Samantabhadra Bodhisattva: The Divine Union of Wisdom and Compassion
Samantabhadra is one of the highly revered bodhisattvas in Mahayana Buddhism. His name in Sanskrit means "Universal Worthy," "Universal Virtue," or "He Who Is All-Pervadingly." According to the Avatamsaka Sutra, he made the 10 substantial vows that form the cornerstone of a bodhisattva.
In China, Samantabhadra is linked to activity, whereas Majur, a bodhisattva, is linked to wisdom. The Tendai and Shingon sects in Japan frequently worship this bodhisattva, and the Nichiren sect regards him as the defender of the Lotus Sutra. He is the patron of the Lotus Sutra and, as Mahayana Buddhist bodhisattva, is part of a Buddhist triad that includes Shakyamuni Buddha and Manjusri.
Samantabhadra holds a significant role in the Āvataṃsaka-sūtra, particularly within its final chapter, the Gaṇḍavyūha-sūtra. In the climactic scene of the Gaṇḍavyūha-sūtra, the student Sudhana encounters Samantabhadra Bodhisattva. Here, Samantabhadra imparts the profound wisdom that its value lies in practical application, benefiting all living beings.
The iconography of Samantabhadra Buddha
Source: Enlightenment Thangka
Samantabhadra Buddha is depicted as being blue and adorned with a single face. His form is characterized by two hands gently placed in a meditative gesture on his lap. His legs are gracefully folded in the vajra posture.
This divine manifestation is accompanied by the peaceful figure of his consort, Samantabhadri. She exudes serenity with a pale complexion. Encircled by a radiant yellow nimbus and a vibrant green aureola, they are seated on a glorious moon disc and a multi-hued lotus cushion. This divine seat is elegantly positioned upon a throne upheld by intricately designed snow lions.
In Mahayana Buddhism
Within Mahayana Buddhism, Bodhisattva Samantabhadra is sometimes depicted in solitary form and is considered the counterpart to Bodhisattva Manjushri. Together, they form the Shakyamuni Trinity. In this trinity, Samantabhadra occupies the right side of Shakyamuni Buddha and is often illustrated carrying symbols like a lotus leaf, a sword, or a wish-fulfilling jewel while riding atop an elephant.
At times, Samantabhadra is portrayed riding three or a single elephant with six tusks, each symbolizing one of the Six Perfections or Paramitas: generosity, morality, patience, diligence, contemplation, and wisdom. In this divine triad, Bodhisattva Manjushri finds his place on the left of Shakyamuni, who stands at the center of the composition.
Chinese art portrays Bodhisattva Samantabhadra with feminine attributes, clad in attire reminiscent of Kuan Yin. Samantabhadra receives veneration in China, particularly at Mount Emei, a sacred site associated with his Bodhimanda or place of awakening.
In Vajrayana/ Esoteric Buddhism
In Vajrayana and across many schools of Tibetan Buddhism, Samantabhadra assumes the form of a Buddha rather than that of a Bodhisattva. Within certain traditions of Tibetan Buddhism, Samantabhadra holds the position of the primordial Buddha.
Specifically within the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism, Dharmakaya Samantabhadra, distinct from the Mahayana bodhisattva, is revered as the most ancient Buddha, akin in significance to Vajradhara within the Sarma traditions. Samantabhadra's presence is illuminated in the Vajrayana tantric scripture known as the Kunjed Gyalpo Tantra, where he embodies the concept of the Primordial Buddha, representing 'timeless awareness' that has been awakened since the very inception of existence.
The Manifestation of Samantabhadra in Buddhist Sutras
Samantabhadra is prominently featured in the concluding chapter of the Lotus Sutra. Referred to as Bodhisattva Universal Worthy or Universal Sage Bodhisattva in different translations, he undertakes significant vows to safeguard the Lotus Sutra, its teachings, and those who propagate and follow the Dharma. In the Nichiren School of Buddhism, he is revered as the guardian and protector of the Sutra.
In the Gaṇḍavyūha Sutra, Samantabhadra Bodhisattva holds a pivotal and symbolic role. His prominence is especially highlighted in the concluding chapter of this Sutra. Within its pages, Samantabhadra assumes the role of an instructor, imparting profound wisdom to the student Sudhana. This wisdom underscores that true enlightenment serves the greater purpose of all sentient beings and is meant to be practiced solely for their welfare.
Within the Avataṃsaka Sutra, it is recorded that the Buddha expounded upon Samantabhadra and his ten significant vows undertaken on his path to Buddhahood. The ten great vows made by Bodhisattva Samantabhadra are outlined as follows:
- Expressing homage and reverence to all Buddhas.
- Commending and celebrating the virtues of the Thus Come One-Tathagata.
- Generously making abundant offerings.
- Sincerely repenting misdeeds and negative karma.
- Finding joy in the merits and virtues of others.
- Humbly beseeching Buddhas to continue their teachings.
- Earnestly requesting Buddhas to remain in the world.
- Devotedly adhering to the teachings of the Buddhas without exception.
- Compassionately aiding and benefiting all sentient beings.
- Transferring all accrued merits and virtues for the betterment of all beings.
Samantabhadra and Samantabhadri in Union
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Particularly in Vajrayana Buddhism, Samantabhadra and Samantabhadri have great significance. They are frequently seen as primordial cosmic beings signifying the union of wisdom and compassion, representing enlightenment's intertwined nature.
The notions of non-duality and primordial unity are embodied by Samantabhadra and Samantabhadri. While Samantabhadri represents existence's dynamic, creative side, Samantabhadra represents reality's unchangeable, transcendent component. They demonstrate how all occurrences are interconnected when taken as a whole.
Wisdom & Compassion
Samantabhadra represents wisdom, highlighting the pure awareness that transcends conceptual barriers. Samantabhadri represents the active and loving energy that interacts with the outside world to lessen suffering, reflecting compassion.
Union of the Masculine and the Feminine
These deities also represent the harmonious fusion of the masculine and the feminine energies, not as two distinct but as one united whole. This union exemplifies the harmonious nature of enlightenment, where compassion and wisdom work in harmony to strengthen and benefit one another.
Their symbolism goes beyond the individual level, illustrating the cosmos' harmony and interaction of opposing energies. The peace and interdependence in all facets of existence are mirrored in this cosmic symphony.
Samantabhadra and Samantabhadri, who provide a profound teaching on the interdependence of all things, the nature of reality, and the road to spiritual liberation, encapsulate the core ideas of Vajrayana Buddhism.