Manjusri is a Bodhisattva associated with Prajna (Transcendent Wisdom/般若) in Mahayana Buddhism. In Tibetan Buddhism, he is also a Yidam (Deity/本尊). His name means "Gentle Glory" in Sanskrit. Manjusri is also known by the fuller name of Manjusrikumarabhuta, literally "Manjusri, Still a Youth" or, less literally, "Prince Manjusri".
Scholars have identified Manjusri as the oldest and most significant Bodhisattva in Mahayana literature. Manjusri is first referred to in early Mahayana texts such as the Prajnaparamita Sutras (般若佛經) and through this association he came to symbolize the embodiment of Prajna (Transcendent Wisdom). The Lotus Sutra assigns him a Pure Land called Vimala, which according to the Avatamsaka Sutra (大方廣佛華嚴經) is located in the East. His Pure Land is predicted to be one of the two best Pure Lands in all of existence in all the past, present and future. When he attains Buddhahood his name will be Universal Sight. In the Lotus Sutra, Manjusri also leads the Naga King's daughter to enlightenment. He also figures in the Vimalakirti Nirdesa Sutra (佛說維摩詰經) in a debate with Vimalakirti Bodhisattva.
An example of a wisdom teaching of Manjusri Bodhisattva can be found in the Saptasatika Prajnaparamita Sutra (Taisho Tripitaka 232 / 大正新脩大藏經 232). This sutra contains a dialogue between Manjusri and the Buddha on the One Practice Samadhi (Sanskrit: Ekavyuha Samadhi/一行三昧). Master Sheng-Yen (聖嚴) renders the following teaching of Manjusri, for entering Samadhi naturally through Transcendent Wisdom.
“Contemplate the five skandhas (五蘊) as originally empty and quiescent, non-arising, non-perishing, equal, without differentiation. Constantly thus practicing, day or night, whether sitting, walking, standing or lying down, finally one reaches an inconceivable state without any obstruction or form. This is the Samadhi of One Act (一行三昧).“
Within Esoteric Buddhism (密宗), Manjusri is a meditational deity, and considered a fully enlightened Buddha. In the Shingon school of Esoteric Buddhism (真言宗), he is one of the thirteen deities to whom disciples devote themselves. He figures extensively in many Esoteric Buddhist texts such as the Manjusri-mula-kalpa and the Manjusrinamasamgiti.
Manjusri is depicted as a male Bodhisattva wielding a flaming sword in his right hand, representing the realization of Transcendent Wisdom which cuts down ignorance and duality. The scripture supported by the lotus held in his left hand is a Prajnaparamita Sutra, representing his attainment of ultimate realization from the blossoming of wisdom. Manjusri is often depicted as riding on a blue lion, or sitting on the skin of a lion. This represents the use of wisdom to tame the mind, which is compared to riding or subduing a ferocious lion.
In Chinese and Japanese Buddhist art, Manjusri's sword is sometimes replaced with a ruyi scepter (如意), especially in representations of his Vimalakirti Sutra (佛說維摩詰經) discussion with the layman Vimalakirti.
He is one of the Four Great Bodhisattvas of Chinese Buddhism, the other three being: Samantabhadra Bodhisattva(普賢菩薩), Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva(地藏王菩薩) and Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva (觀世音菩薩). In China, he is often paired with Samantabhadra Bodhisattva.
In Tibetan Buddhism, Manjushri is sometimes depicted in a trinity with Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva(觀世音菩薩) and Vajrapani Bodhisattva(金剛手菩薩).
A mantra commonly associated with Manjusri is the following (五字眞言):
Om a ra pa ca na dhih (唵 阿羅跛者曩 地)
In Tibetan tradition, this mantra is believed to enhance wisdom and improve one's skills in debating, memory, writing, and other literary abilities. "Dhih" is the seed syllable of the mantra and is chanted with greater emphasis and also repeated a number of times as a Decrescendo (softer sound).
In China, Manjusri is known as Wenshu(文殊菩薩). Wutai Shan (五台山)in Shanxi (山西省), one of the Four Sacred Mountains of Buddhism in China, which also had strong associations for Taoists, is considered by Chinese Buddhists to be his Bodhimanda (道場). Wutai Shan is surrounded by a cluster of flat-topped peaks (North, South, East, West, and Central). The North peak, called Beitai Ding or Yedou Feng, is the highest (3,061 m), and indeed the highest point in northern China. In the Avatamsaka Sutra (華嚴經), Manjusri is said to reside on a "clear cold mountain" (清涼山) in the northeast. Manjusri is believed to frequently appear on the mountain, taking the form of ordinary pilgrims, monks, or most often unusual five-colored clouds.