Manjushri is often pictured riding a lion, the most kingly of animals, to indicate his princely nobility and fearlessness. (Buddha Shakyamuni's seat is called a lion throne, and his utterances are often described as lion's roars.) Manjushri's lion mount usually appears calm and stately rather than ferocious or menacing. Manjushri himself has a long, flowing mane of hair, which is sometimes tied up in five topknots, representing the five-peaked holy mountain in northern China, Mount Wutai, that is linked with him.
Manjushri wields a sword
to cut through ignorance and conquer all doubt and confusion. Sometimes
held over his head ready to strike, sometimes set on a lotus flower
by his side or held upright, his sword is a symbol for discriminating
insight and knowledge, for slicing through all mental snares. Manjushri's
sword can cut things into two—or cut things into one. It can take life
or give it. The path of wisdom demands such a sword because our self-created
obstacles of ignorance are so persistent and intractable.
Along with the sword, which is generally held in his right hand, Manjushri often carries a sutra scroll or text in his left hand or on top of his head.