“Manjushri” is a Sanskrit word that is translated as “wonderfully auspicious.” He was the teacher of the past seven Buddhas. In the Sutra of Dwelling in the Womb, he says, “I was the teacher of ’Able to Be Humane’ in the past, and I am presently that Buddha’s disciple. Since two Honored Ones cannot appear in the world at the same time, I now manifest as a Bodhisattva.” Riding on the power of his past vows, he came to help the Buddha propagate the Dharma and teach living beings. Ten auspicious signs occurred at his birth:
1. Bright light filled the room.
2. There was a rain of sweet dew.
3. The seven precious things welled up from the earth.
4. The treasures in the earth were revealed.
5. Chickens gave birth to phoenixes.
6. Pigs gave birth to dragons.
7. Horses gave birth to unicorns.
8. Cows gave birth to white zai (an auspicious kind of animal).
9. The grain in the granaries turned to gold.
10. Elephants with six tusks appeared.
For these reasons he was named Wonderfully Auspicious. He rides upon a blue lion, which represents awe¬some strength; and holds a jeweled sword, which represents wisdom. He emphasizes All-Prajna and is fore¬most in wisdom. He is the Buddha’s left hand attendant and is one of the Three Sages of the Flower Adorn¬ment Assembly. He inspired the Youth Good Wealth (Sudhana) to travel south in search of Good and Wise Advisors, taught the Dragon Girl to become a Buddha when she was eight years old, and guided the Venerable Ananda in the compilation of the Great Vehicle Sutras at Iron Ring Mountain.
During the reign of Emperor Ming of the Han Dynasty, the two sagely monks Kashyapa-Matanga and Gobharana came to China. The Emperor asked them, “Are there sages dwelling and teach¬ing beings in this land?” They replied, “The Great Knight Manjushri dwells on Qingliang (Pure and Cool) Mountain.” The Emperor built a monastery at that place so the monks could live there and teach beings. There is a wisdom lamp on the central peak of the range, and miracles can happen if people bow to it sincerely.
Today we will talk about Manjushri Bodhisattva. “Manjushri” is Sanskrit. There are several Chinese transliterations for it. It is translated as “wonderfully auspicious.” In Buddhism, this Bodhisattva is foremost in wisdom. His Way-place is on Wutai (Five Peaks) Mountain in China. Guanyin Bodhisattva’s Way-place is on Putuo (Potola) Mountain. Universal Worthy Bodhisattva’s Way-place is on Emei Mountain, and Earth Store Bodhisattva’s Way-place is on Jiuhua (Nine Flowers) Mountain. These Four Great Bodhisattvas dwell on China’s four most famous mountains. They visit each other, too. Sometimes Guanyin Bodhisattva, Earth Store Bodhisattva, and Universal Worthy Bodhisattva join Manjushri Bodhisattva on Wutai Mountain and hear him speak the Dharma. At other times, Manjushri Bodhisattva visits these three Bodhisattvas at their Way-places.
The potentials for Mahayana Buddhism are especially deep and rich in China, and so when Shakyamuni Buddha appeared in the world, the First Patriarch Mahakashyapa appeared in China as the philosopher Laozi and spoke the five-thousand-character Book of the Way and Virtue (Dao De Jing). The Youth Water-Moon also manifested in China as Confucius. What about the Youth Bright-Like-the-Moon? He manifested as Yanhui (Yanzi). These three pioneers went to China to prepare China for the advent of Buddhism. If Taoism and Confucianism hadn’t paved the way, the Chinese people might not have been receptive to Buddhism. These two religions influenced the Chinese in such a way that they were able to accept Buddhism when it spread to China.
I often compare Confucianism to elementary school, while other religions such as Taoism, Catholicism, Protestantism, and Judaism can be considered high school. Buddhism is analogous to college. It encompasses everything, leaving nothing out. Therefore, the coming of Buddhism is not a simple matter. That’s why the Youth Bright-Like-the-Moon, the Youth Water-Moon, and the Venerable Mahakashyapa manifested in China as Yanzi, Confucius, and Laozi.
Manjushri Bodhisattva, along with the Bodhisattvas Universal Worthy, Earth Store, and Guanyin, have been teaching and transforming living beings in China for a long time. There’s a Chinese saying,
Guanyin is found in every household;
Amitabha is recited at every door.
Most Chinese people, Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike, worship Guanyin Bodhisattva and recite Amitabha Buddha’s name on occasion. But they do it without knowing the meaning behind it. Very few of them understand what Buddhism is all about. In fact, most people think of Buddhism as superstitious, abstruse, and unrelated to daily life, and so they ignore it altogether.
Actually, if you don’t understand Buddhism, then you don’t know what it means to be a person. And if you don’t know how to be a person, you won’t understand Buddhism, either. Only when you truly understand Buddhism will you know how to be a person and how to do things properly.
“Well, what about all those left-home people who seem to know nothing about worldly matters?” you ask. If a left-home person truly understands the Buddhadharma, he will also understand worldly matters. Conversely, it takes someone who truly understands worldly affairs to understand the Buddhadharma.
For example, a certain professor of mechanics believes in Buddhism, but he hasn’t understood the Buddhadharma. He claims he’s not out for fame or profit, but he’s always debating and arguing with people. He harbors the misguided view that Buddhism is included within the scope of science. I told him, “Buddhism includes science, but science cannot include Buddhism.” I debated this with him many times in Malaysia, but I don’t know if he really understands.
Why do I say that Buddhism includes science? It’s because the Buddha has a basic wisdom; his omniscient wisdom encompasses all of science and philosophy, including the field of mathematics.
Wise people understand everything, while those who lack wisdom don’t understand anything. That’s why I’ve given Buddhism a new name; I call it the “Teaching of Wisdom.” Buddhism is the study not of how to achieve spiritual powers, but of wisdom. With wisdom, problems are solved right away and everything is understood without having to be learned. Without wisdom, you may study all you want, but your learning will not be ultimate. Why do I call Buddhism the “Teaching of Wisdom”? Because the Buddha is greatly enlightened, and his great enlightenment is simply wisdom. Since no one wishes to remain stupid, no one will have any objection to wisdom. The wisdom I’m talking about encompasses every kind of knowledge.
Manjushri, the Bodhisattva of Great Wisdom, is foremost in wisdom. The Sanskrit word Bodhisattva means both “one who enlightens sentient beings” and “an enlightened sentient being.” He is an enlightened being who possesses great wisdom, and he enables all living beings to become enlightened. The Chinese use the abbreviated “pusa” instead of the full transliteration pu-ti-sa-duo.
Manjushri translates as “wonderfully auspicious.” Wonderful means inconceivable, and auspicious means everything goes just the way one wishes.
Manjushri Bodhisattva, in past lives during past kalpas (eons), was the teacher of the seven Buddhas: Vipashyin Buddha, Shikhin Buddha, Vishvabhu Buddha, Krakucchanda Buddha, Kanakamuni Buddha, Kashyapa Buddha, and Shakyamuni Buddha. These seven Buddhas were all born in Hangzhou, China, in past kalpas, hence Hangzhou was a Buddhist holy site.
In the Sutra of Dwelling in the Womb, he says, “I was the teacher of ‘Able to Be Humane’ in the past.” “Able to Be Humane” [neng ren is the Chinese interpretation of “Shakyamuni] refers to all Buddhas, not only to Shakyamuni Buddha. This Bodhisattva taught many past Buddhas. “And I am presently that Buddha’s disciple. Since two Honored Ones cannot appear in the world at the same time, I now manifest as a Bodhisattva.” Two Buddhas will not manifest in the world during the same period. It is said, “When one Buddha is born in the world, a thousand Buddhas come to support him.”
Now, isn’t this just like coming to the world to put on a play?
“How can you speak of the Buddhadharma as a play?” you ask.Is there anything in the world that isn’t a play? Everything is going through the four stages of formation, dwelling, decay, and emptiness, just like scenes in a movie flashing on the screen. What is real? What is ultimate? There’s a saying, “The Great Wall is still here, but has anyone seen Emperor Shi of the Qin dynasty (the emperor who built the Great Wall) around?” We get caught up in our busy activities, but in the end, all our efforts are in vain. Everything is empty, ultimately, so why do we still do it?
The Buddhas put on plays in order to cause living beings to wake up. When living beings stage plays, they just become more and more confused and their offenses get heavier and heavier. A saying goes,
The superior person aims high,
While the petty person sinks low.
A superior person strives to ascend, but a petty person follows the downward trend.
When the Buddhas come to the world, they put on plays to cause living beings to become enlightened by what they see and hear. They speak of cause and effect, retribution, and transmigration, warning us not to become attached to the world. If we contemplate matters with proper awareness, we can transcend the world; if we are confused by what happens, we will fall. The Buddhas put on plays just as ordinary people do, but they do so with a different purpose.
In this life Manjushri Bodhisattva appears as the Buddha’s disciple, although he was the Buddha’s teacher in the past. He says “he now manifests as a Bodhisattva.” He does so in order to help the Buddha propagate the Dharma. He came to the world again based on the power of his former vows.
Ten auspicious signs occurred at his birth:
1. Bright light filled the room in which he was born.
2. There was a rain of sweet dew. The rain falling outside was very pure and clean and as sweet as sweet dew.
3. The seven precious things welled up from the earth. The earth was probably soaked and softened by the rain of sweet dew, enabling the seven precious things to come forth. The seven precious things are gold, silver, lapis lazuli, crystal, mother-of-pearl, red pearls, and carnelian.
4. The treasures in the earth were revealed. By means of a divine power, the treasures that people had buried in the ground in the past were now revealed.
5. Chickens gave birth to phoenixes. Hens are supposed to hatch chicks, but in this case they hatched phoenixes. This is a very strange and rare sign.
6. Pigs gave birth to dragons. The offspring of the pigs resembled dragons instead of piglets. That was also a rare and auspicious portent.
7. Horses gave birth to unicorns. Unicorns are not the same as giraffes, as someone wrongly said. People just like to talk casually and act as if they know everything. The unicorn (qilin) is an auspicious creature. Confucius once said [when a unicorn was spotted]:
During the reigns of Tang and Yu,
Unicorns and phoenixes freely roamed.
This is not the time; why have you come?
Unicorn, O Unicorn, how I worry for you!
From this verse, we know that they aren’t giraffes, because giraffes have always been around, not only in the time of Tang and Yu. So Confucius said, “Now is not the right time for you to appear; why have you come? Unicorn, unicorn, I’m worried about you!” Ignorant people thought the unicorn was a giraffe, but they were mistaken.
Not only horses, but cows can give birth to unicorns. But since there hasn’t been such a case, people don’t consider this possibility. Horses can also give birth to white zai. We must apply what we learn in a flexible manner. If horses can give birth to unicorns, why shouldn’t cows or pigs be able to? It’s all the same.
8. Cows gave birth to white zai (a divine animal). This kind of creature understands human language. It can know what people are thinking and understand their thoughts. That’s why it’s a divine animal, a creature with an inconceivable state of being.
9. The grain in the granaries turned to gold. This is another auspicious portent.
10. Elephants with six tusks appeared. Elephants ordinarily have only two tusks. Six tusks represents the perfection of the Six Perfections. Universal Worthy Bodhisattva rides an elephant with six tusks. Manjushri Bodhisattva rides a lion and manifests an appearance of awesome strength. The jeweled sword in his hand represents great wisdom. It can cut through all ignorance, afflictions, emotions, and desires. The ability to cut through these things is wisdom. People without wisdom lack the determined resolve to cut off desire and emotional love. Wise people definitely cut these things off.
Manjushri Bodhisattva instructed the Youth Sudhana (Good Wealth) to travel south in search of Good and Wise Advisors. Sudhana went to over a hundred cities and visited fifty-three teachers. Manjushri also taught and transformed the Dragon Girl. The Dragon Girl offered her precious pearl to the Buddha and then became a Buddha herself. That’s how fast she attained Buddhahood. Manjushri Bodhisattva also guided Ananda in compiling the Sutras at the Iron Ring Mountain.
During the reign of Emperor Ming in the Han Dynasty, the two Venerables Kashyapa-Matanga and Gobharana went to China, carrying Sutras on a white horse. Later the White Horse Monastery was built in Loyang in memory of these two monks. Their graves are still extant in Henan Province. China is a place where sages and common people dwell together.
At that time, Emperor Ming asked the two Venerables, “Are there any sages teaching and transforming living beings in China?”
They replied, “Manjushri Bodhisattva is teaching and transforming beings at Qingliang (Clear and Cool) Mountain.” Wutai (Five Peaks) Mountain in Wutai County, Shanxi Province, is also known as Qingliang Mountain. After the two monks revealed the presence of Manjushri Bodhisattva, the Emperor built a monastery at Wutai Mountain and it became a Buddhist holy site.
The efficacious responses manifested by Manjushri Bodhisattva are too many to be told. Since he emphasizes Prajna wisdom above all else, he is the Bodhisattva foremost in wisdom.
A verse in praise says:
Manjushri’s great wisdom,
Prajna’s blazing furnace,
Forged all the Buddhas
And the generations of patriarchs.
Limitless sages in the Sangha
All came from this place.
Pure, cooling, wonderful medicine
Cleanses away the confusion.
Manjushri’s great wisdom, / Prajna’s blazing furnace, / Forged all the Buddhas / And the generations of patriarchs. Manjushri Bodhisattva’s wisdom is compared to a great furnace in which the Buddhas and patriarchs are forged. He taught and transformed them all.
Limitless sages in the Sangha / All came from this place. This Prajna wisdom gave rise to countless numbers of Sangha members who became enlightened, certified sages possessed of great spiritual powers.
Pure, cooling, wonderful medicine / Cleanses away the confusion. The pure and refreshing medicinal ointment and water washes away the confusion. Confusion is just ignorance. Ignorance makes people muddled. Without ignorance, we would be wise. Ignorance is also afflictions. At a coarser level, we speak of afflictions. In a finer sense, we speak of ignorance, which is an obstacle to wisdom. If we don’t wish to be muddled, we must wash the confusion away with the water of prajna-wisdom.
Another verse says:
An ancient Buddha, riding past vows,came to save the Saha world.
Manjushri, the Greatly Wise, proclaims the Mahayana.
On Five Peaks, he guides beings in number like the Ganges’ sands.
At Nine Flowers, he teaches multitudes as numerous as grains and sesame seeds.
Through over a hundred cities traveled the Youth Good Wealth.
A thousand auspicious clouds gathered when the Dragon Girl became a Buddha.
Wonderful Virtue universally manifests his lion’s roar.In the Flower Adornment Assembly, he constantly speaks the ineffable.
An ancient Buddha, riding past vows, came to save the Saha world. Saha, a Sanskrit word, means “able to be endured.” It describes how human beings are able to endure the great suffering in this World of the Five Turbidities.
The first turbidity is the Turbidity of Time. This time is a very messy, chaotic one. For instance, wouldn’t you say the Cultural Revolution in China was a mess? So many lives were lost and so much property was damaged. The mixing up of black and white, of right and wrong, of straight and crooked, is typical of the time (kalpa) turbidity.
The second turbidity is the Turbidity of Views. Our views are unclean. We delight in deviant matters and pay no attention to proper matters. Third, there is the Turbidity of Afflictions. Afflictions are also messy. Fourth, the Turbidity of Living Beings: Human beings and animals are all very filthy. The fifth is the Turbidity of Life. Our lives are unclean. Planting impure causes, we receive impure results. Our birth as human beings is the impure result of the impure causes we planted. And so we continue being muddled.
Manjushri, the Greatly Wise, proclaims the Mahayana. Mahayana refers to Great Vehicle Buddhism. Manjushri Bodhisattva proclaims the Buddhadharma of the Great Vehicle.
On Five Peaks, he guides beings in number like the Ganges’ sands. Every year, countless pilgrims travel to Wutai (Five Peaks) Mountain to pay homage to Manjushri Bodhisattva, and there they bring forth the resolve for Bodhi.
At Nine Flowers, he teaches multitudes as numerous as grains and sesame seeds. Manjushri Bodhisattva often goes to Jiuhua (Nine Flowers) Mountain to help Earth Store Bodhisattva teach and transform living beings.
Forty years ago, a thirteen-year-old boy saw a man herding a flock of ducks some one hundred miles away from Jiuhua Mountain.
“Where are you going with this flock of ducks?” he asked.
“I’m headed for Jiuhua Mountain,” the man replied.
“Jiuhua Mountain? Aw, too bad I can’t go. I’d like to go and pay homage to Earth Store Bodhisattva, too."
“You want to go? I can take you there,” said the man.
“But I don’t have any money,” said the boy.
“That’s okay. Just climb on my back. I’ll carry you there."
So the boy climbed on the man’s back. Then the man said, “Close your eyes, and don’t open them till I tell you.” The boy obediently closed his eyes, and the sound of the wind blowing past his ears made him feel as if he were flying through the clouds. Soon the man said, “You can open your eyes now.” The boy did so and saw that they were surrounded by great mountains.
“Where are we?” he asked.
“This is Jiuhua Mountain,” said the man.
“What should I do? I don’t have any money,” said the boy.
The man gave him some money and said, “You’ll need this to pay for food and lodging on the mountain. When you have used up all the money, you can go home.”
The man who carried the child on his back was in fact Manjushri Bodhisattva. Manjushri Bodhisattva, in practicing the Bodhisattva path, manifested as a man in order to take the boy to worship Earth Store Bodhisattva. After the boy had paid homage to Earth Store Bodhisattva and had spent all the money, he set out for his home, begging for food along the way. After he got home, he reflected on his unusual experience and decided to go to Yunju (Cloud Abode) Mountain in Jiangxi province, where he left the home-life under the Venerable Master Hsu Yun. After he left home, Venerable Master Hsu Yun asked him to study the Shurangama Sutra. He memorized all ten rolls of the Sutra in just twenty-one days. This shows how intelligent he was. Later, however, it seems that he was forced by the difficult circumstances to return to lay life. Despite his sharp faculties and keen intelligence, he was unable to pass the test. He couldn’t take the hardship.
Through over a hundred cities traveled the Youth Good Wealth. The Youth Sudhana went to over a hundred cities and visited fifty-three teachers. Because he was so sincere, he later certified to the fruition of sagehood. A thousand auspicious clouds gathered when the Dragon Girl became a Buddha. Manjushri crossed the Dragon Girl over, so that she was able to realize Buddhahood at the age of eight. These are inconceivable events. Wonderful Virtue universally manifests his lion’s roar. He manifests the lion’s roar everywhere to teach and transform living beings. In the Flower Adornment Assembly, he constantly speaks the ineffable. Originally, there is nothing that can be spoken in the Avatamsaka Sutra; there’s not a single dharma which can be discussed. Nevertheless, he still manifests and speaks the Dharma in order to teach and transform living beings. That’s because a Bodhisattva’s heart is most compassionate. His every thought is directed toward helping living beings to leave suffering, attain bliss, and quickly realize Buddhahood.