Himalayan Art Resources

Item: Manjushri (Bodhisattva & Buddhist Deity)

འཇམ་དཔལ་དབྱངས། 文殊师利菩萨
(item no. 68889)
Origin Location Tibet
Date Range 1200 - 1299
Lineages Buddhist
Material Ground Mineral Pigment on Cotton
Collection Private
Notes about the Central Figure

Classification: Deity

Interpretation / Description

Manjushri as the large central figure with white Avalokiteshvara standing on the viewer's left and green Vajrapani on the right. (See the Manjushri Main Page, Outline Page and Forms of Manjushri Page).

Manjushri is orange in colour with one face and two hands. The proper right hand is extended across the knee in gesture of generosity while the left holds the stem of a blue utplala flower to the heart. The utpala blossoms next to the ear and supports a text of the Prajnaparamita Sutra wrapped in a red covering. He is adorned with a crown, ornaments and silks of various colour, seated in vajra posture with the right leg folded over the left. The seat below is a moon disc atop a single lotus of blue and red petals above a lion and elephant supported throne placed on a foundation of idealized blue stone. An ornate temple architecture rises behind Manjushri as the throne back (torana) with two columns decorated with elephants and a blue Sharabha creatures.

At the viewer's left is the standing figure of Avalokiteshvara, white in colour, holding the stem of a white lotus flower at the heart; blossoming next to the ear. On the right side is Vajrapani, green in colour, holding a vajra scepter in the right hand and a vajra handled bell in the left. Both are adorned with crowns, jewels and silks typical of bodhisattva figures. They both stand on a moon disc atop a red lotus seat with thick colourful stems flowers and buds.

In the top register are the Seven Buddhas of the Past: Vipashyin, Shikhin, Vishvabhu, Krakuchanda, Kanakamuni, Kashyapa, Shakyamuni. They each stand looking towards the middle of the register, each performing a different gesture with the two hands. At the far right is a bodhisattva figure, orange in colour, likely to be the bodhisattva Maitreya of the Mahayana sutras - the future Buddha. At the center of the register, inside the top of an architectural temple structure, adorned with ribbons, is a small figure of a standing buddha making the bodhigarbha (or vajra mudra) gesture with the two hands at the heart. This image is possibly a repeat of Shakyamuni Buddha making the gesture that would later become a defining characteristic of the symbolic buddha of the Tantric systems - Vairochana - the universal buddha.

At the upper right and left of the central Manjushri are two smaller figures of Manjushri, one red and one white. They both hold a sword of wisdom in the upraised right hand and a Prajnaparamita text in the left held at the heart. The red form can be either Stira Chakra Manjushri or the Kriya Tantra form known by the name of a famous praise written by five hundred panditas of Nalanda monastery university in Bihar, India.

"He whose intellect is free of the clouds of the two obscurations, completely clear like the sun, seeing, however many all meanings as they are, holds a book to his heart.

Discoursing with sixty separate melodious tones and a love for all the hosts of beings tormented by suffering, covered with the darkness of ignorance in the prison of existence, like for an only child.

Roaring loudly like a dragon to wake from the two afflictions, to free from the shackles of karma, and to clear the darkness of ignorance; severing the seedlings of misery, however many, holding a sword.

Pure from the beginning and reaching the tenth stages end, a complete body of qualities; principal form of the Buddha's sons.

Adorned with one hundred and twelve ornaments, clearing the darkness of my intellect; homage to Manjushri-ghosha."
[Five Hundred Panditas Prayer. Translated by Jeff Watt, Vancouver, Canada. May 1984].

The bottom register depicts five forms of Manjushri. Beginning at the left side an orange Manjushri rides a lion, followed by a four armed form, a six armed form seated in vajra posture, another six armed form seated in a relaxed posture and finally a red form with two hands holding a sword and a vajra scepter, riding a peacock.

The back of the painting has three basic inscription types. First (1) are the three letters written in red for the central deity and black for each of the others. The letters are OM, AH, HUM, representing the enlightened body, speech and mind of the deity. The letters are written in Tibetan but represent Sanskrit seed syllables (bija). This is followed by a (2) short verse written in the Tibetan language having been translated from Sanskrit or Pali, composed by Shakyamuni Buddha, exhorting the monks and nuns to practice patient fortitude and exertion on the path to achieving enlightenment and also to avoid causing any harm to others. The third (3) inscription is known as the 'Ye Dharma' mantra or Mantra of Dependent Arising, written in Tibetan letters but the words remaining in the Sanskrit language. All three inscriptions are quite standard for blessing or sanctifying a painting.

Numbered & Greyscaled:
A. Shakyamuni Buddha (?)
1. Manjushri, Vajra Siddha Kavira (orange)
2. Avalokiteshvara (white)
3. Vajrapani (green)
4. Vipashyin Buddha
5. Shikhin Buddha
6. Vishvabhu Buddha
7. Krakuchanda Buddha
8. Kanakamuni Buddha
9. Kashyapa Buddha
10. Shakyamuni Buddha
11. Maitreya Bodhisattva (orange, standing)
12. Manjushri, Stira Chakra (red)
13. Manjushri, Prajna Chakra - or - Vidhyadhara Pitaka Samkshepta (white)
14. Manjushri, Vadi Raja (two arms)
15. Manjushri, Namasangiti (four arms)
16. Manjushri, Namasangiti (six arms)
17. Manjushri, Manjuvajra (six arms)
18. Manjushri, Manjuvajra (red, two arms, riding a peacock)

[Previously offered by Rossi & Rossi of London in the 1990s and Christie's, New York, in 2011].

Jeff Watt 12-2010

Concerning praises (stotra) to Manjushri, there is another story coming out of Nalanda Monastery allegedly dating back to the 8th or 9th century. The story relates how all of the scholars of Nalanda were summoned together, approximately five hundred, and were asked to compose and write down the best possible praise in worship of Manjushri the bodhisattva of wisdom and an important meditational deity (ishtadevata) for developing wisdom, knowledge and eloquence. The next morning, from five hundred scholars came the exact same praise (translated above) which became famous as the 'Five Hundred Panditas Prayer.' However from one lone pandita came a different praise which is found translated below. That scholar named Vidyakokila went on to become one of the Eighty-four Mahasiddhas. (Jeff Watt)

In Praise of Manjushri

By the Indian Pandita Vidyakokila

Out of the deep and vast sky of cognizable things, he, with rays of light unfolding from the mandala of wisdom, dispels all the clouds of ignorant darkness of an infinitude of living beings, I bow to the Lord Manjushri.

Holding fast, from this day through all lifetimes, as I go for refuge to no one but thee, though by the force of karma into the dance of the six modes of existence I am born - secure me from the fear of samsara Manjushri.

When I give up the components of this present life, parting with every kind, loving kinsman and friend, then as the fearful, ravening lord of death seizes - keep me from the dread of Yama, Manjushri.

By the power of evil karma gathered since beginningless time, by the wind of sorrow in the bardo of becoming I may be carried away into the abyss of painful realms hard to endure - seal the door to the wind of sorrows Manjushri.

At the time when the bardo consciousness is reborn - going well beyond the eight places of restless existence, ensure an auspicious rebirth in a pure race that bears the banner of victory of the teaching of the Sage, Manjushri.

In that future birth, having gained a body blessed with opportunities, and made beautiful by the seven excellent attributes of heavenly life, provide that I may meet with a holy friend who upholds the Dharma rightly, Manjushri.

After I have rightly understood the oceans of well-spoken doctrine through that holy friend, compassionate and skilled in means, bestow upon me the discerning wisdom, of the ability to teach others, Manjushri.

In every lifetime, bestow upon me, renunciation of all possessions for the sake of others only, devoid of avarice meditation that leaves off unsteadiness, and the remainder of the six transcendent virtues, Manjushri.

Cooling the fevers of worldly existence, the excellent snows on the face of the snow mount of Holy Teachings I aspire to see, yet in the swamp of vacillating laziness I am sinking - in compassion swiftly take hold of me, Manjushri.

Embarking on the way of profound vision, I long to follow the path of perfect emancipation yet wretchedly I am bound by the fetters of samsaras round - cut the bonds of worldly attachment, Manjushri.

Abandoning the blue jasmine garden of selfish calm I desire to look upon the lotus park of the Conquerors of the great wave, still my mind is dimmed by the darkness of not knowing - remove the shroud of ignorance, Manjushri.

In brief, establish all sentient creatures and me, in the ocean of Holy Doctrine. For the sake of wandering beings become a wish-fulfilling jewel, the source of all they desire, Manjushri.

Manjushri, by the power of this prayer to thee, to rescue from the ocean of existence all sentient beings, with the great ship of the twin merits, perfectly pure - may I also become like thee Manjushri.

['In Praise of Manjushri' by the Indian Pandita Vidyakokila. Translated into English by Sonam Tenzin/Jared Rhoton. India, early 1970s]

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