In the Lotus Sūtra, Samantabhadra is described at length in the epilogue, called the Samantabhadra Meditation Sutra (Chinese: 觀普賢菩薩行法經; pinyin: Guān Pǔxián Púsà Xíngfǎ Jīng), with special detail given to visualization of the bodhisattva, and the virtues of devotion to him.
Samantabhadra is also a key figure in the Āvataṃsaka-sūtra, particularly the last chapter, the Gaṇḍavyūha-sūtra. In the climax of the Gaṇḍavyūha-sūtra, the student Sudhana meets Samantabhadra Bodhisattva, who teaches him that wisdom only exists for the sake of putting it into practice; that it is only good insofar as it benefits all living beings.
In the Āvataṃsaka-sūtra, the Buddha states that Samantabhadra Bodhisattva made ten great vows in his path to full Buddhahood:
To follow the teachings of the Buddhas at all times.
To accommodate and benefit all living beings.
To transfer all merits and virtues to benefit all beings.
The ten vows have become a common practice in East Asian Buddhism, particularly the tenth vow, with many Buddhists traditionally dedicating their merit and good works to all beings during Buddhist liturgies.
In Mahayana Buddhism
Unlike his more popular counterpart Manjusri, Samantabhadra is only rarely depicted alone and is usually found in a trinity on the right side of Shakyamuni, mounted on a white elephant. In those traditions that accept the Avatamsaka Sutra as its root instruction, Samantabhadra and Manjusri flank Vairocana Buddha, the central Buddha of this particular sutra.
Known as Pǔxián in Chinese, he is sometimes shown in Chinese art with feminine characteristics, riding an elephant with six pairs of tusks while carrying a lotus leaf 'parasol' (Sanskrit: chhatra), bearing similar dress and features to some feminine depictions of Kuan Yin. It is in this guise that Samantabhadra is revered as the patron bodhisattva of the monasteries associated with Mount Emei in western China. Some believe that the white elephant mount of Samantabhadra was the same elephant that appeared to Queen Maya, the mother of the Buddha, to herald his birth.
Mahayana esoteric traditions treat Samantabhada as one of the 'Primordial' (Sanskrit: Dharmakaya) Buddhas, but the main primordial buddha is considered to be Vairocana.
In Esoteric Buddhism
Samantabhadra, pictured in Bodhisattva of Universal Virtue who Prolongs Life, 12th century painting on silk, late Heian period.
It is very common that the bodhisattva of the Mahayana tradition with the name of Samantabhadra is conflated with a Buddha with the same name that appears as the primordial buddha, in some of the Tibetan traditions. This is a very common error and should be avoided. This comes from the fact that both figures have the same name but their meaning within their respective traditions is quite different. It is not the case that the bodhisattva of the Mahayan has evolved or transformed when assimilated into the Tibetan tradition because in that tradition the Bodhisattva samantabhadra is present and the Dharmakaya Samantabhadra as well as two separate and distinct entities.
Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche following the Nyingmapa Dzogchen tradition qualifies the nature and essence of Samantabhadra, the Primordial Buddha, as the origin-less wellspring of the timeless and unbounded Atiyoga teachings, and honours the converse view entertained by some interested parties which hold that the Dzogchen teachings originated with either the Bonpo tradition or the Chinese monk Moheyan:
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.
Sri Lankan people venerates Samantabhadra Bodhisatva as Saman (also called Sumana, Samantha, Sumana Saman, Sinhalese: සුමන සමන් දෙවි). The name Saman means "the rising morning sun". God Saman is considered one of the guardian deities of the island and Buddhism. His main shrine is located in Ratnapura, where there is an annual festival held in his honor.
^Katō Bunno, Tamura Yoshirō, Miyasaka Kōjirō, tr. (1975), The Threefold Lotus Sutra : The Sutra of Innumerable Meanings; The Sutra of the Lotus Flower of the Wonderful Law; The Sutra of Meditation on the Bodhisattva Universal Virtue. New York & Tōkyō: Weatherhill & Kōsei Publishing.
^Khyentse, Dzongsar (1990). "Introduction: The Significance of This Biography" in: Palmo, Ani Jima (Eugenie de Jong; translator); Nyingpo, Yudra (compilor, et al.) (2004). The Great Image: the Life Story of Vairochana the translator. Shambala Publications, Inc.: Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.A. ISBN 1-59030-069-6 (pbk.: alk. paper). p.xxi
Yeshe De Project (1986). Ancient Tibet: Research materials from the Yeshe De Project. California: Dharma Publishing. ISBN0-89800-146-3.
Dudjom Rinpoche; Jikdrel Yeshe Dorje (1991). Translated and edited by Gyurme Dorje with Matthew Kapstein, ed. The Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism: its Fundamentals and History. Two Volumes. Boston: Wisdom Publications. ISBN0-86171-087-8.