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Paintings > Thangka > The Sword and the Book
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The Sword and the Book

The Sword and the Book

The Sword and the Book

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Tibetan Thangka Painting

22.5" x 30.5"
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The Sword and the Book

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Viewed 2620 times since 2nd Oct, 2008
In the Western chivalric tradition the sword, as the weapon of heroes, gods, and demi-gods, represents justice, might and authority, and is a symbol of the king's sovereign investiture. As a 'sword of destiny,' King Arthur's Excalibur possessed the discriminating awareness to release itself only into the hand of the rightful king. The magical powers inherent in a legendary or heroic sword often endowed its owner with the ability to detect treason, betrayal, and enemies, as the blade would glow or heat in warning. This medieval motif of the 'divine sword' was revitalized by J .R. Tolkein in 'The Lord of the Rings.' In Genesis the flaming swords .of Eden guarded the gates of Paradise against mankind's defilement, whilst in The Book of Revelations the 'Son of Man' proclaims the Last Judgment with a sharp two-edged sword emerging from his mouth.

As a protective symbol of the Buddhist doctrine, the sword represents the victory of enlightenment over the attack of the hosts of Mara, as the hindering forces of ignorance. The Bodhicharyavatara states, "As the blade of the sword does not cut itself, neither does the mind know itself." As a symbol of wisdom the sword cuts through the veils of ignorance, severing the knots of illusion that bind beings to delusion and obscure the absolute truth.

Manjushri, the bodhisattva of wisdom, holds aloft in his right hand the flaming blue sword of awareness that 'cuts through the net of misunderstanding'. He is said to abide at the Chinese five-peaked mountain of Wu Tai Shan, which geomantically symbolizes the Five Buddha wisdom protuberances (ushnisha) on Manjushri's head. In Nepal, Manjushri is credited with having created the Kathmandu valley, by cutting through the surrounding mountains at Chobar Gorge with his sword, thereby draining, the lake which filled the valley. According to legend the 'self-created' hill of Swayambhu, which emerged as the waters receded, is the site from where Nagarjuna received the Prajnaparamita Sutra from the guardianship of the nagas.

The flaming sword of Manjushri is sealed with a vajra handle and represents discriminating wisdom. Its sharp double edge represents the indivisibility of relative and absolute truth; its fine point, the perfection of wisdom; and its fiery flames, the blazing of the fire of wisdom.

In his left hand Manjushri holds the stem of an utpala flower at the level of his heart, which blossoms near his ear. Royally seated atop this flower is a book, which contains the 100,000 stanzas which make up the Prajnaparamita Sutra. More generally it represents wisdom, science and scholarship, as also divine revelation.

The combination of the book with a sword in the iconography of Manjushri is both unique and intriguing. One is associated with violence and the other with enlightened knowledge. But it is this very compositeness which contains the essence of Manjushri's teachings. The book is there for doing away with our ignorance. But what about the ignorance which comes with knowledge? The pride that accompanies our perception of ourselves as supremely knowledgeable? It is these fetters of pride that the sword of Manjushri ruthlessly chops off.

Manjushri is visualized a sweet boy of sixteen. Here he is shown with an elongated, sensuous and graceful body, seated on a lotus pedestal.

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