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Mahasthamaprapta -Seishi

Page history last edited by emily.haugh@... 11 years, 8 months ago





  Mahasthamaprapta Bodhisattva / Seishi Bosatsu

Emily Haugh, Kristin Meyers, Abigail Worsnop, Jeremy Walker, Noga Vardy & Courtney Hanson


  Mahasthamaprapta Bodhisattva / Seishi Bosatsu

*Represents the principle of the power of wisdom*

*In Japan Mahasthamaprapta is referred to as Seishi Bosatsu*

*Gained more popularity in Japan than in India*

*Seishi literally translates to mean, “to obtain strength.”*

*Seishi is one of the thirteen Japanese Buddhas and is also one of the 25 Bodhisattva’s who descended from heaven with Amida to welcome dying souls into Amida’s Pure Land.*

*Seishi is also known as one of the three sages in Pure Land Buddhism* 

*In Pure Land Buddhism Seishi is usually depicted in a trinity with Amida and Avalokitesvara*

*In this trinity Seishi is described as being one of the two attendants of Amida Buddha by representing wisdom and embodying the attributes of Amida.* 





*Images of Seishi Bosatsu*

  • Seishi represents the principle of wisdom and this is conveyed symbolically in images when Seishi is depicted with a water jar in her crown. The water jar represents wisdom.
  • Seishi is also depicted in images holding a lotus flower or with her hands held together in prayer.
  • In the Contemplation Sutra Seishi is symbolized by the moon, as the moon represents wisdom.
  • Seishi is portrayed in male and female form but it is most common for Seishi to be portrayed in female form

 Amida Raigo Triad

Background and Myths


  • This is the Amida Raigo Triad and it is actually a set of three statues, but they all appear together because they are intertwined with the Buddha in the center called Amida, and on either side of him sits his Bodhisattva attendants, one being Seishi and one named Kannon. Bodhisattva Seishi applies his great energy, wisdom and compassion to the salvation of beings along with the help of bodhisattva Kannon. This particular one is from the Late Heian Period and from the Joshoko-ji Temple in Kyoto, Japan and that is where it has always been. This statue illustrates the development of Japanese Buddhism, particularly Pure Land Buddhism, which became distinct in the 13th century. This statue displays the story of these three descending from the Pure Land, or heaven, on clouds to welcome the faithful into Amida's Pure Land.




  • Seishi is on the right of Amida and is shown with his hands held together in prayer, or gassho mudra, and is usually depicted with a water jar in his crown, but not in this case, because it which represents wisdom. This mudra of having the palms held together at the chest level signifies respect, submission, and veneration and that is why this mudra is not found in artwork depicting the Buddha but is with bodhisattvas. The robes that Seishi and Kannon are similar with the Buddha's, simply draped around their chests depicting rags that they must have collected or were given. The two bodhisattva posture shows them leaning forward and it is said that the sculptors did this to give the sense of tension and presence to help express a sense of speed of flying through the air as if they are descending from the Pure Land to meet their followers. Due to this, this expression of the Amida Raigo Triad, which is usually depicted through paintings because of the ease of showing clouds and movements, is one of the earliest experiments in Japanese realism.




The Amida Raigo Triad

Closeup of Mahasthamaprapta/Seishi


  • The images above are Japanese paintings from The Late Heian period done on silk. This painting depicts the Amida Raigo Sanzon or Triad. In the center of the painting is Amitabha, the primary Buddha of The Pure Land Sect. To his left sits Avalokitesvara, deity of compassion. On Amitabha’s right is Mahasthamaprapta, an uncommon yet powerful bodhisattva known for his power of awakening wisdom in beings.


  • Mahasthamaprapta (Sanskrit) or Seishi Bosatsu (Japanese), is the bodhisattva who proceeds with vigor and his strength can awaken wisdom in beings. He is one of the least known of the bodhisattvas to humans and is usually mentioned in relation to the Amida Raigo Sanzon. Raigo means “coming in welcome,” which is what the three are doing in the above painting. Because Amitabha is the primary Buddha of the Pure Land Sect, this image shows the Amida Raigo Triad welcoming the souls of the dead and leading them into The Pure Land. The Pure Land is an escape from samsara so one will never again be reborn. In the Pure Land, one is instructed by Amitabha and his attendants, Avalokitesvara and Mahasthamaprapta, to reach enlightenment. In this painting Mahasthamaprapta and Avalokitesvara, as well as the many behind them, are riding on clouds because they are coming from The Pure Land to welcome the souls. The waviness of the clouds shows that they are moving, perhaps at great speeds. There are others in this painting as well. Their significance shows the magnitude of this event and that many spiritual beings are present when one exits samsara to enter The Pure Land.


  • In the closeup image on the right, Mahasthamaprapta sits on a Lotus Flower, a symbol of purity. This is significant because in the painting above both Amitabha’s attendants sit on Lotus Flowers, not only are they pure but those they are welcoming into The Pure Land will also be pure once reborn.  


  • Mahasthamaprapta’s hair is gathered on the top of his head and is pulled up through the crown, which shows a small water vase or jar. The water vase symbolizes wisdom as well. Having his hair in this way gives the illusion of a fountain with his hair pouring out. This symbolizes an individual being pulled up from the ordinary body through death and into a higher state of consciousness, one in which Mahasthamaprapta helps one attain. 


  • Mahasthamaprapta is draped in garments, the way other bodhisattvas are, this shows he is a youthful prince who lives a royal, simple and tranquil life. Mahasthamaprapta’s hands are in the Namaskara mudra. This mudra is a symbol of greeting; Mahasthamaprapta, Avalokitesvara and Amida are greeting beings into The Pure Land.




Painting of Mahasthamaprapta



  • This image of Mahasthamaprapta is a painting currently at the Hermitage Museum, obtained in 1933 from the State Russian Museum.  This painting was completed in the thirteenth century, and is from the Tangut state of His Hsia, Khara-Khoto in China. The painting was done with mineral pigments and ink on silk.  Never popular in India, Mahasthamaprapta is commonly seen in images and statues in this style, typical of Japanese and Chinese Pure Land Buddhist art.   



  • Although Mahasthamaprapta is commonly depicted alongside Amida and Avalokitesvara, forming a trinity, in Pure Land Buddhist iconography, as described above, here he sits alone, seated on a lotus flower.  This is significant, as the lotus flower represents purity throughout many Asian cultures, and conveys in this painting both the purity of Boddhisattva Mahasthamaprapta and the Pure Land into which sentient beings can be reborn.



  • Another key feature of this painting is the hair and crown of Mahasthamaprapta.  Like the previous images, his hair is once again pulled through his elaborate headdress, pouring out the top like a fountain, and there is a vase of water upon his head. This fountain and water imagery symbolizes the wisdom that emanates from the Boddhisattva.  Furthermore, this symbolizes the Axis Mundi, or center of the world, in human form.  At the time of death, once ascends to higher states of consciousness, which Mahasthamaprapta helps one attain. The garbs of Mahasthamaprapta is this painting are, like in many images of Boddhisattvas, long and flowing, symbolizing the royal life that the Boddhisattva’s have been reborn into.



  • In this painting, Mahasthamaprapta is making the dharmachakra mudra.  This is also known as the turning the wheel of dharma (law) mudra, in reference to the Buddha's first sermon, or the teaching mudra.  Turning the wheel of dharma is a Buddhist way of saying teaching the path to enlightenment.  This mudra is representative of the conversion of ignorance to wisdom, a task in which one is aided by Mahasthamprapta.  Therefore, it makes sense that a Boddhisattva of wisdom would be making a gesture symbolizing turning the wheel of dharma, or teaching the path to enlightenment.   





Seishi Bosatsu




  • The image above is a Northern and Southern Dynasty wood sculpture found in the Hase Kannon Temple or Hasedera, which is located on a hill in Kamakura, Japan.

    It is dated somewhere between 1336 and 1392. Mahasthamaprata in sanskrit or Seishi Bosatsu in Japan is depicted here with his hands in prayer. He is usually either depicted with his hands in prayer or holding a lotus flower. On his head sits a crown and in the crown there is a water jar. This water jar represents wisdom in which he portrays. He seems to be in a traditional buddhist robe.

  • Seishi Bosatsu represents the power of wisdom and is one of the thirteen buddhas of the Shingon Sect of Esoteric Buddhism in Japan. Seishi is either represented as a man or a woman. In this wood sculpture however Seishi is depicted as a man.
  • Seishi in english literally means "to obtain strength."





*Seishi's role in benefiting all sentient beings*

  • The trinity that Seishi is apart of in Pure Land Tradition Buddhism benefits all sentient beings in that Amida gives out unconditional and universal wisdom (Seishi's contribution) in his offer of salvation for all beings. 
  • This trinity of Buddhas also expresses deep faith that wisdom, the principle Seishi is associated with, is part of the essence of reality.  Seishi also fulfills the bodhisattva vow of benefiting all sentient beings as she is believed to use her wisdom to open people’s eyes up to the need to strive for awakening or be awakened to the Buddha wisdom and Buddha nature that are in all of us






          Seishi appears in the Immeasurable Life Sutra, the Medication Sutra and the Lotus Sutra. 


  •  In the meditation Sutra Seishi is one of the buddhas who welcomes people who recite the name of the Buddha at the time of their deaths. Seishi appears in the eighth and eleventh steps out of the 16 steps in the meditation sutra. 
    • The eighth step is to visualize Seishi alongside Amida Buddha and Avalokitesvara Budda in which Seishi is sitting on lotus blossom thrones. 
    • In the 11th step, one is supposed to visualize the full body of Seishi, or the contemplation of Seishis physical characteristics, which extinguishes the evil karma that one has committed.  Also in this, Seishi relieves all beings from the three evil realms by illuminating them with the light of wisdom.




  • In the Lotus Sutra the ability of Kannon to help all people in any kind of distress is described and Seishi embodies the attributes of Amida.
    •  Seishi expresses deep faith that the heart and essence of reality is compassion from Kannon, and wisdom, from Seishi. 
    • Also in the Lotus Sutra Seishi and the other two Buddhas in the trinity are called upon when a person hears suffering of those close to them through prayer and devotion to the Buddhas in the trinity with the hope that the universe will respond with compassion. 
    • Seishi also plays a role in making us more compassionate in our relationships and understanding of others in this Lotus Sutra and they are models to inspire a way of living.
    • In the Lotus Sutra Seishi was also one of those who assembled on Eagle Peak to listen to Shakyamuni's preaching. 
  •  In the Sutra of Immeasurable Life, Dharmakara bodhisattva made forty-eight original vows in order to save all sentient beings and after eons of practice they were fulfilled and Amida Buddha become and succeeded in creating hsi Pure Land as a part of his vows.  
  • Seishi is also present in the myth where Amida appears to the dying Devotee.  As Seishi gives her hand to the dying man he sees all with his own eyes and the dying man feels intense joy and he enters into the bliss of contemplation.  





  *Mantra associated with Seishi*

The mantra associated with Seishi in Japanese is:


“On san zan zan saku sowaka”


 Which translates to,

               "Om, may defilements be removed, hail."





Veneration of the Mahasthamaprapta Bodhisattva


  • Mahasthamaprapta Bodhisattva is venerated through the creation of images depicting his physical form, through visualization meditation, and the recitation of “Namo Ta-Shih-Chi P’usa.” The images in which Mahasthamaprapta is displayed, generally have Amitabha Buddha and Kuan Shih Yin Bodhisattva depicted as well. The three characters shown together is known as the Triad and puts the main focus on Amitabha Buddha by illustrating him as the largest figure. Mahasthamaprapta and Kuan Shih Yin are usually smaller forms standing below Amitabha on either side. Buddhist followers will venerate the images by praying to gain the wisdom of Amitabha from Mahasthamaprapta and the opportunity to rebirth to the Pure Land.


  • Visualization meditation is a deep contemplation of a specific image, belief, name, or being that helps an individual concentrate on and continue on their path towards enlightenment. Mahasthamaprapta is visualized in his physical form, which is described in the Meditation Sutra to be extremely large and powerful in size. This visualization is known as, the “contemplation of Mahasthamaprapta Bodhisattva” or the “eleventh contemplation”, and it is said to bring wisdom to those who are on their path to enlightenment.


  • Another way of venerating Mahasthamaprapta Bodhisattva is to completely clear one’s mind and focus only on his name while reciting, “Namo Ta-Shih-Chi P’usa.” A clear mind is a necessity because only those with a pure mind and spirit are able to access the Bodhisattva and the wisdom he holds. This act of venerating allows the devotee to qualify for rebirth into the Pure Land with the Bodhisattva and the ability to realize the importance of enlightenment without being distracted. Those who follow this Bodhisattva are determined to practice the Buddha’s way of life while trying to achieve perfection on the path to enlightenment.


  • Even though Mahasthamaprapta is seen as a very powerful and important Bodhisattva, especially in Japan and China, he is not as widely venerated as many of the other Bodhisattva.


































Comments (10)

Quang Nguyen said

at 2:19 pm on Apr 11, 2010

Good! The introduction is straight forward with some quick facts about this Bodhisattva. A quick read to give the readers a good and quick understanding of who this Bodhisattva is. Iconography is probably the strongest topic on this page. Things to be worked on in the future for re editing, have a consistent font color, size, and topic title. Also, use those bullet points in the introduction section than these (*) 4/5

Liz Chavez said

at 2:44 pm on Apr 11, 2010

There was a lot of information packed into this page. It's a good thing, but some of the information was redundant. As previously stated, the iconography was the strongest part of the page. I liked that there was so much detail about the iconography because this is what effects the laity and what they encounter the most. 4.5/5

Scott Mulligan said

at 7:18 pm on Apr 11, 2010

I also liked how you started with quick bullet points of quick facts to draw the reader in. I personally liked the myths the best and found it very interesting about how he appears at death. Great Job. 4.5/5.

ashley.householter@... said

at 1:02 pm on Apr 12, 2010

In my opinion, this page was the most difficult to get through. As said above, a lot of the information (especially in the image analysis section) was extremely redundant. You packed in a lot of information, which was impressive, but not a lot of analysis or connective/conclusive content. Reading a couple thousand words of bullet points is difficult to retain and difficult to maintain interest in. Outside of your delivery, it is clear that a lot of work went into your research, so great job in that respect. 4/5

Anne Buonanno said

at 5:49 pm on Apr 13, 2010

I thought you guys did a good job presenting all the information required and organized your page well, especially in the beginning. However, there were not a lot of image depictions of Mahasthamaprapta Bodhisattva, and the descriptions were very long, well researched and written, but a lot to digest. I especially liked the quick facts about your Bodhisattva and again, the lay out and flow was executed very well. 4.5/5

kimberly.nagata@... said

at 9:15 pm on Apr 13, 2010

The overview at the beginning of the page was a nice touch. There was a lot of information put into your page, however, i like how you separated the sections using a different color font. It helps to dissect the material

hunter.thompson@... said

at 12:09 pm on Apr 14, 2010

The images are well described and give you a good sense of how he is represented in art. It seems a little diorganized the sections are kind of spread around. It was a little hard to piece together the myths and a couple other sections. Overall it was very informing. 3.8/5

christine.cayot@... said

at 3:15 pm on Apr 16, 2010

I also liked the bullet points at the top of the page. It was nice to have a short introduction. The iconography definitely was the most interesting for me and you had a nice variety of images. This page kept my interest and I enjoyed reading the information!

Henry said

at 5:05 pm on Apr 18, 2010

A thorough job. The attention to iconography was impressive and unlike many posts you gave attention to the place where objects originated. As already mentioned by the other commentators, edit for redundancy and grammatical errors more carefully. The piece would be strengthened by using bullet points in isolation rather than constantly throughout and more organization would improve post. A good research effort!

Grade: 4.0

Lauren said

at 10:09 pm on Apr 20, 2010

I like your page setup, it is very easy to follow. The pictures are very well described.

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