharsapani Avalokiteshvara, which is identified by having one face and two arms. The left hand is in the mudra of teaching the Dharma while holding a lotus blooming at his side, and the right hand is in the mudra of transcendent giving or generosity. Thus, the emanated monk returned to Tibet with the statue of the Noble Lokeshvara and Noble Wati. It is for this reason that the Emperor Songtsen Gampo is credited with bringing the worship of Avalokiteshvara or Chenrezig to Tibet.
The Noble Wati
The Noble Wati Zangpo is commonly known as the Jowo of Kyirong. This old statue is the famous sandalwood image of Avalokiteshvara in the form of Kharsapani, and is one of the two Four Exalted Brothers brought over from Nepal by Akaramatishila at the order of Emperor Songtsen Gampo. It was installed at Kyirong and a temple was built to enshrine this sacred image. It was said that the presence of the statue quelled the region of a raging pestilence at the time.
This famous statue of Noble Wati of Kyirong is commonly represented as a background element in paintings of Sakya Pandita when he is depicted in debate posture. This thangka commemorates Sakya Pandita when he defeated an Indian teacher by the name of Harinanda in front of the statue of Noble Wati of Kyirong. Sakya Pandita was the first Tibetan master to achieve this feat. This is remarkable considering the reputation of Indian masters as formidable debaters.
Noble Wati of Kyirong is also said to have spoken several times to the temple caretakers and to have given prophecies of the future. Over the centuries, this sacred statue became an object of veneration. People used to come from all over central Tibet to seek its blessing. After the fall of Tibet, Tibetan refugees took the statue from its temple in Kyirong. It was said that the idea to remove the statue came from a dream a man had. He was staying at the temple for the night. The man said he dreamt that the Noble Wati spoke to him and told him that if he was brought to safety, he would be around for many years to come but if left at the temple, the statue would not last more than another year or two. Today, the Noble Wati is in the possession of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama in Dharamsala in India.
The Noble Lokeshvara of Potala
The north side of the Great Western Hall in the Red Palace is the location of one of the oldest and most important chapels. This chapel, along with the Dharma cave below it, dates from the 7th century CE and is called Phakpa Lhakhang. The chapel enshrines the ancient jewel encrusted statue of Avalokiteshvara and two of his attendants. This is the Noble Lokeshvara of the Potala that was once worshipped by the Emperor Songtsen Gampo and now an object of veneration to hundreds of Tibetan pilgrims. On the floor below the chapel is a low and dark passage that leads into the Dharma Cave where Songsten Gampo is believed to have studied Buddhism and meditated. In these caves are the famous statues of Songsten Gampo, his wives, his chief minister and Thonmi Sambhota, the scholar who developed Tibetan script.
The Noble U-Gang
In Nepal, there is a temple in which an image of Avalokiteshvara is enshrined and is known as the Noble U-Gang. In Nepal, the Noble U-Gang is known by other names such as Bungadeo or Karunamaya by the Newars along with other exalted names like Lokeshvara and Karujuju. To the Hindus, he is known as the famous Rato Macchendranath, the teacher of Gorakhnath (a famous Hindu saint) and he was a siddha-mendicant who is popularly worshipped in the Kathmandu Valley.
The Noble U-Gang is officially enshrined in Bungamati or Bungadeo for half a year and for the other half of the year, the statue is brought over to Tabahal in Patan. The Noble U-Gang is hewn from sandalwood and has detachable arms. The image is in the simple posture of standing, covered with clay and painted red annually. There is a religious festival called a jatra in which the image is paraded around town as a blessing for all who witness the procession.
The Tibetans know Macchendranath as the Mahasiddha Minapa from Abhayadana Sri’s Legends of the Eighty Four Mahasiddhas. Minapa was a Bengali fisherman who on one fateful day, hooked a giant sea creature that put up a great struggle. In the end, the creature pulled him into the ocean’s depths and swallowed him. The fisherman lived in the fish’s belly for twelve years. One day, the sea creature swam close to Mahadeva who had settled himself at the bottom of the ocean in order to teach Umadevi, his consort, a secret Dharma. Consequently, Minapa overheard the instruction and began to practice in the belly of the creature. The sea creature was eventually caught and the yogin was liberated. Minapa found that he had gained siddhi. In the Indian tradition of the siddhas, Macchendranath is also identified with the Mahasiddha Luipa, the fish-gut eater or Minapa. Unfortunately, no authoritative biographical texts survives that could tie the Indian, Tibetan and Nepali cultural traditions together to form a coherent picture. However, the identification of Rato Macchendranath as the Noble U-Gang of the Four Exalted Brothers is the closest identification of this statue.
The Noble Jamali
According to a lama of Kojarnath, the fourth of the Four Exalted Brothers is the sacred statue of the Noble Jamali. The local Newari legends attribute King Gunakamadeva with the worship of Jamali. This king was a contemporary of both King Amsuvarman and the Tibetan Emperor Songtsen Gampo.
In the Newari legends, it was mentioned that a king from the West stole the Noble Jamali. From the 10th to the 13th centuries, the Western Malla kings ruled over Kojarnath and the Noble Jamali was most likely taken hostage by one of the Malla Kings and later reclaimed by the city state kingdoms of the valley. In fact, there were other cases of sacred images being stolen by invading Tibetans in the Vamsavali. The Noble Jamali reappeared in Kathmandu during the reign of Yaksa Malla (1428-1480 CE) and it was recorded that he was found in a well or a field in Jamal, just south of the present royal palace.
It was probably in Yaksa Malla’s time that Jamali was enshrined in Jana Bahal, which was officially known as Kanaka Caitya Mahavihara near Indra Chowk. The Noble Jamali is a plastered statue of Padmapani Lokesvara, white in colour. The Newars call the Noble Jamali, Jama Deo or Karunamaya Lokeswar. However, the Hindus claim that this statue is actually the patron saint of Kathmandu, Seto Macchendranath. The Noble Jamali wears the Bodhisattva crown and ornaments, and the figure of Buddha Amitabha is painted prominently in his hair. Enshrined on his right and left are the White and Green Taras. The Noble Jamali as Seto Macchendranath is honoured yearly in a religious festival in which the statue is paraded around town.
For more interesting information:
- 84 Mahasiddhas
- Avalokiteshvara, Turkey Swamp, Marc & Me
- Pilgrimage Through India & Nepal
- Nepal is the Land of Spirituality, Beauty and Mystery
- Nepal Pilgrimage Full Videos
- Why is Buddha Amitabha So Prevalent in China?
Please support us so that we can continue to bring you more Dharma:
If you are in the United States, please note that your offerings and contributions are tax deductible. ~ the tsemrinpoche.com blog team