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Cutting Away the Old

by Abhaya

Cutting Away the Old
by Abhaya

Audio available at: http://www.freebuddhistaudio.com/talks/details?num=OM611

Talk given at Padmaloka Retreat Centre, 2003

Manjughosha's (Manjushri's) book and sword; Zorro; sword fights in films;

Excalibur; visualizing the symbols; the jewelled hilt

...Thank you very much, Vadanya. Hello to everyone.

Yes — well — one day last year Samanatha asked me if I would give a talk on
Manjughosha at this men's event, and, well, it was pretty well a year away and I'm very
fond of Manjughosha so I said, 'yes, I will.'

And then I got into preparing the talk — well, you know — thinking about it. And being,
you could say, a bookish kind of person, I was beginning to get into the implications of
some of the ideas of Manjughosha's book, when, some considerable time later, Vadanya
phoned me up and said that I am to concentrate on the sword! — I could smuggle in a
few remarks about the book, yeah, that was ok — but the sword's the thing!

So, well, I thought, 'yeah, I'll do it'. Because come to think of it, I have always liked
swords. I used to play for hours on my own when I was a kid of about six or eight,
piercing the hearts and slashing the heads off enemies single-handed — you know — I
would jump from sofa to armchair and all over the place — under the table — just
decimating and cutting down these enemies.

I also used to love films about 'Zorro' (if you've heard of 'Zorro') — the black-masked
swordsman. He would always leave his mark. When he had done his saving of the damsel
in distress or whatever, he would always leave his mark by slashing a Z...
[DEMONSTRATES SWORD-SLASHING SOUND]... on whatever piece of furniture
was available... [LAUGHTER] ... it could be the side of a stage-coach... [REPEATS
SWORD-SLASHING SOUND] ... I used to love that!

But in the latest version... I don't know whether you saw the latest version of 'Zorro'...
[LAUGHTER]... it was a huge, flaming Z on the side of a valley — brilliant!

I also used to love the ring of steel on steel in swordplay. I've always liked sword-fights
in films — there's a sword-fight in the latest 'James Bond' film, by the way — and I used
to like the clatter of the blade falling on the stone when Robin Hood finally cornered the
evil Sheriff of Nottingham. Rob Roy is a good one, too, I don't know whether you've seen
it... [LAUGHTER]... some great sword fights in Rob Roy.

And I mustn't forget to give Excalibur a look in; the wondrous, jewel-hilted sword of
King Arthur, who, as he lay dying, asked his man Sir Bedevere to deliver the sword back
to the lake from whence it came. As a boy I was always enchanted by that image of the
arm appearing, breaking the surface of the lake... and brandishing the sword.

...Of course, Sir Bedevere funks. He won't throw the sword back the first time and the
second time, and Arthur threatens to kill him if he won't throw the sword back the third
time. So he goes back to the edge of the lake, looks at the beautiful jewelled hilt, and
finally throws it... and this arm appears out of the lake and catches the hilt of the sword;
this arm, 'clothed in white samite, mystic, wonderful'. And the arm brandishes the sword
three times, and disappears into the depths...

So I am sure that all this, in its way, had some influence on my attraction to Manjughosha
when I first came across the figure, in my interest in Buddhism. And I am sure it was
quite an influence in my asking Bhante, my preceptor and spiritual teacher, if I could do
the Manjughosha practice.

Because there it is — the sword — one of the two chief emblems of Manjughosha (or
Manjushri — they are both the same figure). The sword and the book are the two chief
emblems of Manjughosha, or Manjushri.

And sometimes (and I like this image very much) you see the two of them together. You
don't see Manjughosha; you just have this beautiful symbol of a fully opened lotus —
usually a pale blue lotus flower, fully opened — and cushioned on the lotus flower is the
moon mat, and then on top of the moon mat, resting on the moon mat, is the wonderful
Book of Wisdom, wrapped in gold silk.

Then, poised above (or resting on top of) the book, there is the sword; vertical. The sword
of Manjughosha is, of course, a flaming sword, and the flames are depicted usually in
rather stylised fashion as a wreath of flames winding round the tall, slender blade. But I
prefer to imagine the polished steel of the blade as glowing, as if it is radiating an aura of
white heat from its inner power.

The vajra hilt is fashioned in gold, and it is studded with jewels; perhaps three jewels,
arranged one beside the other along the length of the shaft. One amber, one sapphire and
one ruby, for Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.

Cutting away and revealing; eternal youth — the golden light; destruction and
creation — the subtle knife and new worlds; things that hold us back

So the sword of Manjughosha is our transcendental Excalibur whose magical powers we
are going to celebrate and reflect on in the course of this weekend. And the main theme
of my talk is the 'cutting away of the old' — getting rid of whatever it is that conceals and
impedes our spiritual development — so that the element in one that has been so long
hidden is finally revealed: Manjughosha's eternal youth.

And this eternal youth of Manjughosha is associated with the golden colour of sunlight;
sunlight early in the day. Manjughosha's body — his archetypal body — is made of
golden light. Vadanya said last night that we can think of Manjughosha sort of as our
ideal being; the golden light deep (or maybe not so deep!) in us.

But unfortunately the golden light is not always so evident. It gets covered over; it gets
obscured. So my talk is all about getting rid of those obscurations, those defilements,
those impediments, so that we can get back in touch with our eternal youth.

The sword, of course, is a weapon of destruction, and that is what we are concerned with
this morning. We are concerned with destruction — destroying all the obstructions;
defeating the enemy — before Padmavajra, tomorrow, tells us how to use the subtle knife
to enter new worlds.

So, yes: one talk has to come before the other; and there are two aspects to the weekend.
But we have to be careful about separating them out too cleanly. They are
distinguishable, yes — obviously — but they are also interwoven; or rather, they are two
aspects of the same process. It's not that we cut away the husks and the rough stuff and
pick all the rotten bits out before we can cut a frame into the new world... but it is as if
these two processes are going on at the same time. Otherwise we'd be at it for ever! —
trying to get rid of all the impurities before we can step into the new world.

So let's remember (I think this is quite important) that destruction is an aspect of creation;
that creating the new inevitably involves some destroying.

The first question we have to ask ourselves in this context is, 'What exactly is it that
Manjughosha's sword is going to destroy?'

Well, the sword of wisdom cuts away the old — the old as opposed to the young; the old
as opposed to the new.

So what is it? What is the 'old' in us, in this context? Whether we are 12, 15, 22, 62 or
82... what is the 'old' in us, in the context of our spiritual life? What is it that holds back
the spiritual life force, the infinite life force which ideally we should always be able to
access?

...Negative, restrictive patterns that hold us back from truly being ourselves. False views
and habits that prevent us realising our potential. Or — to use more the language of
Buddha nature — it is whatever prevents us from resting or residing in our essential
being. Stale ways of being, stunted self-views, listless passivity... or, at the other extreme,
the vigorous pursuit of wrong ends.

Such ways — the ways of the reactive mind — are enfeebling; they disempower us. They
are like the physical ravages of age, of our physical body. They are the spiritual ravages
(or non-spiritual ravages!) of our spiritual body.

The Lord of the Rings — Theoden, King of the Golden Hall; Gandalf's Staff;
removing the effects of the reactive mind; quelling the demon

At this point in my preparation a sequence from the 'Lord of the Rings' film came to my
mind — not surprising I suppose; lots of swords in 'Lord of the Rings'! — but the latest
episode is called The Two Towers, and afterwards, after I had seen the film, I looked it up
in the book, and it's called The King of the Golden Hall.

The 'King of the Golden Hall' is Theoden, who, unfortunately, has come under the
influence of the evil Saraman through the agency of his servant, Wormtongue, who has
also unfortunately been bought by Saraman (but I don't want to go into too many details).

It is this image of the enfeebled King that I found ...

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