5. The Consolation of the Invalid
Then, the Buddha said to the crown prince, Manjusri, “Manjusri, go to the Licchavi Vimalakirti to inquire about his illness.” Manjusri replied, “Lord, it is difficult to attend upon the Licchavi Vimalakirti. He is gifted with marvelous eloquence concerning the law of the profound. He is extremely skilled in full expressions and in the reconciliation of dichotomies. His eloquence is inexorable, and no one can resist his imperturbable intellect. He accomplishes all the activities of the bodhisattvas. He penetrates all the secret mysteries of the bodhisattvas and the Buddhas. He is skilled in civilizing all the abodes of devils. He plays with the great superknowledges. He is consummate in wisdom and liberative technique. He has attained the supreme excellence of the indivisible, nondual sphere of the ultimate realm. He is skilled in teaching the Dharma with its infinite modalities within the uniform ultimate. He is skilled in granting means of attainment in accordance with the spiritual faculties of all living beings. He has thoroughly integrated his realization with skill in liberative technique. He has attained decisiveness with regard to all questions. Thus, although he cannot be withstood by someone of my feeble defenses, still, sustained by the grace of the Buddha, I will go to him and will converse with him as well as I can.” Thereupon, in that assembly, the bodhisattvas, the great disciples, the Sakras, the Brahmas, the Lokapalas, and the gods and goddesses, all had this thought: “Surely the conversations of the young prince Manjusri and that good man will result in a profound teaching of the Dharma.” Thus, eight thousand bodhisattvas, five hundred disciples, a great number of Sakras, Brahmas, Lokapalas, and many hundreds of thousands of gods and goddesses, all followed the crown prince Manjusri to listen to the Dharma. And the crown prince Manjusri, surrounded and followed by these bodhisattvas, disciples, Sakras, Brahmas, Lokapalas, gods, and goddesses, entered the great city of Vaisali.
Meanwhile, the Licchavi Vimalakirti thought to himself, “Manjusri, the crown prince, is coming here with numerous attendants. Now, may this house be transformed into emptiness!” Then, magically his house became empty. Even the doorkeeper disappeared. And, except for the invalid’s couch upon which Vimalakirti himself was lying, no bed or couch or seat could be seen anywhere.
Then, the Licchavi Vimalakirti saw the crown prince Manjusri and addressed him thus: “Manjusri! Welcome, Manjusri! You are very welcome! There you are, without any coming. You appear, without any seeing. You are heard, without any hearing.” Manjusri declared, “Householder, it is as you say. Who comes, finally comes not. Who goes, finally goes not. Why? Who comes is not known to come. Who goes is not known to go. Who appears is finally not to be seen. “Good sir, is your condition tolerable? Is it livable? Are your physical elements not disturbed? Is your sickness diminishing? Is it not increasing? The Buddha asks about you – if you have slight trouble, slight discomfort, slight sickness, if your distress is light, if you are cared for, strong, at ease, without self-reproach, and if you are living in touch with the supreme happiness. “Householder, whence came this sickness of yours? How long will it continue? How does it stand? How can it be alleviated?” Vimalakirti replied, “Manjusri, my sickness comes from ignorance and the thirst for existence and it will last as long as do the sicknesses of all living beings. Were all living beings to be free from sickness, I also would not be sick. Why? Manjusri, for the bodhisattva, the world consists only of living beings, and sickness is inherent in living in the world. Were all living beings free of sickness, the bodhisattva also would be free of sickness. For example, Manjusri, when the only son of a merchant is sick, both his parents become sick on account of the sickness of their son. And the parents will suffer as long as that only son does not recover from his sickness. Just so, Manjusri, the bodhisattva loves all living beings as if each were his only child. He becomes sick when they are sick and is cured when they are cured. You ask me, Manjusri, whence comes my sickness; the sicknesses of the bodhisattvas arise from great compassion.”
When no one else was up to the task of visiting the ailing Vimalakriti, it was time for the bravest of the brave—The Right Stuff— Mañjuśrī to step up to the plate. Of all the Maha-Bodhisattvas, Mañjuśrī is impeccably fearless…because that’s what it was that prevented all the others to step forward—fear itself! Mañjuśrī alone has conquered (to overcome this root of all fear, Buddha taught the truth of emptiness, or the no-self) this awful stumbling block to the great overcoming of no-self. He is the eternal Gilgamesh—the timeless epic-hero who can surmount any audacious task without the slightest trace of worries or fear. Many within the Mahayana turn to him when faced with insurmountable odds; his blazing sword of Wisdom is able to crush any adversary of the Buddhadharma with an unequaled ruthlessness. Forever youthful in appearance, he is the viral and resilient-one who conquers all obstacles—it is indeed wise to invoke him often on one’s own path to Noble self-realization. And so, off he goes to visit Vimalakriti, with all the rest of them—the disciples and bodhisattvas and great gods and goddesses—following along behind him like timid little puppy-dogs with their tail between their legs.
When earlier describing Vimalakriti’s level of Buddha-gnosis, Mañjuśrī was describing himself as well—“He penetrates all the secret mysteries of the bodhisattvas and the Buddhas.” Vimalakriti, in expectation of Mañjuśrī ‘s arrival, prepares the setting for such a monumental encounter—it is to occur on the plane of emptiness itself. This chapter could also be subtitled, “An Occurrence on the Plane of Emptiness”, for this is indeed what it is—the meeting of the Void upon Void—like deathless suchness having a dialog with Itself. Vimalakriti describes it all so magnificently—his sickness is a sign—a representation of the great ignorance (avidya) that afflicts all sentient reality. The “wellness of suchness” will not be self-revealed again until all such incompleteness is rendered void—when all apparent separation awakens and Recollects itself as the Real looking upon the Real—Deep looking upon Deep. This is the root of all Bodhisattvic Compassion—that, like a loving parent, is willing to take upon itself the ailing symptoms of its sick child. And so, Vimalakriti and Mañjuśrī’s encounter is the great summit of Suchness—with no coming or going yet manifesting the same for the sake of the lost children of the Tathagatas…until every last one is safe and well and at home again, in union with the Tathata family and the embrace of the Unborn Father.