|Geshe Rabten gave this commentary on the Praise to Manjushri in Dharamsala, India, in June, 1975. Translated by Gonsar Rinpoche. Edited by Sandra Smith and Ven. Gyalten Lekden, March 2013.
The Praise to Manjushri at the beginning of this commentary was provided by FPMT Education Services in January 2013. There are some differences between the FPMT translation of the Praise and Gonsar Rinpoche's translation of the Tibetan terms. Refer to the endnotes, where these discrepancies are discussed.
Praise to Manjushri (Gang-lo-ma)
La ma dang gön po jé tsün jam päi yang la chak tsäl lo
Gang gi lo drö drip nyi trin drel nyi tar nam dak rap sel wä
Ji nyé dön kün ji zhin zik chir nyi kyi tuk kar lek bam dzin
Gang dak si pä tsön rar ma rik mün tom duk ngel gyi zir wä
Dro tsok kün la bu chik tar tsé yän lak druk chü yang dän sung
Druk tar cher drok nyön mong nyi long lä kyi chak drok dröl dzä ching
Ma rik mün sel duk ngäl nyu gu ji nyé chö dzé rel dri nam
Dö nä dak ching sa chü tar sön yön tän lhün dzok gyel sä tu bö ku
Chu trak chu dang chu nyi gyän trä dak lö mün sel jam päi yang la dü
OM A RA PA TSA NA DHI
Tsé dän khyö kyi khyen rap ö zer gyi
Dak lö ti muk mün pa rap säl nä
Ka dang tän chö zhung luk tok pa yi
Lo drö pop päi nang wa tsäl du söl
Homage to my guru and protector, Manjushri!
You, whose intelligence shines forth as the sun, unclouded by delusions or traces of ignorance,
Who hold to your heart a scriptural text symbolic of seeing all things as they are,
Who teaches in sixty ways, with the loving compassion of a mother for her only son,
To all creatures caught in the prison of samsara,
Confused in the darkness of their ignorance, overwhelmed by their suffering.
You, whose dragon-thunder–like proclamation of Dharma arouses us from the stupor of our delusions
And frees us from the iron chains of our karma,
Who wields the sword of wisdom hewing down suffering wherever its sprouts appear,
Clearing away the darkness of all ignorance;
You, whose princely body is adorned with the one hundred and twelve marks of a Buddha,
Who has completed the stages achieving the highest perfections of a bodhisattva,
Who has been pure from the beginning.
To you, oh Manjushri, I bow.
OM A RA PA TSA NA DHI
With the brilliance of your wisdom, O compassionate one,
Illuminate the darkness enclosing my mind,
Enlighten my intelligence and wisdom
So that I may gain insight into the Buddha’s words and the texts that explain them.
According to the oral tradition teachings of the lineage gurus, like the junior tutor to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the Praise to Manjushri (Gang-lo-ma) was composed by 100 Indian mahasiddhis who had gathered together. Each one separately decided to say a verse of praise to Manjushri, who at that time blessed their minds. Ninety-nine of them wrote the same praise, which became known as Gang-lo-ma. The hundredth mahasiddhi wrote a slightly different praise, which became a supplementary prayer to Gang-lo-ma called Sheja-kha-yingpa. This is very, very famous and was recited by the pandit Vidyakokila the Younger. The text is now almost lost; it is extremely rare and it is something many people are searching for, because it is a very, very important praise to Manjushri.
Although the text begins with “I make prostrations to the lama and Manjushri”,1 in your visualization, in your own mind, the two should be inseparable. There should not be any separation of the lama and Manjushri, so whenever you see Manjushri, you should see the lama. There should be inseparability of the two. This is very important. In some other practices, whenever the word lama is mentioned—whether a deity is mentioned and visualized, or whether the sun is used, for example, there is no difference. Sometimes instead of using sun, they use moon, but it is the same thing, showing the clarity, or the total disintegration of physical and mental obscurations.
Ji nyé dön kün means “whatever you can find” or “whatever can be perceived,” and refers to the conventional truth. Everything that operates on the conventional level is perceived by Manjushri.
Ji zhin zik means “absolute truth” —not only the understanding of the conventional aspect of how things appear to us, the ordinary mode of existence—but seeing the absolute reality. The true mode of existence or absolute truth is understood by Manjushri.
Ji-zhin zik chir also references “absolute lama.” You should see there is no difference between Manjushri and the lama, according to the tantric texts as well as sutra texts. There is no difference of opinion and no difference in traditions. All the traditions of Buddhism agree on this.
Gang gi lo-drö means “whose wisdom”, referring to Manjushri as just like the sun in clear space without any obstructions and obstacles of clouds. If there are clouds, the rays of the sun will not shine on us directly; there are obstructions. The wisdom of Manjushri is clear of the two types of obstacles, drip nyi, kleshavarana (the obstacle of disturbing emotions) and jneyavarana (the obstacles to knowledge). He has freedom from ordinary and instinctive delusions, and he has the true qualities of an enlightened being.
There is no difference whether the moon or the sun is used to represent truth; he has the wisdom of understanding the dual truths. In order to signify this great transcendental wisdom void of all obstacles, which is not visible in any kind of physical form, he holds a book with his left hand at his heart. Holding the book at the heart signifies that he has these mental qualities. Physical qualities can be expressed by the marks and signs, and by what he does, by the compassionate deeds; but in order to show how his psychic qualities, he holds the book, signifying the wisdom of understanding the two levels of truth.
The basic qualities of enlightened beings are wisdom, compassion and power. Next is the quality of compassion. Gang-dag refers to sentient beings. Si-pa tsön-rar means “in the prison of samsara.” This refers specifically to the two kinds of obstacles: grasping at the true existence of phenomena and grasping at the true existence of the personality. These two types of grasping are what prevent us from getting beyond the cycle of samsaric existence. The physical world does not prevent us from getting out of samsara. We are prevented only by these two main faculties of the mind—grasping at the true existence of phenomena and grasping at the true existence of the personality, the false ego and such things. This is what is referred to as the prison of samsara.
Ma-rig mün-thom means “completely bewildered by ignorance.” The cause of our bewilderment is these two kinds of grasping. By this bewilderment we do many wrong things and make no discrimination between white and black actions. Due to doing more black actions, it’s almost as if we are intoxicated by the sufferings. In addition to “being overwhelmed,” zir-wa also means intoxicated.2
Manjushri has great compassion—like a mother’s compassion for her only child—for sentient beings who have this bewilderment of the two basic mistaken qualities or faculties of the mind. Bu-chik means “only child.” Manjushri’s compassion for sentient beings is just like a mother with only one child. The mother gives all her attention and loving care to that child, so it becomes like a jewel and a focus for her. Actually Manjushri’s compassion is much greater than what we can imagine or explain by any means or examples. Although the example of a mother’s love for her only child is the best we can use, it is quite limited. Sometimes our care and compassion is for the self-cherishing attitude—for our own self.
Manjushri’s unimaginable compassion is expressed by druk tar cher drok, which means “like the roar of a dragon’s thunder”. He makes the Dharma teaching known over a great distance with a loud sound. This is an expression of his kind concern and compassion for sentient beings. The ultimate way of benefiting sentient beings is not to improve their physical standard of living, but to improve their spiritual standard.
Nyön mong nyi long means “we are awakened from our sleep of ignorance”,3 just as a loud alarm clock awakens us completely from a peaceful sleep. Manjushri’s teachings are like the thunder of a dragon, completely disturbing the sleep of ignorance. Sometimes we sleep during meditation, and we need to be awakened.
Lä kyi chak drok means “fetters of karma.”4 We are bound and committed to our own previous actions, so what we do now has been mostly determined. The thunder-like actions of Manjushri cut the rope of ignorance of our karma.
There are many things we cannot do on our own because we have made certain rules for ourselves—the rules of delusions. We can consider this as karma which prevents us from doing many things that we would like to do. We have to break through these kinds of actions which keep us very limited and confined to a narrow point. Once we break through these, we become free from accumulating or forming further karma.
Our own actions are our limitations, like the handcuffs or legcuffs on a prisoner. When a prisoner has iron bars across his legs, he cannot go anywhere. We create these things in our own minds, but our positive action can prevent us from accumulating further karmas. This is by means of our own control, it’s usually determined by us. We should not allow this kind of continuation of past actions to determine our future.
Manjushri holds the sword of wisdom, indicating his power. This is an expression of his compassion, which cuts the rope of actions and the rope of ignorance and delusion of sentient beings. This is not something he has no means to do; he has a great deal of power to do this, as indicated by the sword in his right hand.
Dö nä dak means “pure from the very beginning”. This refers to the definitive form of Manjushri. The interpretive form of Manjushri can be the bodhisattvas who are not pure from the beginning, but who have worked and purified themselves. However, the definitive form is the manifestation of the Buddha’s wisdom. This aspect of Manjushri was pure from the beginning.
“He who has been pure from the beginning and who has traveled all the ten stages and has reached the stage of buddhahood, yet who manifests himself as the son of the buddhas.” 5
Gyal-sä tu-wö-ku actually means “the son of the Buddha who can do many things.”6 This explains his power of attainment, of manifesting according to the needs of sentient beings—sometimes as an enlightened king, sometimes as a prince of the Buddha, a bodhisattva.
When the Buddha’s qualities of wisdom, compassion and power are described, wisdom is the quality of his mind, and compassion is described by its expression—the teachings, the quality of his speech. Then there are his physical qualities; the qualities of his body.
Chu trak chu means “ten times ten” and dang chu nyi “plus twelve.” This refers to the 112 physical attributes of the Buddha; the 80 minor and 32 major attributes. These are like the natural ornaments of an enlightened being, which are without any burden. Silver and gold ornaments have tremendous weight; they may look nice but you get tired because of their weight and the care that you have to take.
Dak lö mün sel jam päi yang la dü means “I greet Manjushri with the deep veneration of my body, speech, and mind, who will eliminate the total darkness of my mind.”7 It is now talking about the Buddha’s qualities of wisdom, compassion and power, and the qualities of body, speech and mind. We are praising Manjushri just by expressing these various qualities.
Dü means “to go down, to bend down.” This is like a fruit tree having very large fruit that will pull down the branch—this is called dü. When you notice certain qualities in someone, then your pride and conceit becomes bent. You no longer feel that you are great, but you see something about yourself in someone; something you can just naturally become. You just bow the head: this is how all the homages and respects are paid.
At this point the mantra OM AH RA PA TSA NA DHI should be said about a hundred times. If you say this mantra daily in connection with this prayer; if you really concentrate, then your wisdom can improve within a month. In one month you can feel the difference in your intelligence, and your wisdom really expands. This is the great mantra of Manjushri.
After saying the mantra there is the conclusion prayer.8
A very clever person who has never studied with any teacher could perhaps understand any text he picks up, but that would be a superficial understanding. He would only understand what is in the book, not the real deeper meanings which are hidden completely. Certain very special wisdom is needed for this, like the power of Manjushri, the transmissions of the lineages, the powers of the lamas and such things.
This is a daily practice we should do at home. The first thing we should do after getting up is rinse the mouth, then recite this prayer to Manjushri and the mantra. This is extremely beneficial; it makes a big difference to our day and gives us great wisdom. It can help, it can make a whole big difference.
Then it is good to make an offering of the mandala to Manjushri by using this verse: “In the place adorned with flowers and beautiful circumstances, on this great surface, the earth, I visualize all the continents, the sun and the moon. Together with my wealth, my body, speech and mind, I offer this to you.” It is a good practice to make a short mandala offering. There are two ways of saying this verse, for which the visualizations are slightly different. Sang-gyä zhing-la means you take the entire universe and make this offering to another place—to another pure land where the buddhas are residing. When you say zhing-du, you visualize this very place where you are now standing as a pure land and offer it to the objects of refuge. So if you see this spelled as zhing-la or zhing-du it is not a mistake, but a different visualization.
Je Tsongkhapa said of Manjushri “Just as the elephant longs for the river, so do I long for your good qualities.” In another world age, there was a person with the same stream of consciousness as Manjushri. The ruling Buddha was Dawa Kunzik,9 the King of the Dragon’s Sound. Manjushri was one of the four chakra emperors then, and had a large family whose only work was to look after the Buddha and his disciples. He made a continuous practice of offerings, year after year, but was not sure how to dedicate the merit. A voice from the sky said that he should dedicate the merit for enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings. Manjushri went to see the Buddha with a large party and Buddha said that the power of his merit would not fail for what he wished and dedicated them for. He advised the king to develop bodhicitta and take the bodhisattva vows. The king made elaborate offerings and vowed very strongly to destroy the self-cherishing attitude, because he might never enjoy results if he were to find himself cheating other sentient beings by having self-cherishing attitude. Many others took bodhisattva vows at the same time. The only one left was the Tathagata Sa-lha, the deity of the earth, who remained under the earth according to his bodhisattva promises. All the others went to other worlds.
It is Manjushri who will cause all the buddhas of this world age to take bodhisattva vows. His name then was Chö-gyäl-tsän, Banner of Dharma. He became the guru of 100 aspiring buddhas. Manjushri is the father of all the buddhas to come. He is always spoken of as a bodhisattva and his manifestations are those of a bodhisattva, but he is really a full buddha. He attained enlightenment many times to set examples, going through the twelve deeds. When he attained enlightenment, it was in this universe, several times in the south.
There are pure lands of Manjushri, which are hard to be born into. Even if all bodhisattvas made prayers to be born there, only 16 could be born there. There are only bodhisattvas in this pure land; not even arhats can go there. There is no suffering or lack of freedom, so there is speedy progress. The residing buddha, Kun-zik himself, looks after us and gives us teachings. To go there it is necessary to do Manjushri practice, the practice of dawa-para(?) and to have bodhicitta.
Manjushri should be visualized as just like the Buddha, but all yellow. His left hand is in the teaching mudra and his right hand is in the mudra of fearlessness. He should be visualized as miles high. Make many paintings or statues of Manjushri. We don’t need to make requests of him; just by being there, he solves all our questions and problems. Making devotion to Manjushri is like making devotion to all the Sutrayana and Tantrayana deities. It is better to recite Manjushri’s name than those of all the buddhas.
In Manjushri’s time, there was a king who had killed his father by hitting him in anger. He was overwhelmed with regret, and the present Buddha came down to him and said that Manjushri could deal with the problem, although he himself couldn’t. Mahakashek and Manjushri came with 499 disciples each. The king prepared offerings and food for 1,000 persons, but 100,000 manifestations of Manjushri came. The king was downcast, as it was so inauspicious to have inadequate offerings. Moreover, he didn’t have enough bowls, so Manjushri manifested begging bowls in front of his manifestations. The king wanted to offer clothing to Manjushri, but Manjushri, who took different forms, turned into light and said: “Are you square, circular, triangular or something else?” Thus he tricked the king into meditation on voidness.
Manjushri is the father, the method, bodhicitta, and the mother, the wisdom understanding voidness. The name of Manjushri is more powerful than that of other buddhas, not because of the quality of enlightenment, but because of the differences in expansiveness of the vows taken as a bodhisattva.
Most Indian pandits had Manjushri as their main deity. For example, Manjushri was the closest friend and advisor of Je Tsongkhapa. Manjushri does not discriminate when to appear; this depends on the enthusiasm of the disciple, as in the story of Asanga and the dog.
1 “Lama” could be seen as one object of praise and “protector Manjushri” as the other object of praise, thus Geshe Rabten comments that the two are inseparable. [Return to text]
2 Zir-wa is usually translated as “afflicted”, but in the FPMT prayer above, it is translated as “overwhelmed (by suffering).” Applying the meaning “intoxicated” to this term must be an alternative or oral tradition. [Return to text]
3 Different from FPMT translation; both are correct. [Return to text]
4 Different from FPMT translation; both are correct. [Return to text]
5 Different from the FPMT translation of this prayer. The difference is important because of the use of the conjunction “yet” in this translation, absent in the FPMT translation. It is not technically there in the Tibetan, but it is verse and can be assumed, as long as there is consistency. [Return to text]
6 This means “the primary son of the Conqueror,” which is a euphemism for bodhisattva. This is an interpretation, not a literal translation. [Return to text]
7 Different from the FPMT translation. This is an interpretation, not a literal translation. The words say, “To Manjushri, who clears the darkness of my mind, I bend down.” [Return to text]
8 Lama Thubten Yeshe’s translation of this prayer:
Most compassionate Manjushri:
With your great kindness, please
Dispel through your magnificent light
Of understanding wisdom
My mental darkness of ignorance,
That I might comprehend fully all Lord
Buddha’s sutras and the Mahayana pandits’
Commentaries, by receiving the courageous
Vision of understanding knowledge wisdom.
[Return to text]
9 This is a best guess, however, “Dawa Kunzik” is not even close to meaning “The King of the Dragon’s Sound,” so it’s possible that these two are separate entities. [Return to text]