The Manjushri mantra is the mantra for the bodhisattva Manjushri, who is representative of wisdom. His mantra is also symbolic of the wisdom that Manjushri offers. Illustrations and statues of Manjushri depict him clutching a flaming sword in his right hand, held above his head; this is symbolic of his ability to use wisdom in order to cut through any types of delusion and suffering that sentient beings might be struggling with. In his left hand, held at the height of his heart, he is holding the stem of the lotus. The lotus contains a book called the Perfection of Wisdom. This Prajnaparamita texts, are said to be the closest Buddhists ever got to putting truth (impossible task) into words.
He is shown to be a young prince, perhaps no more than sixteen years of age. It is thought that the freshness of his youth, and his true beauty are representative of the way in which an awakened mind is able to view the world. The unenlightened mind is typically only able to see an ordinary life, which those who are awakened can see it as being full of magic and extraordinary potential.
Manjushri’s name means “Gently Voice One.” This is often considered to be representative of the idea that true wisdom does not need to shout or draw loud attention to itself in order to be the truth
An Explanation of its Syllables
Om A Ra Pa Ca Na Dhih
The Manjushri mantra, like many mantras, does not have an easy literal English translation. One of the translations for this mantra could include the following.
Om – Not only can Om be considered to be the essence of the five wisdoms, but it can also be reflective of an awareness of the surrounding universe. It is used at the start of many mantras and should be considered to mean “My mind and heart are open to the truths that follow.”
A – Is often in references to the ideal that the essence of nature is unproduced.
Ra – This is often reflective of the ideal that all things are free from defilements.
Pa – This leads to the ideal that all dharmas have been “expounded in the supreme sense.”
Ca – Is often in reference to the ideal that the arising and cessation of things cannot be wholly understood because, in reality, there is no arising and cessation to start with.
Na – This is representative of the belief that while the names for things may change, the true nature of them cannot be changed.
Dhih – This is often defined with the meaning of “prayer” or “understanding” or “reflection.”
These concepts are all an important part of the Perfection of Wisdom. In truth they are less concepts are more they are attempts to put a description of the nature of reality.
Not only is Manjushri a bodhisattva who is representative of wisdom, but he also belongs to the trinity of family protectors. The family that he is known for protecting includes the first supreme Buddha – Shakyamuni. Of all of the known and recognized bodhisattvas, Manjushri is the indivudal who is known for having the closest association and relationship with the Buddha.
Manjushri is a Bodhisattva who represents wisdom, and his mantra also symbolizes that quality. He holds a sword in his right hand — symbolizing his ability to cut through delusion. In his left hand, by his heart, he holds the stem of a lotus flower, which bears a book — the Perfection of Wisdom teaching, or Prajnaparamita.
Om is a mystical syllable. Om is considered to be the primeval sound, the sound of the universe, the sound from which all other sounds are formed. Om is therefore a sound symbolizing reality. It represents everything in the universe, past, present, and future. It even represents everything that is outside of those three times. It therefore represents both the mundane world of time in which the mind normally functions, and the world as perceived by the mind that is awakened and that experiences the world timelessly. It represents both enlightenment and non-enlightenment.
The syllables between Om and the concluding Dhiih are the first syllables of a syllabary called the arapacana because it begins with A RA PA CA and NA. (A syllabary is like an alphabet, but made up of syllables). This syllabary is found in a number of Buddhist texts, including some Perfection of Wisdom (prajñaparamita) texts.
The individual syllables A RA PA CA and NA have no conceptual meaning, although they are seen as having symbolic connections with various spiritual qualities.
Here’s the schema laid out in the Large Sutra of Perfect Wisdom:
A leads to the insight that the essence of all things is unproduced. RA leads to the insight that all things are pure and free of defilements. PA leads to the insight that all dharmas have been “expounded in the ultimate sense.” CA leads to the insight that the arising and ceasing of things cannot be apprehended because in reality there is no arising or ceasing. NA leads to the insight that although the names for things change the nature of things behind their names cannot be gained or lost.
These are all important concepts in the Perfection of Wisdom, although to say they are concepts is a bit limiting — really they’re attempts to describe the indescribable nature of reality.
Dhiih is defined as meaning: thought, (especially) religious thought, reflection, meditation, devotion, prayer; understanding, intelligence, wisdom