In these tumultuous and disruptive times, when up seems down and wrong seems right, one thing all of us crave, and have always craved, is inner peace.
Inner peace carries us through the darkest night of the soul. It can allow us to weather the storm and help us shine light, love and compassion on others.
There is a lot to feel angry about right now, as we watch our society being ripped apart by a torrent of negative words, behaviors and actions predicated on greed and fear. The levels of injustice just seem to be piling higher by the day. We watch truth being distorted and manipulated by those who should know better, but because it serves their self-aggrandizing and self-serving agendas, they continue their distortions both to others and themselves.
When I mention shining light, love and compassion on others, you may say to yourself: How can I do that when I feel so much anger bubbling up in me from the injustices being carried out in our country and world right now, and when I see the forces of darkness gaining a foothold?
The Lesson of Manjusri
This is where learning the lesson of Manjusri, the Buddhist warrior of the light, can be helpful and empowering.
Manjusri is one of the most important figures in Mahayana Buddhism. He is the Bodhisattva of Prajna. Mahayana Buddhism is the realm of the Bodhisattva; a Bodhisattva is an enlightened being who has made it their mission not to rest or enter nirvana until all sentient beings are enlightened. And Prajna is enlightened wisdom, that which helps repel darkness by bringing light unto the world.
In Mahayana Buddhism, compassion is Karuna, and Karuna is one of two characteristics that a Bodhisattva must exhibit. The other is Prajna.
If it is just Karuna, or compassion, that a person exhibits, that is not enough. Compassion also needs enlightened wisdom, or Prajna, by its side. Karuna without Prajna is what the Tibetan Buddhist teacher Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche termed “idiot compassion.”
Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s well known student, Buddhist nun and author Pema Chodron, explains the term idiot compassion as such: “It refers to something we all do a lot of and call it compassion. In some ways, it’s what’s called enabling. It’s the general tendency to give people what they want because you can’t bear to see them suffering.”
We all practice idiot compassion in one way or another. For instance, we fear upsetting our friend, or ourselves, because we don’t want to make things uncomfortable. And so we won’t say the truth, as it could create discomfort in others and ourselves. This leads to avoidance, and just carrying on with the status quo and staying in your own little comfort zone, so you don’t upset the apple cart.
Granted, saying uncomfortable things to someone close to you is no easy task. If they are violent or depressive, criticism could send them spiraling. Yet enabling is not good either. Stepping up and speaking truth in challenging situations requires great tact and care, and does not always work out how you intended it to. But the opposite, avoidance, causes you to live disconnected from yourself, because you have chosen to not live in truth.
And that is why the Bodhisattva’s path is two-fold: in their heart and mind they carry both Karuna, or compassion, and Prajna, or enlightened wisdom. It’s not enough to show compassion and love by itself. It also needs to be done with the skill of imparting enlightened wisdom.
The Fiery Sword That Cuts Through Illusion
This is why Manjusri, the Bodhisattva of Prajna, is one of the most important figures in Mahayana Buddhism. Manjusri is usually portrayed as a young man holding a sword in his right hand, and the sutras of Prajna in his left hand. Sometimes he is seen riding a lion.
Manjusri’s sword is meant to cut through illusion, ignorance, the ego, and self-created delusions. Sometimes the sword is in flames, and it is said the sword can both give and take life. Manjusri wields both compassion and enlightened wisdom when he brandishes his sword.
Manjusri is a warrior of the light, cutting through darkness to bring enlightened wisdom to all. He works in combination with Karuna/compassion to help heal the heart and mind, yet his methods can be sharp, as there can be fire in his sword. We don’t want to wield the fiery sword of Prajna without displaying compassion. And we don’t want to show compassion without wielding the fiery sword.
This insight helps steer us to a third way in dealing with the way our society is being ripped apart by the forces of darkness that continually distort truth to serve their own agenda.
We can’t just fight it with fire and anger; nor can we just send love in the form of compassion. Instead the sword of enlightened wisdom should be wielded in tandem with compassion in order to push out into the bandwidth of many, far and wide, and open the minds and hearts of as many people as possible.
Speak truth, wield the sword of enlightened wisdom. But do it with love and compassion. It’s easy to get triggered by what we see around us, as the intolerance, hate and hypocrisy being exhibited by those in power and their followers is hideous. You must stand firm, look them in the eyes and say this is wrong, and then continue to speak truth to power, in a calm, loving and compassionate way.
If you had a friend, loved one or intimate partner who was an alcoholic, what would you do? Would you give them more alcohol, knowing it was enabling them? Or would you stand firm with them, and speak a gentle and skillful truth to let them know they need to awaken from their delusions and nightmares? If you don’t say something, you are being selfish, as then you’re more concerned with your own feelings than attending to the alcoholic’s actual needs.
When you wield the sword of Prajna, you are cutting through illusion, and doing it with compassion. You can be gentle and firm as you do so. This is the path of the warrior of the light, and this is the path to find our way to the other side, to the world our hearts tell us is possible, past What the F**k and to Strawberry Fields.
Brandish your sword with love and compassion – let that sword’s fire light the world.
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