ManjurshriManjushri is the Bodhisattva of Transcendent Wisdom. The youthful prince carries with his right hand the double--edged sword able to cut through illusion and with his left hand a blooming lotus that supports a volume of the Prajna-paramita Sutra. He is depicted as a youth of sixteen years in order to convey the Buddhist insight that wisdom is not a matter of mere experience or years, but results from the cultivation of intellectual genius, which can penetrate directly to the bedrock of reality. Wisdom is the most honored virtue in Buddhism, called the Mother of all Buddhas, since only wisdom makes possible the great bliss of total freedom from all suffering that is the goal of all living beings. Thus, Manjushri is one of the most important of all Buddhist deities, the veritable god of wisdom and herald of emancipation.

In the sutras, Manjushri has a Pure Land in another universe, wherein he manifests himself as the Buddha he actually is. He is in fact a perfect Buddha who vowed to emanate all over the universe as a Bodhisattva to put the hard questions to the Buddhas on the topics of voidness, freedom, and the nature of the self. But in the popular Tibetan imagination, Manjushri has his earthly Pure Land at the magical Five Mountain Paradise (Ch. Wutaishan; T. Riwo Tsenga) in northeast China, one of the most important pilgrimage places for Tibetan, Mongolian, and Chinese Buddhists.

Manjushri appears in several forms and different colours linking him to the families
of Amitabha, Akshobhya and so forth. In his most fundamental form he sits on a lion holding a sword in his right and the manuscript of the Prajnaparamita in the left. The flaming sword cuts through all intellectual and emotional entanglements thus revealing the transcendent wisdom of the Prajnaparamita.
At times (like in the present thangka), sword and book are placed on a lotus flower.

Intelligence, memory, wisdom and eloquence are all qualities that Manjushri bestows. His name is a compound of the words man-ju (meaning beautiful, pleasing, lovely, charming, smooth) and shri (meaning brilliance, splendour, glory), and the connotations of
both these words convey perfectly the kind
of intelligence and wisdom Manjushri
himself personifies.

The main figure in this scroll has his hands in the gesture of turning- the- wheel- of- the- dharma. Being the epitome of all the learning of the Buddha, Manjushri is the leading proponent of the transmission of esoteric philosophy.

Directly above in the centre of the three figures of the top row rests Amitabha, red in complexion, his hands in the gesture of meditation. He is flanked on either side by red manifestations of Manjushri, the one on the left in the vajra posture with sword and book, the one on the right sitting on a lion with his left leg hanging down, his hands in the gesture of teaching.

The four manifestations to the left and right of the main figure are all of white complexion and sit in the diamond posture (vajrasa-na). They can be divided into two groups: two of them have the right hand in the gesture of giving (varada mudra), while their left hands hold a manuscript of the Prajnaparamita; the other two hold a sword in their right hand. They are the consorts of this Arapacha-na Manjushri, representing "i-a-pa-cha-ria", the-final four syllables of Manjushri's mantra, while the main deity, Manjushri, represents the first syllable "a", from which he himself originates. He is as beautiful as one sadhana describes him: "...resplendent like the full moon, a smile lingering on his face, decked in a rich variety of prin-cely ornaments".

The bottom row of figures has White Prajnaparamita on the left, carrying a manuscript of the Prajnaparamita Sutra on two lotus flowers that grow out of her hands, while her hands themselves are in the gesture of teaching. Prayers addressed to her enhance wisdom, increase intelligence and promote discernment. She personifies the transcendent wisdom propounded in the books she carries. The centre figure in the bottom row is a white Manjushri, while in the right corner we see a white Sarasvati with her vina (lute), the goddess of learning, poetry, music and eloquence.

As transcendent wisdom personified and Vagishvari, Lord of Speech (i.e. learning), the mahabodhisattva Manjushri plays an important role in all Buddhist traditions throughout history. In the Lotus Sutra his fellow bodhisattva Maitreya exhorts him: "Remove our doubts! The four kinds of devotees are looking up with joy at you and me..." The Shurangama Sutra declares him "absolute as such, to be neither asserted nor negated". Together with Samantabhadra he is also the main bodhisattva of the Avatamsaka Sutra. An entire tantra is devoted to him: the Manjushri Mula Kalpa. According to the Zen tradition he attends upon Buddha Shakyamuni together with mahabodhisattva Samantabhadra. He is mentioned in the Smaller Sukhavati Vyuha and in the Guhyasamaja Tantra. And this is by no means all; we could go on enumerating text after texts, such is the importance of Manjushri for the Buddhist tradition.

The Svayambhu Purana relates that Manjushri came from Wu Taishan Mountain in China. After arriving in Svayambhunath in Nepal he lifted his sword and clove the mountains, so that the la-ke's waters gushed out. Thus the fertile and lovely Kathmandu valley was formed. According to Chinese tradition, Manjushri was assigned the duty of turning the Wheel of the Dharma for the bene-fit of the Chinese people and he chose Wu Taishan mountain as his abode. The famous pilgrim 1-tsing notes during his travels through Southeast Asia and India (671-695 A.D.) that the Indians thought Manjushri to be teaching in China at that time.

Thus the scroll without exception contains deities that personify and bestow ordinary as well as transcendent wisdom. They all belong to the category of Prajna-deities, as Panchen Phyogla Namgyal (1781-1952) decided to call them in his major work on Buddhist iconography.

Prayer to Manjusri

( credits - text in part compiled from the book "Wisdom And Compassion - The Sacred Art of Tibet")