U Theater dwells on Manjusri’s teachings

Nancy T. Lu, The China Post

The U Theater’s “Meeting with Manjusri Bodhisattva” — a production which has been three years in the making — promises to take spectators on the Buddhist road to a state where everything is void. Li Ching-min, the female leader of the company based in the Mucha mountain, is herself not going to bask in the limelight this time. Rather, she will allow 23 persons, including performers, singers and musicians, to share the teachings of Manjusri (Manju means beautiful and sri refers to good fortune, virtue, majesty and lord) through sacred dance, wushu (martial arts), rhythmic music and mantra chants. The bodhisattva was said to have gone directly to the supreme truth or nirvana by attaining a state where everything is void.

The costumes of the cast have been designed mainly by Oscar trophy winner Yip Kam Tim. Designer Sophie Hong lent some assistance. The entire presentation on a stage designed by Lin Ke-hua comes in seven parts. In the first part, a brave fighter steps out to accept the order from above. He, holding a pole, goes through studied choreography. He is a picture of courage in his quest for the truth. In the second part, he, just like Manjusri, begins to ask questions like “Who am I?” and “What am I?”

Manjusri, described as the Bodhisattva of Wisdom, is usually portrayed as holding the sword of wisdom in one hand — for the purpose of destroying ignorance and insolence — and the Prajnaparamita book — said to represent transcendental knowledge — in the other.

The third part features an exciting group drumming act. It suggests all kinds of encounters on the road to the transformation to void.

The pursuit of knowledge finds expression in the fourth part. Here lies a metaphor of searching for the snake in the thick bushes. The emergence of a trio playing with poles can be interpreted as just one person coming to grips with different self images. One is self-centered and the other is sincere and earnest.

The fifth part highlights the brave character finding strength in overcoming all kinds of inner conflicts. The meeting with Manjusri Bodhisattva comes in the sixth part. The fighter has finally acquired great strength. In the seventh part or finale, he arrives at the truth that the real existence of a buddha is invisible. Everything becomes void and not real. His heart is at last free from all bonds. For the general public who will turn up for the series of performances of “Meeting with Manjusri Bodhisattva” starting this evening until this Sunday at the National Theater in Taipei, the U Theater is providing the opportunity of writing down their prayers and wishes on slips of paper for the company to bring to Lhasa, Tibet, on August 9.

The special Dharani pagoda ordered from Burma has been placed in the lobby of the theater to enable individuals to light incense and make floral offerings before completing seven circles around it as part of a Tibetan Buddhist prayer ritual.

The U Theater entourage has been preparing for their Tibet pilgrimage. They will begin their journey in Kathmandu, Nepal.

To condition their bodies for the high altitude in Tibet, they recently traveled on foot for 167 kilometers in three days. Their itinerary covered Ilan, Lishan and Hualien. They logged 70 kilometers on the first day.