Samantabhadra Buddhism


Samantabhadra refers either in Indian and East Asian Buddhism to the contemporary bodhisattva of Gautama Shakyamuni, of particular importance in the Tiantai and Huayan schools, or in Tibetan Tantric Buddhism to the Adibuddha or primordial Buddha.

This great bodhisattva is known as Puxian pusa (Pǔxián púsà 普賢菩薩) in Chinese, Fugen bosatsu in Japanese, and Phổ Hiền Bồ Tát in Vietnamese; the Ādi Buddha is called Kuntu Zangpo in Tibetan (Tibetan: ཀུན་ཏུ་བཟང་པོ, Wylie: kun tu bzang po) and Qamugha Sain in Mongolian.

His original Sanskrit name can mean "all-excellent", "all-awesome" or "all-virtuous", or "universal excellence ".

Samantabhadra is also, along with Nādaprada, a lesser-known name for Nāropa, the Bengali yogi whose teachings Marpa transmitted to Tibet.

The Great Bodhisattva

The great bodhisattva Samantabhadra, like the dharma prince Mañjuśrī, plays a leading role in the world of the primordial Buddha (dharmakāya) Vairocana, the symbol of the fullness of ultimate truth and the perfection of immense wisdom, described in the Avatamsaka Sutra, the canonical text of the Huayan school.

Samantabhadra and Mañjuśrī take precedence over the other bodhisattvas there as "sons of the Buddha"; Samantabhadra, placed on his right, represents principle (lǐ 理) or practice (xíng 行), while Mañjuśrī on his left represents wisdom or intelligence (zhì 智). This triad is known and venerated as the "Three Saints of Huayan" (Huáyán sānshèng 華嚴三聖).

Samantabhadra is also important to the currents based on the Lotus Sūtra, such as Tiantai in China, Tendai and Nichiren in Japan.

In Japanese Tantrism of the Shingon and Tendai schools, it appears on the maṇḍala of the matrix to the southeast of the central eight-petaled lotus quarter where it is associated with Ratnaketu Buddha (jp. Hōdō-nyorai 宝幢如来).

Where Ratnaketu symbolizes the awakening of the heart as well as mirror-like wisdom (sk. ādarśajñāna; jp. daienkyōchi 大円鏡智), Samantabhadra symbolizes the pure bodhi heart and he is the "cause" of mirror-like wisdom.

Moreover, he is known in China as one of the four great bodhisattvas who represent the four conditions necessary to become a bodhisattva: practice (Samantabhadra), wisdom (Mañjuśrī), compassion (Avalokiteśvara) and vow (Kshitigarbha).

Mount Emei(Éméishān 峨嵋山)situated in Sichuan province is dedicated to him. Its first temple was built there after the monk Huìchí (慧持) came from Mount Lu in 399. Emperor Taizong of the Song had a bronze statue of Puxian erected here.

He also has a protective role based on the promise in the Shurangama Sutra to instantly come to the aid of those who call him, no matter how far away.

A popular Chinese belief has Mañjuśrī and Samantabhadra reincarnated as two orphans raised in a monastery, who are said to have become the famous monks and friends Hanshan (Hánshān 寒山, Cold Mountain) and Shide (Shídé 拾得, Picked Up Obtaining).

Another belief, this time Japanese, says that Samantabhadra would have a homosexual relationship with the young bodhisattva Mañjuśrī where Samantabhadra would be the dominant partner. This relationship served as a divine patronage for pederasty in Japan where some monks did not hide their homosexual inclinations.

In iconography, he is most often depicted riding a white elephant with six tusks, a symbol of firmness, with each foot resting on a lotus; he may be contrasted with Mañjuśrī riding a blue tiger, a symbol of intelligence. He is sometimes given a feminine appearance.

The Ten Great Vows

According to the Avatamsaka Sūtra, the great bodhisattva Samantabhadra took ten great royal vows (Shídàyuànwáng 十大願王), which are offered to devotees as a path to spiritual development:

(1) Paying homage to all Buddhas (Lǐjìng zhūfó 禮敬諸佛)

(2) Addressing praise to the tathāgatas (Chēngzàn rúlái 稱贊如來)

(3) Abundantly practicing offerings (Guǎngxiū gòngyǎng 廣修供養)

(4) Repenting of karmic sins (Chànhuǐ yèzhàng 懺悔業障)

(5) Rejoicing in the merits of others (Suíxǐ gōngdé 隨喜功德)

(6) Praying (the Buddha) to preach the dharma (Qǐngzhuàn fǎlún 請轉法輪)

(7) Praying to the Buddha to stay in this world (Qǐngfó zhùshì 請佛住世)

(8) Constantly following the teachings of the Buddha (Chángsuífóxué 常隨佛學)

(9) Living in good harmony with all creatures (Héngshùn zhòngshēng 恒順眾生)

(10) To universally extend the benefit of merits (Pǔjiē huíxiàng 普皆迴向).

The Chinese tradition added ten exercises of patience.

The primordial Buddha

In Tibetan Nyingmapa Vajrayāna Buddhism, Samantabhadra occupies the central place: he is himself Vairocana, the primordial Buddha, that is, originally he immediately recognized his own nature in the manifestations of rigpa, the creativity of the primordial essence.

He is then depicted naked, blue in color, without adornment, to signify essential emptiness, performing the mudrā of meditation. He is often seen in yab-yum, i.e. embracing his white consort Samantabhadrī.

The Tibetan schools of the new translation (Sarmapa), mainly Sakyapa, Kagyupa and Gelugpa, have as their primordial Buddha another Buddha named Vajradhara, "Holder of the Lightning Diamond," who is also blue or night-blue, but adorned with several ornaments, holding the Vajra and the bell symbolizing the union of skillful means (upāya) and the wisdom of emptiness (prajñā).

He then represents the primordial Buddha in his Sambhogakāya form.

Some Yogācāra schools consider him the inventor of yoga in place of Vairocana. He occupies a central role for practitioners of the Japanese ecstatic meditation hokkesammai.

It should be noted that unlike the Tibetan Vajrayāna, Japanese Tantric Buddhism (jp. mikkyō 密教) of the Shingon and Tendai schools do not consider Samantabhadra a primordial Buddha, but rather a bodhisattva.


Back to blog