Who is Manjushri?
Whenever you visit a Buddhist or Hindu country you will easily recognise images of Buddha but are probably less likely to even notice other statues, carvings or paintings of other religious deities or Boddhisatva. One such icon is Manjushri who, along with the likes of Saraswati and Tara, are extremely important in the Buddhist environment.
Manjushri is the embodiment of all the Buddha’s wisdom with the name derived from manju meaning “charming, beautiful, pleasing” and Shri meaning “glory, brilliance”. He is regarded as the crown prince of Buddhist teachings, or the one who can best explain the Buddhist wisdom and bring about enlightenment. Manjushri has this title because eons ago, he was the instructor for seven different buddhas, the last being Sakyamuni Buddha.
Manjushri is often depicted with his right hand holding a double-edged flaming sword and his left hand holding a lotus flower on which rests the Prajnaparamita (Great Wisdom) Sutra. He is often seen riding a lion. The Prajnaparamita Sutra on the lotus flower symbolising wisdom as pure as a lotus. The sword represents the sharpness of wisdom to cut through illusion and ignorance.
According to legend the Kathmandu Valley was once a lake. It is believed that Manjushri saw a lotus flower in the centre of the lake and cut a gorge at Chobar to allow the lake to drain. The place where the lotus flower settled became sacred leading to the building of Swayambhu. It is a nice outing away from the pollution of central Kathmandu and combining Chobar with two other sites nearby makes for a full and interesting day out.
Nearer to home for us, below are images from a monastery and meditation centre dedicated to Manjushri in Cumbria, UK, The Kadampa Manjushri Meditation Centre based at the original Conishead Priory near Ulverston. Once a retreat and convalescence home for injured miners I visited there as a young boy to see an uncle who was a miner. The photos are from a more recent visit and if you are in the area do go and visit, there is no charge and you will find it a beautiful place whether you are a Buddhist or not.