Manjushri as Father, Mother, Child — and Doctor: the eleven aspects of Manjushri — kind, wrathful, protective, teaching and “beastly”
“Manjushri is the father and mother of the Bodhissatvas, and their spiritual child.”  Manjushri’s numerous faces, personas, and complexities only hint at the completeness of Buddha Manjushri — father, mother and child at the same time! We see Manjushri, the “child” Bodhisattva, sitting at the side
of Shakyamuni in the Sutras, asking profound questions. [Child here means “Bodhisattva” or spiritual child of the Buddha.] At the same time, we meditate on the fully enlightened Buddha Manjushri, the perfect
representation of Wisdom. As Orange Manjushri, his best-known form, we see “youthful” Manjushri. As Black Manjushri, the healer. As Yamantaka the ferocious, unbeatable foe of death! No Buddha has as many emanations and faces as Noble Manjushri.
Note: A short daily Orange Manjushri Sadhana from the fifth Dalai Lama is at the end of this feature. This practice is open to anyone as praise and meditation (assuming you visualize Manjushri in front of you.)
Since Wisdom — specifically the Enlightened understanding of Shunyata — is the Mother of Buddhas, Manjushri the Buddha of Wisdom is Mother. Why is Wisdom the Mother? Without Wisdom, no Buddha can be Enlightened. Buddha Enlightenment is born from two “equal wings”: Wisdom and Compassion. Wisdom is Mother. Compassion is Father. Since Manjushri embodies both, he is both Father and Mother.
Glorious youthful Manjushri, with his iconic sword of active wisdom, is just one of his many forms of wisdom. To fulfill this mission, as teacher, guide and protector, Manjushri manifests with many faces. Traditionally, in Mahayana Buddhism, each Buddha manifests in up to “eleven forms, expressions of “skillful means” — and each deity form is profound and popular for different reasons. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Manjushri, the Buddha who embodies Father, Mother, Bodhisattva Child, peaceful, wrathful, and even beastly. Why so many faces? Manjushri’s mission of “Compassionate Wisdom” demands “skillful means.”
People who do not understand the profound “method” of deity visualization may think of the many forms of Buddha as superstitious. They are, in fact, deeply profound, incorporating universal archetypal symbolism and visual triggers to our own innate wisdom process.
Why would Manjushri manifest with an “animal head? His “Highest Form” Yamantaka has nine heads, one of which is a Buffalo head. Why do we sometimes meditate on a ferocious Black Manjushri? Why is Manjushri sometimes a youthful sixteen-year-old holding a flaming Wisdom Sword (“Prajna Kudga”) and the Prajnaparamita Sutra? In between those extremes is semi-fierce Black Manjushri.
The great teachers often present Dharma as analogous to medicine — Dharma as medicine, Buddha as “doctor” and Sangha as “supporting care givers.” Manjushri practice is Dharma (medicine), his forms are “doctors” — some forms are specialists, such as surgeons, other viral experts — and his Entourage are the “supporting Sangha.”
In previous features, we’ve used the analogy of the parent to describe wrathful deities; in the same way a father might take on the “persona” of “kind” or “sympathetic” or “fierce” parent, depending on the needs of a child, Manjushri — and all Buddha’s — manifest in various forms to teach or guide us. Which father would
you rather have at your side if you are bullied at school? Probably the fierce and protective father. When you are struggling great tragedy? Probably the kindly, hand-holding father. [For more on this, see this feature on Wrathful deities>>]
Semi-wrathful form of Manjushri — father ready to defend or discipline his child (for their own good.) Wrathful form of Manjushri — the enraged protective father who would do anything to protect his child — in the case of the “Vajra Terrifier” Yamantaka, he protects from death.
Black and wrathful symbolize ferocious energy. While we may wish for a “peaceful” state of mind when contemplating mindfulness or Dharma, when we have need of healing it is more important to “activate” mind-over-body. Contemplating and visualizing Black Manjushri — in front of you if you don’t have initiation —
and chanting his mantra is a famous healing practice. While it certainly does NOT replace advice from your physician, there is no doubt that — with faith — Black Manjushri’s healing energy can be helpful. Hundreds of lineage teachers through many generations have relied on the practice. For a story on Black Manjushri, see>>
The mantra is:
References to millions of Buddhas or Purelands are reasonable, given that the Universe is Infinite — and if you understand that all sentient beings have “Buddha Nature.” [For a feature on Buddha Nature, see>>]
Colour is often used to symbolize the five key aspects that focus on the five poisons (skandhas): White, Blue, Red, Yellow (Gold), and Green. There is also “Black” for wrathful forms. For example, there are white, yellow, or orange and black Manjushris.
How we meditate on a Buddha varies. Not only do we have the many Buddhas — Manjushri, Shakyamuni (who manifested in our time), Amitabha, Tara, Avalokiteshvara, Vajrasattva — each of these Buddhas emanate in numerous forms.
You can think of these aspects of emanations of Buddhas as layers of symbolism. For example, in the advanced practice of Vajrabhairava (Yamantaka), the serious practitioner visualizes Yamantaka’s external form — which is vastly complicated, with nine faces, 34 arms, and 16 legs. But, at his heart, Yamantaka has
youthful Manjushri. Then, at Manjushri’s heart, we visualize the seed syllable HUM. These “layers” are another way to understand the deities — who are none other than your own Buddha Nature manifesting outwardly.
It starts with the seed syllable Hum (then, sometimes, from Hum, a further emanation to the seed syllable Dhi) — seed syllables are the first emanation from the Emptiness or Oneness of Shunyata. From the seed syllable, we manifest outward to Manjushri in his youthful, popular form, then further outward to two-
armed, one faced Yamantaka — and finally to the great Vajra Terrifier Yamantaka with nine faces, 34 arms, and 16 legs. [This is over-simplified, of course! The actual description in the Sadhana is many pages long!]
Refuge and Bodhichitta
Lineage Guru Yoga
Complete Lama Tsongkhapa practice: “The Hundreds of Deities of the Joyful Land” (Gaden Lha Gyai Ma)
Seven Limb Practice
Complete Vajrasattva practice — not just the mantra, but a complete purification sadhana
Outer and inner mandala offerings
Inner Offerings (multiple)
Outer Sense Offerings (multiple offerings)
Common Protection Wheel
Uncommon Protection Wheel
Three Kaya Practice: transforming ordinary death into Dharmakaya; transforming the intermediate (Bhardo) state into the Sambogakkaya; transforming rebirth into the Nirmanakaya
Preliminary and Concluding Torma offerings
Complete practice of the entire mandala, including the wrathful protectors
Blessing of all the organs and senses — a form of Body Mandala
Empowerment and initiation
Consecrating the mala
Mantra recitations, including Manjushri’s core mantra OM A RA PA TZA NA DHI, the great Root Mantra Dharani, the Action Mantra and Essence Mantras
Generation of Karmayama and other wrathful members of the great mandala and Torma offerings — and the request for actions and activities to benefit all beings
The Yoga of Daily Activities
There is no practice missing here.
If you look at the different styles of meditation, various Buddhas emanate as remedies (medicine) for the Five Poisons — hence the Five Buddha Families. [For more on the Five Buddha families, see>>] Then, each of these Five Buddhas — who can be considered emanations of Shakyamuni — manifest in various forms, which tend to fall into the “eleven iconic aspects” — here presented in the order of “peaceful” to “wrathful”:
1 – Buddha appearance
2 – Monastic appearance
3 – Lay figure appearance
4 – Elder appearance
5 – Mahasiddha appearance
6 – Kingly appearance
7 – Peaceful Deva or Bodhisattva appearance
8 – Semi-wrathful
9 – Warrior appearance
10 – Wrathful or “Angry” appearance
11 – Animal-headed (or featured) deities
You could simplify this list down by the “energy” level aspect to Peaceful, Semi-Wrathful, Wrathful. For example, under various types of “wrathful energy,” you might have “Warrior”, “Angry” or “Animal Headed.”
There are countless forms from sutra and tantra, including Manjushri the Bodhisattva who appears often in the teaching sutras, Manjushri the Peaceful Buddha, various semi-wrathful forms, and — without contradiction — the most wrathful form of any meditation deity — Vajrabhairva, the Vajra Terrifier. There are also some lesser-known aspects. (See photos in this feature for some images).
This emanation is described as: “youthful in appearance, orange in colour like the rising sun, the right hand loosely extended across the knee holds the stem of a blue utpala flower blossoming above the shoulder supporting a blue upright sword of wisdom giving forth licks of flame from the tip. Cradled to the heart
with the left hand is a folio text of the Prajnaparamita sutra. At the top of the head beneath a gemstone blazing with orange fire the blue hair is piled in a topknot, some falling loose across the shoulders, tied with golden flowers. A thin areola, reddish and ethereal, surrounds the head. Lightly adorned with gold
earrings and a choker necklace, he wears a blue-green scarf and a lower garment with even-folds of red and pink covering the legs. In a relaxed posture of royal ease atop a large pink lotus blossom with lush green foliage rising on thin stems from a pond of blue rippling water below, he sits against an open background and vast clear sky.” 
From Himilayan Art:
“In a peaceful manner, yellow in colour, with one face and four hands Manjushri holds in the first right a blue sword of wisdom wrapped with licks of flame and in the left held to the heart the stem of a pink utpala flower blossoming at the left ear supporting the Prajnaparamita text. In the lower two hands are an
bracelets he is draped in a variety of scarves, silks and a lower garment of rainbow colours. Seated atop a moon and multi-coloured lotus seat he emanates a pale yellow nimbus of fine light rays and a green areola completely enclosed by dark green leaves and lotus blossoms.
In front, from a dark blue pool with water fowl sporting rises a pink lotus as a foundation for an array of rich offerings of a golden Dharma Wheel, wishing jewels, auspicious emblems, vases and delicious foods offered to the noble Manjushri.”
I make humble obeisance to you, great Tsongkhapa, Personification of Manjushri in human form with all the marks and signs of perfection. Your magnificent attainments were nurtured in the matrix of motherly method and wisdom combined Of which the vibrant syllable DHI is an embodiment.
Sipping the nectars of the profound teachings, Directly from Manjushri’s masterly eloquence, You realized the heart of wisdom. Inspired by your example, I will now set out a description of the steps for actualization Of Manjushri, the bodhisattva of wisdom, In accord with your realization.
Begin the session with the general preliminaries of taking refuge and generating the altruistic thought of enlightenment. Then con- template the four immeasurable thoughts of love, compassion, joy, and equanimity.
May all sentient beings have happiness and the causes of happiness.
May all sentient beings be free from suffering and the causes of suffering.
May all sentient beings be inseparable from the happiness that is free from suffering.
May all sentient beings abide in equanimity, free from desire for friends and hatred for enemies.1
At my heart is my mind in the shape of an egg, its point upwards. Inside the egg, on a full moon disc, is an orange letter DHI, from which an infinite amount of light emits. It fills the whole of my body, purifying all my negativities and removing all my obscura- tions accumulated since beginingless time. The
light rays leave through my pores and become offerings to the buddhas and bo- dhisattvas, thereby delighting them. This causes the blessings of the body, speech, and mind of these holy beings to dissolve into light that destroys the darkness of ignorance of all sentient be- ings, thus placing them in wisdom’s illumination.
The rays then recollect into the syllable DHI. It transforms into light, my ordinary perception and my clinging thereto vanish, and I emerge as Venerable Manjushri, orange in color, with one face and two arms.
My right hand brandishes a sword of wisdom in the space above me. At my heart between the thumb and ring finger of my left hand, I hold the stem of an utpala lotus. Upon its petals in full bloom, by my left ear, rests a volume of the Perfec- tion of Wisdom Sutra.
I sit in full lotus posture and am adorned with precious ornaments for my head, ears, throat, and shoulders, as well as bracelets and anklets. Draped in a flowing mantle and skirt of exquisite silks, my
hair is tied up in five knots and coils counter-clockwise. Bearing an entrancing and serene smile, I sit amidst a mass of light radiat- ing from my body. The letter OM marks the crown of my head, AH my throat and HUM my heart.
HUM emits rays of light that invite the wisdom beings from the inconceivable mansion of their own pure lands. They resemble Manjushri as described above and are surrounded by hosts of buddhas and bodhisattvas.
They absorb into me and thus we become one.
One then makes offerings and praise.
OM ARYA VAGIH SHARA SAPARIVARA ARGHAM PRATICCHA HUM SVAHA (water for the face)
OM ARYA VAGIH SHARA SAPARIVARA PADYAM PRATICCHA HUM SVAHA (water for the feet)
OM ARYA VAGIH SHARA SAPARIVARA PUSHPE PRATICCHA HUM SVAHA (flowers)
OM ARYA VAGIH SHARA SAPARIVARA DHUPE PRATICCHA HUM SVAHA (incense)
OM ARYA VAGIH SHARA SAPARIVARA ALOKE PRATICCHA HUM SVAHA (lights/lamps)
OM ARYA VAGIH SHARA SAPARIVARA GANDHE PRATICCHA HUM SVAHA (scented water or perfume)
OM ARYA VAGIH SHARA SAPARIVARA NAIVIDYA PRATICCHA HUM SVAHA (food)
OM ARYA VAGIH SHARA SAPARIVARA SHAPTA PRATICCHA HUM SVAHA (music)
I make obeisance to your youthful form, O Manjushri. Like that of a dynamic and graceful sixteen year old, You repose upon the full moon as your cushion At the center of an expansive, milk-white lotus.
I make obeisance to your speech, O mighty fulfiller of wishes, So mellifluent to the minds of countless sentient beings, A lucent euphony to accord with each listener’s capacity, Its multiplicity embellishing the hearing of all unfortunate ones.
O Manjushri, I make obeisance to your mind Wherein is illuminated the entire tapestry of the myriad objects of knowledge. It is a tranquil ocean of unfathomable profundity Of immeasurable breadth, boundless like space itself.
All the syllables radiate light, which gathers both the wisdoms of exposition, dialectics and composition and the wisdoms of hear- ing, contemplation and meditation, which are possessed by the buddhas, bodhisattvas, sravakas and pratyekabuddhas, and the wise and learned masters of all the Buddhist and non-Buddhist traditions.
One contemplates the fusion of such wisdom within one’s mindstream and recites the mantra accordingly. See pages 9-11 for a more elaborate explanation and practice of receiving the seven types of wisdom.
OM VAJRASATTVA SAMAYA MANU PALAYA / VAJRASATTVA TVENO PATISHTA / DRIDHO MAY BHAVA / SUTOSHYO ME BHAVA / SUPOSHYO ME BHAVA / ANURAKTO ME BHAVA / SARVA SIDDHIM ME PRAYACHHA / SARVA KARMA SU CHAME / CHITTAM SHRIYAM KURU HUM / HA HA HA HA HO / BHAGAVAN / SARVA TATHAGATA / VAJRA MAME MUNCHA / VAJRA BHAVA MAHA SAMAYA SATTVA / AH HUM PHAT
 Amitabha Sutra