Friday, May 6, 2011

Bodhisattva Manjushri (Wenshu)

Manjushri, Bodhisattva of Transcendent Wisdom,
holding a ruyi scepter and riding on a green lion
(Image: Painting by Dharma Master Yilin 依林法師繪)

According to the Chinese Buddhist tradition, the Birthday of Bodhisattva Manjushri (文殊菩薩聖誕 Wenshu Pusa Shengdan) is observed on the 4th day of the 4th Chinese lunar month.  

Manjushri (文殊師利 Wenshu Shili, also abbreviated as 文殊 Wenshu) is the Bodhisattva of Transcendent Wisdom in Mahayana Buddhism. In Chinese Buddhist iconography, Manjushri is usually depicted as a male bodhisattva carrying either a ruyi scepter (most often seen) or vertical sword in one hand, and sometimes a scroll or text in the other hand. He is usually shown riding on a lion. The ruyi scepter is a symbol of auspiciousness and the obtaining of all of one's wishes, and the sword represents the power of transcendent wisdom to cut through ignorance and wrong views. The scroll or text represents the Prajna-paramita Sutra (般若波羅蜜多經 Bore Boluomiduo Jing) which is the Buddha’s exposition on transcendent wisdom gained through the realization of emptiness (shunyata). The lion that Manjushri sits on, if it is golden color, represents the noble majesty of transcendent wisdom. And if it is a green or blue lion, it is a symbol of the wild mind that is tamed by wisdom.
Manjushri sitting on a blue lion and holding a scroll representing the Prajna-paramita Sutra
(Image: Source unknown)

In Tibetan Buddhism, Manjushri is always depicted holding a flaming sword in his right hand and a lotus flower in his left hand that supports the Prajna-paramita text. The flaming sword is likewise symbolic of wisdom cutting through ignorance, while its flames represent the radiance of wisdom that lights up the darkness of ignorance.

Tibetan style Manjushri holding the flaming wisdom sword and Prajna-paramita text
(Image: Painting by Dharma Master Yilin 依林法師繪)

Bodhisattva Manjushri is mentioned in several Mahayana sutras including the Prajna-paramita Sutras, Lotus Sutra, Avatamsaka (Flower Adornment) Sutra, and the Vimalakirti Sutra. 

Manjushri is sometimes seen in a trinity with Vairochana Buddha (毘盧遮那佛 Piluzhena Fo) and Bodhisattva Samantabhadra (普賢菩薩 Puxian Pusa). The three together are known as the Avatamsaka Trinity or Three Holy Ones of the Avatamsaka World (華巖三聖 Huayan Sansheng).

Homage to Manjushri, the Bodhisattva of Great Wisdom (南無大智文殊師利菩薩 Namo Dazhi Wenshu Shili Pusa).

Text © 2011 Harry Leong


  1. My favorite Bodhisattva due to my own continual striving to cut through my foolish ignorance

  2. In Buddhist history, it is sometimes said that Bodhisattva Manjushree consoled Ven. Ananda when Lord Buddha died and he also showed the true meaning of Buddha's teachings to Ven. Ananda.

  3. The tale of Manjushree can be quite astonishing in the Nepalese Buddhism, especially within Swayambhu Sutta.
    It states that Kathmandu in Nepal was used to be a big lake and in the middle of the lake resides a beautiful Lotus Flower. And Bodhisattva Manjushree with his heavenly sword cut the gorge in the Chobhar and let the big lake flow out the valley and the beautiful Lotus lake reside on the tip of mountain and later the mountain became the Swayambhu Stupa which in the present is one of the most important Buddhist Pilgrimage sites in Nepal.