One day a strange red light appeared at the site where the Miaoyuan Pagoda Temple (later known as XinXiang Temple) used to stand in Sichuan Province until it was destroyed during a war. It was during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912), in the seventeenth century, that the red light appeared.
Investigators were dispatched to find out the cause of the light, and the image of the Bodhisattva Manjusri (Wen Shu) was seen to appear within the light. This was a clear sign that the ruined temple needed to be rebuilt, so funds were raised in 1697, and the new temple came to be known as the Wenshu Temple.
It stands there today in Chengdu—a very modern Chinese city with a 2,000 year old history—a large temple with a broad footpath leading through several impressive gates.
Placed near the entranceway to the temple, the Peace Pagoda of a Thousand Buddhas stands, the highest iron pagoda in China.
Underneath a stone elephant, a stone boy is seated holding leaves toward the elephant’s trunk for him to eat.
In the courtyards stand huge incense burners, with many lit incense sticks that worshippers have placed there burning, their smoke filling the air.
Off to one side, down an alleyway, there is suspended a long carved wood fish. This is Matsya, the fish, the first avatar of Vishnu.
Wenshu Temple holds around 300 statues; as is normal in temples, the interior of the buildings and the sacred figures of the deities, out of respect and reverence for them, cannot be photographed. Taking photos from the outside and in the courtyards is allowed. A nineteenth century six-foot tall, very elaborate copper statue of Veda Bodhisattva, stands near a doorway. His job is to protect the Dharma and to ward off evil spirits, which sounds like a good thing to do, and though the guardian doesn’t look entirely battle-ready, maybe it’s the thought that counts.
In the Wenshu Temple, the statues and sculptures of earlier times and of the more central Boddhisattvas and Buddhas are stronger, simpler, more profound figures.
Buddhism, which originated in India, was carried by monks over many centuries throughout Asia—to southeast Asia, westwards to Afghanistan, to Nepal, to central and northern Asia, to Tibet, to China, and on to Korea and Japan. It took hold in all these lands and grew, even as Hinduism was being re-established in India, to a large extent replacing Buddhism there.
Buddhism was not disowned by India though, and today it is the general view among Hindus that Buddhism is really a part of Hinduism, with the Buddha being the ninth avatar of the Supreme Being, Lord Vishnu. Buddhists themselves have a rather different view though.
As Indian Buddhist monks undertook their journeys across Asia, they traveled in peace, and unlike their western missionary counterparts in later centuries, they did not collaborate with the colonial aspirations of their home country, India, since India had no colonial aspirations.
Indian ships did not set sail in order to set up an empire or seek dominion over other peoples and nations. They did not burn books, destroy cultures, commit massacres, steal land, or enslave anyone. Instead, Indian merchants established a far-reaching peaceful network of trade-routes throughout Asia that was mutually beneficial to them and to the peoples they encountered.
Known as Wenshu or Wen Shu Shih-Li to the Chinese, to Indian Buddhists, the primary Boddhisattva of the Wenshu Temple is Manjusri Boddhisattva, the embodiment of transcendent wisdom. While Sanskrit concepts do not lend themselves easily to translation into English, “manju” may be taken to mean “gentle” or “kind,” and “shri” to mean “glory,” “radiance” or “power.” So Manjusri may be said to mean “gentle glory.”
The Manjusri Boddhisattva is one of the principle figures of Mahayana (Greater Vehicle) Buddhism. He holds in his right hand a flaming sword (this, by the way, is an image that is echoed in the Christian Bible), which represents the light that cuts through darkness, revealing truth and clarity. His left hand holds a lotus flower in full bloom, on which lies the sutra, or scriptures, of Great Wisdom. And in this book is the promise of a blessed future for all those who truly follow his teachings.
His mount is a lion with a golden mane, standing for the majesty of great wisdom. When the lion is blue or green, the animal represents the mind, transformed and enlightened by meditation.
Photos one through five: Sharon St Joan
Top photo: Wenshu Temple: a stone elephant
Second photo: The Iron Pillar of One Thousand Buddhas
Third photo: A Wenshu incense burner
Fourth photo: Matsya, the fish avatar
Fifth photo: Veda Boddhisattva
Sixth photo / Wikipedia Commons / Public Domain / Manjusri Boddhisattva