MONJU. In Mahayana traditions throughout Asia, Monju is the personification of the Buddha's teachings, and hence Monju symbolizes wisdom and the enlightened mind. Monju is considered the wisest of the Bodhisattva, and thus acts as the Voice (Expounder) of Buddhist Law. Monju enjoyed vast popularity in Asia for many centuries. But today in China and Japan, Monju's popularity has diminished somewhat among the common folk. Nonetheless, Monju is still counted as one of the most popular of all Mahayana divinities. In Japan, students pay homage to Monju in the hopes of passing school examinations and becoming gifted calligraphers.
Sanskrit Seed Syllable
for Monju Bodhisattva
Japanese sculptures of Monju often depict the deity sitting atop a roaring lion, which symbolizes the voice of Buddhist Law and the power of Buddhism to overcome all obstacles. Monju typically holds the Sutra of Wisdom in the left hand and a sharp sword in the right, which Monju uses to cut through illusion and shed light on the unenlightened mind.
Sanskrit, Chinese, and Japanese Spellings
English Translations and Notes
- Begetter of Understanding
- Guardian of the Law, Voice of the Law
- Bodhisattva of Supreme Wisdom and Beautiful Splendor
- One Who Shows the Holy Way
- One of Marvelous Virtue and Gentle Majesty
- One with a Marvelous Voice (to Speak of the Law)
- Father and Mother of the Various Bodhisattva
- Appears in many sutra, including the Sutra of Wisdom and Lotus Sutra
- Lord of Vimala (Jp. = Yuima; realm of the east) according to some sutras
- Portrayed sometimes as a youthful figure, for Monju represents "eternal youth"
- One of the Four Great Bodhisattva of Asia
- Deity of the kitchen in Japan's Tendai sect, and of meditation halls in Zen temples
Monju Bodhisattva in Japan. Monju's cult was introduced to Japan by Ennin (794-864 AD), a monk who visited Wutaishan (a five-terraced mountain in China's Shanxi Province that was a major center of the Monju cult) during his travels to China (838-47 AD). Monju symbolizes wisdom and the enlightened mind (realization), and is often paired with Fugen Bodhisattva, who in contrast represents meditation and practice (praxis). In Japanese artwork, Monju and Fugen are often shown flanking the Historical Buddha in a grouping called the Shaka Trinity (Jp. = Shaka Sanzon), with Monju situated on the left of the central Shaka statue and Fugen placed on the right. In this grouping, Monju is the Guardian of Wisdom (the voice of exposition) and Fugen the Guardian of the Law (the holder and practitioner of Buddhist Law).
In addition, in Asia, there is a Mahayana grouping called the Four Great Bodhisattva, with each of the four symbolizing a specific aspect of Buddhism. They are Kannon Bodhisattva (compassion), Monju Bodhisattva (wisdom), Fugen Bodhisattva (praxis), and Jizo Bodhisattva (vast patience and salvation from suffering). Monju can be traced back at least to the 4th century AD in China. Monju appears frequently in the Lotus Sutra, in which Monju converts the eight-year-old daughter of the Dragon King Sagara to Buddhism. She gains enlightenment, and illustrates the universal possibility of Buddhahood for both men and women. Monju is also sometimes portrayed with four messengers and eight youthful attendants, or crossing the sea with four attendants.
Monju Iconography in Japan. Monju comes in many forms throughout Asia. In Japan, Monju is often portrayed with the Sutra of Wisdom in the left hand, a sword in the right hand to cut through illusion (to shed light on the unenlightened mind, to disperse the clouds of ignorance), and sitting atop a roaring lion, which symbolizes the voice of Buddhist Law and the power of Buddhism to overcome all obstacles. This riding-lion form is also known as the "Kishi Monju Bosatsu" in Japan. Monju is frequently represented with five curls or knots (chignons) of hair, indicating the five-terraced mountain (Ch. = Wutaishan, Jp. Jp. = Godaisan) in China where Monju is venerated, or the Fivefold Wisdom of Dainichi Buddha, which corresponds to the five kinds of wisdom important to the Shingon sect, which in turn relates to the five elements of earth, water, fire, air (wind), and space (ether). Indeed, in Japan's Esoteric sects, Monju appears in both the Womb World Mandala (Jp. = Taizoukai) and the Diamond World Mandala (Jp. = Kongoukai). Monju is counted among the 16 Great Bodhisattva (Jp. Juuroku Daibosatsu) and the Thirteen Buddha (Jp. = Juusanbutsu) of the Shingon School. In the latter grouping, Monju presides over the funeral service held on the 21st day after one's death. Other forms of Monju are based on the number of syllables (one, five, six, or eight) in the specific mantra being chanted to Monju. The single-sound mantra, for example, is said to protect against nightmares and natural disasters. There are other forms as well, those based on the number of hair knots (one, five, six, or eight), with each providing protection against different dangers. In Japan's Tendai sect, Monju is enshrined in temple dining halls, and in Zen temples in the meditation halls. There is also an '"Infant Monju" (Jp. = Chigo Monju), for Monju represents "eternal youth" in some traditions and is thus portrayed as perennially young. This version of Monju is known as "Kumarabhuta" in Sanskrit, meaning "youthful." There is also a "rope-robed" Monju.
Hinayana (Theravada) Buddhism. In Hinayana traditions, Monju corresponds to Shariputra, one of the ten disciples of Shaka Buddha (the Historical Buddha). Shariputra was considered one of the wisest of the ten disciples. In Mahayana traditions, Monju Bodhisattva supplants Shariputra, and is thus known as the "begetter of understanding."
Six-Sound Japanese Mantra for Monju Bosatsu
There are others (one, five, six, and eight).
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