Buddhist Studies Forum
Paul Harrison, Stanford University

Mañjuśrī’s Residence on China’s Wutai Shan: The View from Distant India


The Buddhist practice of replicating sacred sites in multiple locations is a well-known feature of the history of the religion, as is the readiness of Buddhists to keep finding new places blessed by the presence of Buddhas, bodhisattvas and other such beings. Thus in China, for example, Wutai Shan in the north was identified as the residence of the great bodhisattva Mañjuśrī, while, in other parts of the country, we find the island of Putuo Shan in the east recognized as Potalaka, the abode of Avalokiteśvara, Jiuhua Shan, also to the east, seen as the dwelling place of Kṣitigarbha, and Emei Shan in the south singled out as the home of Samantabhadra, thus yielding the Four Sacred Mountains of Buddhist China. The way in which such identifications as these proliferated was foundational to patterns of pilgrimage across the premodern Buddhist world. This paper addresses one small aspect of this broad topic, and investigates the lore surrounding the linkage of Mañjuśrī and Wutai Shan, using as its point of departure an early Tantric text for which until recently we had no Sanskrit version. This short work, the Viśeṣavatī-dhāraṇī, opens up some new perspectives on the cult of Mañjuśrī and its transnational manifestations. It also raises the question whether the flow of influence was always from the imagined center to the periphery, that is, whether we have any solid evidence that in India it was accepted or even known that Mañjuśrī had become a permanent resident of China.

Cosponsored by the Asia Center, Fairbank Center, Reischauer Institute, Committee on the Study of Religion, Department of South Asian Studies, and Divinity School.