Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Manjusri, the Gentle Glory Bodhisattva

Buddhism consistently promotes two virtues: Compassion and Wisdom. Avalokitesvara embodies Great Compassion; the last Bodhisattva on the right, Manjusri (Chinese Wen Shu) represents Great Wisdom.

An oft-told example illustrates the relationship of the two virtues of Wisdom and Compassion. Suppose you are approached by a homeless person asking for a handout. You give him some money-which he promptly spends on alcohol. You have been compassionate, but not wise. So the next time you are approached, you give nothing; now you have been wise, but not compassionate. What is the solution? Buy him some food. This is wise and compassionate. Compassion without wisdom is foolish; wisdom without compassion is harsh. As every good parent knows, the two must be used in balance.

Thus Manjusri maintains the balance of Wisdom amongst the Bodhisattvas. His name means "Gentle Glory," a good description of the main benefit of Wisdom. Often (though not here) shown holding a sword, Manjusri cuts through the ignorance of this world. He is also often shown holding sutra scrolls. Here we see him sitting on a lion; the roar of the lion represents the Buddha's teaching spreading through the world. (The Buddha is sometimes called "The Lion of the Shakyas," as his Shakya clan was associated with lions.)

How did Manjusri come to be associated with Wisdom? Simply, he was the teacher of seven successive Buddhas, the Sakyamuni Buddha being the last. One version of his story says that he himself was a Buddha in the distant past, and came back to teach the others. The Buddha said that in fact hundreds of Buddhas of the past became enlightened through Manjusri's teaching.

Central to his instruction was the idea that everything is "void," or "empty," an idea we will discuss further in a moment. When asked if he followed the Mahayana teachings, he replied, "As I see it, everything is void, so there is no such thing as Buddhist teachings. Then, how can there be any Mahayana teaching for me to follow?"

As radical as his teaching was his behavior. All monks in the Buddha's time were required to gather in monasteries for the rainy season. one year, Manjusri failed to show up. It was later discovered that he had spent the three months in the company of children and prostitutes, as well as the maids in the Sravasti Palace. Naturally, the other monks were outraged, none more than the venerable Kasyapa. He demanded that Manjusri be expelled from the assembly. The Buddha then revealed that during that one rainy season, Manjusri taught "five hundred women, five hundred boys and five hundred girls, who will never lose their determination to seek Enlightenment." Kasyapa asked him how he had accomplished such a feat, and Manjusri replied, "I used many methods to teach them. I used games, or I used money, or I applied good deeds, or I showed my magical powers, or I showed the appearances of various deities, or I showed the appearance of a Buddha, or I showed a horrible face, or I appeared in other forms. Why? People are different, so I had to preach to them in many ways."

A final story of Manjusri's power: Once five hundred monks were able to see their pasts, and discovered that they had all killed their own parents or committed other atrocities. They came to doubt that they would ever achieve Enlightenment. Sensing this, the Buddha called on Manjusri to instruct them. Manjusri instantly pulled out his sword and placed it at the Buddha's neck. The monks instantly grasped his point: the mind is illusory. There is no sword, no Buddha, no Manjusri-therefore there were no crimes, no criminals, no victims. With his sword of truth Manjusri cut through the illusion and showed them reality as it really is.

In front of Manjusri Bodhisattva

O Manjusri, Bodhisattva of Great Wisdom!

I ask you to help me gain control over my mind and destroy all unwholesome thoughts.

Through your great wisdom, you have ensured that the Lion's Roar of the Buddha's teaching is heard throughout the world.

Through destroying ignorance you have shown us that we can overcome delusion.

Let me also, by cultivating my mind, attain this excellence.

Help me to conquer ignorance and delusion.

Help me to practice right view and right understanding, learning to see things as they truly are,

that I may dedicate further merit to the enlightenment of all sentient beings.

O great One of the Marvelous Gentle Power, hear my prayer!

O great Manjusri Bodhisattva, hear my prayer!


Manjushri is the eldest of the great Bodhisattvas and is foremost in wisdom.

"Manjushri, a Sanskrit word, is interpreted as 'wonderful virtue' or 'wonderfully auspicious.' Of the Bodhisattvas, Manjushri has the greatest wisdom, and so he is known as 'The Greatly Wise Bodhisattva Manjushri.' Among the Bodhisattvas he holds the highest rank, and so he is listed first, before the Bodhisattva Who Observes the Sounds of the World. There are four great Bodhisattvas: Bodhisattva Manjushri, Bodhisattva Who Observes the Sounds of the World, Bodhisattva Universal Worthy, and Bodhisattva Earth Store.

"Bodhisattva Manjushri dwells in China on Wu-tai Mountain, where his bodhimanda is located. His efficacious responses are marvelous beyond all reckoning. He became a Buddha long ago and was called Buddha of the Race of Honored Dragon Kings. After becoming a Buddha, he 'hid away the great and manifested the small', in order to practice the Bodhisattva way, teach and transform living beings, and help the Buddha [Shakyamuni] propagate the Dharma. His spiritual penetrations and miraculous functions are inconceivable." (DFS II 144-145)

"Bodhisattva Manjushri . . . is a very special Bodhisattva. When he was born, ten kinds of extraordinary events occurred, which show that he was different from other Bodhisattvas. Manjushri is known for his great wisdom.

"'But the Venerable Shariputra is also known for his wisdom,' you may ask. 'What is the difference between the two types of wisdom?'

"The wisdom of Shariputra is provisional wisdom, and the wisdom of Manjushri is real wisdom. The wisdom of Shariputra is the Hinayana wisdom; the wisdom of Manjushri is the Mahayana wisdom.

"What were the ten auspicious signs which manifested at Manjushri's birth?

1) The room was filled with bright light, brighter than the light which could be made by any number of light bulbs. The bright light represented the Bodhisattva's great wisdom.

2) The vessels were filled with sweet dew. Sweet dew is miraculous; drinking it will cure all the sicknesses in the world. Then, instead of having to undergo birth, old age, sickness, and death, you'll only have birth, old age, and death to deal with.

3) The seven jewels came forth from the earth. The seven jewels are gold, silver, lapis lazuli, crystal, mother of pearl, red pearls, and carnelian.

"'Why did the jewels appear?'

"Manjushri had cultivated the Six Perfections and the Ten Thousand Conducts to such a high degree of perfection that in response, wherever he goes, precious gems appear.

4) The gods opened the treasuries. Manjushri Bodhisattva's great spiritual powers caused the earth to open up and expose the many treasuries it contains. This differs from the third, in which the seven jewels well up out of the earth. Here the treasuries were exposed when the earth opened up.

5) Chickens gave birth to phoenixes. Even more unusual than the gods opening the treasuries was the fact that chickens gave birth to phoenixes. Basically, of course, chickens only give birth to chickens. But because Manjushri's birth was such a special occasion, they gave birth to phoenixes.

6) Pigs gave birth to dragons. This is even more unusual than chickens giving birth to phoenixes. . . .

7) Horses gave birth to unicorns. . . .

8) Cows gave birth to white tsai. The white tsai is an extremely rare and auspicious animal. . . . It looks like a horse but it has the hooves of an ox. It is in a special category all of its own.

9) The grain in the granaries turned to gold. Do you think that is strange? Some of you probably think it is so strange that you don't even believe it. If you don't believe it, it's because you don't understand it. If you don't understand it, its no doubt because you've never encountered such a thing before. And so how could you possibly believe it?

"However, the world is a very big place and what we have seen and heard is extremely limited. Therefore, it is not strange that there are unusual phenomena which we have not seen or heard. When the grain turned to gold, it could no longer be used as food, but then just a few grains could be exchanged for a lot of food. . . .

10) Elephants with six tusks appeared. As we know, elephants usually only have two tusks. At the time of Manjushri's birth, however, they appeared with six. Is that strange or not?

"Those ten special signs appeared at the time of Manjushri's birth and represent Manjushri's rare eloquence in speaking all Dharmas. . . .

"When he speaks the Dharma, Manjushri does not discriminate among the dharmas. Although he does not discriminate among the dharmas, he, nevertheless, does not not distinguish all dharmas. The wonder lies right at this point, and that is why he is known as 'wonderful virtue'--Manjushri.

Chinese woodblock print of the Bodhisattva Manjusri from Dunhuang, 10th cent.

"The six tusks stand for the Six Perfections (Six Paramitas) and the elephants stand for the Ten Thousand conducts. . . ." (DFS II 144-149)

What are the 6 Paramitas? please go to this link:

Manjushri's Mantra to Multiply Prostrations Merit by 1000x:
"Om Namo Manjushriya, Namo Sushriya (Glorious Goodness), Namo Utta-Ma Shriya (Glorious Supreme Sublimity) Svaha"
(Recite 3x)

Manjushri Nama Samgiti
(Chanting the Names of Manjushri):

Om Namo Manjushri Five-Syllables Sutra:
"Om Ah-Ra-Pa-Cha-Na-Dhi (Dhi-Dhi-Dhi-Dhi)"

Manjusri's Rebirth Mantra:
"Om AH Bei La Hum, Kan Cha La, Soha"
Manjushri Nama Samgiti Mantra:
"Om Sarva-Dharma 'bhava-Svabhava-Vishuddha Vajra (Chakshur) A Aa Am Ah. Prakruti-Parishuddhah Sarva-Dharma. Yad Uta Sarva-Tathagata-Jnana-Kaya-Manjushri-Parishuddhitam Upa-dayeti A Aah. Sarva-Tathagata-Hridaya. Hara Hara Om Hum Hrih. Bhagavan-Jnana-Murté. Vagi-Shvara Maha-Pacha. Sarva-Dharma-Gagana-Mala-Supari-Shuddha-Dharma-Dhatu-Jnana-Garbha A Ah".


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