TANTRA CANNOT BE KNOWN WITHOUT KNOWING THE “CHANTED NAMES OF MAÑJUŚRĪ’: ‘Aspirations to End Adversity’ with 17th Karmapa (Part VII)

On the seventh day of the ‘Aspirations to End Adversity’ with HH 17th Karmapa, there was a recitation of the Mañjuśrī-Nāma-Saṃgīti (འཇམ་དཔལ་མཚན་བརྗོད,  ‘jam dpal mtshan brjod), Chanted Names of Mañjuśrī. Here is a transcript of the Karmapa’s teachings together with additional information on textual and authorship sources:

“Mañjuśrī’s name appears in many Mahayana sutras. He is one of the most important of all the numerous bodhisattvas. Lord Atisha and others have said that in Tibet, there are two main streams of the Mahayana: the lineage of profound view and the lineage of vast action. Of these two, the lineage of profound view primarily follows Mañjuśrī. He thus has the same importance as Maitreya, the regent of the Buddha and the future fifth buddha of this aeon.”

Sacred Chinese sites of the four foremost Bodhisattvas

“In China, Avalokiteshvara, Mañjuśrī, Samantabhadra, and Kshitigarbha are considered the four foremost bodhisattvas, and each has his own well-known sacred site. Avalokiteshvara is associated with Putuo Shan, Mañjuśrī with Wutai Shan, Samantabhadra with Emei Shan, and Kshitigarbha with Jiuhua Shan. These four mountains are recognized as the sacred Buddhist sites in China.”

Manjushri Hall, Wutai Shan, China
Origin of Mañjuśrī

“There are several different accounts of Mañjuśrī’s origin. According to the Sutra of Mañjuśrī’s Nirvana, which was translated into Chinese in the third century by the Western Qin lay practitioner Nie Daozhen 聶道眞[i] , Mañjuśrī was born into a Brahmin family in Shravasti. He could speak as soon as he was born. When he grew up and completed his education, he became so learned that no one could rival him. Later he came into the presence of the Buddha, went forth, and became a monk. Through the strength of his heroic-stride samadhi, he was able to send emanations in all directions. It was prophesied that he would awaken to buddhahood four hundred and fifty years after the Buddha passed into nirvana, the sutra tells. This is a sutra that describes Mañjuśrī as a human being.

Many other sources say that he awakened to buddhahood innumerable aeons ago. The Sutra of the Features of Mañjuśrī’s Realm, which is the fifteenth section of the Ratnakuta Sutra, teaches that in the future, Noble Mañjuśrī will waken as the Tathagata Samanta Darshana in the southern realm Viraja Sanchita. Similarly, the White Lotus of Compassion Sutra describes that he will waken to buddhahood in Viraja Sanchita. But the twelfth chapter of the Avatamsaka Sutra states that Mañjuśrī is in the world called Kanakavarma to the east, and the Avatamsaka Sutra also explicitly says that Mañjuśrī dwells at Wutai Shan in China.”

Mañjuśrī-Nāma-Saṃgīti  and the path of secret mantra
Kalki Pundarika, author of Kalacakra commentary, Stainless Light

“Today we are reciting the Mañjuśrī-Nāma-Saṃgīti  [ii], and you might wonder what its importance is. It is extremely important, especially in terms of the secret mantra. The reason is that it encapsulates all the key points of the path of secret mantra. For example, the great commentary on the Kālacakra Stainless Light[iii]  says that there is no way of knowing the path of tantra without knowing the Mañjuśrī-Nāma-Saṃgīti  and that Kālacakra must be known through it. It is explained in many ways in the Indian commentaries found in the Tengyur. Some explain it as yoga tantra, some as unexcelled tantra, some as the Kālacakra tantra, and some as a Dzogchen text. There is a story passed down from the lamas of the past that when Chandrakirti[iv] met Chandragomi[v], Chandrakirti asked him what he knew. Chandragomi replied, “I know the Panini grammar, the Praise in One Hundred and Fifty Verses, and the Mañjuśrī-Nāma-Saṃgīti . I don’t know anything else.” It is said that Chandrakirti then understood that Chandragomi was saying he knew grammar and both sutra and tantra. Thus it seems that this means that only when one knows the Mañjuśrī-Nāma-Saṃgīti does one enter the ranks of those who know tantra.”

Tibetan translations of the Text – Pang Lotsawa Lodrö Tenpa, Lotsawa Rinchen Sangpo and others
Lotsawa Rinchen Zangpo

The Karmapa then explained that there are several translations and editions of the text in the Tibetan Kangyur but that some of the translations are no longer extant due to not being chosen for inclusion. He thus encouraged people to do research on those lost translations and compile them:

“The Mañjuśrī-Nāma-Saṃgīti  in the editions of the Tibetan Kangyur was translated by Pang Lotsāwa Lodro Tenpa (dpang lo tsA ba blo gros brtan pa, b. 1276-1342) [vi]. The translation by the great translator Rinchen Sangpo[vii] is not in the Kangyur, but the entire root text of his translation is found in Acharya Mañjuśrī Kirti’s Commentary on the Mañjuśrī-Nāma-Saṃgīti, which is found in the Tengyur. Also, most Tibetan traditions seem to use the translation by Rinchen Sangpo in their rituals and prayer books. I did memorize the Mañjuśrī-Nāma-Saṃgīti  when I was little, but it must have been Rinchen Sangpo’s translation. Thus now when I chant this text by Pang Lotsawa, I’m not used to it, and it feels as if I can’t pronounce it. However, scholars say that Pang Lotsawa’s translation is the closest to the Sanskrit manuscripts found in India and Nepal.

The Mañjuśrī-Nāma-Saṃgīti  is listed in old catalogs from the time of the dharma kings, and there are several different copies among the Tibetan manuscripts found in Dunhuang. The colophon of Pang Lotsawa’s translation explains how it had been translated by earlier translators and became well-known. There is also a handwritten Kangyur that was copied in Druptop Orgyenpa’s Pukdrak Monastery. The colophon of the Mañjuśrī Nama Samgiti in it mentions several different translations, saying, “There is also a translation of this by Lotsawa Chimey Bumpa and Üpa Garge. There is also a translation by Mang Kharwa.” However, usually when there are multiple translations of a single text, the various editions of the Kangyur and Tengyur chose only one, for otherwise it would have been too much to print. Because of this, many of the translations are no longer extant, which is a great loss for us. Thus, in this electronic era, if we could search for, gather, and compile as many different translations as we can, it would be of great benefit to do some research and analysis.”

Edition of the ‘Chanted Names of Manjushri’ Mañjuśrī-Nāma-Saṃgīti in Lantsa Sanskrit, Tibetan, Chinese, and Mongolian languages. TBRC W1EE7.
Revered by all Tibetan Buddhist lineages
Sakya Pandita

The Karmapa then went on to explain how all the masters of the Tibetan Buddhist lineages revered this text:

“The Sakya Pandita praised this text highly, writing:

“With regard to this king of all tantras, commentary on all scriptures, quintessence of all pith instructions, source of all teachings, and pinnacle of all vehicles, Reciting and Praising the Names of Noble Mañjuśrī…”

Similarly, all Tibetan scholars and practitioners hold the Mañjuśrī-Nāma-Saṃgīti  in high esteem. When the Tibetan Kangyur was compiled, it was placed in the first volume of tantra. It is said that Lotsawa Rinchen Sangpo recited it 100,000 times in Sanskrit and 100,000 in Tibetan and sponsored 100,000 repetitions by others. Lord Tsongkhapa also is said to have recited it three times daily before dawn, never missing a day. There is no Tibetan tradition—Sakya, Geluk, Kagyu, Nyingma, and so forth—that does not have its own commentary on the Mañjuśrī-Nāma-Saṃgīti . The earliest Tibetan commentaries were probably written, I believe, by the eleventh-century masters Rongzom Chozang[viii] and Ngok Shedang Dorje. There is also a commentary written by the translator Pang Lotsawa himself.[ix]

The main point is that Mañjuśrī is the deity who represents the prajñā and wisdom of the buddhas. The Buddha himself celebrated and welcomed those who entered his teachings not just out of faith and longing but through investigation with profound prajñā. He said that such prajñā is not just present from birth or gained through study; prajñā can also be gained by the power of blessings from others.

So now please join me in reciting with wholehearted faith and devotion the Mañjuśrī-Nāma-Saṃgīti  with the aspiration to swiftly develop profound and vast prajñā in your being.”

Also, for those who wish to hear the previous 16th Karmapa give the oral transmission for Manjushri, I have uploaded a recording made several years ago during 16th Karmapa’s visit to Denmark in the 1970s (sourced from here).

Written and compiled by Adele Tomlin, 28th January 2021. May it be of benefit!

Further Reading

[i] “According to Nie Daozhen’s biography, he was a son of Mie Chenyuan, and during the Western Jin Dynasty (265-316) both father and son lived in the capital Chang-an, where they became disciples of the translator and master Zhu Fahu [Dharmaraksa]. Nie Chenyuan frequently assisted his teacher in the translation process by giving his translations the proper Chinese characters, and his son, Nie Daozhen,apparently wrot a catalog of Fahu’s translations.” From The History of Chinese Buddhist Bibliography: Censorship and Transformation of the Tripitaka (Cambra Press 2014). According to one biography: Dharmarakṣa. (C. Zhu Fahu; J. Jiku Hōgo; K. Ch’uk Pǒpho 竺法護) (c. 233-310). One of the most prolific translators in early Chinese Buddhism, who played an important role in transmitting the Indian scriptural tradition to China. Presumed to be of Yuezhi heritage, Dharmarakṣa was born in the Chinese outpost of Dunhuang and grew up speaking multiple languages. He became a monk at the age of eight and in his thirties traveled extensively throughout the oasis kingdoms of Central Asia, collecting manuscripts of Mahāyāna scriptures in a multitude of Indic and Middle Indic languages, which he eventually brought back with him to China. Because of his multilingual ability, Dharmarakṣa was able to supervise a large team in rendering these texts into Chinese; the team included scholars of Indian and Central Asian origin, as well as such Chinese laymen as the father-and-son team Nie Chengyuan and Nie Daozhen. Some 150 translations in over three hundred rolls are attributed to Dharmarakṣa, including the first translation of the Saddharmapuṇḍarīkasūtra, the Vimalakīrtinirdeśa, the Lalitavistara, the Bhadrakalpikasūtra, and some of the prajñāpāramitā literature. Although many of Dharmarakṣa’s pioneering renderings were later superseded by the fourth-century retranslations of Kumārajīva, Dharmarakṣa is generally considered the most important translator of the early Chinese Buddhist saṃgha. (Source: “Dharmarakṣa.” In The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism, 251. Princeton University Press, 2014. http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt46n41q.27.)

[ii] “The Nama-samgiti was preached by Shakyamuni Buddha for his disciple Vajrapani and his wrathful retinue in order to lead them into buddhahood. The essence of the Nama-samgiti is that Manjushri bodhisattva is the embodiment of all knowledge. The Nama-samgiti is a short text, only circa 160 verses and a prose section. It is a fraction of the vast Sutras such as Avatamsaka Sutra and Prajñāpāramitā Sutras or the endless ocean of tantras such as manjushri-mula-kalpa and the mountainous Hinayana teachings and sea of sundry extra-canonical works. And yet, the Nama-samgiti contains all of the Buddha’s dharmas. It summarizes everything he taught.”

[iii] “The Kālacakra, or “wheel of time,” tantra likely entered Indian Mahayana Buddhism around the tenth century. In expounding the root tantra, the Indian master Puṇḍarīka, one of the legendary Kalkī kings of the land of Shambhala, wrote his influential Stainless Light (Vimalaprabhā, Dri-med ‘od). This 11th-century Tibetan Buddhist text is a commentary to the Kālacakra Tantra. The Vimalaprabhā is attributed to Shambhala King Pundarika (Pad ma dkar po). It is composed in Sanskrit and consists of 12,000 lines of text. Manuscripts of the work have survived in the libraries of Tibetan monasteries and Indian libraries. The Vimalaprabhā commentary, together with the Laghutantra, form the basis of the Kālacakra practice as it is currently known and practiced in Tibetan Buddhism, as part of the Vajrayana practices. It is one of the three major commentaries on Kālacakra system, along with Hevajrapindarthatika and Laksabhidhana duddhrta laghutantra pindartha vivarana nama.”

[iv] Candrakīrti (月稱;: zla ba grags pa, c. 600 – c. 650) was a Buddhist scholar of the Madhyamaka school and a noted commentator on the works of Nagarjuna (c. 150 – c. 250 CE) and those of his main disciple, Aryadeva, authoring two influential works, Prasannapadā and Madhyamakāvatāra.

[v] “Chandragomin (Skt. Candragomin) was an Indian Buddhist lay scholar who the Tibetan tradition believes challenged Chandrakirti. According to the Nepalese tradition, Chandragomin’s student was Ratnakirti. Chandragomin was a teacher at Nalanda Monastic University during the 7th century.

In the Buddhist records, Chandragomin is described as the one who debated Candrakīrti, the Arya Tripitaka Master Shramana who was the Khenpo at Nalanda Mahāvihāra Monastery. Their debate was said to have continued for many years. Chandragomin held the Chittamatra (consciousness-only or Yogachara school) view, and Chandrakirti gave his interpretation of Nāgārjuna’s view, eventually creating a new school of Madhyamaka known as Prasangika. This Nalanda tradition school is known as Prāsaṅgika Madhyamaka or rendered in English as the “Consequentialist” or “Dialecticist” school.

According to Thrangu Rinpoche, Chandragomin was slow in the debate but always had the right answers because each time a question was posed by Chandrakirti, Chandragomin would insist on giving the answer the next day after praying to Avalokiteshvara who would tell him the right answer.”  See: Chandragomin – Wikipedia

[vi] According to biographical accounts, Pang Lotsāwa Lodro Tenpa (dpang lo tsA ba blo gros brtan pa) was born in Tolho (stod lho) in 1276:

“At the age of thirty-two he started living at Tsel Gungtang Nepoche Monastery (tshal gung thang gnas po che), attracting many students including a lama named Gungtangpa Delo (gung thang pa bde blo). He taught Kālacakra in the summer and the Partse Ngonsum in the winter. It is said that his fame even reached China and India, and that the Chinese emperor invited him to China; he politely turned down the invitation thinking it would interrupt his teaching activities at home. In Lhasa and at monasteries such as Samye (bsam yas) and Reting (rwa sgreng) he taught Kālacakra, Śāntarakṣita’s Madhyamakālamkara, Sanskrit, poetry, and other topics. At Nartang (snar thang) he taught poetry and the Abhisamayālaṃkāra to Chim Lobsang Drakpa (mchims blo bzang grags pa, 1299-1375), the twelfth abbot of the monastery. He is also reported to have taught Longchenpa, Drime Ozer ( klong chen rab ‘byams pa dri med ‘od zer, 1308-1384) and the Fourteenth Sakya Tridzin, Sonam Gyeltsen (sa skya khri ‘dzin 14 bsod nams rgyal mtshan, 1312-1375). Back at Sakya he translated several texts in the Tengyur (bstan ‘gyur) and wrote an exposition of the Kālacakra (dus ’khor ‘grel chen gyi bstod ‘grel), the Exposition of Sanskrit Grammar Kalāpa (sgra ka lA pa’i ‘grel pa), and the Exposition of the Mirror of Poetics (snyan ngag me long gi ’grel pa tshogs gsum gsal ba) among many other titles. At the age of sixty-two he was enthroned as abbot of Bodong E (bo dong e). He passed away in 1342 at the age of sixty-seven.”

See Pang Lotsāwa Lodro Tenpa – The Treasury of Lives: A Biographical Encyclopedia of Tibet, Inner Asia and the Himalayan Region.

[vii] Lochen Rinchen Zangpo (958–1055) rin-chen bzang-po, also known as Mahaguru, was a principal lotsawa or translator of Sanskrit Buddhist texts into Tibetan during the second diffusion of Buddhism in Tibet (or the New Translation School or New Mantra School period). He was a student of the famous Indian master, Atisha. See his biography here: Rinchen Zangpo – The Treasury of Lives: A Biographical Encyclopedia of Tibet, Inner Asia and the Himalayan Region.

[viii] This commentary by Rongzom is called mtshan yang dag par brjod pa’i ‘grel pa rnam gsum bshad pa, and has been translated into English in The Wisdom of Manjushri (Sherdor, 2012). Rongzom Chökyi Zangpo (rong zom chos kyi bzang po), widely known as Rongzom Mahapandita, Rongzom Dharmabhadra, or simply as Rongzompa, was one of the most important scholars of the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism. Together with Longchenpa and Ju Mipham, he is often considered to be one of the three “omniscient” writers of the school. His elder contemporary Atiśa (980–1054) considered Rongzompa to be an incarnation of the Indian ācārya Kṛṣṇapāda, the Great. The Tibetan historian Gö Lotsawa (1392–1481) said of Rongzom that no scholar in Tibet was his equal.

[ix] I was also able to find a commentary available online on the text called ‘phags pa mtshan yang dag par brjod pa’i mtshan gyi sngags don gzigs pa’i rnam par bshad pa by the prominent Indian scholar and siddha Gegpai Dorje sgeg pa’i rdo rje, also known as lalitavajra. BDRC P8248.

One thought on “TANTRA CANNOT BE KNOWN WITHOUT KNOWING THE “CHANTED NAMES OF MAÑJUŚRĪ’: ‘Aspirations to End Adversity’ with 17th Karmapa (Part VII)

  1. Thanks a lot for your info! I wish to learn more about the commentaries of Manjushri-nama-samgiti. Do you have a list of the commentaries avavilabe? especially Candragomin’s.

    Thanks a lot for any kind help!

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