Buddha Samantabhadra

From Buddha World

Samantabhadra (Wylie: Kun-tu bzang-po, Mongolian: Qamugha Sain, Chinese pinyin: pŭ xián pú sà; Wade-Giles: P'u3 hsien2 p'u2 sa4; Japanese: Fugen bosatsu, Vietnamese: Phổ Hiền Bồ Tát), meaning Universal Worthy, is a Bodhisattva in Mahayana Buddhism associated with Buddhist practice and meditation. Together with Shakyamuni Buddha and fellow bodhisattva Manjusri he forms the Shakyamuni trinity in Buddhism. He is the patron of the Lotus Sutra and, according to the Avatamsaka Sutra, made the ten great vows which are the basis of a bodhisattva. Samantabhadra is most commonly described as a bodhisattva himself, although some Vajrayana Buddhist traditions, namely the Nyingmapa, regard him as a primordial Buddha in indivisible yab-yum union with his consort Samantabhadri. In China he is associated with action, whereas the bodhisattva Manjusri is associated with wisdom. In Japan this bodhisattva is often worshipped by the Tendai and Shingon sects, and as the protector of the Lotus Sutra by the Nichiren sect.

Origins

Samantabhadra is a key figure in the Flower Garland Sutra, particularly the last chapter, the Gandhavyuha Sutra. In the climax of the Gandhavyuha Sutra, the student Sudhana meets the Bodhisattva Samantabhadra, who teaches him that wisdom only exists for the sake of putting it into practice; that it is only good insofar as it benefits all living beings. In the Lotus Sutra, he is described at length in the epilogue, The Sutra of Meditation on the Bodhisattva Universal Worthy (Jp: Fugen Kyō), with special detail given to visualization of the bodhisattva, and the virtues of devotion to him.

The Ten Vows of Samantabhadra

In the Flower Garland Sutra, the Buddha states that Bodhisattva Samantabhadra made ten great vows in his path to full Buddha-hood:

  • To pay homage and respect to all Buddhas.
  • To praise all the Buddhas.
  • To make abundant offerings. (i.e. give generously)
  • To repent misdeeds and evil karmas.
  • To rejoice in others’ merits and virtues.
  • To request the Buddhas to continue teaching.
  • To request the Buddhas to remain in the world.
  • To follow the teachings of the Buddhas at all times.
  • To accommodate and benefit all living beings.
  • To transfer all merits and virtues to benefit all beings.

The ten vows have become a common practice in East Asian Buddhism, particularly the tenth vow, with many Buddhists traditionally dedicating their merit and good works to all beings during Buddhist liturgies.

Iconography

Unlike his more popular counterpart Manjusri, Samantabhadra is only rarely depicted alone and is usually found in a trinity on the right side of Shakyamuni, mounted on a white elephant. In those traditions that accept the Avatamsaka Sutra as its root instruction, Samantabhadra and Manjusri flank Vairocana Buddha, the central Buddha of this particular sutra. Known as Pǔxián in Chinese, he is sometimes shown in Chinese art with feminine characteristics, riding an elephant with six pairs of tusks while carrying a lotus leaf 'parasol' (Sanskrit: chhatra), bearing similar dress and features to some feminine depictions of Kuan Yin. It is in this guise that Samantabhadra is revered as the patron bodhisattva of the monasteries associated with Mount Emei in western China. Among those esoteric traditions that treat Samantabhadra as the 'Primordial' (Sanskrit: Dharmakaya) Buddha, he is often represented 'naked' ("sky clad"; Sanskrit: digambara), with a dark blue body, in union with his consort Samantabhadri.

Samantabhadra in esoteric traditions Samntabhadra is also known as Vajradhara and Viśvabhadra, the different names foreground different attributes and essence-qualities. Samantabhadra appears in the Vajrayana tantric text the Kunjed Gyalpo Tantra, as the Primordial Buddha, the 'embodiment' (Sanskrit: kaya) or 'field' (Sanskrit: kṣetra) of 'timeless awareness, gnosis' (Sanskrit: jñāna) awakened since before the very beginning. Therefore in Tibetan Buddhism the Nyingma, or 'Old Translation' school, the Sakya and the Bön schools view Samantabhadra as the Primordial Buddha. However, the Kagyu and Gelug schools use Vajradhara to represent the Primordial Buddha. Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche following the Nyingmapa Dzogchen tradition qualifies the nature and essence of Samantabhadra, the Primordial Buddha, as the origin-less wellspring of the timeless and unbounded Atiyoga teachings, and honours the converse view entertained by some interested parties which hold that the Dzogchen teachings originated with either the Bonpo tradition or the Chinese monk Moheyan (1990: p.xxi):

Samantabhadra is not subject to limits of time, place, or physical conditions. Samantabhadra is not a colored being with two eyes, etc. Samantabhadra is the unity of awareness and emptiness, the unity of appearances and emptiness, the nature of mind, natural clarity with unceasing compassion - that is Samantabhadra from the very beginning.
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