We invoke your name, Manjushri. We aspire to learn your way, which is to be still and to look deeply into the heart of things and into the hearts of people. We will look with all our attention and openheartedness. We will look with unprejudiced eyes. We will look without judging or reacting. We will look deeply so that we will be able to see and understand the roots of suffering, the impermanent and selfless nature of all that is. We will practice your way of using the sword of understanding to cut through the bonds of suffering, thus freeing ourselves and other species.
– from the Plum Village Chanting & Recitation book
There is similar language in this verse as there was in the last verse on Avalokiteshvara, but instead of saying “listen” it says “look.” This makes sense, as Avalokiteshvara is the Bodhisattva of Great Compassion and Manjushri is the Bodhisattva of Great Understanding. Compassion and understanding are closely related.
Perhaps to listen is with the heart and to look is with the mind. Both parts are necessary to create the whole picture of self, and to come into full relationship with the world.
It’s easy to regard these Bodhisattva verse teachings as pertaining to our actions relating to other people but it’s also important to apply these to our self. When I am able to look at myself with unprejudiced eyes and without judging or reacting, it is only then that I can truly offer those same curtesy’s to others.
How I treat myself inwardly translates directly to how I treat others externally. There is no separation.
…the impermanent and selfless nature of all that is. When I am in touch with nature of impermanence and selflessness (which is another way of saying: interbeing), which underpins all of life in every situation, then I am able to see and understand more clearly the roots of my own suffering. Most – if not all – suffering stems from seeing things/people/self as permanent/fixed in place and/or seeing things/people/self as being separate/disconnected entities.
How much time and energy do we expend in wishing that a particular moment was other than as it is?! Probably a lot.
Part of this verse involves a profound understanding of how everything is part of life – nothing and no one is separate. That goes for: bad days, inclement weather, feeling hurt by someone, stubbing our toe, anger, heartbreak, stress, a flat tire, that gal we don’t like who works at our grocery store, that politician we wish weren’t in office, and so on. Using the sword of understanding to cut through the bonds of suffering, involves cultivating the art of full acceptance of what is going on, verses getting caught in wishing things/people to be different to the extent that it causes us to fight against the reality of what’s unfolding around us.
To understand deeply means to have insight penetrate through our surface knowings and our intellectual processing. Just as we must get out of our own way in order to listen deeply, we must do the same in order to look deeply.
We must get out of the way of our ego and limiting notions and social constructs of thought, in order to look deeply into the heart of things and into the hearts of people.
This morning, I read The Store of Precious Virtues Discourse: Practice of the Highest Understanding, from the Plum Village Chanting & Recitation book. From the sutra:
If she practices with the spirit of non-practice, this is the highest understanding.
Neither “being” or “nonbeing” can express truth. The bodhisattva of Awakened Understanding transcends both.
True learning is the learning of no-learning.
I also read a verse from the book entitled Nourishing Happiness, which included these lines:
With kind spiritual friends, I am on the path of goodness, illumined by the light of Buddhas and bodhisattvas.
Practicing the actions of a bodhisattva, I vow to look with eyes of love and a heart of understanding. I vow to listen with a clear mind and ears of compassion, bringing peace and joy into the lives of others, to lighten and alleviate the suffering of living beings.
The other night, I was chatting with Mike on the phone and sharing with him about our Bodhisattva Reflection Group practice. I told him that this week we were on Manjushri. He then said that Manjushri is the bodhisattva he feels most in line with personally. I so enjoyed finding out this new piece of information about him, especially this week! As practitioners, it’s common to resonate with one bodhisattva in particular. Mine is the one we’ll be focusing on next: Samantabhadra. While there are qualities and values to aspire to in regards to each of the bodhisattvas, most of us will likely have a bodhisattva we gravitate to moreso than the others, especially as we come to find out more about each one and develop a relationship with the bodhisattvas.
I find it helpful to focus more intently on strengthening the virtues of one bodhisattva in particular, as a sort of anchor teacher/guide.
Now, onto answering this week’s questions:
1. How would you summarize this verse in your own words?
From the ability to look deeply is born the capacity to generate the quality of understanding, which has the power to cut through great afflictions caused by misperceptions.
2. What do you see as being your own strengths and weaknesses in relation to the qualities of this Bodhisattva?
Strength: I feel as though I am quite diligent in continually practicing to look more deeply into myself in order to gain proper understanding about what propels me to think/speak/act in the ways that I do – and I am committed to this personal growth work because I see clearly that when I look deeply into my own self, I am then able to look more deeply into other people, and also local/national/global situations as well. Weakness: As deep looking is an ongoing process and not a destination – not a place of arrival and completion – it takes me time to truly understand my own habit energies and how they are playing out, which means that I am in the dark of unknowing and misperception until I’m not. It takes time and diligent effort. And this process applies to my ability to look deeply in order to truly understand others and global situations as well. Judgements come easy – true understanding takes time. Sometimes I think I am understanding myself/others/situations, when really I’ve only dipped a toe into the water and there is much deeper still to traverse.
3. What is something you’ve gleaned by reflecting on this Bodhisattva this past week?
While I don’t think the bodhisattvas are alined in a linear fashion, as in: first we must start with Avalokiteshvara and then once that one is “mastered” we can move onto Manjushri, I do think there is wisdom in the way they are presented in our tradition, which is always in the same order. I think an ability to sit and listen does have to be developed in some capacity, before we are able to look deeply in order to understand.
Here is the order of the most commonly referenced five bodhisattvas in our practice tradition:
Avalokiteshvara: Bodhi. of Great Compassion
Manjushri: Bodhi. of Great Understanding
Samantabhadra: Bodhi. of Great Action
Kshitigarbha: Bodhi. of Great Aspiration
Sadaparibhuta: Bodhi. of Never Disparaging