Laura Harrington

in Buddhism

ISBN: 9780195393521
Published online February 2012 | | DOI:

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Mañjuśrī (Ch. Wenshu; Jpn. Monju; Tib. ‘Jam-dpal) is one of the oldest and most significant bodhisattvas of the Indian Mahayana Buddhist pantheon. The personification of the Mahayana notion of insight or wisdom (prajñā), Mañjuśrī or “Gentle Glory,” often functions in Mahayana texts as interlocutor: his pointed questions to the Buddha elicit the teachings his audience needs in order to grasp even the subtlest points of doctrine. Like insight, Mañjuśrī is ever new; he is often portrayed as a golden-complexioned, sixteen-year-old “Crown Prince” holding aloft the sword of wisdom in one hand, and a Perfection of Wisdom book (Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra) in the other. Although Mañjuśrī’s origins remain a point of lively scholarly debate, his importance to early Indian Mahayana is clear. The bodhisattva appears in the earliest datable literary evidence of Mahayana works available in any language, the Chinese translations prepared during 168–189 ce by the Indo-Scythian scholar Lokakṣema and his team of translators. Over the next centuries, Mañjuśrī featured in Mahayana literature of virtually every genre, from sutras and commentaries to esoteric (tantric) meditation manuals and litanies. As the bodhisattva of intellectual excellence, Mañjuśrī was especially popular among Indian Buddhist monastics. From the 6th century ce, his images were becoming a mainstay of Buddhist monasteries and temples. By the 8th century ce, we find the Crown Prince represented as a multiarmed and multiheaded tantric figure, and in a proliferation of Mañjuśrī-centered mandalas. The popularity of the Crown Prince was not limited to South Asia. Mañjuśrī worship developed into one of the most important Buddhist cults of T’ang China, where he became closely identified with a mountain complex called Wutaishan (see Bibliographies). In Japan, Mañjuśrī-related practices became associated with the Saidaiji order and esoteric Buddhist master Eison (b. 1201–d. 1290), who promoted Mañjuśrī worship among social outcasts (hinin). The Crown Prince was renowned in Nepal as the creator of the Kathmandu Valley; the Svayambhūpurāņa reports that Mañjuśrī split a mountain in two with his sword to drain the waters of the Kālīhrada and open the space. Mañjuśrī was an especially prominent feature of the Tibetan Buddhist landscape. Scholars from all of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism claimed direct visions of the bodhisattva of wisdom; to see Mañjuśrī denoted a subject’s perfect insight into the Buddha’s teaching. To this day, scholars of all backgrounds routinely invoke Mañjuśrī at the start of their own writings.

Article.  5933 words. 

Subjects: Buddhism ; Tibetan Buddhism ; Zen Buddhism

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