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Buddhist Deity: Manjushri Main Page

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There are two main types, or divisions, for the subject of Manjushri:
- Non-iconic (narrative based): a student of the Buddha from Mahayana literature
- Iconic (meditational deity): based on the Tantra (Vajrayana) literature

Manjushri (Tibetan: Jampalyang, Jampaiyang (rje btsun 'jam pa'i dbyangs) is a popular Buddhist figure commonly represented in art. He first arises from the Mahayana Sutra literature of Northern Buddhism where he is regarded as a bodhisattva - the bodhisattva of wisdom. In artistic depictions these forms are non-iconic in appearance which means that the iconography is not fixed. Manjushri will still have one face and two arms. His typical emblem is a Prajnaparamita sutra book held in the left hand or supported by a flower blossom. A sword is often held in the right hand. In art he is typically depicted in a relaxed posture, in front of a temple or portrayed in narrative settings.

In the Tantric literature of Northern Buddhism Manjushri is seen as a completely enlightened Buddha with a great number of manifestations and appearances spanning all four classes of Tantra, simple and complex in form. From the Eleven Figurative Forms Manjushri is represented in Peaceful, Semi-peaceful, Wrathful and Animal Featured. All of the Tantric forms are Iconic in Appearance. This means that the descriptive forms are static in appearance. The iconography is set as to the appearance type, colour, number of faces, arms and the attributes held in the hands along with the retinue figures.

A mandala of Dharmadhatu Vagishvara in the Rubin Museum collection presents a large number of forms both peaceful and wrathful - twenty-three in number not counting the accompanying retinue figures. The Manjushri Lhakang temple in Sakya, Tibet, depicts many different forms of Manjushri. The early text known as the One Hundred Sadhanas, or Bari Gyatsa in brief, describes fifteen forms of Manjushri. The Ocean of Sadhanas text describes twenty-five forms.

The various forms of Manjushri as a meditational deity are derived from the textual sources of the early Tantras namely the Manjushri Mulakalpa, Siddhaikavira, Mayajala and Namasangiti Tantras. The Anuttarayoga meditational forms are derived from the Vajrabhairava, Rakta Yamari, Krishna Yamari, Vajrahridaya Lamkara, and Vajrapanjara Tantras.

Jeff Watt 2-2000 [updated 2-2016, 4-2017]