Manjushri: Prince of Wisdom

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Exemplars of bodhisattva Manjushri (continued)

Bob Dylan

Ah, but I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now.

Singer-songwriter-poet Bob Dylan exhibits the eloquence of Manjushri by writing powerful, penetrating lyrics that express the problems of injustice, as well as the pain of love and loss. The lyrics of his early work are the complex, evocative. Dylan's frequent shifts of style and subject matter show his unwillingness to be tied by audience or critics to any particular expectation or preconception of some limited "message," just as Manjushri cuts through all cherished views and doctrines in the Buddha's assembly.

May you grow up to be righteous,
May you grow up to be true,
May you always know the truth
And see the lights surrounding you.
May you always be courageous,
Stand upright and be strong,
May you stay forever young,

And but for the sky there are no fences facin'

Although Dylan may be considered a great poet, the poignancy of his work is oral as much as written. His brilliance is often keenest and most evocative in the phrasing and intonations with which he sings his lyrics. Similarly, Manjushri as the Melodious-Voiced One was known for his discourses and inquiries in the sutras.

Gloria Steinem

The authority of any governing institution must stop at its citizen's skin.

Like Manjushri cutting through delusion, Gloria Steinem has used her insight to expose gender inequities in modern society through her writings and the editing of Ms. magazine. As one of the leaders of the feminist movement, she helped many see through entrenched sexual stereotypes and the suffering they create. With her composure and quick wit, Steinem has undercut people's assumptions and prejudices in her writing and public speaking. Her work resembles Manjushri's penetrating insight and dismantling of fixed notions.

However sugarcoated and ambiguous, every form of authoritarianism must start with a belief in some group's greater right to power, whether that right is justified by sex, race, class, religion or all four. However far it may expand, the progression inevitably rests on unequal power and airtight roles within the family.

One of Steinem's books on the language of sexual oppression is titled Moving Beyond Words. In many of her writings, Steinem plays Manjushri's role as protector and progenitor, in her case for women, by celebrating their courage and insight in speaking out or standing up for their rights. As an educator using wit and humor, skill with words, charm, and youthful energy, Steinem embodies many of Manjushri's archetypal qualities.

Margaret Mead

Always remember that you are absolutely unique. Just like everyone else.

Like Steinem, Margaret Mead exposed false cultural norms and assumptions. As an anthropologist, Mead called on Western culture to acknowledge the value and wisdom of indigenous peoples and to appreciate global cultural diversity. Her work helped people see beyond reified attitudes about the world and human nature and history. She engaged the role of Manjushri by pointing out the emptiness of any absolute truths in cultural norms.

Margaret Mead possessed the intellect and insight of Manjushri in her academic writing and her position as a professor. But also like Manjushri, she readily adopted a more humble guise in her many mainstream books and articles for popular magazines. She was determined to spread her message by any means available, "leaking" information about a wider view of humanity, sometimes to the dismay of her academic colleagues.

Other Manjushris?

Can you think of other public figures who embody Manjushri's qualities?

Can you think of people you know personally or who you have encountered who embody Manjushri's qualities?

Manjushri and you

In considering these exemplars of the Manjushri archetype, we may get a better sense of the wisdom aspects of our own spiritual work and life. We activate this Manjushri quality when we focus and concentrate ourselves to bring forth our deepest insight into the nature of reality. Manjushri is further manifested when we articulate our insight to share it with others. We can recognize Manjushri when this insight appears along with youthful, creative energy, no matter our age. But the wisdom can be more effective when we are willing to share it humbly, disguised in everyday forms.

Can you identify these qualities in yourself?