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Jewel Ornament of Liberation - Various Tuscany 1985

by Sangharakshita

Hyphens were missing from this file. Some have been restored

Jewel Ornament of Liberation Tuscany 1985
Questions and Answers on The Jewel Ornament of Liberation
Il Convento, Tuscany, September-October 1985
Present: Vessantara, Suvajra, Prakasha, Buddhadasa, Tejamitra, Buddhapalita, Danavira,
Dhammarati, Lalitaratna, Prasannasiddhi, Dharmadhara, Shantiraja. (ordination names:)
Ratnottara, Jnanottara, Padmottara, Bodhimitra, Bodhananda, Bodhivajra, Guhyavajra,
Guhyaratna, Guhyasiddhi, Paramajyoti, Paramananda, Paramabodhi, Bodhiruchi,
Dharmaruchi, Gunaruchi, Moksapriya, Moksabandhu, Moksananda, Vimalaprabha,
Vimalaraja, Vimalabodhi, Vimalajyoti.
Tape 1, Side 1Vessantara: ... We reckon to spend about three days of study on each chapter. We've got 13questions.
Sangharakshita: We are, by the way, looking after the voice prints that were provided for?
Vessantara: We'll sort that out. We don't need to. We haven't usually done voice prints of
everyone in this situation. I'll start. Gampopa, in his first line, invokes Manjusri, and you have
suggested that the figure of Manjusri may be related to that of the Brahma Sanankumara, who
appears in the Mahagovinda Sutta in the [Digha] Nikaya. You may have gone into this, but I
am not clear quite what relationship you are suggesting between the figure of Manjusri and
Sanankumara. Is it that you feel that the Bodhisattva figure Manjusri is actually derived from
the Brahma Sanankumara? If so, can you suggest how that process came about, and can you
trace a connection between any other Bodhisattva figures and Brahma figures? Lastly, what is
the relation of the Vajrapani Bodhisattva to the Vajrapani who appears in the Pali Canon for
instance, in the Ambattha Sutta?
S: Let's have those questions one by one.
Vessantara: Firstly, you have suggested that the figure of Manjusri may be related to that of
the Brahma Sanankumara. Could you trace out the nature of the relationship? Is it that the
Bodhisattva figure, or the form of Manjusri as it has come down to us, is derived from that of
Sanankumara, do you think?
S: First of all, I don't look at the whole matter in the usual as it were Western critical
historical way at least, not primarily. One finds in Buddhist canonical literature, one finds in
the general tradition of the Mahayana, especially Mahayana spiritual practice, the figure of
Manjughosa. Presumably that means something, so presumably that corresponds to
something; [2] presumably it isn't just a flight of fancy. Similarly, in the Buddhist canonical
literature, especially the Pali canonical literature, one finds reference to the Brahma
Sanankumara, so in the same way presumably that means something; presumably that
corresponds to something; Presumably that too is not just a flight of fancy. So when one sees
certain resemblances between the figure of Manjughosa, as depicted in one branch, let us say,
of Buddhist canonical literature, and the figure of Sanankumara as depicted in another branch,
one begins to think that perhaps they correspond or refer to the same spiritual reality, let us
say. In other words, one is not approaching the question primarily from a historical point of
view at all. It is as though, more fully in the Mahayana, less fully in I won't say the Hinayana,
but in the perhaps cultural context of the Hinayana one sees what appears to be the same
spiritual figure, or one sees people having experienced what seems to be the same spiritual
figure. Therefore, one tends to think of the figure of Manjughosa in the Mahayana, and
Sanankumara in at least the cultural context of the Hinayana or the Theravada, as
approximating to one and the same spiritual reality. There are various reasons for that, and
here we come to the historical/critical approach ... (break in recording?) ... Mahayana
tradition, especially, I believe, in the Chinese tradition, Manjughosa has a title which is
translated as 'He of the Five Peaks'. He is also represented in art as possessing five sort of
crests, if you like, of hair; and, similarly, one of the names of Sanankumara is Pancasikha,
which means Five Crests. Not that the identification of Pancasikha with Sanankumara is
altogether clear, but it seems clear enough. So facts of this sort suggest that the
representations of these two figures, in their respective traditions, are as it were feeling after
one and the same spiritual reality. This, I think, goes some way towards answering the first
question. I have dealt with it at some length in other connections on other occasions. Then the
second question?
Vessantara: The second question was: Assuming that the Bodhisattva figure is in some way
derived from Brahma figures, can you suggest how this process came about?
S: Yes so it is not really a question of derivation at all. This is if you look at the whole matter
[in] what I call the Western critical manner, it is not a question of deriving one literary
concept from another. It is a question of approximating from different angles to a common
spiritual reality. Nonetheless, there are on the literary/historical level hints, or resemblances,
which do cause one to think that the two figures do actually concern the same what I have
called spiritual reality.
Vessantara: So do you think it would be wrong to hypothesise that the Buddha lived in a
world of Brahmas, as it were, and over a period of centuries the figure of Brahma
Sanankumara evolved into Manjusri?
S: Well, it is not really a question of hypothesising, as far as the canonical literature is
concerned; because the canonical literature is peopled by all sorts of nonhuman beings, and
the Buddha is regularly described as 'the teacher of gods and men'. So one may make of that
what one will, but this is how the canonical literature represents the situation; so in the Pali
canonical literature, for instance, we find the figure of Sanankumara, in the Mahayana
canonical literature we find the figure of Manjughosha, and they seem strangely to resemble
each other. So one may be forgiven for thinking that, within their respective contexts, they in
fact refer to one and the same spiritual or perhaps even transcendental personality.
Vessantara: There is a bit more. Can you trace a connection between any other Bodhisattvas
and Brahmas?
S: You mentioned ?
Vessantara: I went on to mention the Vajrapani and the Vajra... in the Pali Canon.
S: We certainly find the name Vajrapani in the Pali canonical literature. I was having some
thoughts about this quite recently, because recently I was reflecting on the significance of
Vajrapani in the purely Mahayana-cum-Vajrayana context; especially I was thinking in terms
of Vajrapani's connection with the animitta samadhi in the Pali canonical literature we find
that Vajrapani is, on a number of occasions, represented as being in attendance on the
Buddha. He is usually standing over the Buddha, standing above the Buddha, and he bears in
his right hand, as his name suggests, a blazing thunderbolt; and he very often has this blazing
thunderbolt uplifted, because he is ready to hurl it. He is ready to hurl it on the head of
someone who does not answer when the Buddha questions him, or does not answer
successfully or appropriately. It is strange that this figure should appear. So, reflecting upon
it, it seems to me I can't say quite why this idea occurs to me but it seems to me that
Vajrapani represented the genius of the Buddha: genius in the old Roman sense of sort of
tutelary deity or guardian spirit, or if you like, using the expression in a quite popular way,
higher self. But to go back for a minute to this question of Vajrapani and the Mahayana and
Vajrayana, and their connection with the animitta samadhi. What is the animitta samadhi?
This is the transcendental samadhi realized by means of Insight into the impermanence of all
conditioned things. So when one realizes the animitta samadhi, one realizes to put it quite
briefly and simply that no concept is truly applicable to Ultimate Reality. So the animitta
samadhi represents the samadhi which consists in the realization of the nonapplicability of all
concepts to Ultimate Reality; in other words, that samadhi annihilates all such concepts in
respect of their applicability to Ultimate Reality. So it is only appropriate that that samadhi
should be associated with Vajrapani, who annihilates, or who smashes, at least, everything in
this case, all concepts with his vajra, with his thunderbolt. Not only all concepts but,
obviously, all the ignorance, all the mental confusion, which arise from the wrong
combination of concepts, whether in regard to Ultimate Reality or relative reality. So, in a
way, it is the same, not just deva Vajrapani, but in a sense the same Bodhisattva Vajrapani,
one might say, that hovers over the head of the Buddha even in the Theravada scriptures.
Because does one really think that the Buddha needs a sort of mundane auxiliary in this way?
So Vajrapani represents the Buddha's own as it were delusion-annihilating genius. He is a
higher aspect if that is the appropriate term of the Buddha himself, and it is the Buddha's own
vajra-like intelligence, not an extraneous divinity, that is going to annihilate the delusion of
the person who is the Buddha's interlocutor in the sutta. So I think one can establish in this
way a connection not only between Samatkumara and Manjughosha, but also, possibly,
between Vajrapani ...

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