The 8 Bodhisattvas
With the 16 Arhats' the 8 Bodhisattvas play an important part in the iconography of the Tibetan Lion's Roar! Lama Martial Art: Om Mane Padme Hum
These compassionate activity-beings of the buddha-families are 8 in number. They can be thought of as "occupying" the intermediate directions of space, if we consider the transcendent buddhas who head the five Buddha Families as situated at the cardinal points of a mandala. There are three that function as family protectors (Tib. riksum gonpo) who are more prominent, they are: Avalokiteshvara, Vajrapani and Manjushri.
There are at least two different lists, and some variations in "attributes" which in iconography means characteristic implements (or sceptres.) Also, bodhisattvas are considered to be of various degrees of attainment or rank relating to their level (Skt. bhumi) on the 10 step path [some traditions give 13] towards buddhahood.
Mipham (1846-1912) lists:
He is the bodhisattva who emanated from the eye of Buddha Amitabha when he was moved to tears by the plight of sentient beings. In this form -- an embodiment of compassion -- he vowed not to return to buddhahood until he had liberated every single individual of all the realms of existanceHe is said to have manifested in our era as Padmasambhava, and it is in reference to the legend of the manifestation of that Precious Teacher Guru Rinpoche in the heart of a giant lotus that we say the famous 6-syllable mantra of Chenrezi: Om mani padme hum.
In the Tibetan way, it is pronounced : Om mani pehmeh hung! perhaps inadequately translated as: as Hail to the jewel in the lotus, this mantra requires no special circumstances, and may be repeated at any time or place by anyone. It is an expression of compassion for all sentient [feeling] beings including oneself, and has the power to liberate anyone in any circumstance.
He appears in the Saddharma Pundarika or Lotus Sutra along with Samantabhadra.
Samantabhadra's (Jangsem Kuntuzangpo) name means "all-good" or "universally worthy" after his appearance in the Gandavyuha in which he makes a set of vows accompanied by a vastly generous series of offerings. He holds a lotus with a golden wheel or the sun.
In China, as Fu-gen, he is shown seated on an elephant.
At the yearly Kamtsang (Kagyu) Monlam [prayer festival] that was begun by the Khyabje Kalu Rinpoche years ago, the Samtantabhadra prayer called The King of Prayers is repeated 111, 000 times.
Manjushri: (Tib. Jampal yang) represents the faculty of discrimination (prajna) borne of knowledge and learning, and all 4 denominations do his practice(s.) As an embodiment of knowledge, his ritual is recited at the beginning of the day by monks and other students. Though in the Mipham description (at top) he holds an utpala flower, he is most usually depicted as raising a swordin his right hand (often wound with the utpala) and holding scriptures in his left; either seated on a throne or on an Elephant
The Sanskrit name Manjushri means "sweetly glorious" and an aspect associated with him and a great historical teacher is known as Manjughosha (the sweet-voiced.) An epithet is Vakishvara (Lord of Speech.) He is the patron bodhisattva of the Kadampa (ie. Gelugpa) denomination.
Maitreya (Jampa or "Friend") is the future Buddha, often depicted seated on a chair (bhadrasana, seat of rank) holding a lotus with a stupa emerging from it. Sometimes he holds a dharmachakra or a vase containing nectar which, here, symbolizes the Buddhadharma purely preserved.
Kshitagarbha [Tib.: Sai.nyingpo] Earth-store or Great Vow Bodhisattva is a green, seated figure with a lotus bearing a naga tree. He is very popular in Japan where he is called Jizo, and in China where he is Di Zang Wang Pu Sa. He is said to be the god of death, Yama himself, who vowed to work on behalf of sentient beings until all the different hells were emptied. He is known by his mendicant's staff with 6 rings that jangle as he goes on his way.
To Chinese, who may also transcribe the name as Ti Tsang Wang, he may be called the 'god' of mercy. He is depicted with a benevolent expression, either sitting or standing. His attributes are a Chintamani (Wish-fulfilling Jewel, often described as a pearl) and a staff with a khakhara (rattle) at its top. The sound of its six jangling rings was intended as a warning to any tiny animals so that they could get out of the way and avoid being trod upon. It is also sometimes called the alarm-staff.
In the popular depiction of Di Zang P'usa that is found in many Chinese Buddhist places, he wears the robe of a Northern Buddhist monk and is seated on a lotus throne. His hands hold a precious flaming pearl with unimaginable powers. On his head is a five-lobed crown with an image of one of the five primordial buddhas on each of the leaves.
In Japan, he is especially venerated by those who have lost children or babies, born or not. There is usually depicted in standing posture which symbolizes the readiness of Jizo to respond immediately to those who have faith in his power of salvation. He stands on a lotus, holding in his left hand the flaming jewel that can overcome even the most profound darkness while in his right he holds the ringed staff with which he can even force open the gates of Hell
Kshitagarbha appears carrying his characteristic staff in the Ang Lee film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon where he is one of the champions who challenges the young "boy" up on the mezzanine floor of the hotel. That public house stands for one of the Buddhist hells; some of the weapons of the others -- the mace, for instance -- allude to their mythological identities, too.
His story is told here. A description of his realm in the afterlife which is by a flowing river, and of his cult and role in the social fabric may be found in Liquid Life: Abortion and Buddhism in Japan by William R. LaFleur, Princeton University Press, 1990?.
Vajra Master, Very Venerable Thrangu Rinpoche, performs the Sanying Tenma Dradrub puja, a combined practice of Sye Nyingpo (Ksitigarbha) and Sye Lhamo Tenma (Earth Deity.) This ritual is accompanied with the preparation of 1,500 treasure vases each containing 15 different types of substance.
Akashagarbha (Namkai Nyingpo) or "Matrix of Space" is golden and may hold a jewel, though in many texts he is described as holding a lotus with a sword that radiates light. The Sadhanamala says that he is green as the dawn sky.
Vajrapani (Chana Dorje>phyag.na rdo.rje) is royal blue or blue-black, and, in peaceful form balances the dorje upon his palm, or wrathful, wields a Vajra (dorje) in his hand as a warning, or as if to throw it. In one wrathful form he may also hold a noose. Vajrapani as a member of the Noble Sangha was the one who stopped a rolling boulder aimed at the Buddha while he was teaching on Emptiness at Rajgriha (Vulture's Peak.) He therefore embodies "skillful means" or insightful technique. He also represents righteous wrath, an association derived from an account in which when someone behaves insolently to Buddha Shakyamuni, refusing to answer his question, this bodhisattva instantly appears above his head ready to let loose a thunderbolt.
Besides being the Champion of the vajra Family of Buddhas, all the power of the 5 primordial buddhas are united in him. Therefore, he is invoked to overcome interior obstacles, and in times of overwhelming circumstances.
In his association with tantric practices, he is sometimes called Ghuyapati or Lord of Secrets. In Japanese, he is called Kongo; in Chinese, Da Shi Zhi
In images, he is often associated with Amitabha -- usually depicted on his left (Chenrezig is on the right). He appears also in a form in which he assimilates Hayagriva and Garuda That form of Vajrapani is believed to be especially effective against grave diseases. He is also associated with other wrathful deities depicted as winged.
It is said that when the Tathagata subdued the gigantic naga of Udyana, he charged Vajrapani to guard the other serpents who had surrendered seeking refuge from the attack of Garuda.) He is also the enemy of the titans/demons who possessed the supreme poison, halahala.
Vajrapani is associated with Buddha Shakyamuni and mentioned, usually by one of his other names, as the attendant who accompanied Him wherever he went. In traditions of the Buddha’s birth, his presence is evoked by means of the phrase, Mighty as an Elephant. Therefore, Vajrapani is known as Mahasthamaprapta (Thuchenthop) "Mighty as the Elephant" especially when shown beside Amitayus (the Long-life Buddha-form of Amitabha) along with Chenrezi.
Another aspect of Vajrapani is Sarvanivarana-vishvakambin (Dripa Namsal) who is the "Clearer of Obstacles." He is royal blue with a moon on his lotus. He is with Avalokiteshvara, praising him after a fortuitous meeting with him in Varanasi.
In Vietnamese, Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva is called Quan The Am Bo Tat or Quan Am, and Mahasthanaprapta is called Dai The Chi Bo Tat.
Taranatha related that once, before the beginning of a public debate between Chandragomin and Chandrakirti at Nalanda University, a procession for their ceremonial entrance had the two philosophers carrying a statue of Manjushri between them. As they approached the gate, Chandragomin glanced at the statue which seemed to appear as Manjughosha, himself.
He spontaneously uttered a hymn of praise and onlookers say that it turned its head towards him as if to listen. During the debate, Chandrakirti found himself unable to defeat Chandragomin's Yogacharin position. It seemed that in the evenings, that Chandragomin was actually being coached by a stone image of Avalokiteshvara.
Then, the Madhyamakist Chandrakirti also prayed to Avalokiteshvara who
appeared to him in a dream saying, "Since you are already blessed by
The debate was judged a draw.
With Acknowledgement To Dr. Radha Banerjee:
|The Bodhisattvas play a
unique role in Mahayana faith and art. The main features of the
Bodhisattvas are their boundless compassion for all the sentient beings
and their readiness to undergo any suffering for the benefit of others.
they do not attain nirvana until all the sentient beings are freed from
the cycle of bondage of birth and death. It may be interesting to note
that in Mahayana Buddhism Buddha is not the only agent engaged in the
work of saving the world. In this great task he is assisted by his
followers (Putras, Sutas, Asuras, etc.) who are called Bodhisattvas in
Mahayana Sutras. These Bodhisattvas are closer to the common man as
their constant guide than Buddha himself. The present study is based on
relevant literary, art and archaeological sources.
The Ashtamahabodhisatva or the eight chief Bodhisattvas occupy a very important place in Buddhist art and iconography. This group consists of (1) Majusri, (2) Vajrapani, (3) Avalokitesvara, (4) Kshitigarbha, (5) Sarvanivaranavishkambhin, (6) Akasagarbha, (7) Maitreya and (8) Samantabhadra.
Though there are innumerable Bodhisattvas, these eight are the most important among them. They seem to be the personifications of Buddha’s various virtues or qualitites. Manjusri is the god of wisdom. He was popular all over the Buddhist world in India and outside. He has various forms and attributes. As Arapachana Manjusri he cuts assunder the darkness or ignorance with his sword of knowledge. Vajrapani has both beneficent and firerce forms. Endowed with thuderbolt which is also the attribute of the Hindu god Indra or Sakra, Vajrapani is associated with Buddha as his attendant wherever he went to preach the dharma. It is said that when the Tathagata subdued the gigantic Naga in Udiyana, he charged Vajrapani to guad the other serpents (who surrendered to the Tathgata to save them from the attack of Guruda). He is also the enemy of the demons who held in his possession the powerful poison, halahala. He was present at the time of Buddha’s birth, etc,.
Vajrapani is the Dhyani Bodhisattva corresponding to the five celestial Buddhas or Jinas.
Avalokitesvara is the most popular of all the Bodhisattvas, as an all commpassionate and all-seeing god. He looks down from above upon the humanity with pity and alleviates their suffering. He is the reflex or spiritual son of Amitabha. His worship was introduced into Tibet in the 7th century.
Avalokitesvara is highly composite deity, partaking of some of the features of Buddha and the Hindu gods, Siva, Vishnu, Brahma and Indra. He is exclusively referred to in Indo-China as Lokesvara and the object of veneration in both Champa and Cambodia during the 9th and 10th centureis of the Christian era. In China he is known as Kuan-Yin and in Japan as kwan-non.
Kshitigarbha was widely worshipped in Chinese Turkestan as various literary and pictorial sources would show. He was equally concerned with the suffering humanity as Avalokitesvara was. Kshitigarbha was worshipped in China as early as the fifth century A.D. under the name of Ti-tsang. Chinese art sometimes shows him surrounded by the Ten kings of hell. In Japan he is known as Jizo meaning compassionate Buddhist helper. He is the regent of the hell where he comforts and saves mankind from the punishment of hell.
Kshitigarbha is often represented as a priest in which form he is as mentioned in the Mahavaipulya Sutras, Said to have appeared before the Buddha at the time of his death.
Sarvanivarana-Vishkambhin as mentioned in the Saddharma pundarika, was sent at his request by the Buddha to Benares to see the wornderful form of Avalokitesvara. As his attributes he may hold a Chintamani and an ambrosia cup. He wears a tiger skin around his waist and a garland of heads.
Akasagarbha, whose essence is ether, is usually shown standing with his hands in vitarka and varada mudras. His symbol is the sun supported by a lotus at his right shoulder; at his left is depicted a lotus flower supporting a book. In Japan and China he is represented practically in the same way.
Maitreya holds a unique position in Buddhism and Buddhist art, as according to tradition, he is the future Buddha. Maitreya is now in the Tushita heaven where Buddha went to appoint him as his successor. Maitreya is the only Buddha common to both Hinayana and Mahayana Buddhism. Maitreya’s distinctive marks are a stupa in the crown, and a jug of ambrosia (amrita ghata). When represented in the group of eight Bodhisattvas, he is shown generally with a vase and wheel.
Maitreya figures are found in India as early as the Kushan period. His worship was well known in Central Asia in the 5th century A.D. In Tibet, Maitrey is represented both as Buddha and Bodhisattva.
Samantabhadra is known for his vow to protect the law. He is the first Dhyani Buddha corresponding with the five celestial Jinas. He is shown with a crown and princely garments of Bodhisattva. He holds Chintamani in his left hand. When in the group of eight Bodhisattvas he holds the stem of lotus folowers and his ahdns exhibit vitarka dn varada mudras. As an accessory he has sometimes vajra.
In Japan Samantabhadra is one of the members int the triad with Sakayamuni and Manjusri.
The concept of ‘Bodhisattva’ is a very important one in Buddhist religion, especially in the Mahayana. Hinayana representas primitive Buddhism centering round the original teaching of Gautama Buddha. He is the centre of all attention in the Hinayana. The Mahayana which is an offshoot of Hinayana Buddhism has a long and varied history. Though it retained the teachings of Buddha as its core, it reinterpreted toa great extent the old Buddhist system and developed asome new ideas giving it almost a new look or dimension. It introduced also the worship of Buddha as a deity in anthropomorphic form and its pantheon includes many other gods and goddesses. Hinayana is ethicaland historical, while Mahayana being a later phase of Buddhism developed mainly as a metaphysical system. The monks of the Hinayana were self-centred and contemplative and consequently became ‘inactive and indolent.’ The main strength of the Mahayana is its bodhisattva ideals.
Note: Some scholars of Buddhism believe that the concept of Bodhisattva came into existence only in the Mahayana phase of buddhism. This is due to the belief that the followers of the Mahayana set up the ideals of the Bodhisattva in such clear cut and altruistic terms that it relegated into the background the importance of the Arhathood. The Bodhisattva doctrine was promulgated by the Mahayanists as a protest against the theory of Arhatship which was regarded as a doctrine with limited approach.
Among the Bodhisattvas, Kshitigarbha, because of his active role as a saviousr, especially his concern for those suffering in hell, ranks next in popularity to Avalokitesvara. Though the origins of Kshitigarbha can be traced to an early period, as is evident from various literary sources, he seems to have attained prominence during the sixth-seventh century. Kshitigarbha is known as Di-zang in China and Jizo in Japan. He is mentioned not only individually but also as one of the Eight Mahabodhisattvas as a group.
Kshitigarbha is an embodiment of Buddha;s comapssion for the fallen souls, specially those creatures who because of their past deeds, suffer punishment at the hell. He is primarily a Bodhisattva of the nether world and like Avalokitesvara he made a vow to help all living creatures and specially those in the hell....
Sarvanivaranaviskambhin is one of the eight great Bodhisattvas. The word sarvanivarana means the effacer of all the obstacles or hindrances.
Nivarana means hindrances. There are five hindrances as follows:1. Strong desire (Kamachachhanda).
2. Hatered (Vyapada)
3. Slothfulness (Thinamiddha).
4. Arrogance and suspicions (Uddhachcha-Kukuchcha).
5. Doubt abouth the triratna (Vichikichah).
Manjusri is one of the most important Bodhisattvas of the Mahayana Buddhist pantheon. His popularity is next only to that of Avalokitesvara. Manjusri deserves our special attention as a god of wisdom. In the Buddhist sutras of the second century A.D., his name occurs very widely. As a seeker of wisdom he asks various doctrinal questions to Sakyamuni Buddha.
Manjusri, as god of learning, bears a sword for destroying ignorance. He holds also the Prajnaparamita book which sybolises transcendental knowledge. These two attributes (viz., the sword and the book) are very appropriate for Manjusri, dispeller of ignorance and disseminator of knowledge. L.A. Waddell observes that Manjusri’s wisdom is deified and he is a purely metaphysical or obstract creation ‘unconnected with any of his later name sakes’ among the Buddhist monks in the fourth or the fifth century....
Vajrapani has a towfold role. In the Hinayana texts he is an attendant of Gautama Buddha while in the Mahayana iconography he is a Dhyani Bodhisattva and an emanation of Akshobhya and his Sakti is Lochana.
The word Vajrapani means the wielder of the thunderbolt. It is an epither of the Vedic god Indra whose main weapon was thunderbolt. Some scholars are of the opinion that the Hinayana Vajrapni was none other that Sakka or Sakra (i.e. Indra). As is well known, the Buddhists have absorbed many of such favourite gods, who has been absorbed in Buddhism, under the names of Sakka, Vajrapani, etc., though with modified functions. In this connection the observations of Grunwedel are significant: "Sakka, like Jupiter Fulgurator, is the Brahmanic god of the atmosphere, and the king of the minor gods; and even with the Buddhists he bears the like names, as Vasava, Vajrapani, Devinda, Maghava, Sahasranetta (Sanskrit Sahasranetra), etc., but they change Purindara (destroyer of towns) into the Buddhist ephithet of Purinda (bestower of towns). He rules over the five lowest of the six Kamadevalokas and has his abode in the Tavatimsa (Sanskrit: Trayasrimsa) heaven. As in Brahmanical mythology, his consort is Suja and his palace or car is called Vejayanta, his elephant Eravana ( Sanskrit Airavata) and his Chairoteer Matali….MAITREYA
Maitrey or the loving one is the future Buddha. He is still in the Tushita heaven leading the life of a Bodhisattva. It is believed that he will be born as a Manushi Buddha some thousand years after the disappearance of Sakyamuni buddha, for deliverence of suffering souls. According to a popular Buddhist tradition Maitreya is to appear in this world after the three divisions of time. The first period of 500 years is known as the turning of the wheel of the first law. The second period of thousand years is the period of deterioration of the law. The next period is one of 3000 years known as ‘the turning of the wheel of the second law’ after which Maitreya willl leave the Tushita heaven.
It is interesting to note that there are certain striking dissimilarities between Sakyamuni Buddha and Maitreya so far as the details of their lives are concerned. While Sakyamuni was born of Kshatriya parents, Maitreya was born in Brahmin family. This fact may point to the growing influence of Brahmin caste inside the Buddhist church as the time passed. Again, Maitreya’s advent will bring abundant peace and prosperity. Kumarajiva (5th century) translated into Chinses two tracts, viz., ‘a Sutra on Maintreya’s Becoming Buddha’ which indicate that Maitrey will preside over a very long span of time marked by peace....SAMANTABHARDRA
Samantabhadra is one of the earliest Bodhisattvas as his name occurs in the Saddharma-Pundarika which is ascribable to 2nd century A.D. The career and achievements of Samantabhadra find an elaborate treatment in the Lotus-Sutra, which occupies a unique position in the history of Mahayana Buddhist literature. "The Lotus-sutra was intended to unify the various laws; and the Sutra presented the eternal Sakyamuni as the unifying Buddha.
The dramatic meeting between Samatabhadra and Buddha is described in the chapter 26 of the Saddharma-Pundarika. It is stated there that this glorious Bodhisattva, followed by Devas, Nagas, Gandharvas, Demons, Garudas, Kinnaras, great serpents (Mahoragas), men and others came to Gridhrakuta where the Budha was staying. He saluted the lord’s feet and made seven circumumbulations from left to right and said to the Buddha. "I have come here to hear from your mouth the exposition of the Lotus of the True law. I will protect the monk who will keep this Sutranta. I will take care of their safety and save them from various dangers whenever a preacher recites the Lotus of the True Law, I will come mounted on a white elephant with six tusks alongwith a train of Bodhisattvas to guard the preacher engaged in the exposition of the Law." Thus, Samantabhadra ssured the Buddha that he would take care of the preachers of the law and avert blows and destroy poison, so that no one laying snares for those preachers may surprise them. This reminds us of the services that Buddha rendered in protecting the preachers from various evils and obstacles as stated in Chapter X of Saddharma-Pundarika. In Chapter X of the Saddharma Pundarika Buddha tells Bhaishajyaraja that hose who hear the expositions of Dharma (Dharma-Paryaya) from his mouth are destined to attain supreme and perfect enlightenment. This will also be the case with those who will hear any Dharma-Pryaya after his dealth. A Bodhisattva should set forth his Dharma-Paryaya with an unshrinking mind. Again, the Buddha assures the Bodhisattva Bhaishajyaraja that he (Buddha) would protect the preacher in every way in case there should be any one to attack him with clods, sticks, injurious words, threats, taunts and also when he will be alone in his study. Buddha will also show his luminious body to him and enable him to remember any lesson he might forget. So it is clear that Samantabhadra merely followed what Buddha did to save th preachers from various obstacles....AVALOKITESVARA
Avalokitesvara is the most popular and important of all the Mahayana Bodhisattvas because of his many unique virtues, especially his compassion for al the sentient beings and his deep involvement in their welfare. He took a vow that he would not attain nirvana until all the sentient beings are delivered from the suffering, i.e., the cycle of birth and death. According to Mahayana tradition he is to look after the benefit of mankind during the Bhadrakalpa (i.e. the period between the passing away of Guatama Buddha and the advent of the future Buddha Maitreya).
In spite of the paramount importance and popularity of Avalokitesvara it is difficult to trace his origin, even though he receives an elaborate treatment in the Saddharma Pundarika ascribable to the second century A.D....
Akasagarbha, who is regarded as the essence of ether, belongs to the group of eight great Bodhisattvas. He belongs to Ratnesa family. He is also calle dthe Khagarbha. ‘Akasa’ and ‘Kha’ mean the sky or boundless space. The reason why the Bodhisattva is called Akasagarbha is explained thus in the Ta-fang-teng-ta-chi-ching" Suppose there is a millionaire who has limitless riches, an immeasurable store of large donations to people, specially to the poor and bereaved. Suppose that he opens his store to make offerings to those people as much as they want, and that he is thereby immensely satisfied. Like that rich man, does Akasagarbha Bodhisattva practice his meritoriaus acts".
According to Su-yao-I-Kuei, the man who wants to get happiness and wisdom, should devote himself to this Bodhisattva. The reason is that Sun, Moon and the stars are ll the incarnations of akasagarbha (Taisho, XXI, 422b). Again, the akasagarbha-bodhisattva sutra (Hsu-kung yun-P’u-sa’ching) explains thus the devotion of his followers. "The devotees take bath in scented water, put on clean clothes, burn incense of aloe and turns his face to the east late at night. He brings before his mind the reddish Aruna (the dawn) and recite to him: "Thou great merciful one, dost appear and illuminate this world. Have mercy on me out of compassion and protect me (Taisho, XIII, 672c). It goes on to say that the dawn Aruna appears in the east; the Bodhisattva Akasagarbha appears". Aruna is a Sanskrit word meaning the dawn. It can, therefore, be siad that the origin of the Bodhisattva lies in the world of celestial bodies….
THE ASHTAMAHABODHISATTVA IN MANDALA