Bodhisattva Samantabhadra is one of the popular and most worshipped Bodhisattva in Mahayana Buddhism. Samantabhadra is depicted riding on an elephant with six tusks or three elephants.
One of the major Bodhisattvas, Samantabhadra is an iconic Bodhisattva and is believed to be associated with Buddhist practice and meditation in Mahayana Buddhism . The term Samantabhadra literally means “Universal Virtue”, “Universal Worthy”, “He Who is All-Pervadingly Good”. Bodhisattva Samantabhadra is sometimes depicted as bodhisattva, who protects all beings who teach Dharma and is known as Fugen in Japan and P’u-hsein in China. In Buddhist tradition, Samantabhadrais portrayed as the one with Shakyamuni Buddha as well as bodhisattva Manjushri and together they form Shakyamuni Trinity.
Samantabhadra is depicted as Bodhisattva dressed as royalty with lotus leaf in his hands “Parasol” and ride on an elephant with six tusks. The six tusks of the elephant represent six senses or sometimes six sense organs (ear, eye, nose, tongue, body, and mind). In Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism, Samantabhadra is considered as the primordial Buddha.
In Mahayana Buddhism
In Mahayana Buddhism, Bodhisattva Samantabhadra is sometimes portrayed alone and is believed as the counterpart of another Bodhisattva Manjushri. Together they are seen in Shakyamuni Trinity. In Shakyamuni Trinity, Samantabhadra is seen on the right side of Shakyamuni Buddha carrying Lotus leaf or sword, or wish-fulfilling jewel and ride on an elephant. Sometimes Samantabhadra is seen riding three elephants or one elephant with six tusks. These six tusk also represent the Six Perfection’s or Paramitas. They are charity, morality, patience, diligence, contemplation, and Wisdom. And Bodhisattva Manjushri is depicted on the left side of Shakyamuni and Buddha is in the center of the Shakyamuni Trinity .
Bodhisattva Samantabhadra is shown in Chinese art with feminine attributes and wears dresses similar to Kuan Jin. In China, Samantabhadra is worshipped especially in Mount Emei since it is the Bodhimanda of Samantabhadra.
In Vajrayana Buddhism
In Vajrayana or Esoteric Buddhism and in most of the schools of Tibetan Buddhism, Samantabhadra is depicted in the form of Buddha rather than Bodhisattva. In some traditions of Tibetan Buddhism, Samantabhadra is worshipped as the primordial Buddha.
“Samantabhadra is not subject to limits of time, place, or physical conditions. Samantabhadra is not a colored being with two eyes, etc. Samantabhadra is the unity of awareness and emptiness, the unity of appearances and emptiness, the nature of mind, natural clarity with unceasing compassion - that is Samantabhadra from the very beginning” – Chinese Monk Moheyan.
Appearance of Samantabhadra in Buddhist Sutra
Bodhisattva Samantabhadra appears in many chapters of various Sutras of Buddhism.
Samantabhadra appears in the last chapter of Lotus Sutra, and Bodhisattva Samantabhadra is called as Bodhisattva Universal Worthy and Universal Sage Bodhisattva according to the different translation. Samantabhadra took great vows to protect the Lotus sutra and those who teaches the Dharma as well as who follows the Sutra. According to Nichiren School of Buddhism, he is depicted as the protector of the Sutra .
Samantabhadra Bodhisattva is the key and iconic figure of Gandavyuha Sutra. He appears particular in the last chapter of the Sutra. In this sutra, Samantabhadra is seen to teach the student Sudhana about the wisdom that only exists for the sake of all sentient beings and must be practiced for the sole purpose of benefitting the living beings.
In this Sutra, it is believed Buddha mentioned Samantabhadra and his ten great vows during his path to Buddhahood. The ten great vows made by Bodhisattva Samantabhadra are as follows:
• To worship and pay homage to all Buddhas
• To praise the virtues of Buddha (Tathagata) and preach them
• To give various offerings to all Buddhas generously
• To confess misdeeds and evil karma and repent for them
• To rejoice other’s merit as well as virtues and join them
• To teach preach the Buddha teachings ( Dharma ) on request of Buddha
• To request, Lord Buddha to remain the world
• To follow the Buddha teachings and walk on the path at all times
• To live in harmony and help to benefit all beings
• To pass on the merits and virtues for the benefits of all beings