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