The gods of northern Buddhism

their history, iconography and progressive evolution through the northern Buddhist countries

by Alice Getty | 1914 | 98,662 words

Indispensable reference for art historians, scholars of Eastern philosophy and religion. Wealth of detailed scholarly information on names, attributes, symbolism, pictorial representations of virtually every major and minor divinity in Mahayana pantheon, as worshipped in Nepal, Tibet, China, Korea, Mongolia, and Japan. 185 black-and-white illustrat...

Chapter IX - Forms of Manjusri

Table IX
I. Human
I. With sword
 and book.
I. White (symbols on lotus supports);
  vitarka mudra.
I. Manjugosha,
II. Yellow (symbols on lotus
 dharmacakra mudra;
 seated on a lion.
II. Simhanada-Manjugosha.
III. Yellow (sword held in the hand);
  may be simhanada.
III. Manjusri.
II. With blue
I. Yellow (attitude 'royal ease');
  on lion throne.
IV. Maharajalila-Manjusri.
II. Yellow (dharmacakra mudra);
  leg pendent;
  on lion or lion throne.
V. Manjusri.
III. Yellow (dharmacakra mudra);
  legs locked;
  seated on a lion.
VI. Simhanada-Manjusri.
IV. White (dhyana mudra);
  from sadhana.
VII. Dharmasankasamadhi-
V. White (vara mudra);
  legs locked;
  from sadhana.
VIII. Siddhai-kavira-Manjusri.
III. With
 and utpal.
I. Black or dark blue (kneeling,
 third eye).
X. Manjusri.
II. Tantra forms. I. Yellow (one head, four arms);
 symbols : lotus, book,
 bow and arrow.
XI. Manjusn Jafianasattva.
II. Yellow (one head, four to six
 from sadhana.
XII. Vajranaga.
III. Three
 four heads.
a. Three heads,
 six arms.
b. Three or four
 six or eight arms.
XIII. Manjuvajra.
XIV. Dharmadhatuvagisvara.
IV. Dharmapala form.   XV. Yamantaka.
V. Archaic form with sakti.    


Manjusri [1] (Dhyani-Bodhisattva)

(God of Transcendent Wisdom).

(T.) kdjam-dpal [2] (pleasing splendour).
(M.) manjusri.
(C.) Wen-shu-shi-li ()
(J.) Monju.

Mudra: dharmacakra (turning the Wheel of the Law).
Symbols: khadga (sword), pustaka (book — the Prajnaparamita), utpala (blue lotus).
Colour: saffron or white, red or black.
Vahana (support): lion.
Sakti: Sarasvati.

Different names: Manjugosha, Kumara, Vajisvara, &c

Manjusri, personification of Transcendent Wisdom, is the first Bodhisattva mentioned in the Buddhist scriptures, and as such his name frequently occurs in the 'Lotus of the Good Law' in connexion with Sakya-inuni. In the Numasangiti he is called 'Adi-Buddha', while in some of the sutras he is referred to as an historical character.

According to Chinese Buddhism, the Bodhisattva Manjusri was informed by Gautama Buddha that it was his duty to turn the Wheel of the Law for the salvation of the Chinese, and the place chosen for the manifestation was Paflcasirsha (mountain of five peaks) in the Shan-si province. Legend relates that the five peaks of five different colours were once upon a time of diamonds, sapphires, emeralds, rubies, and lapis lazuli, that a flower grew on each peak of its especial colour, and that a different shaped pagoda was on the summit of each peak.

When the time came for the manifestation of Manjusri, Gautama Buddha caused a golden ray to burst from his forehead. It pierced a jambu-tree which grew from the foundation of the mountain Paflcasirsha.

A lotus sprang from the tree, and

'from the interior of the flower was born the prince of sages, Arya Manjusri.

His colour was yellow;
he had one face and two arms;
in the right hand he brandished the sword of Wisdom;
in his left he carried a book on a lotus of Utpala;
he was endowed with the superior and inferior marks of beauty;
he was covered with many ornaments, and he was resplendent.'[3]

Thus he was born without father and mother, and 'free from the pollution of the common world'.

But he is also referred to as being mortal. It is recorded in the Chinese Buddhist books that the activity of Manjusri, in the first century, at Wu-t'ai-shan (mountain of five peaks), was brought to the attention of the Emperor Ming-ti, while, according to the Buddhist writer Yi-tsing, it was popularly believed in India in the seventh century that Manjusri was at that time teaching the doctrine in China. [4]

In the Svayambhu-purana [5] it is related that Manjusri left Mount Pancasirsha to visit the shrine of Svayambhu (Adi-Buddha), which was on a mountain near the Lake Kalihrada. [6] He found the lake filled with aquatic monsters and the temple inaccessible.

He therefore

'opened, with his sword, many valleys on the southern side of the lake . . .
the waters of the lake rushed through the opening, leaving dry land at the bottom',

and this was Nepal.

He is believed by some to have been the founder of civilization in Nepal. By others, to have been a 'Wanderer' (mendicant Buddhist priest) who carried Buddhism into Nepal. He is also supposed either to have been, or to have manifested himself as the prime minister [7] of the Tibetan king, Srong-tsan-Gampo, who was sent to India in the seventh century to study the Buddhist scriptures. It is also believed that Manjusri may have been originally the deified hero of one of the Northern Chinese tribes. Mitra claims that he wrote the Svayambhti-purana in the tenth century. Both Padmasambhava and Tson-ka-pa are said to have been his incarnations.

The first day of the year is dedicated to Manjusri. He is looked upon by certain sects as the god of Agriculture, by others as the Celestial Architect, and is believed to have inspired, with his divine intelligence, those who have been active in the propagation of the Buddhist doctrine. He is the god of Science, and swings his sword of Wisdom with its flaming point to dissipate the darkness among men, to cleave the clouds of Ignorance. The Chinese say that when he preaches the Law every demon is subjugated, and every error that might deceive man is dissipated. He is an extremely popular deity in all the Northern Buddhist countries, and one often sees his image in magic paintings, charms, and mandah.

Manjusri belongs to the group of eight Dhyani-Bodhisattva, and is therefore represented like a prince with all the Bodhisattva ornaments. He may have a small image of Akshobhya in his crown, and his ushnisM is sometimes ornamented at the top by a flaming pearl. The tirna is generally on his forehead, and, if painted, his colour is usually yellow, but may also be white, red, or black.

Manjusri or Manjugosha, as he is frequently called in the sddhana, has two distinct types: one with the sword and book, which is his more usual form, and the other with the utpala or blue lotus.

The sword symbolizes the cleaving asunder (dissipating) of the clouds of Ignorance; the book [8] is the Prajndpdramitd, Treatise on Transcendent Wisdom. It is represented in the usual form of the Nepalese book, which is made of palm-leaves, cut long and narrow, the manuscripts being placed between two pieces of flat wood, the whole bound together by a string. The book may be held in the hand of Manjusri, but is more generally supported by an utpala, and surmounting it is sometimes a flaming pearl. [9]

The representation of Manjusri with the sword and book has several variations.

  1. He is seated with the legs locked; the right arm is lifted brandishing the sword; the left hand holds the book on his lap. [10]
  2. Like the above, except that the book is supported by a lotus-flower at his left shoulder. The stem of the lotus is held in the left hand in vitarka mudra. This form may be on a lion.
  3. Both the sword and book are supported by lotus-flowers; the stems are held by the hands; the right hand is in vara mudra, the left in vitarka. He is white and is usually called Manjugosha. When this form is standing, it belongs to the group of eight Bodhisattva.
  4. Like the above, except that the hands are in dharmacakra mudra; the left leg is pendent; the deity is usually seated on a lion or lion throne.

The above forms of Manjusri are more commonly found in bronzes, while the forms with the blue lotus are oftenest seen in paintings and sculpture.

The representation of the blue lotus differs from the pink in that the petals are closed, elongated in form, and presented in profile. Sometimes the first row of outside petals is turned back, but the centre of the utpala is always hidden by the petals.

There are various forms of Manjusri holding the blue lotus, which symbolizes the teachings of Buddha:

1. Maharajalila-Manjusri. He is seated, as his name indicates, in the attitude called 'royal ease', with the right knee lifted, over which hangs the right arm; the left leg is bent; the left hand, holding the stem of the utpala (which is on a level with the left shoulder), leans on the lion throne or on the back of the lion support. If painted, he is yellow. Several very fine examples of this form were found in the Magadha, and one of them, seated on a lion, reverses the above attitude, the left knee being lifted. [11] Maharajalila-Manjusri, when seated on a lion, closely resembles the Simhanada-Lokesvara, but the latter may be identified either by the antelope skin over his left shoulder (PI. xxxv, fig. d) or by a trident, [12] while the Manjusri has no distinguishing mark besides the blue lotus, not even the sword, which, in the representations of the Simhanada-Lokesvara, usually rises from the lotus-flower. If painted, they are easily identified, for the Maharajalila-Manjusri is yellow on a blue lion, while the Lokesvara is white on a white lion.

2. He is seated with legs closely locked, or, if on a lion or a lion throne, with the right leg pendent. The hands are in dharmacakra (teaching) mudra, with the stem of the utpala, which is on a level with his left shoulder, wound around the left arm above the elbow. If painted, he is yellow.

3. Manjusri may be seated on the lion throne with the left leg pendent; the hands are in dharmacakra mudra and the utpala is at the left shoulder. His colour is yellow.

4. Like the above, except that the legs are locked and he is seated on a lion.

5. He is seated with the legs locked; the hands are in dhyancc mudra. This form is white, and is called Dharmasanka-samadhi-Manjusri.

6. Like the above, except that the right hand is in vara mudra, and the left holds the stem of the lotus. He is also white and is called Siddhai-Kavlra.

Manjusri may have only the sword and utpcda, and be sitting, standing, or kneeling on one knee. [13] The right arm, which is lifted, holds the sword, and around the left arm is wound the stem of the lotus. If painted, in this form, he is black, and has the third eye.

There are various other forms of Manjusri:

Manjuvajra is a form of Manjusri represented with his saakti.
Both have three heads (the centre head is red; the one to the right, blue; to the left, white).
Symbols: two vajras, a sword and lotus, bow and arrow.
The yab is red and the yum is pink.

Vajranaga Manjusri is standing and may have four or six arms.
Symbols: sword, utpala (or book), bow, arrow; if six arms, with a mirror and branch of asoka as well.
If painted, he is yellow.

Dharmadhatu Manjusri is seated.
He has four heads: centre, white; to right, saffron; to left, reddish yellow; behind, rose.
He has eight arms; the normal arms are in 'teaching' mudra; the six others hold sword, book, bow and arrow, &c.

Manjusri, archaic form (see illustration, PI. xxxv, fig. b).
He is with his sakti, whom he holds on his knee in the archaic fashion, instead of in the attitude yab-yum.
He has five heads, the fifth being above the central one, and eight arms, with four holding swords and the others books.
He may also hold the sword and lotus with various other symbols (PI. xix, fig. c).

Manjusri is one of the 'eight Terrible Ones' in his Dharmapala form of Yamantaka.
His head, yellow in colour and with a slightly irritated expression, is usually above the head between the horns of the Bhairava form of Yamantaka (PI. lii, figs, c and d).

In China as 'Wenshu', and in Japan as 'Monju', Manjusri is seldom worshipped, except in a triad with Amitabha and Samantabhadra. He is represented in both countries seated on a lion and holding a sword (PI. xn, fig. b, and PI. xxxiv, fig. c). The monastery of Wu-t'ai in the Shan-si province is one of the most holy places of pilgrimages in China, and Manjusri is worshipped there by the Mongols as well as by the Chinese.


Mahasthanaprapta (Dhyani-Bodhisattva)

(He that has obtained great strength).

(C.) Ta-shih-chih ().
(J.) Sei-shi, or Dai-sei-shi.

Mudra: vitarka (argument), vara (charity).

Mahasthanaprapta is believed to be the deification of Maudgalyayana, 'the righthand disciple of Gautama', [14] and although he is a Dhyani-Bodhisattva, he does not belong to either the group of five or of eight Dhyani-Bodhisattva. He is mentioned with Avalokitesvara in the Lotus of the Good Law as well as in the SukMvati-vyuha, which dated from the first century A.D., but Mahasthana does not seem to have been represented in either paintings or bronzes in Nepal or Tibet.

In China, however, one frequently finds him in a triad at the right of Om-i-to Fo (Amitabha), with Kwan-yin (Avalokitesvara) at the left, which is the place of honour in China.

In Japan he is looked upon as the manifestation of the wisdom of Amida. [15] One finds him in a triad with Amida and Kwan-non, or worshipped alone. There is a statue of Mahasthanaprapta at the Zen-ko-ji temple, said to have been made by Sakya-muni from gold found at the foot of a Beiruri-tree on the south side of Mount Meru (Satow).


Trailokya-Vijaya [16]

(Subduer of the Three Worlds).

(C.) Kiang-san-kie ().
(J.) Go-san-ze.

Mudra: vajra-hum-kara.
Symbols: vajra (thunderbolt), ghanta (bell).
Colour: blue.

In the Trailokya-vijaya sadhana, translated into French by M. A. Foucher, [17] there is the following description of this divinity about whom very little is as yet known: On a sun (red platform) from the blue syllable ' Hum!' was born the lord Trailokyavijaya; he is blue, with four faces and eight arms: his first face expresses amorous fury; that at the right, anger; that at the left, disgust; the face at the back, heroism; in his two (original) hands are the bell and thunderbolt; he makes on his breast the gesture called vajra-hum-kara; his three hands at the right hold (beginning at the top) a sword, elephant-goad, and an arrow; the hands at the left carry (beginning from below) the bow, lasso, and a disc; he is upright, stepping to the right on the breast of Parvati; among other ornaments, he wears a garland made of little images of Buddha. [18]

In the court-yard of the Brahman convent at Bodh'-Gaya there is the statue of a divinity which corresponds with this description in every particular, except the minor detail of the bow and arrow being held in different hands in the statue from the description in the sadhana.

Trailokya-vijaya (Go-san-ze) is worshipped in Japan as one of the five Devas who are called myo-o (maha deva). He is believed to wage war against and conquer the evil spirits who pretend to have created the Universe, and to be Protectors of the Three Worlds, and who seek to upset the laws of Karma. He is represented making the mudrcl of anger (djo Fudo) with both hands, and the wrists are crossed to indicate intensity of anger.

In the Vajradhatu there is a magic circle of nine assemblies. The eighth assembly is called Trailokya-vijaya-karma, or the 'three-world-subduing-actionassembly'.

Nanjio writes [19] that

'it shows the state of Maha-krodha-kaya (greatanger-body) manifested by Vajrasattva [20] to destroy the enemies of the three worlds'.

Again, in the ninth assembly, there is reference to Vajrasattva.

'It shows the state of the form of Samaya or argument [21] of Vajrasattva -who holds the bow and arrow.' [22]

We see from this that in Japan Vajrasattva is the Subduer oftlie Three Worlds; first, to destroy the enemies of Buddhism in the three worlds, and, secondly, when holding the bow and arrow, to warn living beings. It might be inferred from this that Trailokya-vijaya is a special manifestation of Vajrasattva when conquering the celestial and terrestrial worlds, as well as the 'under' world.


a. Pu-H'ien (Samantabhadra) b. Wen-shu (Manjusri)
c. Monju (Manjusri) d. Kwan-yin


a. Manjusri b. Manjusri
c. Manjusri d. Simhanada-Lokesvara

Footnotes and references:


Manju-sri. Monju, according to certain authorities, may possibly be a Tokharian word corresponding to the Sanskrit word kumara (hereditary prince).


According to Hodgson, Jam-yang.


Grunwedel, Mythologie, p. 138.


Foucher, Iconographie bouddhique, p. 114.


Mitra, Nepalese Buddhist Literature, p. 249. v. also Hodgson, The Languages, Literature, and Religion of Nepal and Tibet, p. 116.


v. Nepalese temple painting, Bibliotheque de l'lnstitut de France, No. V.




Pustaka; v. Glossary.


Cintamani; v. Glossary.


In Java the book is sometimes held at the breast.


A. Foucher, Iconographie bouddhique, illus., p. 115.


v. Foucher, Iconographie bouddhique, Partie ii, p. 33,


v. PI. LXIII, fig. g.


Grunwedel, Buddhist Art, p. 205.


v. Amida.


Trai (tri, three), loka (loka, world), vijaya (conqueror), v. Loka.


Iconographie bouddhique, Partie ii, p. 58, illus., p. 59.


In Java several statues have been found which correspond with this description. A. Foucher, 'Notes d'archeologie bouddhique', Bulletin de l'Ecole francaise de V Extreme-Orient, 1909, p. 48.


A Short History of the Twelve Japanese Buddhist Sects, p. 95.


v. Vajrasattva.


Is not 'agreement 'here meant? Samaya means: convention, contract, engagement, and also 'identification with the Buddha'.


v. Kongo-satta.

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