Statue of Sudhana(Image: Source unknown)
The 20th day of the first Chinese lunar month is the Birthday of Sudhana (善財童子聖誕 Shancai Tongzi Shengdan). Sudhana’s name is translated into Chinese as Child of Good Wealth (善財童子 Shancai Tongzi) because it is said that when he was born, many different forms of riches suddenly appeared in his parent’s home. The original identity of Sudhana, an Indian youth seeking enlightenment, is given in a Buddhist scripture called the Avatamsaka (Flower Adornment) Sutra (大方廣佛華嚴經 Dafang Guangfo Huayan Jing). This scripture is one of the longest scriptures in Mahayana Buddhism and is often called “the king of kings of all sutras.” It is considered to be the epitome of Buddhist thought and contains the Buddha’s highest teachings on reality and phenomena. In the scripture’s longest chapter entitled Entering the Dharma Realm (入法界品 Ru Fajie Pin), Sudhana undertakes a journey to seek teachings from fifty-three spiritual advisors in his quest for enlightenment. Along the way, he meets many great teachers and bodhisattvas, and finally achieves Buddhahood in a single lifetime.
Sudhana meets Bodhisattva Manjushri to seek advice(Image: Source unknown)
In later works of both Taoist and secular origins, Sudhana is said to be an acolyte of Guanyin, and often appears in a pair with Dragon Girl (龍女 Longnu) standing on either side of Guanyin in popular Chinese art. In both the Complete Compilation of Tales of Guanyin of the South Sea (南海觀音全撰 Nanhai Guanyin Quanzhuan), a Ming dynasty novel; and the Precious Compilation of Scrolls on Sudhana and Dragon Girl (善財龍女寶撰 Shancai Longnu Baozhuan), a Taoist work; the two children are portrayed as Guanyin’s acolytes, although their stories are different.
Painting of Sudhana paying respect to Guanyin(Image: Source unknown)
Popular depiction of Guanyin (center) flanked by Sudhana (right) and Dragon Girl (left)(Image: Source unknown)
The iconography of Sudhana and Dragon Girl is very similar to another popular Taoist iconography of the Golden Youth (金僮 Jintong) and Jade Maiden (玉女 Yunu), and it is probable that one was influenced or derived from the other. It is also probable, but unclear if Sudhana served as the prototype for the Wealth & Treasure Bringing Child (招財進寶童子 Zhaocai Jinbao Tongzi) of Taoism and popular folk religion, an assistant child deity that helps other principal wealth deities in distributing riches and prosperity. Sudhana also should not be confused with the Third Prince Nazha (哪咤三太子 Nazha Santaizi), another well known child deity in Taoism and Chinese mythology.
May everybody emulate Sudhana’s determination and pure intention to seek knowledge from virtuous teachers.
Text © 2011 Harry Leong