Mañjuśrī

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Mañjuśrī as the embodiment of wisdom. He holds a sword in his right hand; in his left hand he holds a lotus flower (by the stem) upon which rests a volume of the Prajnaparamita.

Mañjuśrī (T. ’jam-dpal; C. Wenshushili 文殊師利) is a bodhisattva and meditation deity in the Mahayana who is associated with transcendent wisdom (prajnaparamita).

Mañjuśrī is depicted in many forms, but in his most well-known form, he is shown holding a sword in one hand and in the other he holds a lotus flower on which rests a volume of the Prajnaparamita.[2] In this context, the sword represents the wisdom which cuts through ignorance (avidyā), and the text represents study and learning.[3]

His name in Sanskrit means “Gentle Glory.”[2][4][5]

Mañjuśrī is also known by following the epithets:

In China he is called Wen-shu Shih-li, in Japan Monju, and in Tibet Jampal.[4]

In Mahāyāna and trantric literature

Manjushri statue. Lhalung Gompa, Spiti Valley, India

Mañjuśrī is a major figure in the Mahāyāna sūtras,[2][8] where he appears as a bodhisattva and disciple of the Gautama Buddha. In this context he often appears often as an interlocutor of the Buddha.[8]

According to Damien Keown, Mañjuśrī is first referred to in early Mahāyāna sūtras such as the Prajnaparamita sutras and through this association, he came to symbolize the embodiment of transcendent wisdom (prajñāparamita).[6] According to the Princeton Dictionary, Mañjuśrī first comes to prominence in the Vimalakirti Sutra, where is the only one among the Buddha's disciples who has the courage to debate with the layman Vimalakirti.[2] He also plays important roles in the Lotus Sutra and the Avatamsaka Sutra.[2]

Mañjuśrī is also an important figure in tantric texts such as the Mañjuśrīmūlakalpa and the Mañjuśrīnāmasamgīti.[2] In this context he appears as a deity, or buddha, who embodies wisdom (prajna). He is sometimes said to embody the wisdom of all the buddhas.

In tantric texts, Mañjuśrī sometimes appears in wrathful form as Yamāntaka ("Slayer of Yama").[2]

Mantra

An important mantra associated with Mañjuśrī is:[2][9]

  • Sankrit: oṃ a ra pa ca na dhīḥ
  • Tibetan: oṃ a ra pa tsa na dhīḥ (T. om a ra pa tsa na d+hIH ༀ་ཨ་ར་པ་ཙ་ན་དྷཱི༔)

This mantra is based on the Arapacana alpha-syllabary of the Kharoṣṭhī script.[10] This syllabary was most widely used for the Gāndhārī language but also appears in some Sanskrit texts.

In the Tibetan tradition, reciting this mantra is believed to enhance wisdom and improve one's skills in debating, memory, writing, and other literary abilities.

Further information:

In different traditions

A painting of Mañjuśrī from the Yulin Caves of Gansu, China.

In China

China, Mañjuśrī came to be associated with the sacred mountain of Wutaishan, where the bodhisattva Mañjuśrī is said to reside.

Buddhabhadra’s early fifth-century translation of the Avataṃsakasūtra is the first text that seemed to connect Mañjuśrī with Wutaishan (Five-Terrace Mountain) in China’s Shaanxi province. Wutaishan became an important place of pilgrimage in East Asia beginning at least by the Northern Wei dynasty (424–532), and eventually drew monks in search of a vision of Mañjuśrī from across the Asian continent, including Korea, Japan, India, and Tibet.[2]

Tibet

In Tibetan Buddhism, Mañjuśrī is an important deity in the Vajrayana, the Tibetan form of tantra. In particular, the Mañjuśrīnāmasamgīti (Chanting the Names of Manjushri) is one of the most highly revered tantric texts in this tradition. The mantra of Mañjuśrī is recited especially by those engaged in the study of Buddhist texts.

Nepal

In Nepal, Mañjuśrī is associated with the famous stupa at Swayambhunath. According to the Nepali Buddhist chronical Swayambhu Purana, the Kathmandu Valley was once a lake. Mañjuśrī visited the site on a pilgrimage and saw a lotus flower in the center of the lake, which emitted brilliant radiance. In order to get closer to the lotus at the center of the lake, he used his sword to cut a gorge in one end of the lake and allow the water to drain out. The place where the lotus flower settled became the great Swayambhunath stupa, and the valley thus became habitable.

Gallery

Notes

  1. Mipham, A Garland of Jewels, "Introduction"
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 Buswell & Lopez 2014, s.v. Mañjuśrī.
  3. Harding, Sarah. Machik's Complete Explanation (Tsadra) (p. 283). Shambhala.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. "Mañjuśrī". Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed 27 September 2023.
  5. Lopez Jr., Donald S. (2001). The Story of Buddhism: A Concise Guide to its History and Teachings. New York, USA: HarperSanFrancisco. ISBN 0-06-069976-0 (cloth) P.260.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Keown, Damien, et al. (2003). A Dictionary of Buddhism. Oxford University Press. p.172.
  7. Kumarabhuta, Wisdom Library (wisdomlib.org)
  8. 8.0 8.1 84000.png The Dwelling Place of Mañjuśrī (Glossary)
  9. [1] - Visible Mantra's website
  10. Buswell & Lopez 2014, s.v. arapacana.

Further reading