Wenshu, Bodhisattva of Wisdom

(This article was published in the Shenzhen Daily on April 10, 2017.)

Wenshu on a blue/green lion at Hongyuan Temple, Shiyan, Shenzhen

One of the "Big Four" Bodhisattvas (with Guanyin, the Bodhisattva of Great Compassion; Puxian, the Bodhisattva of Great Practice; and Dizang, the Bodhisattva of the Great Vow) is Wenshu, the Bodhisattva of Great Wisdom.

Particularly popular with students at exam time, he is called Manjushri in Sanskrit; Wenshu is simply the sound of his name in Chinese, though the characters can mean something like "Especially Cultured."

Just as Puxian (Samantabhadra)--with whom he is often paired--sits on an elephant representing the taming of the mind, so Wenshu sits on a Lion.

But as with the six-tusked elephant, this Lion is extraordinary. He represents Wisdom itself--which Wenshu has conquered--and his iconography may show it. The Lion may have a tail ending in a flame, and it is often colored blue (associated with east, Wenshu's direction), though some see this as green, indicating the "wild" nature of the Wisdom tamed by Wenshu's power.  At a deeper level, the Lion represents the Buddha's teaching; Prince Siddhartha was born to the Shakyas, whose clan symbol was a lion; so his teaching is "The Lion's Roar."

Wenshu himself often holds a book, an obvious symbol of Wisdom. But he may also have a sword, indicating the power of Wisdom to separate truth from error.

While--as mentioned--in Buddhist symbolism Wenshu on his Lion is often matched with Puxian on his elephant, in Buddhist thought Wenshu is more often balanced with Guanyin, as Wisdom and Compassion are the two focal points of Buddhist teaching.

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