Manjushri: Prince of Wisdom

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Illuminating language to untangle delusion

One of Manjushri's foremost roles is as bodhisattva of poetry, oratory, writing, and all the uses of language. Language is one of the primary catalysts of human ignorance and delusion. The patterns of our conventional thought processes are established and learned through our language. Manjushri works to reveal our enslavement by language and to liberate language and use it to express the deeper realities.

Our sense of alienation is established and strengthened by the way our language separates subject and object. As we absorb this subject-verb-object grammar, we come to see ourselves as agents acting on a dead world of objects, or we see ourselves as powerless objects being acted upon and victimized by external agents. We fail to recognize that the whole world is alive, vibrant, totally interconnected, and dancing with prajna.

Manjushri is the person who asks questions of the Buddha in many of the sutras. Manjushri is called master of words and outstanding orator.

The melody of your speech like a sphere of music. . . Whose ear it enters, it takes away their sickness, their old age, and their death. Your speech is pleasant, gentle, charming, heart-stirring, harmonious, its sweetness is pure stainless clear light.


Manjushri often elucidates the inner meaning of language, using negations to break down patterns of thought and language that reinforce ignorance and block insight. He liberates language by showing how it can be used to express nondual understanding without being caught by its confusions.

Manjushri's language in some sutras foreshadows the use of "turning words" as pivots of awakening in Zen koans. In the spirit of Manjushri, the later Zen masters used language in unusual, stimulating ways to elicit awakening, uttering living words and exposing dead words.