Samantabhadra

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This bodhisattva from Mahayana Buddhism is one aspect of a Buddhist trinity, the other two being Sakyamuni Buddha and Manjusri.

Samantabhadra features prominently in the Flower Garland Sutra of Mahayana Buddhism. In this text, the Buddha teaches that wisdom is not an end in itself; it exists in order to be practiced and acquires value only when it benefits the living. The Buddha also expounds on the ten vows that Samantabhadra undertook on his path to complete Buddhahood. These vows have become the cornerstone of Buddhist practice in East Asia. The tenth vow – to dedicate all virtues and merits earned through good deeds to other beings – is now an established Buddhist tradition. Samantabhadra is worshiped in Japan as the guardian of the Lotus Sutra.

As part of the “Sakyamuni Trinity”, Samantabhadra is depicted in Buddhist iconography astride a white elephant, to the right of Sakyamuni. In esoteric traditions, he is called Vajradhara or Visvabhadra, with varied attributes. Tantric schools consider him to be the Primordial Buddha – eternal, boundless and wise beyond human comprehension. Appropriately, paintings of Samantabhadra feature him in the nude with a deep blue body, suggestive of the limitless sky. Entwined around him is the white figure of Samantabhadri, his consort and the embodiment of the Great Mother. Their union is termed as yab-yum in Tibetan Buddhism, where the active, masculine figure represents karuna (compassion) and upaya (skilful method) and the passive, feminine form represents prajna (wisdom). These qualities are essential to attain enlightenment by seeing beyond the veils of illusion (Maya).

Chinese iconography sometimes depicts a feminized version of Samantabhadra sitting astride a twelve-tusked elephant and holding a lotus shaped parasol. It is sometimes believed that the white elephant which often features as Samantabhadra’s mount is the one that appeared in a dream to Queen Maya, prior to her giving birth to Gautama Buddha.

 
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