Green Koans: Shantideva's Sword

Clark Strand

CASE #2: Shantideva’s Sword

Once Shantideva became a bodyguard to King Arivishana. But unlike the other bodyguards, he managed to defeat the king’s enemies using only a wooden sword. “This man is an imposter!” the other bodyguards told the king. “How could he defend Your Highness using only a wooden sword?”

Upon discovering that his chief bodyguard was so poorly armed, King Arivishana demanded that Shantideva show him the weapon.

“That could prove dangerous,” cautioned Shantideva. “The power of this sword is such that it might injure Your Highness even to gaze upon it.”

“Even if it injures me,” replied the king, “I demand that you show it to me now.”

“In that case, you should at least cover one eye with your hand and look with the other,” Shantideva advised.

Indeed, when the sword was drawn, it shone with such brightness that the king’s eye shot out of its socket onto the ground.

The king was so terrified at this that he immediately asked to take refuge, whereupon Shantideva placed the eyeball back in its socket and the king’s sight was restored.

Monju (Manjushri) by Seiko Morningstar

The Buddhist saint Shantideva lived about 1,200 years ago in India. He is most famous for writing the Bodhicharyavatara (“The Way of the Bodhisattva”), which is one of the most important Mahayana Buddhist texts. Shantideva was a devotee of Manjushri, the Bodhisattva of Wisdom. That bodhisattva is typically depicted brandishing a flaming sword.

Moses confronted Pharaoh with only a shepherd’s staff. Gandhi brought down the Raj with nothing but a stick to lean on and a little salt from the sea. The king ought to feel grateful, for once, to have such a shaman on his side. But there he goes asking to see Shantideva’s sword. Doesn’t he know that metal is weaker than wood?

The Prajnaparamita—that “wisdom beyond the self” through which all of Nature is ordered in one balanced system—always blinds you before it makes you whole.

Whether the sword cuts
Or doesn’t, isn’t something
He’d even notice.
It’s just for popping out eyes
So he can plonk them back in.


Find all the Green Koans here.

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ebland's picture

I have been delighted to see these pieces, both in the magazine and online! I only recently read the print column and thought finally, someone is connecting dharma to the earth in a holistic way. I was drawn online to check out these earlier koans, which are great and reinforce to me a wonderful and skillful orientation. I am hopeful that this blend can inspire, re-orient, and encourage us to act (with wise view, intention and effort) toward helping our species come into balance with the rest of the planet. One step, one person, one wise action at a time. Thank you Clark. With much Metta,

Ed --

ClarkStrand's picture

Thanks, Ed. Good to know there are readers out there who understand the aim of these columns. The more of us the better. Thanks for your encouragement and for the fellowship. Much appreciated!

Anreal's picture

I really love these! How come there is not more discussion around these?

Clark I hope you can handle all the questions I will prob have for you ongoingly in regards to these koans!


Dominic Gomez's picture

Hi Anreal,
I, also, think these contributions by Clark to the Tricycle readership (and the larger Buddhist community) have been most valuable. My personal observation has been that they reflect a more poetic, nature-connected spirit, which not all persons (regardless of how they study and practice Buddhism) can easily tap. Hence, the seemingly limited response.

ClarkStrand's picture

I think the column actually gets a lot of reads. Maybe as people begin to articulate a common tongue where religion and ecology are concerned, we'll see more interactions here. I really do believe that ecology is the new lingua franca of spirituality going forward--the thing that can unify a lot of religious discourse that otherwise degenerates into wrangling or glad-handing. The Earth is, after all, the place we're all standing...the ultimate common ground.

prisca10's picture

"... to have such a shaman on his side ..."                                          Better to have a serpent for a guide than a strongman.

"... always blinds you before it makes you whole."
Only in darkness can one's sight be restored.

"... just for popping out eyes ..."
Even in a grass blade, Shantideva's sword can be clearly seen.