Manjushri, a deity of metaphysical knowledge, played a very important role among Buddhist monks in the 4th-5th centuries AD.
Mahayana practitioners believe that he is one of the great Bodhisattvas. In fact, he has been identified as the most important bodhisattva in Mahāyāna literature, with the Prajñāpāramitā sūtras being some of the earliest references to this bodhisattva.
Manjushri is considered the patron bodhisattva of wisdom and education, which are both seen as means to reach enlightenment. In Mahayana or Vajrayana Buddhist temples, Mañjuśrī is the next deity after Avalokiteshvara.
He is a bodhisattva who is youthful, a serene and enlightened being, the manifestation of the wisdom of all the Buddhas.
The name Manjushri refers to one who expresses himself in a gentle manner. His name literally means “Gentle Glory” in Sanskrit, and he is considered to be the embodiment of divine intelligence.
He is also known as the
“Bodhisattva of Insight” for his ability to observe the true nature of reality.
It is said that those who worship Manjushri obtain knowledge, good memory, intelligence, resilience, and eloquence.
It is also believed that full knowledge can only be obtained by doing his sadhanas or chanting his mantras. Besides facilitating the incomprehensible aspects of knowledge, he is also a patron of astrology.
In tantric or Vajrayana Buddhism Buddhism, he is considered a yidam.
He is also known as “Jampelyang” in Tibetan Buddhism, a name which is often translated as “the Buddha of wisdom”.
He exemplifies the promotion of harmony and understanding among all beings and the fearless proclamation of the teaching and the truth.
Manjushri in Chinese, Tibetan, Japanese and Nepalese Buddhism
Buddhist deity Manjushri is revered by Chinese, Tibetan, Japanese, Indian, Nepali and other Buddhist communities in various shapes and forms, e.g., Dharmadhatu Bagishwar, Dharmachakra Mañjuśrī, Namasangiti Mañjuśrī, Mañjuśrīkumārabhūta, Mañjughoṣa, and Mañjusvāmi.
Manjushri’s name (in China, Wenshu, in Japan Monju) appears in the Guhyasamāja-tantra, written around the third century AD, or even earlier in the Aryamanjushrimulkalpa.
There are many references to him in later Buddhist texts. There are references to him in travelogues of people like Fa-Hien, Hiuen Tsang, It-Singh, etc. In the Namasangiti, the original Buddha is identified as Bodhisattva Manjushri.
A Chinese Buddhist legend states that Gautama Buddha instructed Bodhisattva Manjushri to teach the good morals to the common people of China. The Swayambhu Purana also describes Bodhisattva Manjushri as one of the greatest devotees.
In the Swayambhu Purana, there are many more fascinating stories about him. Bodhisattva Manjushri is said to be responsible for Nepal’s culture and civilization in these tales.
One legend says that Manjushri gave the Kathmandu valley its first inhabitants by establishing Manjupattan city.
According to some, he preached Buddhism in Nepal as a monk. He is also known to be the god of agriculture, the architect of the spiritual world, and the god of science.
Manjushri is worshiped with great pomp in Nepal since the first day of the year is dedicated to him.
The Statues of Bodhisattva Mañjuśrī
He has the appearance of a prince and is usually depicted as a princely figure. There are many different depictions of him. He has often been depicted riding on a blue lion or sitting on lion skin.
Mañjuśrī usually has three faces and they are yellow, green and white. He has hexagonal features. He holds a sword, a baradamudra, and an arrow in his three hands on the right, and a book of wisdom, lotus, and a bow in his three hands on the left.
He removes all ignorance through his sword and gives transcendental knowledge through the book Prajnaparamita.
Manjushri is considered a source of transcendent wisdom.
Though he primarily appears in Mahayana scriptures, because of his association with wisdom it’s not uncommon for him to be seen in Vajrayana Buddhism or esoteric Buddhism as well.
In Vajrayāna Buddhism, Manjushri is a yidam or meditational deity, used by practitioners to achieve a state of awakening. Many types of Tantric and non-Tantric statues of Bodhisattva Manjushri exist.
Manjushri statues of non-Tantric design usually have two hands and one head. He is sometimes depicted sitting on a throne, sometimes seated on a lion, sometimes in meditation.
The Pure Land of Bodhisattva Mañjuśrī
The world where Manjushri lives is known as Vimala, which means “clean and pure.”
The Lotus Sutra says he has a pure land called Vimala (Japanese Yuima) in the East, which according to the Avatamsaka Sutra is one of the two best pure lands regardless of the past, present or future.
Mañjuśrī as a Protector of Buddha Families
Manjushri is one of the four great bodhisattvas, along with Avalokiteśvara, Samantabhadra and Kṣitigarbha but he is the one with the closest association with the Buddha of all of the bodhisattvas.
He belongs to the trinity of family protectors and the family he is responsible for protecting includes Shakyamuni, the first supreme Buddha. Mañjuśrī is also responsible for getting Nagaraja’s daughter to enlightenment in the Lotus Sūtra.
Mañjuśrī: Bodhisattva of Writing, Poetry and Teaching
Mañjuśrī is best known for his sword, which is said to have the power to cut through ignorance. His association with literature and learning is reflected in the many artistic depictions of him carrying a book.
Manjushri is considered to be the patron saint of writers, poets, and other creative individuals. He represents the clarity of the mind.
He has the wisdom and insight to discern what is ultimately true. He is the patron of all who engage in the quest for wisdom. So, he is the one responsible for helping creative people find inspiration in the everyday work and situations.
The Mantra of Bodhisattva Mañjuśrī
Mantra has been a very important part of Buddhism from its beginning.
For instance, Buddhist scripture, such as the Mañjuśrī-mūla-kalpa, records the mantra of Manjushri.
The mantra of bodhisattva Mañjuśrī is a metaphor for his wisdom. It uses the first five syllables of the Arapacana writing system. The Manjushri mantra does not translate into English literally, like many other mantras.
The mantra appears as follows:
Om A Ra Pa Ca Na Dhih
According to Large Sutra on Perfect Wisdom (Conze 1975), each syllable of the mantra means the following:
- Om – Its use at the beginning of many mantras can be considered to mean that “I am open to the truths that follow.” It is also a reflection of awareness of the surrounding universe.
- A – Is often used in praises of nature’s purity. In other words, even if you have an “produced” object, it was unproduced before; thus, its true nature is unproduced.
- Ra – Represents the ideal of being free from defilements.
- Pa – The idea is that all dharmas must be elaborated in the ultimate sense.
- Ca – Emergences and cessations cannot be fully understood since they hardly exist in the first place.
- Na – Although things may change their names, the true nature of them cannot be altered.
- Dhih – May be understood as “prayer” or “understanding.”