Buddhist Voices

50 Years, 50 Voices: Manjusvara (Highlights)

On Thu, 3 May, 2018 - 15:00
Satyalila's picture

Who needs perfection?  

Perfection is useless in the human life…

Listen to two component conversations with Manjusvara—and subscribe to the Buddhist Voices podcast for more full-length recordings from Fifty Years, Fifty Voices.


A few months ago I remembered that I’d heard a talk Manjusvara gave in 2007 called ‘20 years in the WBO’ on the 20th anniversary of his ordination. I thought it might contain some useful material for this project, so I looked it up on Free Buddhist Audio, only to discover that it had never been ‘released’. I live in the house where Manjusvara used to live (along with Ananda, Dhivan and Ananda’s partner Pam Cooper). We inherited a lot of Manjusvara’s archives, including a meticulously labelled CD of this very talk. So I was able to burn it to my PC and listen. I was in some ways quite amazed - many of the topics Manjusvara touched on were things I’d have asked him about, had he been here to interview. It was so poignant to hear his voice again.  Especially in the section where he simply reads the 10 positive precepts in English and talks about the effect on his mind of writing them out by hand that morning. I was also struck by him talking about ‘Perfection’, apropos what we’d these days call ‘the controversies’. His reflections seem bang up to date and made me reflect that he was in someways perhaps ‘ahead of his time’, never afraid to say to ‘say the difficult thing’.  

Manjusvara was a part of the original inspiration for this project - he once wrote a line ‘facing the dark, tending the light’ and I’ve seen that as a metaphor for one of the many polarities in how different Order Members practice: some are more drawn to light and spirit, others more to the dark, and ‘soul’. All are part of one great, self-challenging and mutually supportive Order. It felt rather magical to discover this recording - almost like a ‘Manjusvara terma’. And I’m quite certain that he would have been delighted to make an appearance in this way.

There were other reasons for including him, too – not just my bias in that he was very dear friend. He was a good friend to so many of us, on several continents and in many different parts of the Order and Movement, as the wide-ranging contributions at his funeral showed. And he was always ready to remind us of the nearness of death - being very well prepared for his own, despite being only 57. So it seemed fitting to include him in the project also as a reminder that we just don’t know how long we’ve got to record and preserve the precious voices of those in this ‘founding generation’ of the Triratna Buddhist Order. He’d have wanted us to remember that.


Manjusvara’s Annals
In 1968 Manjusvara was 15, at school (and in the Scouts) in Ware, Hertfordshire.  He was mad about music (and trucks). He’d started playing a toy piano when he was about 3 and was well on his way to becoming a composer, having piano lessons and playing his own music.

In 1978 Manjusvara was 25 and deeply immersed in his music studies.  Having studied composition at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, he was doing an MA in electronic music at the University of Durham. He went on to write music for films, dance, and the theatre.

In 1988 he had been ordained into the Triratna Buddhist Order for a year, the course of his life having been altered by a near-fatal car accident in California in 1982. When not running fundraising for the then Aid For India (Karuna Trust) Manjusvara was living in New York City, West Village, with his love and future wife Meg Moginot who he had met in New Hampshire when part of the original Aryaloka community. He’d made many trips to the USA.

In 1998 Manjusvara was dividing his time between writing (poetry, criticism and fiction), editing, and teaching, having stopped composing due to his hearing loss.  He was still working for the Karuna Trust, training fundraisers for door-to-door appeals and travelling to India.  By 1998 he had co-founded Wolf at The Door creative writing workshops with Ananda and begun the annual Dhanakosa ‘Wolf Retreats’.

In 2008 he was writing The Poet’s Way, the sequel to his first book on writing as a spiritual practice, Writing Your Way. He’d also had his poems and essays appear in leading journals in England and America, and he was the editor for Weatherlight Press, which he’d started to publish the work of his ‘master’, the American poet William Stafford, in the UK.

In 2018 Manjusvara had been dead for 7 years, following a massive brain haemorrhage in the middle of co-leading a Wolf at The Door retreat at Dhanakosa in June 2011. The year before he died he’d published The Poet’s Way and he continued to work for Karuna.  His friend and colleague Ananda posthumously published his poems in a collection called Lost and Found in 2013, and Amalavajra and other friends brought out his unfinished novel The Deal Runner in the same year.

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Mahamati's picture

Thank you Satyalila. So good that you have found for us this ‘Manjusvara terma’ - Manjusvara who was friend with and to so many of us. And thank you too for undertaking this excellent project.

khemajoti's picture

Lovely to hear Manjusvara again - and as Satyalila says - what he’s saying is still relevant :)

Padmavajri's picture

Lovely to hear Manjusvara talking about the right amount of perfection. Thank you for this Satyalila.