This article was originally published in Feng Shui Times on 29 June 2001.
Millions of years ago, there was a wise teacher called Amala-Surya-Tathagata. The king who rules the kingdom had a daughter named Da Hui. One day Princess Da Hui knelt down before Amalas-Surya-Tathagata and asked him to transform her into a man, so that she could achieve to Bodhisattvahood.
The teacher replied, “So long as you aspire to be the mind of supreme benevolence and accomplish wholesome merits, you will be able to turn into a man.”
Upon hearing this, Da Hui instantly became a man. He thus renounced the world and began his practice. After a long time, he became Manjusri Bodhisattva.
Who is Manjusri?
Gautama Buddha had two close assistants – Samanthabhadra on His right and Manjusri on His left. Manjusri had attained Buddhahood many times. At present He bears the title “Spiritual Buddha Who Joyfully Cares for the Jewels”, and in the future (which will be thousands of years to come) He will be the ‘Buddha Universally Revealed”. It was stated in the Lotus Sutra that Manjusri had trained and disciplined many Bodhisattvas. The introductory chapter of Lotus Sutra stated that Gautama Buddha was once a disciple of Manjusri before He lived the life in which He became a Buddha.
Manjusri – meaning “Gentle and Sweet Glory” is the most popular Buddha embodying transcendental wisdom (full Sanskrit name is Manjusrikumara). Known as the royal prince of the Buddha’s realm, He appears in various forms to release beings from their suffering. Theravada Buddhism portrays Manjusri as a youth seated upon a pale blue lotus which holds a sun and moon disc. The discs signify that He is supported by blissful wisdom and loving compassion. He holds a double-edged sword that severs ignorance in His right hand, and the Perfection of Wisdom Sutra to his heart in his left. His golden yellow image symbolizes wisdom and knowledge. Manjusri is adorned with 6 types of ornaments (necklaces, anklets etc) which represents his fulfillment of the Six Perfections – Generosity, Morality, Patience, Joyful Energy, Meditation and Wisdom.
Manjusri is often depicted seated on a green lion. This indicates that the wild mind, as wild as the king of the jungle can only be calmed through meditation. His wisdom has indeed inspired many monks, practitioners and laymen to overcome all obstacles to attain peace of mind. Some devotees consider Him the god of science and believe when He preaches the Law, every demon is conquered and every shred of evil that might deceive mankind is dispersed.
On hand to attend to Manjusri are the Five Messengers and the Eight Youths. Each of them carries a page that sings His praise and virtues. Indeed, to the Mahayana Buddhists, Manjusri is relied upon to overcome ignorance and to attain the supreme wisdom to be of the highest benefit to all beings.
Research and excavations in various parts of India and China showed that there were not many followers of Manjusri before the 7th century. Figures and texts recorded more of Gautama Buddha and Maitreya Buddha, who is believed to be the next Buddha to descend upon Earth (again, after thousands of years). The famous Hsuan Tsang (7th century) during his journeys noted many images and carvings of Gautama and Maitreya Buddha. The only referance of Manjusri was a single shrine dedicated to Him at Manthuraa. This lack of details about Manjusri is possibly because such figures were not very distinguished symbolically at that time. Hsuan Tsang also recorded more of popular Buddhas and investigated only famous legends. However by the end of the 8th century, there was a healthy Manjusri cult in China, thanks to a mountain called Wu Tai Shan in which Manjusri is said to have appeared before common beings.
The Five-Terrace Mountain (Wu Tai Shan)
In the Shanxi Province in China (near the borders of Hebei), there stands a magnificent mountain known as ‘Wu Tai Shan’. This grand and majestic mountain with 5 flat-topped peaks (which brings the name Five-Terrace Mountain) rises about 3000m above sea level. Today it is a very popular tourist and pilgrimage spot with a prosperous and flourishing Buddhist center.
Wu Tai Shan is seen as the earthly abode of Manjusri since the 5th century. This is because there are reports and written texts of His presence on the mountain, appearing to many monks and travelers. So widespread were the stories of His appearances that by the middle of the Tang Dynasty, it became an international pilgrimage center. During the Qing Dynasty, the famous Emperor Kangxi was a frequent visitor of the mountain.
Manjusri appeared to various people in a few forms – in the form of a child, a beggar, an old man, a glowing cloud or a bright shining light. The earliest known story of His appearance was to an Indian monk, Buddhapalita who made a trip to Wu Tai Shan in 676CE in hope of seeing Manjusri. Upon reaching the mountain, Buddhapalita prostrated on the ground and prayed to Manjusri. When he got up on his feet again, he saw an old man approaching him. The old man asked if Buddhapalita had brought along a certain scripture that can help ease the evil committed by Buddhists in China. He had not, and the old man told him in order to see Manjusri, he had to return to India and retrieve the scripture. Happy with gratitude, Buddhapalita bowed his head in respect and when he looked up, the old man had vanished. When he made his second trip to Wu Tai Shan with the scriptures (689CE) Manjusri revealed Himself to him again and showed him the mountain with its secrets.
Since then Manjusri appeared to many pilgrimages, such as Tao-I who related his experience to emperor Hsuan Tsung. The emperor was impressed and awed by the story that he funded the initial construction of the Golden Pavilion monastery on the mountain. The monastery was completed by the end of the 8th century thanks to the efforts of an Indian monk, Amoghavajra who received more funds from emperor Tai Tsung. A Japanese monk named Ennin stayed for over 2 months on Wu Tai Shan in 840 CE and recorded his wonderful experiences with the manifestations of Manjusri.
In new texts discovered a few years later, it stated that the Buddha had predicted that Manjusri, the God of Wisdom would reside at Wu Tai Shan. It is also believed that He appeared during a time of darkness of Buddhism, where ignorance prevailed, thus causing endless suffering and wrong propaganda of the Dharma. Hence by revealing Himself, Manjusri in a way rescued Buddhism from its decline with His Special Teaching deemed fitting for the circumstances at that time.
Manjusri will become Maitreya Buddha’s teacher in future. Maitreya is slated to become the 5th Buddha to descend upon Earth in this kalpa.
Praise for Manjusri
“Wonderful Auspicious” is replete with great kindness.
Mother of Enlightened One Throughout the Three Periods of time.
His wisdom is beyond measurement.
His left hand brandishes a sharp sword that severs all afflictions.
And his right hand holds the blue lotus which reflects the mark of His virtues,
A peacock and lion – spirit acts as His carriage.
Poisonous dragons and fierce beasts are subdued and become pure and cool.
The Pure Youth with The Five Topknots – This is a provisional manifestation.
Originally, He is the Happy Treasury of the Thus Come One.
Homage to Manjusri Bodhisattva of Great Wisdom, who dwells in the Golden World of Pure Cool Mountain.”
Manjusri is known as ‘Wen Pu’sa’ in Chinese and ‘Monju’ in Japan. The mantra to chant for Him is “Om Arapachana Dhih”.