Manjushri-Smooth, Glorious, Melodiois-is the embodiment of all the buddhas’ infinite wisdom. He is golden orange28 in color and holds the flaming sword of wisdom in his right hand and in his left the stem of a lotus flower upon which rests a volume of the Perfection of Wisdom sutras. The artist has depicted Mnajushri as manifesting in the sp-here of limitless space as a way of symbolizing the clear, unobstructed nature of this deity’s omniscient mind.
All the attributes of Manjushri point to the wisdom that he personifies. His double-edged sword cuts through obscu-ring layers of misconception and discriminates accurately between the independent way things mistakenly appear to ex-
ist and the interdependent way they actually do exist. The perfection of wisdom sutra he holds, treasured as Buddha’s most profound statement on the ultimate nature of reality, is further indication that Manjushri’s penetrating insight is of the highest order. It is said that the two most powerful ways of developing wisdom oneself are to study these profound
sutras and to meditate upon Manjushri. It is the custom of Tibetan school children, and also of monks and nuns, to re-cite the mantra of Manjushri the first thing each morning and to repeat over and over the seed-syllable DHIH that embo
dies the essence of his wisdom.
As in the case of Avalokiteshvara, Manjushri has been identified with many of the important patrons and gurus in-
Strumental in spreading and preserving the Buddhist dharma in Tibet. King Trisong Detsen, who invited Pad
-masambhava from India to establish Vajrayana Buddhism in Tibet, is considered to have been an incarnation of Manjushri, as were the great Nyingma lama Longchen Rabjampa, the Sakya pandita (plate 28) and the Geluk master
Je Tsong Khapa
Manjushri not only plays an important role in many of Shakyamuni Buddha’s philosophical discourses, but he figures prominently in myths and legends that originatedin Buddha’s time and are still widely known today. One of the most famous of these relates how Manjushri drained the Kathmandu Valley of Nepal and made it suitable for human habitati
-on and the spread of the Buddhadharma.
Ages ago, seated in meditation on the Five-Peaked Mountain in Chain that is his home, the bodhisattva Manjushri became aware of the Nepal Valley and the lake of pure water which filled it. It was in this lake that a previo-us Buddha had planted the root of a lotus which eventually grew into an enormous thousand-petaled blossom, and it w-as upon this lotus that the dazzling light known as Svayambhu Dharmadhatu-the self-created Sphere of Ultimate Reality –miraculously appeared.
Arising from his meditation, Manjushri came to the valley, talking with him his sword Chanda Hasa, “the Dreadful laugh.” At a place called Turtle Mountain, he cleft the earth with his powerful sword, thereby allowing the water of the lake to drain away to the south. Then, in order to make amends to Turtle Mountain for carving into it in this way, he established a shrine there in honor of Avalokiteshvara so that in the future the site would become a place of homage.
As the water drained out of the valley a hill known as Diamond Peak appeared bearing the lotus and light of Svayambhu. In a later epoch this miraculous light was enshrined in a stupa to preserve it for increasingly degenerate future generations. The Svayambhu Stupa is still one of the main pilgtimage centers in Asia and the site has been visited by a succession of outstanding Buddhist masters beginning with Shakyamuni himself. When the great Indian
Mahasiddha Nagarjuna later went there, he recovered the Perfection of Wisdom Sutra that had been entrusted to the
Naga king living beneath Diamond Peak; thereafter he disseminated these precious Mahayan teachings widely, bringing about a renaissance of Buddhist thought and practice throughout the Indian subcontinent and beyond.
These stories help illustrate the ways in which Mnajushri’s enlightened wisdom offers protection from what are often referred to as the “two fears”, those of samsara and nirvana. Concerning the former, all the frightening mental and physical sufferings in the six realms of cyclic existence are the result of negative karma- those destructive,
non-virtuous actions that propel us involuntarily from one unsatisfactory state to another. As illustrated in the wheel of
life , all such negative actions are motivated by the delusions-greed, hatred, jealousy and the like- which are themselves rooted in our ignorance of the way things exist. Manjushri’s sword of wisdom destroys the false and misleading conceptions fabricated by this root ignorance, thereby offering ultimate protection from the fears of cyclic existence.
As for the second of the two fears-those of nirvana, or solitary peace-at first sight this appears to involve a serious contradiction in terms. After all, what is there to fear when the root cause of all personal suffering has been eliminated forever? As the story of Manjushri and the would-be arhats shows, what is fearful about the peace of self-liberation is not one’s own suffering-for this has been totally eradicated-but rather the way this blissful liberation breeds complacency and indifference to the suffering of others. Such indifference is the very antithesis of the compassionate
bodhichitta motivation to gain enlightenment for the sake of benefiting others. Manjushri’s insightful attitude, imbued as it is with this compassionate motivation, never loses sight of the welfare of those who, like ourselves, wish only to be happy and to escape from suffering. This altruistic attitude guards us from the “fear” of striving for our own release to the neglect of all other self-imprisoned beings.