Bodhisattvas are semi-earthly beings who temporarily relinquish their journey to nirvana in order to help sufferers. As they have not yet left this life, they are always shown wearing earthly clothing and in the same posture as Buddha Sakyamuni. They wear splendid clothes and their bodies are covered with jewellery and decorations, an allusion to the vanity of this life.
Of the many bodhisattvas who are revered for their closeness to the real world, four deserve special attention. Guanyin, the goddess of mercy and fertility is frequently portrayed in Chinese art and usually with a thousand arms encircling her body.
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An eye on the palm of each hand enables her to comprehend the endlessness of human suffering in this world.
Maitreya or Buddha of the Future, whose reincarnation is expected at the end of the next millennium, Travel map in China is shown seated on a throne as the god of contemplation with the wheel of truth or a flowering branch.
Wenshu is the master of the word and wisdom and Dizang the lord of hell who decides how souls are to be reincarnated.
The legendary Yellow Emperor who lived c. 2500 b.c. and is venerated as the god of architecture and roads, was originally associated with the cosmological teachings of antiquity but later found favour with Taoists. He is regarded as the inventor of the wheel and the boat and he helped develop early ceramic processes and also some advanced agricultural methods. He is also credited with advancing certain disciplines such as astronomy and mineralogy.