These compassionate activity-beings of the buddha-families are 8 in number. They can be thought of as "occupying" the intermediate directions of space, if we consider the transcendent buddhas who head the five Buddha Families as situated at the cardinal points of a mandala. There are three that function as family protectors (Tib. riksum gonpo) who are more prominent, they are: Avalokiteshvara, Vajrapani and Manjushri.
There are at least two different lists, and some variations in "attributes" which in iconography means characteristic implements (or sceptres.) Also, bodhisattvas are considered to be of various degrees of attainment or rank relating to their level (Skt. bhumi) on the 10-step path [some traditions give 13] towards buddhahood.
Mipham (1846-1912) lists:
Manjushri (Jampelyang) holds a blue utpala flower [like Green Tara's]
Vajrapani (Chana Dorje) - vajra
Avalokiteshvara (Chenresi) - white lotus
Maitreya (Jampa) - naga tree
Kshitigarbha (Sai Nyingpo) - jewel
(Sarva)Nivarana-vishvakambin - moon
Akashagarbha - [blazing]sword
Samantabhadra (Kuntuzangpo) - sun
He is the bodhisattva who emanated from the eye of Buddha Amitabha when he was moved to tears by the plight of sentient beings. In this form - an embodiment of compassion - he vowed not to return to buddhahood until he had liberated every single individual of all the realms of existence. He is said to have manifested in our era as Padmasambhava, and it is in reference to the legend of the manifestation of that Precious Teacher, Guru Rinpoche in the heart of a giant lotus that we say the famous 6-syllable mantra of Chenrezi: Om mani padme hum.
In the Tibetan way, it is pronounced : Om mani pehmeh hung! Inadequately translated as Hail to the jewel in the lotus, this mantra requires no special circumstances, and may be repeated at any time or place by anyone. It is an expression of compassion for all sentient [feeling] beings including oneself, and has the power to liberate anyone in any circumstance.
More about Avalokiteshvara, i.e. Chenresi.
He appears in the Saddharma Pundarika or Lotus Sutra along with Samantabhadra.
Samantabhadra's (Jangsem Kuntuzangpo) name means "All-good" after his appearance in the Gandavyuha in which he makes a set of vows accompanied by a vastly generous series of offerings. He holds a lotus with a golden wheel or the sun. For some Nyingmapa lineages, Samantabhadra plays a pre-eminent role.
Manjushri (Tib. Jampal yang) represents the faculty of discrimination (prajna) borne of knowledge and learning, and all 4 denominations do his practice(s.) As an embodiment of knowledge, his ritual is recited at the beginning of the day by monks and other students. Though in the Mipham description (at top) he holds an utpala flower, he is most usually depicted as raising a sword in his right hand and holding scriptures in his left; either seated on a throne or on an elephant.
The Sanskrit name Manjushri means "sweetly glorious" and an aspect associated with him and a great historical teacher is known as Manjughosha (the sweet-voiced.) An epithet is Vakishvara (Lord of Speech.) He is the patron bodhisattva of the Kadampa (ie. Gelugpa) denomination.
OM AH RA PA TSA NA DHIH! [In the Tibetan accent, TSA is sounded Cha]
According to the Manjushri sadhana, we repeat the DHIH as often as possible in the one, same breath while visualizing a golden-orange DHIH on our tongue from which millions of other DHIHs spring, to be swallowed and fill the body purifying all negative energy and stains, especially the shadow of ignorance. There are physical and subtle-body benefits to this, too.
The Manjushri mantra is believed to enhance various wisdoms -- of
explaining, debating, writing memory, and so on.
The seed syllable DHIH does have a meaning, though this may not always be the case with mantra sounds. DHIH is an extremely ancient aspect of magico-relation; in the context of the Rig Veda, it means vision as that preceding an intentional act of generation or creation.
Namasangiti (Chanting the Names) is the title of the tantric Praises to Manjushri and is also used to refer to this deity. There is a translation of the tantra The Manjushri Nama Sangiti by Alex Wayman (1985) with Sanskrit and Tibetan texts set side by side.
Jampal Tsanju (Tib.) is the designation for popular forms of Manjushri in which he is shown seated on a lotus in padmasana. He has one head and four hands holding a sword, Prajnaparamita (a book) and a bow and arrow. He is pink or white with one face and four hands. There is also a three-faced form. He smiles with his eyes half closed in meditation. The first pair of hands form abhaya mudra against the chest and the second pair either in anjali mudra (as if holding a bowl) or clasped over the crown.
There is also a form with six pairs of hands. The third right has a sword on the double lotus. The fourth pair is in tarpana mudra (a homage with hands as if pointing to shoulders). The fifth pair sprinkles nectar from the vessel and the sixth pair is in dhyana mudra (meditation.) The third left hand holds the short sword surmounted by a vajra.
There is a female form, as well.
Namsangiti form of Manjushri with two others.
Here, he is yellow having one face and four hands. He holds in
the first right a blue sword of wisdom licked with flame and in the left at his heart, he holds a pink utpala flower; the blossom at ear-level supports the Prajnaparamita, as above. In the lower pair of hands are a bow and arrow. On a multi-coloured lotus seat, he emanates pale yellow rays of light and also a green aura framed in dark green leaves and lotuses.
Before him is a dark blue pool with waterfowl, and a pink lotus supporting various offerings. But also, at bottom left is White Manjushri, with one face, two hands, the right is bestowing while the left is for the sutra. To the right is a standing blue-black Manjushri, with one face and two hands teaching, while holding stems of 2 lotuses bearing the sword and the Sutra.
Manjusri assumes the fierce blue-black bull-headed form of Yamantaka that defeats Yama, god of death: Once, a holy man, practicing meditation in a cave, was the unintentional witness of the slaughter of a stolen bull by two thieves. When they became aware of his presence, they immediately beheaded him too. To their terrified amazement, the victim reached out and, lifting the dripping head of the bull with his outstretched hand, he set it in place of his own severed head.
His vengeful intent led him to devour the thieves, but also awakened an insatiable thirst for human blood which threatened the entire population of the area. The people appealed to Manjushri, who assuming a fiercer form even than that of Yama, put an end to the bloodshed.
Maitreya (Jampa or "Friend") is the future Buddha, often depicted seated on a chair (bhadrasana, seat of rank) holding a lotus with a stupa emerging from it. Sometimes he holds a dharmachakra or a vase containing nectar which, here, symbolizes the Buddhadharma purely preserved.
*In the China of the 1350's, still under the administration of descendants of Kublai Khan, Maitreya the Buddha of the Future, was the focus of the revolutionary sect referred to as Red Hats/Turbans. Han Lin-erh, leader of the northern band, declared himself Emperor.
Perhaps because of the familiar pose of this bodhisattva, every now and then someone in the West claims to be Maitreya, a figure that is a parallel of a Messiah or a Mahdi, but the other traditional indicators have not as yet coincided.
Kshitagarbha [Tib.: Sai.nyingpo] Earth-store or The Great Vow Bodhisattva is a green, seated figure with a lotus bearing a naga tree. He is very popular in Japan where he is called Jizo, and in China where he is Di Zang Wang Pu Sa. He is said to be the god of death, Yama himself, who vowed to work on behalf of sentient beings until all the different hells were emptied. He is known by his mendicant's staff with 6 rings that jangle as he goes on his way. In Japan, he is especially venerated by those who have lost children or babies, born or not.
To Chinese, who may also transcribe the name as Ti Tsang Wang, he maybe referred to as the 'god' of mercy. He is depicted holding a shining pearl along with his staff with the 6 metal rings that chime like bells. He wanders the dark regions for the souls that can be redeemed from the kings of the ten hells.
He appears carrying his characteristic staff in the Ang Lee film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon where he is one of the champions who challenges the young "boy" up on the mezzanine floor of the hotel. That public house stands for one of the Buddhist hells; some of the weapons of the others -- the mace, for instance -- allude to their mythological identities, too.
His story is told here. A description of his realm in the afterlife which is by a flowing river, and of his cult and role in the social fabric may be found in Liquid Life: Abortion and Buddhism in Japan by William R. LaFleur, Princeton University Press, 1990?.
Vajra Master, Very Venerable Thrangu Rinpoche, performs the Sanying Tenma Dradrub puja, a combined practice of Sye Nyingpo (Ksitigarbha) and Sye Lhamo Tenma (Earth Deity.) This ritual is accompanied with the preparation of 1,500 treasure vases each containing 15 different types of substance.
Akashagarbha (Namkai Nyingpo) or "Matrix of Space" is golden and may hold a jewel, though in many texts he is described as holding a lotus with a sword that radiates light. The Sadhanamala says that he is green as the dawn sky.
Vajrapani (Chana Dorje>phyag.na rdo.rje) is royal blue or blue-black, and, in peaceful form balances the dorje upon his palm, or wrathful, wields a vajra (dorje) in his hand[-s] as a warning, or as if to throw it. In one wrathful form, he may also hold a noose. Vajrapani as a member of the Noble Sangha was the one who stopped a rolling boulder aimed at the Buddha while he was teaching on Emptiness at Rajgriha (Vulture's Peak.) He therefore embodies "skillful means" or insightful technique. He also represents righteousness wrath, an association derived from an account in which when someone behaves insolently to Buddha Shakyamuni, refusing to answer his question, this bodhisattva instantly appears above his head ready to let loose a thunderbolt.
Link to 7th century bronze Vajrapani figure at Asian Arts site.
Vajrapani in alida pose; 17th century bronze.
Besides being the champion of the vajra family of Buddhas, all the power of the 5 primordial buddhas are united in him. Therefore, he is invoked to overcome interior obstacles, and in times of overwhelming circumstances.
In his association with tantric practices, he is sometimes called Ghuyapati or Lord of Secrets. In Japanese, he is called Kongo; in Chinese, Da Shi Zhi
In images, he is often associated with Amitabha -- usually depicted on his left (Chenrezig is on the right). He appears also in a form in which he assimilates Hayagriva and Garuda. That form of Vajrapani is believed to be especially effective against grave diseases. He is also associated with other wrathful deities depicted as winged.
It is said that when the Tathagata subdued the gigantic naga of Udyana, he charged Vajrapani to guard the other serpents who had surrendered seeking refuge from the attack of Garuda.) He is also the enemy of the titans/demons who possessed the supreme poison, halahala.
Vajrapani is associated with Buddha Shakyamuni and mentioned, usually by one of his other names, as the attendant who accompanied Him wherever he went. In traditions of the Buddha’s birth, his presence is evoked by means of the phrase, Mighty as an Elephant. Therefore, Vajrapani is known as Mahasthamaprapta (Thuchenthop) "Mighty as the Elephant" especially when shown beside Amitayus (the Long-life Buddha-form of Amitabha) along with Chenrezi.
Another aspect of Vajrapani is Sarvanivarana-vishvakambin (Dripa Namsal) who is the "Clearer of Obstacles." He is royal blue with a moon on his lotus. He is with Avalokiteshvara, praising him after a fortuitous meeting with him in Varanasi.
The 5 Obstacles or Hindrances:
i. Attraction or desire
ii. Aversion or hatred
iv. Arrogance and suspiciousness
v. Doubt or uncertainty