Dear Still Water Friends,
One of the benefits of mindfulness practice I’ve appreciated is that it has given me role models. I’ve been heartened by the equanimity, compassion, good-heartedness, and perseverance I’ve seen in so many lay and monastic practitioners. I’ve been inspired by the clarity and presence of great teachers, such as Thich Nhat Hanh and the Dalai Lama.
I have also been encouraged and challenged by the qualities of the Bodhisattvas, the semi-mythical human beings of Mahayana Buddhism who have developed their human capacities to the utmost degree. They, along with the Buddha, are the superheroes of mindfulness practice.
This Thursday, after our meditation period, we will perform together the guided movement meditation called "Invoking the Bodhisattvas’ Names." In this meditation we touch the earth and invoke, one after the other, the four great Boddhisattvas who embody the essential qualities of a liberated being:
- Avalokiteshvara, the Boddhisattva of great compassion,
- Manjushri, the Boddhisattva of great wisdom,
- Samantabhadra, the Boddhisattva of great meritorious deeds, and
- Kshitigarbha, the Bodhisattva who takes the great vow to rescue all beings from suffering.
In our discussion, I would like to focus especially on the qualities of Manjushri. When we invoke Manjushri we say:
We aspire to learn your way, which is to be still and to look deeply into the heart of things and into the hearts of people. We will look with all our attention and open-heartedness. We will look with unprejudiced eyes. We will look without judging or reacting. We will look deeply so that we will be able to see and understand the roots of suffering, through the impermanent and selfless nature of all that is. We will practice your way of using the sword of understanding to cut through the bonds of suffering, thus freeing ourselves and other species.
In China and Japan Manjushri is often depicted on the back of a lion, representing his enlightenment. The sword he holds in his right hand is the sword of discernment, which separates correct views from incorrect views, and beneficial actions from non-beneficial actions. It cuts through ignorance and illusion. In his left hand he holds a page of the Prajna Paramita Sutra — the Sutra on the Perfection of Wisdom. The literal translation of the Sanskrit word Manjushri is Sweet Glory or Gentle Glory.
For me, there is something appealing about this wise superhero who combines accomplishment, strength, insight, and serenity: sweet, gentle glory.
We are all influenced by our role models and by the metaphors and images we have of what it means to be wise. During our discussion we will talk about these role models, metaphors, and images: what they are, how important they were and are for us, and in what ways they are similar to the qualities of Manjushri. Whether you are able to join us or not, I invite you to consider these questions.