The Litany of the Names of Manjushri or Chanting the Names of Manjusri (’jam dpal mtshan brjod; Skt. Manjushrinamasamghiti) and also referred to as The King of All Tantras and Net of Magical Manifestation of Manjushri, is an extremely important tantric text, relied on by all the schools of Tibetan Buddhism. In particular it is connected with the Hevajra, Guhyagarbha, and Kalachakra tantras.

It was first translated into Tibetan by Rinchen Zangpo, but soon thereafter was revised and commented on. Jamgon Kongtrul mentions  Smritijnana, an Indian scholar who traveled to eastern Tibet where he taught extensively, helped in the translation of the new tantras, and wrote commentaries such as his commentary on Chanting the Names of Manjushri (Manjushrinamasamgiti). Some believe that after his death [Smritijnana] reincarnated in Tibet as the renowned Rongzom Mahapandita and subsequently Dudjom Lingpa and Dudjom Rinpoche.

It comprises 169 (in some editions) stanzas and begins with Vajrapani asking the Buddha Shakyamuni to explain the "chanting of the names" which has profound meaning. There are various levels of this, but one meaning of the"names" is the deities of the mandala.

Manjuvajra, the tantric form of Manjushri. This statue, which appears in The Art of Buddhism, is believed to be related to he Chanting the Names of Manjushri and comes from the tantric Bengal region in the Pala Dynasty.

Chanting the Names of Manjushri in English.

There are several straight translations that are easy to find online.

The most comprehensive commentary in English is included in the great 19th century Dzogchen yogi Choying Tobden Dorje's The Complete Nyingma Tradtion: The Essential Tantras of Mahayoga, Volumes 15-17.

As the translator, the late Gyurme Dorje, explains, Choying Tobden Dorje draws the interlinear commentary

specifically from the treatise of Candragomin, which is entitled Extensive Commentary on the Sublime Litany of the Names of Mañjuśrī. This commentary, which Candragomin is said to have received in a vision from Avalokiteśvara, is contained in the yogatantra section of the Derge Tengyur and in the yoganiruttara section of the Peking Tengyur ....The criteria on which the classification of the Litany of the Names of Mañjuśrī as Yogatantra or Yoga–niruttaratantra are based have been briefly noted in Davidson 1981,and Wayman 1983. Those same translators of the root verses have opted to follow commentarial sources other than Candragomin. Wayman, for example, bases his annotations largely on the treatises of Narendrakīrti, Candrabhadrakīrti, and Smṛtijñānakīrti, while Davidson utilizes the commentaries of Prahevajra, the prolific Mañjuśrīmitra , Vilāsavajra , and Vimalamitra, which have primacy within the Nyingma tradition. However, Choying Tobden Dorje and indeed Candragomin both acknowledge that the vajrapada of the root tantra lend themselves to multiple levels of interpretation. Those familiar with the earlier published translations and editions of the root tantra will note that, according to Candragomin, the core eulogies of the text are addressed to Mañjuśrī in the second person.

Another translation, dated but still of interest, with comments from a Tibetlogist is by Alex Wayman, Chanting the Names of Manjushri.

Some History

In The Ri-me Philosophy of Jamgon Kongtrul the Great:A Study of the Buddhist Lineages of Tibet Ringu Tulku details some of the history and classification of this tantra.

The third class among the Father tantras is the Ignorance class, and its primary text is the tantra of the Manjushri Namasamgiti, or Chanting the Names of Manjushri. This text is the “Net of Meditations” chapter from the large tantra, the Manjushri Net of Magical Display in Sixteen Thousand Stanzas. This tantra is explained in different ways. For example, the bodhisattva kings of Shambhala explain it according to the Kalachakra Tantra, Lalitavajra explains it as a Father tantra of Anuttarayoga, and the bodhisattvas Manjushrikirti and Manjushrimitra explain it according to Yoga Tantra. In Tibet it is sometimes explained according to Atiyoga, and in India it is sometimes explained according to Madhyamaka. Around the year 1000, Lochen Rinchen Zangpo translated Chanting the Names of Manjushri into Tibetan. Later on, several translators revised the translation. Panchen Smritijnana gave the complete teaching of this tantra, including the empowerment, tantra, and pith instructions, to Kyi Jema Lungpa, who transmitted it to Ngogtön Chöku Dorje. This teaching lineage accords with the Yoga Tantra. Marpa Chökyi Lodrö received this teaching according to the Anuttarayoga Tantra from Maitripa. Marpa’s lineage of the empowerment and reading transmission still exists today, as does the teaching lineage that began with Panchen Smritijnana.

There are many different translations of Chanting the Names of Manjushri, but there are not many different meanings. The only difference is the wording, “the empty essence—one hundred letters” according to the Yoga Tantra, and “the empty essence—six letters” according to the Anuttarayoga Tantra.

It is said that if one gains confidence in this king of tantras, then one will gain confidence in all the Anuttarayoga tantras. And if one does not understand the meaning of this tantra, then one does not understand the meaning of Anuttarayoga altogether. It says in the Stainless Light:

In order to free all beings from doubt, the Tathagata collected Chanting the Names of Manjushri from all the Mantrayana teachings and taught it to Vajrapani. Whoever does not know Chanting the Names of Manjushri does not know the wisdom body of Vajradhara. Whoever does not know the wisdom body of Vajradhara does not understand the Mantrayana. Whoever does not understand the Mantrayana remains in samsara, separated from the path of the conqueror Vajradhara.

Further on Ringu Tulku relates that the "Sarma tantras are held in common by both the Early and New Translation traditions. Not only did the Nyingmapas spread the Sarma tantras through explanation and practice, but they never criticized them. Also, the Nyingmapas have held the teaching lineages of Chanting the Names of Manjushri and the Kalachakra Tantra with particular respect."

Chanting the Names of Manjusri in the Life of Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche

To demonstrate the centrality of this text for those in the Nyingma tradition, we do not have to look much further than Brilliant Moon: The Autobiography of Dilgo Khyentse where this texts come up repeatedly.

[Shechen] Gyaltsap Rinpoche was in the process of establishing a monastic school at Shechen, and on one astrologically favorable day, he said they should hold the opening ceremony. For a few days Khyentse Chökyi Lodro gave elaborate teachings based on a commentary written by Khyentse Wangpo on Chanting the Names of Manjushri, and together with Shechen Kongtrül, Gontoe Chöktrul, Gyaltsap Rinpoche’s nephew Khenchen Lodro Rabsel, and Khenpo Phakang, it was attended by all the participants of the Treasury of Spiritual Instructions. Later they all became unrivaled practitioners of sutra, tantra, and science, endowed with learning, discipline, and goodness.

and later:

From Lama Rigzin Tekchok, I received Mipham Rinpoche’s exegesis of the Novice Aphorisms, as well as Dodup Tenpai Nyima’s guidance on Chanting the Names of Manjushri.

And another instance:

Next I went to Dzongsar to study with the omniscient Jamgön Chökyi Lodro. He gave the long-life empowerment of the rediscovered treasure Combined Sadhana of the Three Roots, the explanation of the Condensed Perfection of Wisdom based on Mipham Rinpoche’s commentary, the great pandita Vimalamitra’s commentary on Chanting the Names of Manjushri, Hevajra according to the Sakya tradition, the major empowerment of the Khon tradition, and the major empowerment of the protector Gur.

Brilliant Moon also includes reminiscences from other masters who mention this text.

Rabjam RinpocheRabjam Rinpoche relates, "

Until Khyentse Rinpoche passed away, I used to do my morning and evening prayers with him. In the morning we did Chanting the Names of Manjushri and in the evening we did the protector chants. So I learnt most of them by heart, but there were maybe a hundred points where I made mistakes. When I chanted them by heart in front of Rinpoche, he knew exactly where I would make mistakes, and just before reaching the passage where I was about to go wrong, he would raise his voice to guide me to say it right. Later Rinpoche wrote all the sentences where I made mistakes in a small notebook—he had actually memorized all the mistakes I made!

Also, Trulshik Rinpoche wrote,

The daily ceremonies include morning and evening prayers according to the Mindroling tradition, starting with refuge, bodhichitta, the seven-branch offering, and the renewal of the two bodhisattva vows, followed by the reading of the Guhyagarbha Tantra and the Magical Net of Vajrasattva, one different chapter every day. Then there is the reading of Chanting the Names of Manjushri, the Epitome Sutra, and the Prayer of Excellent Conduct, which were spoken by the Buddha himself.

Jamgön Kongtrul Rinpoche on This Text
Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Taye

Jamgön Kongtrul mentions the text multiple times in the ten-volume Treasury of Knowledge.

In Volume 8, Book 3, in the section on "The Completion Phase in Father and Mother Tantras", he describes the text in this way:

To the family of delusion tantras, of those translated into Tibetan, belongs Chanting the Names of Manjushri. This is considered a delusion tantra because it teaches methods to purify delusion and is intended to treat persons whose strongest affliction is delusion.

The translators of this volume, Elio Guarisco and Ingrid McLeod include the following note:

This work, the first in the tantric section of the Dergé Kangyur, forms a class of its own. One set of commentaries explains it in terms of the system of highest yoga tantra; and another set, in terms of that of yoga tantra.

Manjushriyashas, in his Extensive Explanation of Chanting the Names of Manjushri, and Manjushrimitra, in his Commentary on Chanting the Names of Manjushri, expound this tantra from the perspective of yoga tantra, while Lalitavajra, in his Extensive Commentary on Chanting the Names of Manjushri, expounds it from the perspective of highest yoga tantra. The authors of the Commentaries by the Bodhisattvas interpret the Net of Magical Manifestation from the Kalachakra point of view. It has also been treated from the perspective of the central way and from that of the great perfection. Butön and others considered this tantra to be of the class of highest yoga tantra in terms of its nature but explained the sadhana in the format of yoga tantra.

Kongtrul states that, of the highest yoga tantra families of attachment, aversion, and delusion, Chanting the Names of Manjushri belongs to the delusion family. The main deity is usually a male figure without consort, although some sadhanas include a consort. However, there is neither the urging of the molten form of the deity nor the creation of the deities by emanating them from the womb of the consort. Moreover, Chanting the Names of Manjushri describes the ground, path, and result in detail but merely alludes to practices such as release and union. It teaches primarily a nonconceptual form of the phase of creation.

Kongtrul further points out that although some Indian scholars have explained this tantra in terms of yoga tantra, this does not necessarily signify that it is a yoga tantra, just as the fact that Anandagarbha’s expositions of the Guhyasamaja are written in terms of yoga tantra does not prove that the Guhyasamaja tantra belongs to the yoga class. In particular, as indicated in the Indian treatise written by Varabodhi, Mandala Rite of Manjushri: Source of Qualities, the descriptions of the secret initiation and the initiation of pristine awareness through wisdom are teachings on the inner-fi re practices involving four channel-wheels, the liberative path of contemplation of the deity in union, typical of highest yoga tantras. Th is point is explained in Smritishrijnana’s commentary on the Sadhana of the Net of Magical Manifestation of Manjushri. Moreover, the presence within the sadhanas of the Chanting the Names of Manjushri of the four seals and other practices that are the same as those of yoga tantras does not prove that this tantra does not belong to the highest yoga tantra class since such practices are also found in the Chatuhpitha.

Ngoktön Chöku Dorjé (1036-1102) was the holder of two lineages of the Chanting the Names of Manjushri: one transmitted from Marpa, who received the initiation and teachings on the tantra from Maitripa, and the other, from Purang Sherab Dorjé . (Ngoktön received the transmission from Purang before meeting Marpa.) The first of these lineages is exclusively that of the highest yoga tantra; the second lineage (which eventually vanished) was in accordance with yoga tantra. See Kongtrul’s Sadhana of Chanting the Names of Manjushri, Lord of All Tantras, Union of Families: The Blazing Sword of Pristine Awareness.

Chōgyam Trungpa Rinpoche on This Text

A final anecdote comes from Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche's third volume of the Profound Treasury trilogy"

The First Trungpa and Adro Shelu-bum

When Künga Gyaltsen left Trung Ma-se, he visited various places. As he traveled around eastern Tibet, he came to the fort of Adro Shelu-bum, who was the local landowner and local lord. When Künga Gyaltsen arrived, he was repeating a line from a very famous Manjushri text, the Manjushri-nama-sangiti (Chanting the Names of Manjushri). In the text there is a phrase, chökyi gyaltsen lekpar dzuk, which means “Firmly plant the victorious banner of dharma.” So he arrived at the door of Adro Shelu-bum’s castle with that particular verse on his lips, and he repeated that line three times. For that reason, at my principal monastery in Tibet, Surmang Dütsi Tel, we always repeated that same line twice when we chanted the text. And here in the West, that line has been made into one of the main slogans of Naropa University. We have translated it in that context as “We firmly plant the victory banner of dharma.”