Manjushri as Father, Mother, Child — and Doctor: the eleven aspects of Manjushri — kind, wrathful, protective, teaching and “beastly”

Manjushri is the “master of the Seven Buddhas” and the “mother of the Buddhas” — and also the “child” of the Buddhas — according to Ajatasatruraja Sutra:

“Manjushri is the father and mother of the Bodhissatvas, and their spiritual child.” [3]

Manjushri’s numerous faces, personas, and complexities only hint at the completeness of Buddha Manjushri  — father, mother and child at the same time!  We see Manjushri, the “child” Bodhisattva, sitting at the side of Shakyamuni in the Sutras, asking profound questions. [Child here means “Bodhisattva” or spiritual child of the Buddha.] At the same time, we meditate on the fully enlightened Buddha Manjushri, the perfect representation of Wisdom. As Orange Manjushri, his best-known form, we see “youthful” Manjushri. As Black Manjushri, the healer. As Yamantaka the ferocious, unbeatable foe of death! No Buddha has as many emanations and faces as Noble Manjushri.

Note: A short daily Orange Manjushri Sadhana from the fifth Dalai Lama is at the end of this feature. This practice is open to anyone as praise and meditation (assuming you visualize Manjushri in front of you.)

Mother and Father and Child Manjushri?

Since Wisdom — specifically the Enlightened understanding of Shunyata — is the Mother of Buddhas, Manjushri the Buddha of Wisdom is Mother. Why is Wisdom the Mother? Without Wisdom, no Buddha can be Enlightened.

Buddha Enlightenment is born from two “equal wings”: Wisdom and Compassion. Wisdom is Mother. Compassion is Father. Since Manjushri embodies both, he is both Father and Mother.

 

Lord Manjushri in his full youthful splendour by Ben Christian. The flaming sword (Khadga) of Lord Manjushri represents “cutting through delusions” — the beginning of wisdom. [For a feature on Ben Christian, the modern Thangka artist, see>>]

 

A beautiful thangka of Lord Manjushri by Jampay Dorje. See this full interview with this great modern Thangka artist>>

Of course, all Buddhas embody both — but Manjushri’s forms and appearance focus on both at the same time in terms of visual symbolism:

  • In his right hand the Prajna Kudga, the flaming sword of wisdom — which represents the activity of “cutting through delusions” — compassionate action, and therefore “Father”

  • In his left hand he holds the stem of a Lotus, upon which is the Prajnaparamita sutra. Prajnaparamita is Mother, which he fully embodies

  • He manifests also as a youthful Bodhisattva — the “child” of the Buddhas.

Glorious youthful Manjushri, with his iconic sword of active wisdom, is just one of his many forms of wisdom. To fulfill this mission, as teacher, guide and protector, Manjushri manifests with many faces. Traditionally, in Mahayana Buddhism, each Buddha manifests in up to “eleven forms, expressions of “skillful means” — and each deity form is profound and popular for different reasons. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Manjushri, the Buddha who embodies Father, Mother, Bodhisattva Child, peaceful, wrathful, and even beastly. Why so many faces? Manjushri’s mission of “Compassionate Wisdom” demands “skillful means.”

Peaceful, Wrathful, Semi-wrathful, Animal Aspect, and more

Manjushri manifests in many forms. Here he is Black Manjushri in wrathful standing form — famous as a healing meditation for agressive illnesses such as Covid-19 and Cancers.

People who do not understand the profound “method” of deity visualization may think of the many forms of Buddha as superstitious. They are, in fact, deeply profound, incorporating universal archetypal symbolism and visual triggers to our own innate wisdom process.

Why would Manjushri manifest with an “animal head? His “Highest Form” Yamantaka has nine heads, one of which is a Buffalo head. Why do we sometimes meditate on a ferocious Black Manjushri? Why is Manjushri sometimes a youthful sixteen-year-old holding a flaming Wisdom Sword (“Prajna Kudga”) and the Prajnaparamita Sutra? In between those extremes is semi-fierce Black Manjushri.

Dharma as Medicine, Buddha forms as Doctors

The great teachers often present Dharma as analogous to medicine — Dharma as medicine, Buddha as “doctor” and Sangha as “supporting care givers.” Manjushri practice is Dharma (medicine), his forms are “doctors” — some forms are specialists, such as surgeons, other viral experts — and his Entourage are the “supporting Sangha.”

In previous features, we’ve used the analogy of the parent to describe wrathful deities; in the same way a father might take on the “persona” of “kind” or “sympathetic” or “fierce” parent, depending on the needs of a child, Manjushri — and all Buddha’s — manifest in various forms to teach or guide us. Which father would you rather have at your side if you are bullied at school? Probably the fierce and protective father. When you are struggling great tragedy? Probably the kindly, hand-holding father. [For more on this, see this feature on Wrathful deities>>]

Doctor, Specialist and Surgeon

Peaceful seated Black Manjushri.

In other words, if you grouped the Buddha “emanation” forms by wrathfulness and compared to “doctor” function you might see this analogy:

  • Peaceful form of Manjushri — Family Doctor
  • Semi-wrathful form of Manjushri, such as Black Manjushri— surgeon or specialist
  • Wrathful form of Manjushri, such as Yamantaka — Specialist surgeon (neurosurgery, for example.)

In the more common metaphor of “father” personality:

  • Peaceful form of Manjushri — kindly father who listens to your problems
  • Semi-wrathful form of Manjushri — father ready to defend or discipline his child (for their own good.)
  • Wrathful form of Manjushri — the enraged protective father who would do anything to protect his child — in the case of the “Vajra Terrifier” Yamantaka, he protects from death.

Mantra as Medicine

Since Manjushri encompasses Mother, Father and Child aspects, his core mantra is likewise all-encompassing. If Manjushri can be thought of as Doctor, his mantra is the medicine:

Om A Ra Pa Cha Na Dhi

 

 

Om starts all mantras, and Dhi is Manjushri’s “seed syllable.” For this reason his mantra is often called the ARAPACHANA mantra. Its effect on mind and body has actually been studied. Here is a full feature on a Cognitive Study of ARAPACHANA by Dr. Deepika Chamoli Shahi, PhD>>

Manjushri’s powerful mantra is open to anyone to chant:

Why is Black Manjushri associated with healing?

Black and wrathful symbolize ferocious energy. While we may wish for a “peaceful” state of mind when contemplating mindfulness or Dharma, when we have need of healing it is more important to “activate” mind-over-body. Contemplating and visualizing Black Manjushri — in front of you if you don’t have initiation — and chanting his mantra is a famous healing practice. While it certainly does NOT replace advice from your physician, there is no doubt that — with faith — Black Manjushri’s healing energy can be helpful. Hundreds of lineage teachers through many generations have relied on the practice. For a story on Black Manjushri, see>>

Black Manjushri’s Mantra is acceptable to chant without empowerment as long as you visualize the Buddha in front of you:

The mantra is:

OM PRASO CHUSO DURTASO DURMISO NYING GOLA CHO KALA DZA KAM SHAM TRAM BHE PHET SOHA

It is also helpful to chant Manjushri’s mantra:

Om Ah Rah Pah Chah Na Dih

 

Black Manjushri for healing: a guided visualization:

Black Manjushri’s healing mantra. Screengrab from video inset above.

 

Five key forms of any Buddha

People new to Mahayana Buddhism often wonder at Sutra references such as “hundreds of thousands of millions of Buddhalands to the West, there is a world called Ultimate Bliss.” [1]

White Manjushri

References to millions of Buddhas or Purelands are reasonable, given that the Universe is Infinite — and if you understand that all sentient beings have “Buddha Nature.” [For a feature on Buddha Nature, see>>]

Colour is often used to symbolize the five key aspects that focus on the five poisons (skandhas): White, Blue, Red, Yellow (Gold), and Green. There is also “Black” for wrathful forms. For example, there are white, yellow, or orange and black Manjushris.

How we meditate on a Buddha varies. Not only do we have the many Buddhas — Manjushri, Shakyamuni (who manifested in our time), Amitabha, Tara, Avalokiteshvara, Vajrasattva — each of these Buddhas emanate in numerous forms.

These key forms then can manifest with different levels of “energy” or “activity” (wrathfulness) or archetype (such as kingly, monastic.)

Emanations as layers?

You can think of these aspects of emanations of Buddhas as layers of symbolism. For example, in the advanced practice of Vajrabhairava (Yamantaka), the serious practitioner visualizes Yamantaka’s external form — which is vastly complicated, with nine faces, 34 arms, and 16 legs. But, at his heart, Yamantaka has youthful Manjushri. Then, at Manjushri’s heart, we visualize the seed syllable HUM. These “layers” are another way to understand the deities — who are none other than your own Buddha Nature manifesting outwardly.

It starts with the seed syllable Hum (then, sometimes, from Hum, a further emanation to the seed syllable Dhi) — seed syllables are the first emanation from the Emptiness or Oneness of Shunyata. From the seed syllable, we manifest outward to Manjushri in his youthful, popular form, then further outward to two-armed, one faced Yamantaka — and finally to the great Vajra Terrifier Yamantaka with nine faces, 34 arms, and 16 legs. [This is over-simplified, of course! The actual description in the Sadhana is many pages long!]

 

Arguably the most ferocious of wrathful yidams in Manjushri’s form Solitary Hero Yamantaka with 9 faces, 34 arms, 16 legs treading on gods, men and beasts alike. Detail from a magnificent Tangkha by Ben Christian (Jampay Dorje). See this full interview with this great modern Thangka artist>>

An all-encompassing practice: Yamantaka

Yamantaka and consort.

Yamantaka practice — celebrating the most ferocious aspect of Manjushri — in particular, includes every form of sadhana practice:

  • Refuge and Bodhichitta
  • Lineage Guru Yoga
  • Vows
  • Complete Lama Tsongkhapa practice: “The Hundreds of Deities of the Joyful Land” (Gaden Lha Gyai Ma)
  • Seven Limb Practice
  • Complete Vajrasattva practice — not just the mantra, but a complete purification sadhana
  • Outer and inner mandala offerings
  • Inner Offerings (multiple)
  • Outer Sense Offerings (multiple offerings)
  • Common Protection Wheel
  • Uncommon Protection Wheel
  • Three Kaya Practice: transforming ordinary death into Dharmakaya; transforming the intermediate (Bhardo) state into the Sambogakkaya; transforming rebirth into the Nirmanakaya
  • Preliminary and Concluding Torma offerings
  • Complete practice of the entire mandala, including the wrathful protectors
  • Blessing of all the organs and senses — a form of Body Mandala
  • Empowerment and initiation
  • Consecrating the mala
  • Mantra recitations, including Manjushri’s core mantra OM A RA PA TZA NA DHI, the great Root Mantra Dharani, the Action Mantra and Essence Mantras
  • Generation of Karmayama and other wrathful members of the great mandala and Torma offerings — and the request for actions and activities to benefit all beings
  • Extensive praises
  • The Yoga of Daily Activities

There is no practice missing here.

For more on Yamantaka practice — which, of course, requires permission and initiation — see our earlier feature>> “Angry Wisdom: Yamantaka, the Destroyer off Death…”

 

Orange Manjushri.

 

Eleven iconic forms — to tap our visual imagination

If you look at the different styles of meditation, various Buddhas emanate as remedies (medicine) for the Five Poisons — hence the Five Buddha Families. [For more on the Five Buddha families, see>>] Then, each of these Five Buddhas — who can be considered emanations of Shakyamuni — manifest in various forms, which tend to fall into the “eleven iconic aspects” — here presented in the order of “peaceful” to “wrathful”:

1 – Buddha appearance
2 – Monastic appearance
3 – Lay figure appearance
4 – Elder appearance
5 – Mahasiddha appearance
6 – Kingly appearance
7 – Peaceful Deva or Bodhisattva appearance
8 – Semi-wrathful
9 – Warrior appearance
10 – Wrathful or “Angry” appearance
11 – Animal-headed (or featured) deities

 

The many faces of Wisdom and Compassion: Top right ferocious Yamantaka (two arms), top center Yamantaka with nine heads — Manjushri’s head on top — top right a rarer tantric form, center bottom Orange Manjushri with Wisdom Sword, bottom right center Peaceful Black Manjushri, bottom Right Wrathful Black Manjushri and bottom left, the syllable Hum on a Lotus.

 

You could simplify this list down by the “energy” level aspect to Peaceful, Semi-Wrathful, Wrathful. For example, under various types of “wrathful energy,” you might have “Warrior”, “Angry” or “Animal Headed.”

 

Orange Manjushri with his sword of wisdom that “cuts through delusions.”

 

Many forms of Manjushri

There are countless forms from sutra and tantra, including Manjushri the Bodhisattva who appears often in the teaching sutras, Manjushri the Peaceful Buddha, various semi-wrathful forms, and — without contradiction — the most wrathful form of any meditation deity — Vajrabhairva, the Vajra Terrifier. There are also some lesser-known aspects. (See photos in this feature for some images).

Manjushri-Ghosha (Tibetan: jam pal yang)

The Glorious One with a Melodious Voice, the Bodhisattva we see as the heart-son of the Buddha Shakyamuni in sutra.

Manjushri Gosha.

“Possessing a youthful body and fully extending wisdoms lamp, you clear away the darkness of the three worlds; to you, Manjushri, I bow.” from a Sakya liturgical verse.

This emanation is described as: “youthful in appearance, orange in colour like the rising sun, the right hand loosely extended across the knee holds the stem of a blue utpala flower blossoming above the shoulder supporting a blue upright sword of wisdom giving forth licks of flame from the tip. Cradled to the heart with the left hand is a folio text of the Prajnaparamita sutra. At the top of the head beneath a gemstone blazing with orange fire the blue hair is piled in a topknot, some falling loose across the shoulders, tied with golden flowers. A thin areola, reddish and ethereal, surrounds the head. Lightly adorned with gold earrings and a choker necklace, he wears a blue-green scarf and a lower garment with even-folds of red and pink covering the legs. In a relaxed posture of royal ease atop a large pink lotus blossom with lush green foliage rising on thin stems from a pond of blue rippling water below, he sits against an open background and vast clear sky.” [4]

Namasangiti four-armed Manjushri

From Himilayan Art:
“In a peaceful manner, yellow in colour, with one face and four hands Manjushri holds in the first right a blue sword of wisdom wrapped with licks of flame and in the left held to the heart the stem of a pink utpala flower blossoming at the left ear supporting the Prajnaparamita text. In the lower two hands are an arrow and a bow. Adorned with fine ornaments of gold and jewels as a crown, earrings, necklaces and bracelets he is draped in a variety of scarves, silks and a lower garment of rainbow colours. Seated atop a moon and multi-coloured lotus seat he emanates a pale yellow nimbus of fine light rays and a green areola completely enclosed by dark green leaves and lotus blossoms.
In front, from a dark blue pool with water fowl sporting rises a pink lotus as a foundation for an array of rich offerings of a golden Dharma Wheel, wishing jewels, auspicious emblems, vases and delicious foods offered to the noble Manjushri.”

A Meditation On Orange Manjushri

by the Fifth Dalai Lama (1617-1682)

NAMO GURUJA VAGIH SHARAHYA
I make humble obeisance to you, great Tsongkhapa, Personification of Manjushri in human form with all the marks and signs of perfection.
Your magnificent attainments were nurtured in the matrix of motherly method and wisdom combined
Of which the vibrant syllable DHI is an embodiment.

Sipping the nectars of the profound teachings, Directly from Manjushri’s masterly eloquence, You realized the heart of wisdom.
 Inspired by your example, I will now set out a description of the steps for actualization Of Manjushri, the bodhisattva of wisdom, In accord with your realization.

Begin the session with the general preliminaries of taking refuge and generating the altruistic thought of enlightenment. Then con- template the four immeasurable thoughts of love, compassion, joy, and equanimity.

Taking Refuge and Generating Bodhichitta

I go for refuge until I am enlightened
To the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Supreme Assembly.
By my practice of giving and other perfections,
May I become a buddha to benefit all sentient beings. (3x)

The Four Immeasurables

May all sentient beings have happiness and the causes of happiness.
May all sentient beings be free from suffering and the causes of suffering.
May all sentient beings be inseparable from the happiness that is free from suffering.
May all sentient beings abide in equanimity, free from desire for friends and hatred for enemies.1
Recite the SVABHAVA mantra to purify perception in emptiness and then proceed:
OM SVABHAVA SHUDDHA SARVA DHARMAH SVABHAVA SHUDDHO HAM

 

Visualizing Orange Manjushri with wisdom sword in his right hand and Prajnaparamita Sutra in his left on a lotus flower.

 

 

Visualization

Dhi syllable visualized on a lotus. This is the “seed” syllable of Manjushri.

At my heart is my mind in the shape of an egg, its point upwards. Inside the egg, on a full moon disc, is an orange letter DHI, from which an infinite amount of light emits. It fills the whole of my body, purifying all my negativities and removing all my obscura- tions accumulated since beginingless time. The light rays leave through my pores and become offerings to the buddhas and bo- dhisattvas, thereby delighting them. This causes the blessings of the body, speech, and mind of these holy beings to dissolve into light that destroys the darkness of ignorance of all sentient be- ings, thus placing them in wisdom’s illumination.

The rays then recollect into the syllable DHI. It transforms into light, my ordinary perception and my clinging thereto vanish, and I emerge as Venerable Manjushri, orange in color, with one face and two arms. My right hand brandishes a sword of wisdom in the space above me. At my heart between the thumb and ring finger of my left hand, I hold the stem of an utpala lotus. Upon its petals in full bloom, by my left ear, rests a volume of the Perfec- tion of Wisdom Sutra.

I sit in full lotus posture and am adorned with precious ornaments for my head, ears, throat, and shoulders, as well as bracelets and anklets. Draped in a flowing mantle and skirt of exquisite silks, my hair is tied up in five knots and coils counter-clockwise. Bearing an entrancing and serene smile, I sit amidst a mass of light radiat- ing from my body. The letter OM marks the crown of my head, AH my throat and HUM my heart.

HUM emits rays of light that invite the wisdom beings from the inconceivable mansion of their own pure lands. They resemble Manjushri as described above and are surrounded by hosts of buddhas and bodhisattvas.

JAH HUM BAM HOH

They absorb into me and thus we become one.

Offerings and Praise

Visualize the offerings, or make them tangible on your altar.

One then makes offerings and praise.
OM ARYA VAGIH SHARA SAPARIVARA ARGHAM PRATICCHA HUM SVAHA (water for the face)
OM ARYA VAGIH SHARA SAPARIVARA PADYAM PRATICCHA HUM SVAHA (water for the feet)
OM ARYA VAGIH SHARA SAPARIVARA PUSHPE PRATICCHA HUM SVAHA (flowers)
OM ARYA VAGIH SHARA SAPARIVARA DHUPE PRATICCHA HUM SVAHA (incense)
OM ARYA VAGIH SHARA SAPARIVARA ALOKE PRATICCHA HUM SVAHA (lights/lamps)
OM ARYA VAGIH SHARA SAPARIVARA GANDHE PRATICCHA HUM SVAHA (scented water or perfume)
OM ARYA VAGIH SHARA SAPARIVARA NAIVIDYA PRATICCHA HUM SVAHA (food)
OM ARYA VAGIH SHARA SAPARIVARA SHAPTA PRATICCHA HUM SVAHA (music)

Praise

I make obeisance to your youthful form, O Manjushri. Like that of a dynamic and graceful sixteen year old, You repose upon the full moon as your cushion
At the center of an expansive, milk-white lotus.

I make obeisance to your speech, O mighty fulfiller of wishes, So mellifluent to the minds of countless sentient beings,
A lucent euphony to accord with each listener’s capacity,
Its multiplicity embellishing the hearing of all unfortunate ones.

O Manjushri, I make obeisance to your mind
Wherein is illuminated the entire tapestry of the myriad objects
of knowledge.
It is a tranquil ocean of unfathomable profundity
Of immeasurable breadth, boundless like space itself.

Mantra Recitation

Visualization of the DHI syllable at the heart surrounded by A RA PA CHA NA.

At my heart upon a moon disc is an orange syllable DHI. Encircling it at the disc’s periphery stands the rosary-like mantra of:

OM AH RA PA CHA NA DHI

All the syllables radiate light, which gathers both the wisdoms of exposition, dialectics and composition and the wisdoms of hear- ing, contemplation and meditation, which are possessed by the buddhas, bodhisattvas, sravakas and pratyekabuddhas, and the wise and learned masters of all the Buddhist and non-Buddhist traditions.

One contemplates the fusion of such wisdom within one’s mindstream and recites the mantra accordingly. See pages 9-11 for a more elaborate explanation and practice of receiving the seven types of wisdom.

Conclude the session with the hundred-syllable Vajrasat- tva mantra to purify excesses, omissions and mistakes. Then end with some prayers and auspicious verses.

OM VAJRASATTVA SAMAYA MANU PALAYA / VAJRASATTVA TVENO PATISHTA / DRIDHO MAY BHAVA / SUTOSHYO ME BHAVA / SUPOSHYO ME BHAVA / ANURAKTO ME BHAVA / SARVA SIDDHIM ME PRAYACHHA / SARVA KARMA SU CHAME / CHITTAM SHRIYAM KURU HUM / HA HA HA HA HO / BHAGAVAN / SARVA TATHAGATA / VAJRA MAME MUNCHA / VAJRA BHAVA MAHA SAMAYA SATTVA / AH HUM PHAT

Dedication

By virtue of this practice may I quickly
Accomplish the powerful attainments of Manjushri; And then may I lead all beings without exception To that supreme state.

[5]

NOTES
[1] Amitabha Sutra
[2] 11 Iconic Forms of Buddhas
[3] Chanting the Names of Mañjuśrī: The Mañjuśrī-nāma-saṃgīti
[4] Manjushri gosha page on Himilayan art
[5] Orange Manjushri Sadhana by the Fifth Dalai Lama, translated by FPMT.

Lee-Clark-buddha-weekly-5

Lee Kane

Author | Buddha Weekly

Lee Kane is the editor of Buddha Weekly, since 2007. His main focuses as a writer are mindfulness techniques, meditation, Dharma and Sutra commentaries, Buddhist practices, international perspectives and traditions, Vajrayana, Mahayana, Zen. He also covers various events.
Lee also contributes as a writer to various other online magazines and blogs.

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