Manjushri: Prince of Wisdom

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Exemplars of bodhisattva Manjushri

Manjushri demonstrates penetrating intellect, with insight into the essential nature of existence. One of his main tools is eloquence and the skillful use of language, which sometimes verges on verbosity. He shines with energetic, youthful brilliance. With his focus on the teaching of emptiness and the obstructions we face from holding on to fixed views or doctrines, Manjushri avoids being pinned down to any given form and takes on new shapes to dispel attachments. He readily covers his brilliance in humble appearances to guide and test beings.

Albert Einstein

Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.

Albert Einstein is a classic example of the Manjushri archetype. Perhaps all atomic physicists might be included here, with their insight into the elemental nature of matter, but Einstein's theory of relativity is particularly relevant here. The teaching of shunyata, or emptiness, expounded by Manjushri has also been translated as "relativity." The emptiness or absence of any isolated, inherent self-identity in all things can be experienced by seeing into the fundamental interrelatedness, or relativity, of all things. Einstein's famous theory, and most of his central work showing the interrelation of matter and energy, was produced when he was young, further fitting the model of Manjushri's youthful insight.

In his later years, "pilgrims" would come to visit Einstein at Princeton. They often found the great man dressed shabbily, with tattered clothing, reminiscent of Manjushri as a beggar. Einstein was a deeply spiritual man, who saw "cosmic religious feeling" as "the strongest and noblest incitement to scientific research."

We can hear echoes of Manjushri's emptiness teaching in some of Einstein's perceptive writings about cosmic religion, which he considered the highest development of all religions:

The individual feels the nothingness of human desires and aims and the sublimity and marvelous order which reveal themselves both in nature and in the world of thought. He looks upon individual existence as a sort of prison and wants to experience the universe as a single significant whole.

James Joyce

I am tomorrow, or some future day, what I establish today. I am today what I established yesterday or some previous day.

Like Manjushri, the Irish writer James Joyce, in his brilliant dismembering of the English language and playful, original use of the sounds and patterns of words and phrases, brings a penetrating insight into our linguistic habits. Joyce's masterworks, Ulysses and Finnegan's Wake, are so complex, so packed with literary allusions, that even with guidebooks it is difficult for readers to fathom their multiple levels of meaning. Yet Joyce's writing, especially Finnegans Wake, is often unexpectedly humorous and evocative when read aloud. In this sense, Joyce's writing is like the sutras in which Manjushri is featured, which are more often recited for their impact on mental states than analyzed for meaning.

Would the departed never nowhere nohow reappear? Ever he would wander, selfcompelled, to the extreme limit of his cometary orbit, beyond the fixed stars and variable suns and telescopic planets, astronomical waifs and strays, to the extreme boundary of space, passing from land to land, among peoples, amid events. Somewhere imperceptibly he would hear and somehow reluctantly, suncompelled, obey the summons of recall.

Ulysses, the epic journey of a group of characters during one day in Dublin, can be compared to Manjushri's insight into the essence of everyday, mundane awareness. Manjushri is a teacher of buddhas, and Joyce might be called a teacher of writers, given the many writers that he deeply influenced.

Gertrude Stein

The minute you or anybody else knows what you are you are not it, you are what you or anybody else knows you are and as everything in living is made up of finding out what you are it is extraordinarily difficult really not to know what you are and yet to be that thing.

Gertrude Stein is another example of a writer who deconstructs our usual sense of language in order to reveal deeper realities. She not only juggles normal grammar and syntax but also plays with our sense of meaning and logic with frequent non sequiturs. This is Manjushri's use of language to show us deeper realities beyond the reach of linguistic conventions. Stein attempted to show "things as they are."

There ain't no answer. There ain't gonna be any answer. There never has been an answer. That's the answer.

In some works she virtually abandoned narrative. She believed that the simplified stringing together of experiences in narrative plots was illusory, secondary to pure experience itself. Like Manjushri, she was interested in fundamental principles of awareness. Stein's linguistic experimentation had considerable influence on the coterie of distinguished writers who gathered around her in her Paris salon.