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Exemplars of bodhisattva Samantabhadra

Samantabhadra is hard to see, so it is ironic and yet somehow remarkably appropriate that exemplars of his workings in the world are especially numerous. Samantabhadra is not apparent in his most majestic radiance, but he is evident everywhere to those who look. While it is sometimes difficult to find exemplars of the other archetypes, the problem with Samantabhadra is which to select of the many exemplars.

We can focus first on Samantabhadra's work in the world, his vow to engage in situations that might benefit others. Many Buddhists throughout the world are actively addressing social issues and conflicts, informed with Buddhist spiritual principles of wisdom and compassion. The sutras make clear that Samantabhadra does not shy away from social conflict, although he may prefer to act behind the scenes. All of Samantabhadra's activity in the realm of social structures and systems is ultimately aimed at fostering universal awakening.

A second aspect of Samantabhadra is vast aesthetic vision, creatively expressing the larger picture of wholeness with a sense of awe, while encouraging the development of awakening as the vitalizing principle of that vision. This comprehensive vision is the source of hope and energy that sustains and informs Samantabhadra's constructive, liberative activities in society. Even while immersed in worldly missions, part of Samantabhadra's character is solitary and devotional, seeing all his activity as a simple offering to the vision of awakening. Many of Samantabhadra's exemplars, even while embroiled in social activism, have this humble, devotional attitude.

A third prominent quality of the archetype is the embodiment of vibrant presence and radiant dignity. Samantabhadra's impressive, stately presence inspires and energizes others and helps them awaken to wider vision and to their own participation in productive activity in the world.

Aung San Suu Kyi

One dramatic example of Samantabhadra energy in the world today is the courageous Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi, winner of the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize. The daughter of the leader of the Burmese independence movement who was assassinated after World War II, Aung San Suu Kyi was living comfortably in England with her British husband and their two sons when she visited her mother in Burma in 1988. During this time, government police shot and killed thousands of demonstrators, including many members of the burgeoning democracy movement. Suu Kyi resolved to address the political troubles of her homeland. She traveled the country speaking out and vowing to fight the tyranny of the ruling military dictatorship. She was placed under house arrest for doing so. Then the political party she led, the National League for Democracy, overwhelmingly won the national elections held in 1990 in Burma, and she should have become prime minister. Instead, the military junta ignored the election results and imprisoned most of the members of her party who had won election to parliament.

The only real prison is fear, and the only real freedom is freedom from fear.

Through her long imprisonment, Aung San Suu Kyi was offered release if she would depart the country and abandon any participation in Burmese politics. But she refused, continuing to sacrifice her own freedom and the chance to be with her family in order to stand up for her country's freedom. Thanks largely to the acclaim she received from around the world, Suu Kyi's house arrest was withdrawn after many years. Because she refuses to abandon her active vow to speak out for democracy for her people, her life has been threatened numerous times, many members of her political party have been arrested, and Suu Kyi herself remains in daily peril from the junta. But her heroic courage and self-sacrifice have awakened the desire for social openness in her country, and she has inspired people all over the world.

I don't believe in people just hoping. We work for
what we want. I always say that one has no right to hope without

Aung San Suu Kyi was raised in the Theravada Buddhism of Burma, and her husband was a scholar of Tibetan Buddhism. While reflecting her Buddhist practice, the vision behind her work is wide, inclusive, and deeply personal. She speaks of the importance of mutual tolerance and nonviolence for achieving peace and social justice and has expressed the wish for reconciliation with the Burmese military, even while standing firmly for principles of democracy and actively working to affect change. Suu Kyi talks of the necessity for all people to be willing to learn and change, congruent with Samantabhadra's vision of the development of beings. She says that her greatest joy is bringing happiness to others, echoing Samantabhadra's fifth vow. Aung San Suu Kyi's highly dignified bearing, piercing beauty, and calm but energetic inner presence, all reminiscent of Samantabhadra, are a powerful inspiration.