(Burton Watson) Then the Buddha addressed the bodhisattva Maitreya, saying, “Maitreya, I now take this Law of anuttara-samyak-sambodhi, gathered over countless millions of asamkhya kalpas, and entrust it to you. In the latter age after the Buddha has passed into extinction, you must employ your supernatural powers to propagate sutras such as this, spreading them throughout the continent of Jambudvipa and never allowing them to be wiped out. Why? Because in the ages to come there will be good men and good women, as well as heavenly beings, dragons, spirits, gandharvas, rakshasas, and others, who will set their minds on attaining anuttara-samyak-sambodhi and will delight in the great Law If they are unable to hear sutras such as this, they will lose the opportunity to gain excellent benefits. But if beings such as these hear these sutras, they will surely believe and delight greatly in them and set their minds on a rare achievement. Therefore you must respectfully accept these and, considering how living beings can best gain benefits from them, expound them far and wide.
The great Spiritual-Propagator of the Buddhadharma in this dharma-ending age (we are currently in the midst of that last dharma-cycle) has been designated to the Maha-Bodhisattva Maitreya (the Buddha-heir apparent of this saha-realm)—who, though presently in the Tushita-heavens periodically descends (wonderfully portrayed in Tozen’s Dharmakaya Sutra) to confer “annuttara-samyak-sambodhi” upon worthy recipients. Breaking it down somewhat, annuttara=superiorly incomparable; samyak=perfect; sambodhi=supreme-enlightened one who penetrates the depths of Buddha-gnosis. This honor is not just conferred upon humans, as we learned through our study of the Lankavatara Sutra wherein Ravana, the Overlord of the Yakshas, also received this Honorary Salutation.
“Maitreya, you should understand that there are two types of bodhisattvas. What are these two types? The first type loves varied phrases and literary embellishment. The second is not afraid of deeper principles and is able to enter into the true meaning. If there are those who love varied phrases and literary embellishments, you máy be sure that they are beginners in the bodhisattva way. But if there are those who, approaching these extremely profound sutras, with their teachings on nondefilement and nonattachment, are not timid or fearful but can enter into the meaning and, having heard the sutras, with pure minds will accept, uphold, read, and recite them and practice them as the Law directs, you may be sure that they have been practicing the way for a long time.
Étienne Lamotte translates these two as Beginner Bodisattvas, and Veteran Bodhisattvas. Sometimes the beginner just latches on to the surface-layer of a given Sutra, and the Buddhadharma in general; but, like in the Parable of the Sower wherein the bodhi-seeds just remains on the surface, they don’t take root, and something in their life comes along and gobbles them up. The Veteran Bodhisattva, on the other hand, takes great care and relishes in the gnosis of the Buddhadharma—they understand the profound nature of these texts and take great measures to assure that they are promulgated and not defiled in any way, shape, or manner.
“Again, Maitreya, there are two attitudes among those called beginners that prevent them from getting a firm grasp on these extremely profound teachings. What are these two? First is that of persons who, when they hear some profound sutra they have not heard before, are alarmed and timorous and, giving way to doubt, cannot bring themselves to comply with it. In their disbelief they speak slanderously of it, saying, ‘I have never heard this before! Where does it come from?’ Second is that of persons who, though there are those who guard, uphold, understand, and expound profound sutras of this type, are unwilling to associate closely with them, to offer them alms or treat them with respect, but at times may even speak of their faults before others. Where you find these two attitudes, you may be sure the persons are beginners in the bodhisattva way. They do injury to themselves and cannot train their minds to accept the profound teachings.
The beginner, being stupefied over the nature of these texts just shrugs them off…sometimes even speaking slanderously against them. Also, they neglect to show courtesy to those Veteran Bodhisattvas; instead they are disrespectful and oftentimes reap great ridicule and shame upon them. As the sutra states, these beginner-mindsets can bring great harm to aspiring adepts.
“Again, Maitreya, there are two attitudes among the bodhisattvas who, though they believe and understand the profound teachings, yet do injury to themselves and are unable to accept the truth of birthlessness. What are these two? First is that of persons who are contemptuous of beginner bodhisattvas and will not teach or enlighten them. Second is that of persons who, though they understand the profound teachings, seize upon surface appearances and make distinctions. These are the two attitudes.”
On the other side of the bodhi-coin, some of the Veteran Bodhisattvas can become quick-tempered and even contemptuous of the lackadaisical antics and attitudes of the beginning adepts…in so doing, they can reap great harm upon their young and still-developing minds. Also, the Veteran, too, can become lackadaisical—thinking that they have already attained annuttara-samyak-sambodhi, when in fact they are far from it…a good indication of this is when they still make mind-discriminations.
Maitreya assures the Blessed One that he will steer well-clear of these defilements by faithfully and resiliently upholding the Buddhadharma for all future generations. Following his lead, the rest of the bodhisattvas present in the assembly also promise to uphold the Buddhadharma to the best of their abilities. In closing, the Buddha addresses Ānanda and requests that he, too, “accept and up-hold this sutra and propagate it far and wide.” Ānanda says, “Sure-thing—what shall I call it?” and, of course, this sutra traditionally ends with the “naming of the new sutra”; the Blessed One replies that it shall hereafter be named and referred to as, “The Holy Teaching of Vimalakirti.” (Thurman)
For this study of the Vimalakirti Sutra I have been referring to four different translations. My primary source has been Robert Thurman’s text; the root base of his text is akin to another, truly marvelous, translation by the renowned Belgian scholar and Indologist, Étienne Lamotte; Lamotte’s translation was difficult to come by. It was long out of print and the surviving available hard-copies were too astronomical in price. Fortunately, I was able (finally, just two weeks ago) to get a recently released softbound copy from the Pali-Text Society (being more than willing to become a member to do so). Lamotte’s version is fantastic in the depth of its scholarly impetus and encyclopedic footnote material. The other translations utilized are by Charles Luk and Burton Watson. Thruman’s text has been magnificent, although he incorporates the remaining chapters into one (naming it epilogue), basically to guarantee the apparent original 12 chapter text, in league with Lamotte. Both Luk and Watson have broken it up into two—and for salient reasons I am following their lead, since the last chapter is basically ascribed to Maitreya, which is as it should be.
This chapter opens up with Śakra (who others ascribe as being Indra) the prince of the gods expounding on how Vimalakirti’s discourse should be placed uppermost in the annals of Sutras—such is its astounding transcendental reality. Once again it is reinforced that anyone who reads or recites this sutra will receive untold divine recompense—Śakra even assuring divine protection. Also, as with most other revered Sutras and tokens that are ascribed with the Buddhadharma, special reliquaries and stupas (mound-like structures) are created for their reverence. The Buddhadharma is paramount within Buddhism, and this chapter wastes no words in assuring its reverenced place in the Bodhisattvic Way and with other lesser paths as well. This is traditionally known as the Offering of the Law. A Tathagata, Bhaisajyarāja, also known as a Medicine Buddha, when questioned as to whether there is anything else that supersedes this Law expounds as follows:
(Watson’s Text) ‘Good man, the offering of the Law means the profound sutras preached by the Buddhas. The people of this world all find them hard to believe and hard to accept, for they are wonderfully subtle and hard to make out, clean and pure and without stain. They cannot be grasped through the making of distinctions or through thought. They are contained in the storehouse of the bodhisattva and are sealed with the dharani seal, and where this seal is affixed, one reaches the level of no regression. They bring about observance of the six paramitas, the skillful discrimination of meanings, and compliance with the teachings of bodhi, and through the finest of all sutras one enters the realm of great pity and compassion. The sutras put an end to all devilish affairs and all erroneous views, conform to the teaching on causality and those on no ego, no individual, no living beings, no life span, emptiness, no form, no action, and no arousing. They enable living beings to sit in the place of practice and to turn the wheel of the Law.’
(Luk’s Text) ‘Virtuous one, the offering of Dharma is preached by all Buddhas in profound sutras but it is hard for worldly men to believe and accept it as its meaning is subtle and not easily detected, for it is impeacable in its purity and cleanness. It is beyond the reach of thinking and discriminating; it contains the treasure of the Bodhi-sattva’s Dharma store and is sealed by the Dharani-symbol; it never backslides for it achieves the six perfections (paramitas); discerns the difference between various meanings; is in line with the bodhi Dharma; is at the top of all sutras; helps people to enter upon great kindness and great compassion; to keep from demons and perverse views, and to conform with the law of causality and the teaching on the unreality of an ego; a man, a living being and life and on voidness, formlessness, non-creating and non-uprising. It enables living beings to sit in a bodhimandala to turn the wheel of the law.’
This truly says it all for the value and significance of a given Sutra. Sutras are sealed with a special “dharani”—an invocation and protection, a Mark against Evil. Thus anyone merely reading the sutras with indifferent and worldling eyes, with no real appetite for the Buddhadharma, these sacred texts come across as boring, obscure and simply unfathomable. The real stuff—the Bodhi-dharma—will be conferred upon those who authentically and reverently approach these texts with no other intention other than to receive the auspicious blessings and insights of the Tathagatas contained therein….if one does so in this manner, then they are bade entrance into the Dharma-store and can truly partake in its mystical riches; in this fashion, and with continual and abiding reverence each time one picks up these sacred texts, a mystical “bodhimandala” will form around them—preventing outside influences from disturbing these loving mystical revelations. Please keep in mind above all, as this sutra states, “the offering of Dharma is the highest form of offering to all the Buddhas” and thus should never be read haphazardly or taken lightly.
12.Vision of the Universe Abhirati and the Tathagata Aksobhya, cont’d
The venerable Sariputra then asked the Buddha, “Lord, in which buddha-field did the noble Vimalakirti die, before reincarnating in this buddha-field?” The Buddha said, “Sariputra, ask this good man directly where he died to reincarnate here.” Then the venerable Sariputra asked the Licchavi Vimalakirti, “Noble sir, where did you die to reincarnate here?” Vimalakirti declared, “Is there anything among the things that you see, elder, that dies or is reborn?” Sariputra: There is nothing that dies or is reborn. Vimalakirti: Likewise, reverend Sariputra, as all things neither die nor are reborn, why do you ask, “Where did you die to reincarnate here?” Reverend Sariputra, if one were to ask a man or woman created by a magician where he or she had died to reincarnate there, what do you think he or she would answer? Sariputra: Noble sir, a magical creation does not die, nor is it reborn. Vimalakirti: Reverend Sariputra, did not the Tathagata declare that all things have the nature of a magical creation? Sariputra: Yes, noble sir, that is indeed so. Vimalakirti: Reverend Sariputra, “death” is an end of performance, and “rebirth” is the continuation of performance. But, although a bodhisattva dies, he does not put an end to the performance of the roots of virtue, and although he is reborn, he does not adhere to the continuation of sin.
Śāriputra is essentially asking Vimalakirti, “What was your former-life before this one?” Vimalakirti reminds him that even within his own dharma-ken that there is neither birth nor death—birthlessness. If that is indeed his foundation, then why even ask a silly question like “what was your former-birth like”, it’s like asking a phantom-mirage “what is your parentage?” Vimalakirti also asserts that apparent death is the end of a soma’s performance; rebirth is a perpetual re-genesis of that performance. The Bodhisattva, although donning the sheath of death is not extinguished; by the same token, while entering into the re-genesis for the sake of sentient beings is not held-bound by it.
Then, the Buddha said to the venerable Sariputra, “Sariputra, this holy person came here from the presence of the Tathagata Aksobhya in the universe Abhirati.”
Sariputra: Lord, it is wonderful that this holy person, having left a buddha-field as pure as
Abhirati, should enjoy a buddha-field as full of defects as this Saha universe!
The Licchavi Vimalakirti said, “Sariputra, what do you think? Does the light of the sun
accompany the darkness?”
Sariputra: Certainly not, noble sir!
Vimalakirti: Then the two do not go together?
Sariputra: Noble sir, those two do not go together. As soon as the sun rises, all darkness
Vimalakirti: Then why does the sun rise over the world?
Sariputra: It rises to illuminate the world, and to eliminate the darkness.
Vimalakirti: Just in the same way, reverend Sariputra, the bodhisattva reincarnates
voluntarily in the impure buddha-fields in order to purify the living beings, in
order to make the light of wisdom shine, and in order to clear away the darkness.
Since they do not associate with the passions, they dispel the darkness of the
passions of all living beings.
We now discover that Vimalakirti heralds from the “universe Abhirati”—he emanates from a Buddha-field that is like a brilliant realm of light compared to the eternal darkness of this saha-realm. (more on the significance of his origin is forthcoming). Vimalakirti enlightens Śāriputra that the Way of the Bodhisattva Illumines the darkened dungeon-realm of beings deprived of the salfivic light of the Sugata—thus scattering the impounded-dark passions of sentient beings like the first rays of dawn dispelling the night.
Thereupon, the entire multitude experienced the desire to behold the universe Abhirati, the Tathagata Aksobhya, his bodhisattvas, and his great disciples. The Buddha, knowing the thoughts of the entire multitude, said to the Licchavi Vimalakirti, “Noble son, this multitude wishes to behold the universe Abhirati and the Tathagata Aksobhya – show them!”
Then the Licchavi Vimalakirti thought, “Without rising from my couch, I shall pick up in my right hand the universe Abhirati and all it contains: its hundreds of thousands of bodhisattvas; its abodes of devas, nagas, yaksas, gandharvas, and asuras,bounded by its Cakravada mountains; its rivers, lakes, fountains, streams, oceans, and other bodies of water; its Mount Sumeru and other hills and mountain ranges; its moon, its sun, and its stars; its devas, nagas, yaksas, gandharvas, and asuras themselves; its Brahma and his retinues; its villages, cities, towns, provinces, kingdoms, men, women, and houses; its bodhisattvas; its disciples; the tree of enlightenment of the Tathagata Aksobhya; and the Tathagata Aksobhya himself, seated in the middle of an assembly vast as an ocean, teaching the Dharma. Also the lotuses that accomplish the buddha-work among the living beings; the three jeweled ladders that rise from its earth to its Trayastrimsa heaven, on which ladders the gods of that heaven descend to the world to see, honor, and serve the Tathagata Aksobhya and to hear the Dharma, and on which the men of the earth climb to the Trayastrimsa heaven to visit those gods. Like a potter with his wheel, I will reduce that universe Abhirati, with its store of innumerable virtues, from its watery base up to its Akanistha heaven, to a minute size and, carrying it gently like a garland of flowers, will bring it to this Saha universe and will show it to the multitudes.”
Then, the Licchavi Vimalakirti entered into a concentration, and performed a miraculous feat such that he reduced the universe Abhirati to a minute size, and took it with his right hand, and brought it into this Saha universe. In that universe Abhirati, the disciples, bodhisattvas, and those among gods and men who possessed the superknowledge of the divine eye all cried out, “Lord, we are being carried away! Sugata, we are being carried off! Protect us, O Tathagata!” But, to discipline them, the Tathagata Aksobhya said to them, “You are being carried off by the bodhisattva Vimalakirti. It is not my affair.”
As for the other men and gods, they had no awareness at all that they were being carried anywhere. Although the universe Abhirati had been brought into the universe Saha, the Saha universe was not increased or diminished; it was neither compressed nor obstructed. Nor was the universe Abhirati reduced internally, and both universes appeared to be the same as they had ever been. Thereupon, the Buddha Sakyamuni asked all the multitudes, “Friends, behold the splendors of the universe Abhirati, the Tathagata Aksobhya, the array of his buddhafield, and the splendors of these disciples and bodhisattvas!”
They replied, “We see them, Lord!”
The Buddha said, “Those bodhisattvas who wish to embrace such a buddha-field should train themselves in all the bodhisattva-practices of the Tathagata Aksobhya.” While Vimalakirti, with his miraculous power, showed them thus the universe Abhirati and the Tathagata Aksobhya, one hundred and forty thousand living beings among the men and gods of the Saha universe conceived the spirit of unexcelled, perfect enlightenment, and all of them formed a prayer to be reborn in the universe Abhirati. And the Buddha prophesied that in the future all would be reborn in the universe Abhirati. And the Licchavi Vimalakirti, having thus developed all the living beings who could thereby be developed, returned the universe Abhirati exactly to its former place.
At this junction, I would like to interject a theory—going out on a limb—as to the singular nature of just who this Vimalakirti really is. Indeed, is he merely an “ordinary enlightened-being” as many throughout the millennium have indomitably asserted? A spectacle that the ordinary-person would like to emulate? I believe the evidence has shown throughout this study of the Vimalakirti Sutra that the singular-ability behind this noble-Maha Bodhisattva—all of the stupendous miraculous occurrences (present one above included)—equaled only by the stature of a Tathagata, that Vimalakirti is non-other than the manomayakāya of the Tathagata Aksobhya from the Universe Abhirati. Even though Aksobhya (like Odin pulling the wool over the eyes of the denizens of his own kingdom—appearing as something or someone “other” than himself) responds to the inhabitants of that universe as they are being mystically transported, “You are being carried off by the bodhisattva Vimalakirti. It is not my affair.” What’s to prevent a Tathagata from donning the mystical garb of a manomayakāya (Mind-made manifestation—for a full breakdown of the term, please search within the archives, in particular the Lanka series) in order to edify the resolve of Bodhisattvas who hunger for the full flavor of Tathagatahood? If nothing else, there is truly no other Maha-Bodhisattva that can be likened to Vimalakirti. Clearly all of the bodhisattvas, gods, goddesses, nagas, disciples, et cetera within this sutra have been edified to the nth degree by Vimalakirti—without question an “extraordinary” feat! Or, if you prefer, a Bodhi-being doing extraordinary things through ordinary means—the paramārtha (absolute truth) revealed through samvrti (conventionality).
The Lord then said to the venerable Sariputra, “Sariputra, did you see that universe Abhirati, and the Tathagata Aksobhya?” Sariputra replied, “I saw it, Lord! May all living beings come to live in a buddhafield as splendid as that! May all living beings come to have miraculous powers just like those of the noble Licchavi Vimalakirti!
“We have gained great benefit from having seen a holy man such as he. We have gained a great benefit from having heard such teaching of the Dharma, whether the Tathagata himself still actually exists or whether he has already attained ultimate liberation. Hence, there is no need to mention the great benefit for those who, having heard it, believe it, rely on it, embrace it, remember it, read it, and penetrate to its depth; and, having found faith in it, teach, recite, and show it to others and apply themselves to the yoga of meditation upon its teaching. “Those living beings who understand correctly this teaching of the Dharma will obtain the treasury of the jewels of the Dharma.
“Those who study correctly this teaching of the Dharma will become the companions of the Tathagata. Those who honor and serve the adepts of this doctrine will be the true protectors of the Dharma. Those who write, teach, and worship this teaching of the Dharma will be visited by the Tathagata in their homes. Those who take pleasure in this teaching of the Dharma will embrace all merits. Those who teach it to others, whether it be no more than a single stanza of four lines, or a single summary phrase from this teaching of the Dharma, will be performing the great Dharma-sacrifice. And those who devote to this teaching of the Dharma their tolerance, their zeal, their intelligence, their discernment, their vision, and their aspirations, thereby become subject to the prophesy of future Buddhahood!”
Having been portrayed mostly as the mouthpiece for conventionalism throughout this sutra, it is refreshing to see Śāriputra taking his stature again as a renowned one in the Buddhadharma—showering his gratitude upon Vimalakirti and relaying the auspicious benefits of this sutra for anyone who pays it homage. Anyone who sincerely takes his homage to heart will surely be meritoriously touched.
12.Vision of the Universe Abhirati and the Tathagata Aksobhya
Thereupon, the Buddha said to the Licchavi Vimalakirti, “Noble son, when you would see the Tathagata, how do you view him?” Thus addressed, the Licchavi Vimalakirti said to the Buddha, “Lord, when I would see the Tathagata, I view him by not seeing any Tathagata. Why? I see him as not born from the past, not passing on to the future, and not abiding in the present time. Why? He is the essence which is the reality of matter, but he is not matter. He is the essence which is the reality of sensation, but he is not sensation. He is the essence which is the reality of intellect, but he is not intellect. He is the essence which is the reality of motivation, yet he is not motivation. He is the essence which is the reality of consciousness, yet he is not consciousness. Like the element of space, he does not abide in any of the four elements. Transcending the scope of eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, and mind, he is not produced in the six sense-media. He is not involved in the three worlds, is free of the three defilements, is associated with the triple liberation, is endowed with the three knowledges, and has truly attained the unattainable.
“The Tathagata has reached the extreme of detachment in regard to all things, yet he is not a reality-limit. He abides in ultimate reality, yet there is no relationship between it and him. He is not produced from causes, nor does he depend on conditions. He is not without any characteristic, nor has he any characteristic. He has no single nature nor any diversity of natures. He is not a conception, not a mental construction, nor is he a nonconception. He is neither the other shore, nor this shore, nor that between. He is neither here, nor there, nor anywhere else. He is neither this nor that. He cannot be discovered by consciousness, nor is he inherent in consciousness. He is neither darkness nor light. He is neither name nor sign. He is neither weak nor strong. He lives in no country or direction. He is neither good nor evil. He is neither compounded nor uncompounded. He cannot be explained as having any meaning whatsoever. “The Tathagata is neither generosity nor avarice, neither morality nor immorality, neither tolerance nor malice, neither effort nor sloth, neither concentration nor distraction, neither wisdom nor foolishness. He is inexpressible. He is neither truth nor falsehood; neither escape from the world nor failure to escape from the world; neither cause of involvement in the world nor not a cause of involvement in the world; he is the cessation of all theory and all practice. He is neither a field of merit nor not a field of merit; he is neither worthy of offerings nor unworthy of offerings. He is not an object, and cannot be contacted. He is not a whole, nor a conglomeration. He surpasses all calculations. He is utterly unequaled, yet equal to the ultimate reality of things. He is matchless, especially in effort. He surpasses all measure. He does not go, does not stay, does not pass beyond. He is neither seen, heard, distinguished, nor known. He is without any complexity, having attained the equanimity of omniscient gnosis. Equal toward all things, he does not discriminate between them. He is without reproach, without excess, without corruption, without conception, and without intellectualization. He is without activity, without birth, without occurrence, without origin, without production, and without nonproduction. He is without fear and without subconsciousness; without sorrow, without joy, and without strain. No verbal teaching can express him. “Such is the body of the Tathagata and thus should he be seen. Who sees thus, truly sees. Who sees otherwise, sees falsely.”
The noble Tathagata-kaya (body of a Tathagata) rips-apart all dichotomous associations. The Tathagata-kaya is beyond the three times (past, present, future); it is neither marked nor unmarked; it cannot be comprehended by the skandhas or by any elements of consciousness itself. Thus, a Tathagata is nothing conceivable nor perceivable. The foot of a Tathagata is neither on this shore or the other shore, neither within nor without, nor anywhere in-between. The Tathagata is also non-relational with any moral or unmoral attributes. The truth behind the Tathagata-kaya is certainly not truth in the conventional sense of the word. Thus come, thus gone essentially means that the Tathagata has not gone, will not go and does not go; he has not come, will not come and does not come. Anyone reading this with “conventional eyes” will say, “Well, then, what the hell is a Tathagata????” Such is the body of a Tathagata that it is not perceivable or conceivable through conventional lens. It is seen through imageless eyes and is therefore beyond thingness and no-thingness . One who sees the Tathagata through imageless eyes sees correctly (samyak paśyati); anyone vainly trying to see the Tathagata through conventional eyes does so in vain (mithyā paśati). This brings to mind a comment that was made here recently that the Sanskrit language is just a lot of hocus-pocus from some dead Indians from long ago. In reality, terms like Tathagata forever shine on in “deathless wonder”. For the vain, coarse and vulgar-minded these terms will appear as meaningless as a janitor trying to make head or tails out of a Nuclear Physicist’s manual. And that’s the point of the sutras in general—they are not meant for the shallow appetite of popular consumption. Yet, anyone with a pure mind and effort, like Hui-neng (the sixth Patriarch of Zen Buddhism)—who heard through dharma–ears (dhammasota) the words of the Diamond Sutra—“Let your minds function freely, without abiding anywhere or in anything”—can and will become Bodhi-minded. This IS the language of the Bodhi-Spirit and is not meant for the spirit of this world.
11.Lesson of the Destructible and the Indestructible
Meanwhile, back at the main assembly, a strange golden-like hue descends and encompasses everything. Ananda is awestruck and inquires from the Blessed One what this could mean. The Buddha says that this auspicious sign is a portent that Vimalakriti, Mañjuśrī and the great multitude of Bodhi-beings from Sarvagandhasugandhā will be arriving soon. Sure enough, Vimalakriti—in a miraculous fashion like the Buddha before him (with his Big-Toe) reduces the vast company of Bodhi-beings with their vast thrones into the palm of his hand and, in an instant, transports them from Sarvagandhasugandhā to the present assembly. Like Aladdin rubbing his magic lamp, those Bodhi-beings appear and begin to emit their divine spiritual-fragrance. Ananda inquires, what is that strange smell? The Buddha says that is that mystical-spice emanating from the pores of the Bodhi-beings; then, Śāriputra, like a little kid says, “Yes, see…it’s emanating from our pores, too!” Ananda then aska Vimalakriti “how long will this –perfume smell last?” Vimalakriti says, “Not until it’s thoroughly digested.” This is highly symbolic of the spiritual path that a Bodhisattva is called to follow—the ten-fold path of Bodhisattvahood—it will all finally be digested when the Bodhisattva conceives anuttara samyak sambodhi…hence perfected in Inseparable-Bodhi. The Blessed One then expounds that there are an infinitesimal number of Dharma-doors that open into many diversified Buddha-fields—all propounding the Buddhadharma; in this fashion, the Buddhadharma can be expounded upon for a trillion eons and still not exhaust the teachings of the Tathagatas. Feeling deeply humbled with this realization, Ananda considers himself from this day-forth truly unwise! The Buddha says that this is a cop-out! “Sure, Ananda, you’re the foremost of the disciples—your powers of observation and memorization are second-to-none, yet in all your splendid and erudite disciplehood, the least “Bodhisattva” is greater than you.” “Why? Ananda, these marvels displayed in a single morning by the Licchavi Vimalakirti could not be performed by the disciples and solitary sages who have attained miraculous powers, were they to devote all their powers of incarnation and transformation during one hundred thousand millions of aeons.”
Witnessing all that transpired between Ananda and the Buddha, the multitude of Bodhi-beings from Sarvagandhasugandhā bow-down in reverence at the feet of the Tathagata, relaying how they once considered this “saha-realm” as a dirty and lowly one—truly of no intrinsic value—yet, when discovering all that has transpired between their time with Vimalakriti and the Blessed One—opening their dharma-ears to the “inconceivable compassion” that is utilized through the skillful-means of the Bodhisattvas in these inconceivable and filthy realms—they fully acquiesce and beg him to give them something of supreme value on their return home. The Blessed One sends them on their merry way with a most Supreme insight indeed:
Thus having been requested, the Buddha declared, “Noble sons, there is a liberation of bodhisattvas called ‘destructible and indestructible.’ You must train yourselves in this liberation. What is it? ‘Destructible’ refers to compounded things. ‘Indestructible’ refers to the uncompounded. But the bodhisattva should neither destroy the compounded nor rest in the uncompounded.
The Buddha continues to break this liberation down into various sequential parts—all reminiscent of the destructible (Moving Principle) and the Indestructible (Unmoving Principle). The Bodhisattva is called to never disengage from all the compounded (composed) mess of Samsara—if he/she did, then the Inconceivable Compassion would never be conveyed. At the same time, the Bodhisattva can never just “rest-easy” in the (Uncomposed) Blessed-Stillness of the Unmoving—if he/she did, then the great Bodhisattvic Resolve to liberate all sentient beings would never be fulfilled. (He considers motionlessness, yet he moves in order to develop all living beings) Yet, in blessed-fashion, as the Bodhisattva commits to this Unborn Resolve, the all-inclusive presence and comfort of the Sugata-garbha accompanies them in all ten-directions. This can be broken down into the parallel teaching of the Sermon on the Mount and the Beatitudes from the great Bodhisattva, Jesus the Christ—one will be able to discern that, in spiritual reality, this Supreme teaching is meant for all who are called to the Bodhisattvic Path:
Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
In truly humbleness of heart, the Bodhisattva forsakes the comfort of nirvana for the benefit of sentient beings; this is truly a self-emptying endeavor—relying on nothing but the Unborn-Word in fulfilling the Will of the Sugata.
Blessed are they who mourn,
for they shall be comforted.
The Bodhisattva enters into total empathy with sentient reality—as this chapter says he/she “feels the needs of living beings.” As they do so, they in return are comforted through the Sugata-garbha (the Supreme Womb of Buddhaic Light).
Blessed are the meek,
for they shall inherit the earth.
The Bodhisattva forsakes her/his will in favor of the Unborn Will (being content with little desire in order to uphold the Buddhadharma).
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they shall be satisfied.
The Bodhisattvas food IS the Buddhadharma—in this way, they teach others to savor a food that alone can satisfy.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they shall obtain mercy.
A Bodhisattva longs for the happiness of others, not his/her own. Even, as the sutra states, conceiving of trance, meditation, and equanimity as if they were the Avici hell; thus, what one experiences in deep-samadhi needs to eventually be abandoned in order to fulfill their Bodhisattvic Resolve.
Blessed are the pure of heart,
for they shall see God.
Being-one with the heart of the Sugata, their “spiritual heroism” encounters and becomes One with the “immeasurable virtues of the Buddha.”
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they shall be called children of God.
Forever making peace in the darkest holes of samsara, they are truly called beloved children of the Unborn!
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven
Being willing to undergo the pangs of persecution from the unyielding attacks of Mara, the evil one, for the sake of the Buddhadharma…in so doing, the Dharmakaya is theirs!
Then, those bodhisattvas, having heard this teaching, were satisfied, delighted, and reverent. They were filled with rejoicing and happiness of mind. In order to worship the Buddha Sakyamuni and the bodhisattvas of the Saha universe, as well as this teaching, they covered the whole earth of this billion-world universe with fragrant powder, incense, perfumes, and flowers up to the height of the knees. Having thus regaled the whole retinue of the Tathagata, bowed their heads at the feet of the Buddha, and circumambulated him to the right three times, they sang a hymn of praise to him. They then disappeared from this universe and in a split second were back in the universe Sarvagandhasugandha.
One can almost envision this like a closing from some Spielberg film. When you think about it, with today’s technology and digital effects—many of the sequences from the Vimalakriti Sutra could indeed be made today into a Speculator film! What a way to bring home the Buddhadharma so that many could be freed from today’s contemporary spiritual malaise.
At the opening of this chapter we once again find Śāriputra still with that dull-witted, conventional outlook on life; before he was concerned with the lack of chairs for the assembly, now he’s concerned that they don’t have any food. Vimalkirti responds with, “Are you so overly-concerned with your belly—just watch, and I’ll show you food the like of which you’ll never hunger again”!
Then, the Licchavi Vimalakirti set himself in such a concentration and performed such a miraculous feat that those bodhisattvas and those great disciples were enabled to see the universe called Sarvagandhasugandha, which is located in the direction of the zenith, beyond as many buddha-fields as there are sands in forty-two Ganges rivers. There the Tathagata named Sugandhakuta resides, lives, and is manifest. In that universe,the trees emit a fragrance that far surpasses all the fragrances, human and divine, of all the buddha-fields of the ten directions. In that universe, even the names “disciple” and “solitary sage” do not exist, and the Tathagata Sugandhakuta teaches the Dharma to a gathering of bodhisattvas only. In that universe, all the houses, the avenues, the parks, and the palaces are made of various perfumes, and the fragrance of the food eaten by those bodhisattvas pervades immeasurable universes.
What a magnificent epiphany! As with other marvelous Buddhist cosmological references, we find that this poor ol’ saha realm is not alone in the cosmos, but rather one of “trillions” that exist…one such realm is called Sarvagandhasugandhā wherein a Tathagata named Sugandhakūța resides and perpetually expounds the Buddhadharma. Yet, this realm is not anything like our present saha—it is comprised of mostly bodhisattvas, and their ears are attuned to the Buddhadharma through divine fragrances—no “word” need be uttered by Sugandhakūța—it’s all done through the absorption (both mental, physical and spiritual) of that Mystical Spice. Vimalakriti asks which Bodhisattva in the present assembly is up to visiting that realm and bring back that dharma-food—but alas, none of them are up to the task! So, Vimalakriti creates an incarnation-bodhisattva of himself (nirmitabodhisattva) . This is essentially a type of projection-body we learned about during our study of the Lanka—a manomayakāya.
Then, the Licchavi Vimalakirti, without rising from his couch, magically emanated an incarnation-bodhisattva, whose body was of golden color, adorned with the auspicious signs and marks, and of such an appearance that he outshone the whole assembly. The Licchavi Vimalakirti addressed that incarnated bodhisattva: “Noble son, go in the direction of the zenith and when you have crossed as many buddha-fields as there are sands in forty-two Ganges rivers, you will reach a universe called Sarvagandhasugandha, where you will find the Tathagata Sugandhakuta taking his meal. Go to him and, having bowed down at his feet, make the following request of him: “‘The Licchavi Vimalakirti bows down one hundred thousand times at your feet, O Lord, and asks after your health – if you have but little trouble, little discomfort, little unrest; if you are strong, well, without complaint, and living in touch with supreme happiness.’ “Having thus asked after his health, you should request of him ‘Vimalakirti asks the Lord to give me the remains of your meal, with which he will accomplish the buddhawork in the universe called Saha. Thus, those living beings with inferior aspirations will be inspired with lofty aspirations, and the good name of the Tathagata will be celebrated far and wide.” At that, the incarnated bodhisattva said, “Very good!” to the Licchavi Vimalakirti and obeyed his instructions. In sight of all the bodhisattvas, he turned his face upward and was gone, and they saw him no more. When he reached the universe Sarvagandhasugandha, he bowed down at the feet of the Tathagata Sugandhakuta and said, “Lord, the bodhisattva Vimalakirti, bowing down at the feet of the Lord, greets the Lord, saying: ‘Do you have little trouble, little discomfort, and little unrest? Are you strong, well, without complaint, and living in touch with the supreme happiness?’ He then requests, having bowed down one hundred thousand times at the feet of the Lord: ‘May the Lord be gracious and give to me the remains of his meal in order to accomplish the buddha-work in the universe called Saha. Then, those living beings who aspire to inferior ways may gain the intelligence to aspire to the great Dharma of the Buddha, and the name of the Buddha will be celebrated far and wide.’”
The manomayakāya-body of Vimalakirti respectfully asks the Buddha of that other realm, Sugandhakūța, if it would be permissible to take-back just a few morsels of this “mystical-spice” (dharma-food) to Shakyamuni Buddha in the saha-realm so that, all the inferior beings there could benefit from this dharma-mana. As he does so, the Bodhisattvas from the Sarvagandhasugandhā are “all-ears” learning about this all-too-soiled realm called saha—they cannot even conceive of such a place.
At that the bodhisattvas of the buddha-field of the Tathagata Sugandhakuta were astonished and asked the Tathagata Sugandhakuta, “Lord, where is there such a great being as this? Where is the universe Saha? What does he mean by ‘those who aspire to inferior ways’?” Having thus been questioned by those bodhisattvas, the Tathagata Sugandhakuta said, “Noble sons, the universe Saha exists beyond as many buddha-fields in the direction of the nadir as there are sands in forty-two Ganges rivers. There the Tathagata Sakyamuni teaches the Dharma to living beings who aspire to the inferior ways, in that buddha-field tainted with five corruptions. There the bodhisattva Vimalakirti, who lives in the inconceivable liberation, teaches the Dharma to the bodhisattvas. He sends this incarnation-bodhisattva here in order to celebrate my name, in order to show the advantages of this universe, and in order to increase the roots of virtue of those bodhisattvas.” The bodhisattvas exclaimed, “How great must that bodhisattva be himself if his magical incarnation is thus endowed with supernatural power, strength, and fearlessness!” The Tathagata said, “The greatness of that bodhisattva is such that he sends magical incarnations to all the buddha-fields of the ten directions, and all these incarnations accomplish the buddha-work for all the living beings in all those buddhafields.” Then, the Tathagata Sugandhakuta poured some of his food, impregnated with all perfumes, into a fragrant vessel and gave it to the incarnation-bodhisattva. And the ninety million bodhisattvas of that universe volunteered to go along with him: “Lord, we also would like to go to that universe Saha, to see, honor, and serve the Buddha Sakyamuni and to see Vimalakirti and those bodhisattvas.” The Tathagata declared, “Noble sons, go ahead if you think it is the right time. But, lest those living beings become mad and intoxicated, go without your perfumes. And, lest those living beings of the Saha world become jealous of you, change your bodies to hide your beauty. And do not conceive ideas of contempt and aversion for that universe. Why? Noble sons, a buddha-field is a field of pure space, but the Lord Buddhas, in order to develop living beings, do not reveal all at once the pure realm of the Buddha.” Then the incarnation-bodhisattva took the food and departed with the ninety million bodhisattvas and by the power of the Buddha and the supernatural operation of Vimalakirti, disappeared from that universe Sarvagandhasugandha and stood again in the house of Vimalakirti in a fraction of a second. The Licchavi Vimalakirti created ninety million lion-thrones exactly like those already there, and the bodhisattvas were seated.
One thing we can gleam from this and other sutras is that all Bodhi-beings from infinitesimal realms—far superior to ours—are in awe how a local-Buddha can undertake such a herculean effort…for our realm is like a world laden down with heavy-wooden-grinding-wheels and the inhabitants here are so stubborn-minded—like mules with monkey brains—how can we ever profit from the Buddhadharma? And so, when one such like Gautma undertakes this task—it is indeed a wonder to behold and admire for Bodhi-beings in those other, immaculate realms. You see, our “realm” is a wretched, impure place in the eyes of advanced Buddha-beings—in fact, when other bodhisattvas (from advanced realms) are called upon to extend their expedient abilities for the sake of this place, they are always encouraged to proceed with great caution. Yet, they can (like Buddha Gotama) truly enhance their skillful means (upāya) in such a place. Vimalakriti himself truly admires and honors any Bodhisattva who is willing to consent to help purify this wretched Buddha-field (buddhașetra). So, in total awe of the task that awaits Vimalkriti back home, millions of these advanced Bodhi-beings ask to accompany him to check-out how he will fair in this audacious mission.
Upon arriving back, the manomayakāya-body of Vimalakirti hands over to him this “mystical spice”, and Vimalakriti proceeds to distribute it throughout the city of Vaisali while its contents literally fragments its perfume-like essence throughout the surrounding universes. While he does so, many of the disciples enquire how such a small-amount of this stuff can possibly feed such a huge multitude (reminiscent of Jesus and the miracle of the loaves and fishes).
Then the incarnation-bodhisattva said to those disciples, “Do not compare, venerable ones, your own wisdom and merits with the wisdom and the merits of the Tathagata! Why? For example, the four great oceans might dry up, but this food would never be exhausted. If all living beings were to eat for an aeon an amount of this food equal to Mount Sumeru in size, it would not be depleted. Why? Issued from inexhaustible morality, concentration, and wisdom, the remains of the food of the Tathagata contained in this vessel cannot be exhausted.”
Mmmm, this is marvelously delicious and filled with dharma-delight! For this “mystical spice” is truly the accumulated merits of countless Tathagatas throughout the surrounding Dharma-realms surpassing all the grains of sand in the Ganges…THIS IS the ESSENCE of the Buddhadharma Itself! It can never be exhausted! When the assembly partakes in this Mystical Spice, from all the pores of their skin arose a perfume like that of the trees that grow in the universe Sarvagandhasugandhā. The Bodhi-beings from that realm explain to Vimalakriti and all those present that this is the way Tathagata Sugandhakūța expounds the Buddhadharma to them—not through words, but by the very fragrant permeation of this divine fragrance that literally fills the essence of their being—wonderful stuff here! Truly being filled with the Sugata-garbha in all ten directions! When they ask, in return, how Shakyamuni expounds the dharma in our saha-realm—it’s then that Vimalakriti laboriously goes through a lengthy litany of all the diverse-forms of expedient means needed to breakthrough the pig-headedness of this soiled region. Yet, though tediously hard, out of compassion all the bodhisattvas extend efforts that are not present “in any other Buddha-field”:
1) to win the poor by generosity;
2) to win the immoral by morality;
3) to win the hateful by means of tolerance;
4) to win the lazy by means of effort;
5) to win the mentally troubled by means of concentration;
6)to win the falsely wise by means of true wisdom;
7)to show those suffering from the eight adversities how to rise above them;
8 to teach the Mahayana to those of narrow-minded behavior;
9) to win those who have not produced the roots of virtue by means of the roots
10) and to develop living beings without interruption through the four means of
Finally, the Bodhi-beings from the Sarvagandhasugandhā inquire:
“How many qualities must a bodhisattva have, to go safe and sound to a pure buddha-field after he transmigrates at death away from this Saha universe?”
“After he transmigrates at death away from this Saha universe, a bodhisattva must have eight qualities to reach a pure buddha-field safe and sound. What are the eight? He must resolve to himself:
1) ‘I must benefit all living beings, without seeking even the slightest benefit for
2) I must bear all the miseries of all living beings and give all my accumulated roots
of virtue to all living beings.
3) I must have no resentment toward any living being.
4) I must rejoice in all bodhisattvas as if they were the Teacher.
5) I must not neglect any teachings, whether or not I have heard them before.
6) I must control my mind, without coveting the gains of others, and without
taking pride in gains of my own.
7)I must examine my own faults and not blame others for their faults.
8)I must take pleasure in being consciously aware and must truly undertake all
“If a bodhisattva has these eight qualities, when he transmigrates at death away
from the Saha universe, he will go safe and sound to a pure buddha-field.”
Quite a spectacular chapter! The one thing I come away from this the most is that “Mystical Spice”—imagine absorbing the Buddhadharma exclusively through this fragrant-fashion! Then again, perhaps we (within our sordid saha-realm) are simply not meant to procure the Buddhadharma in the self-same fashion as those highly advanced Bodhi-beings—we’re not there yet—and if we fool ourselves into ever thinking so, well, then absorbing all that “Mystical Spice” may prove to be even a hazardous venture…especially when those “perceptional-demons” appear on the scene to wreck havoc on the unsuspecting. The following “Bodhi-Pearl” depicts what can happen when one relies too much on “every drop that falls from the Master’s table.”
We now come to the most famous passage in the whole sutra: Vimalakriti’s Noble Silence. It deserves special consideration. We find all of the Bodhisattvas expounding ad nauseam (all dribbling nonsense) their take on the nature of Non-duality. When all of the grandiose extrapolations have ceased, we find Mañjuśrī succinctly downplaying their theories as being in themselves “dualistic”. Then he addresses Vimalakriti for his take on the matter, and of course Vimalakriti responds with a deafening silence.
When the bodhisattvas had given their explanations, they all addressed the crown prince Manjusri: “Manjusri, what is the bodhisattva’s entrance into nonduality?” Manjusri replied, “Good sirs, you have all spoken well. Nevertheless, all your explanations are themselves dualistic. To know no one teaching, to express nothing, to say nothing, to explain nothing, to announce nothing, to indicate nothing, and to designate nothing – that is the entrance into nonduality.” Then the crown prince Manjusri said to the Licchavi Vimalakirti, “We have all given our own teachings, noble sir. Now, may you elucidate the teaching of the entrance into the principle of nonduality!” Thereupon, the Licchavi Vimalakirti kept his silence, saying nothing at all. The crown prince Manjusri applauded the Licchavi Vimalakirti: “Excellent! Excellent, noble sir! This is indeed the entrance into the nonduality of the bodhisattvas.
Here there is no use for syllables, sounds, and ideas.” When these teachings had been declared, five thousand bodhisattvas entered the door of the Dharma of nonduality and attained tolerance of the birthlessness of things.
Vimalakirti is on par with Mañjuśrī as a “Bodhi-being.” Vimalakirti’s silence itself directly negates duality. No-thing uttered, no-thing grasped. Indeed, the Absolute is unutterable. This sutra-scene is the Absolute-stare-down of any Immanent take on the matter. The Unborn IS the Absolute Silence of the Shining-Ones (bodhi-beings). It is Suchness (Tathata) without the immanent reliance upon words. This Venerable Silence is not the “silence of the tomb”, but the resounding stillness of the Buddha-void emanating in all ten-directions. It is totally devoid (śūnyatā) of any phenomenal attribute. It is the magnificent Parato ghosa, the deathless sound not heard in any conventional sense of hearing, but rather ineffably experienced in the very heart of Suchness; this is fostered within the Bodhi-mandala for those attuned with the Dharma-ear (Dhammasota), mystically represented through the initiating power (Dharmasota) of the Dharmata Buddha—who showers the power (Bodhi-gnosis) of self-realization upon those resilient ones who are ready to awaken from the mad dream of Samsara and who know, through great faith and reason, in the Unborn that the dreaming phenomenal world is nothing apart from Mind itself. This is called “entering the sanctum sanctorum of the Unborn Mind”—Mahaśūnyā, penetrating into the primordial vibration (samanyaspanda) of the Absolute…with no-thing to see, no-thing to hear, no-thing to perceive, no-thing to grasp or cling to…Total Unequivocal Relinquishment.
Being an avid fan of the Original Dark Shadows (circa 1966-1971), I’ve been looking forward with eager anticipation to viewing the long overdue Trailer for the upcoming Tim Burton/Johnny Depp remake, due out in mid-May of this year. The first look of this preview was to be broadcast on a popular afternoon talk show, but was preempted in my area due to a Pro-Basketball game. Well, after finally being able to watch this Trailer (One can now see why it took so long to release it), I have to say I’m glad that the earlier showing was preempted, because it’s pure Trailer-Trash.
The original was so avant-garde in its heyday. Who ever thought of producing a Soap Opera about a reluctant vampire in the middle of the afternoon—yet, it worked and was loved and admired by many. Over the years, the creator and producer of the original—Dan Curtis—was very cautious in creating a new movie version of his beloved concept. His remake of the show back in a prime-time TV spot in 1991 failed miserably; I wasn’t too impressed with the remake at that time—too much emphasis on sensual-imagery and lackluster on character development—something that the original had with such charm. Well, this new “spoof” by Burton, Depp and company make the 1991 run look like a blockbuster classic (ol’ Dan Curtis must be rolling-around in his grave, he died in 2006)—so riddled with intentional spoofs and overkill (as can be gleamed from just over 2-minutes of the trailer) with today’s contemporary extreme sensual/sexual gratification. If you look at the like/dislike column of this trailer on YouTube—you will find the dissatisfaction from the die-hard original fans, but their numbers are pale in comparison with today’s lumped-brained sensually obsessed viewers who just cannot wait to slam their money down to watch Johnny Depp frolicking and screwing-around with a witch on the ceiling and also having a chance to snatch some views of Chloe Moretz’s budding-breasts. Then again, this was apparently Tim Burton’s concept all along…take an aged classic and give it some rambunctious balls solely for the $$$$$. Thanks a lot, Tim, and Johnny, too, for making this splendid retro-remake—but, how could you ruin something that both of you once “purportedly” admired so long ago? I’m not against remakes, or films having a Retro-perspective; in fact, there was a recent Retro-retake on “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” and it was done magnificently and even outshines the original.
Well, looking at all this from the perspective of the Vimalakriti Sutra, I shouldn’t be at all surprised—I can imagine that the sutra caused quite a stir in its own time. Nothing in a Topsy-turvy universe is held sacred…the least being Dark Shadows.
Then, the crown prince Manjusri said to the Licchavi Vimalakirti, “Noble sir, how does the bodhisattva follow the way to attain the qualities of the Buddha?” Vimalakirti replied, “Manjusri, when the bodhisattva follows the wrong way, he follows the way to attain the qualities of the Buddha.”
Manjusri continued, “How does the bodhisattva follow the wrong way?”
Vimalakirti replied, “Even should he enact the five deadly sins, he feels no malice, violence, or hate. Even should he go into the hells, he remains free of all taint of passions. Even should he go into the states of the animals, he remains free of darkness and ignorance. When he goes into the states of the asuras, he remains free of pride, conceit, and arrogance. When he goes into the realm of the lord of death, he accumulates the stores of merit and wisdom. When he goes into the states of motionlessness and immateriality, he does not dissolve therein. “He may follow the ways of desire, yet he stays free of attachment to the enjoyments of desire. He may follow the ways of hatred, yet he feels no anger to any living being. He may follow the ways of folly, yet he is ever conscious with the wisdom of firm understanding.
“He may follow the ways of avarice, yet he gives away all internal and external things without regard even for his own life. He may follow the ways of immorality, yet, seeing the horror of even the slightest transgressions, he lives by the ascetic practices and austerities. He may follow the ways of wickedness and anger, yet he remains utterly free of malice and lives by love. He may follow the ways of laziness, yet his efforts are uninterrupted as he strives in the cultivation of roots of virtue. He may follow the ways of sensuous distraction, yet, naturally concentrated, his contemplation is not dissipated. He may follow the ways of false wisdom, yet, having reached the transcendence of wisdom, he is expert in all mundane and transcendental sciences.
“He may show the ways of sophistry and contention, yet he is always conscious of ultimate meanings and has perfected the use of liberative techniques. He may show the ways of pride, yet he serves as a bridge and a ladder for all people. He may show the ways of the passions, yet he is utterly dispassionate and naturally pure. He may follow the ways of the Maras, yet he does not really accept their authority in regard to his knowledge of the qualities of the Buddha. He may follow the ways of the disciples, yet he lets living beings hear the teaching they have not heard before. He may follow the ways of the solitary sages, yet he is inspired with great compassion in order to develop all living beings.
“He may follow the ways of the poor, yet he holds in his hand a jewel of inexhaustible wealth. He may follow the ways of cripples, yet he is beautiful and well adorned with the auspicious signs and marks. He may follow the ways of those of lowly birth, yet, through his accumulation of the stores of merit and wisdom, he is born in the family of the Tathagatas. He may follow the ways of the weak, the ugly, and the wretched, yet he is beautiful to look upon, and his body is like that of Narayana. “He may manifest to living beings the ways of the sick and the unhappy, yet he has entirely conquered and transcended the fear of death.
“He may follow the ways of the rich, yet he is without acquisitiveness and often reflects upon the notion of impermanence. He may show himself engaged in dancing with harem girls, yet he cleaves to solitude, having crossed the swamp of desire. “He follows the ways of the dumb and the incoherent, yet, having acquired the power of incantations, he is adorned with a varied eloquence. “He follows the ways of the heterodox without ever becoming heterodox. He follows the ways of all the world, yet he reverses all states of existence. He follows the way of liberation without ever abandoning the progress of the world. “Manjusri, thus does the bodhisattva follow the wrong ways, thereby following the way to the qualities of the Buddha.” Then, the Licchavi Vimalakirti said to the crown prince Manjusri, “Manjusri, what is the ‘family of the Tathagatas’?”
Manjusri replied, “Noble sir, the family of the Tathagatas consists of all basic egoism; of ignorance and the thirst for existence; of lust, hate, and folly; of the four misapprehensions, of the five obscurations, of the six media of sense, of the seven abodes of consciousness, of the eight false paths, of the nine causes of irritation, of the paths of ten sins. Such is the family of the Tathagatas. In short, noble sir, the sixty-two kinds of convictions constitute the family of the Tathagatas!” Vimalakirti: Manjusri, with what in mind do you say so?
Manjusri: Noble sir, one who stays in the fixed determination of the vision of the uncreated is not capable of conceiving the spirit of unexcelled perfect enlightenment. However, one who lives among created things, in the mines of passions, without seeing any truth, is indeed capable of conceiving the spirit of unexcelled perfect enlightenment. Noble sir, flowers like the blue lotus, the red lotus, the white lotus, the water lily, and the moon lily do not grow on the dry ground in the wilderness, but do grow in the swamps and mud banks. Just so, the Buddha-qualities do not grow in living beings certainly destined for the uncreated but do grow in those living beings who are like swamps and mud banks of passions. Likewise, as seeds do not grow in the sky but do
grow in the earth, so the Buddha-qualities do not grow in those determined for the absolute but do grow in those who conceive the spirit of enlightenment, after having produced a Sumeru-like mountain of egoistic views.
Noble sir, through these considerations one can understand that all passions constitute the family of the Tathagatas. For example, noble sir, without going out into the great ocean, it is impossible to find precious, priceless pearls. Likewise, without going into the ocean of passions, it is impossible to obtain the mind of omniscience.
Then, the elder Mahakasyapa applauded the crown prince Manjusri: “Good! Good Manjusri! This is indeed well spoken! This is right! The passions do indeed constitute the family of the Tathagatas. How can such as we, the disciples, conceive the spirit of enlightenment, or become fully enlightened in regard to the qualities of the Buddha? Only those guilty of the five deadly sins can conceive the spirit of enlightenment and can attain Buddhahood, which is the full accomplishment of the qualities of the Buddha!
“Just as, for example, the five desire objects have no impression or effect on those bereft of faculties, even so all the qualities of the Buddha have no impression or effect on the disciples, who have abandoned all adherences. Thus, the disciples can never appreciate those qualities.
“Therefore, Manjusri, the ordinary individual is grateful to the Tathagata, but the disciples are not grateful. Why? The ordinary individuals, upon learning of the virtues of the Buddha, conceive the spirit of unexcelled perfect enlightenment, in order to insure the uninterrupted continuity of the heritage of the Three Jewels; but the disciples, although they may hear of the qualities, powers, and fearlessnesses of the Buddha until the end of their days, are not capable of conceiving the spirit of unexcelled perfect enlightenment.”
Upon first encountering this chapter-head, one may assume that any notion of a Tathagata-family would constitute something profound and ethereal—hanging way above the fray of defiled aggregated existence. Yet the Vimalakriti Sutra turns that whole notion upside-down. Like Nietzsche, we find here some kind of “revaluation of all values”, even transcendent ones. Yet the Nietzschean comparison ends there…because the sutra embraces both Apollonian and Dionysian attributes and ultimately transcends and transfigures them both. The Bodhisattva is like a bridge in the midst of troubled-waters and all that is debase, yet his Unborn Face shines through. His abiding and faithful presence in the rabid jungle of the composed is not some sublime otherness, but very much a here-ness. The Bodhisattva’s work does not emanate from some airy-fairy dimension—not on Cloud-9 but willing to traverse through the murkiest-mire. Clothed with the full import of the human condition, the Bodhisattva screws, urinates, defecates, masturbates—fully human yet beyond humanness. The Bodhisattva, like Jesus the Christ, is willing to descend into the deepest hell for the sake of sentient beings, but unlike the Traditional view of what the essence of Christhood consists of—human, yet transcendentally incapable of sinning—plastic Jesus—the Bodhisattva is both sinner and saint, yet neither. In that familiar phrase concerning angels, you just might be entertaining a Bodhisattva unawares. A Bodhisattva may argue with you in anger, but never condemn you. A Bodhisattva may frequent a House of Prostitution but does not emerge spreading the seeds of disease. A Bodhisattva’s mission is to implant Bodhi-seeds (gotra–familial-seed of Tathagatahood) within the very darkness of samsara. You cannot plant seeds in the sky, no they need the moisture of the soil, irregardless of the soils soiled elements. The Lotus flower does not take-root in some ethereal-ether, but from the Stygian depths of the swamp. In like manner, the blooming power of Bodhi rises from the very depths of even the darkest-debris of human frailty. Yes, it is in this fashion that the Bodhisattva augments the noble-line of the Tathāgatas. The following Zen anecdote helps to shed light on this lesson:
“In ancient times there was a certain bodhisattva. Though he had not yet attained enlightenment he had developed a compassionate mind. He spent his time building bridges across the Yangtze and Yellow rivers and building roads for ordinary people to come and go. To carry of this work he carried earth and mud on his back until he realized that his nature—that is to say, his very own Buddha-nature—was the earth and he became emancipated. For this reason the World Honored One named him the Bodhisattva of the Storehouse of Earth. The vast mind of compassion of this bodhisattva was used as a metaphor to show that the true nature of the dharma body of ordinary people is everywhere and to teach of the many creations that come from it. How can the virtuous work of any bodhisattva be compared to the magnificent perfection of this wonderful dharma of mind? Ordinary people, being dull-witted, delude themselves and mistake these metaphors for facts. When you truly understand your mind, you will realize for the first time that the sermons of all the Buddhas are nothing more than metaphors to point to the minds of ordinary people.” (Mud and Water: Talks by the Zen MasterBassui, pg. 26)
The rest of the chapter highlights the immanent and transcendent attributes of a Bodhisattva, like the following marvelous gatha:
“They journey through all Buddha-fields
In order to bring benefit to living beings,
Yet they see those fields as just like empty space,
Free of any conceptual notions of “living beings”.
Sariputra: Goddess, what prevents you from transforming yourself out of your female state?
Goddess: Although I have sought my “female state” for these twelve years, I have not yet found it. Reverend Sariputra, if a magician were to incarnate a woman by magic, would you ask her, “What prevents you from transforming yourself out of your female state?”
Sariputra: No! Such a woman would not really exist, so what would there be to transform?
Goddess: Just so, reverend Sariputra, all things do not really exist. Now, would you think, “What prevents one whose nature is that of a magical incarnation from transforming herself out of her female state?”
Thereupon, the goddess employed her magical power to cause the elder Sariputra to appear in her form and to cause herself to appear in his form. Then the goddess, transformed into Sariputra, said to Sariputra, transformed into a goddess, “Reverend Sariputra, what prevents you from transforming yourself out of your female state?” And Sariputra, transformed into the goddess, replied, “I no longer appear in the form of a male! My body has changed into the body of a woman! I do not know what to transform!”
The goddess continued, “If the elder could again change out of the female state, then all women could also change out of their female states. All women appear in the form of women in just the same way as the elder appears in the form of a woman. While they are not women in reality, they appear in the form of women. With this in mind, the Buddha said, ‘In all things, there is neither male nor female.’” Then, the goddess released her magical power and each returned to his ordinary form. She then said to him, “Reverend Sariputra, what have you done with your female form?”
Sariputra: I neither made it nor did I change it.
Goddess: Just so, all things are neither made nor changed, and that they are not made and not changed, that is the teaching of the Buddha.
Sariputra: Goddess, where will you be born when you transmigrate after death?
Goddess: I will be born where all the magical incarnations of the Tathagata are born.
Sariputra: But the emanated incarnations of the Tathagata do not transmigrate nor are they born.
Goddess: All things and living beings are just the same; they do not transmigrate nor are they born!
Sariputra: Goddess, how soon will you attain the perfect enlightenment of Buddhahood?
Goddess: At such time as you, elder, become endowed once more with the qualities of an ordinary individual, then will I attain the perfect enlightenment of Buddhahood.
Sariputra: Goddess, it is impossible that I should become endowed once more with the qualities of an ordinary individual.
Goddess: Just so, reverend Sariputra, it is impossible that I should attain the perfect enlightenment of Buddhahood! Why? Because perfect enlightenment stands upon the impossible. Because it is impossible, no one attains the perfect enlightenment of Buddhahood.
Sariputra: But the Tathagata has declared: “The Tathagatas, who are as numerous as the sands of the Ganges, have attained perfect Buddhahood, are attaining perfect Buddhahood, and will go on attaining perfect Buddhahood.”
Goddess: Reverend Sariputra, the expression, “the Buddhas of the past, present and future,” is a conventional expression made up of a certain number of syllables. The Buddhas are neither past, nor present, nor future. Their enlightenment transcends the three times! But tell me, elder, have you attained sainthood?
Sariputra: It is attained, because there is no attainment.
Goddess: Just so, there is perfect enlightenment because there is no attainment of perfect enlightenment.
Then the Licchavi Vimalakirti said to the venerable elder Sariputra, “Reverend Sariputra, this goddess has already served ninety-two million billion Buddhas. She plays with the superknowledges. She has truly succeeded in all her vows. She has gained the tolerance of the birthlessness of things. She has actually attained irreversibility. She can live wherever she wishes on the strength of her vow to develop living beings.”
Apparently distraught over this devī’s remarkable grasp of the Buddhadharma,Śāriputra resorts to what we would consider a chauvinistic, last-stand ploy: “So, what prevents you from shunning your female form?” In his Patristic mindset (one still held in many patristic quarters), he just could not conceive how the Buddhadharma could possibly be conveyed under the guise of a woman. She responds magnificently, “Hmmm, don’t know—haven’t lately been able to find my feminine-form.” What is this thing called woman? Once again, she shows her superior Buddha-gnosis. Then she really spins the ultimate insult…if he’s so-stuck on form, how-bout this? Śāriputra suddenly finds himself transformed into the devī and vice-versa. When asked to transform out of his/her lowly form, he/she freaks-out—“I really don’t know what do without my maleness.” The devī then really rubs-it-in, “If you could change form…anybody could.” This may lead one to speculate, was this sutra written by a woman? Then again, this truly reveals how the Bodhi-Spirit is neither male nor female (reminiscent of Jesus’ admonition, In Christ there is no east or west…male or female). At the very least, it was composed by a Spirit with a voracious appetite for humor. As the chapter concludes, we find that Śāriputra is still hung-up on this “attainment-thing”; the devī puts the final quell on his ineptitude, “It is the same with the power of Bodhi-it is attainable because there is nothing to attain.” Interesting how Vimalakriti speaks-up at the end of this whole encounter between Śāriputra and the devī—he gets him aside and more or less says, “Look, friend, you really don’t know who you were dealing with, do you? This devī has been in the service of an infinitesimal number of Buddhas—she knows the ropes; in fact, she’s been playing with you—she’s come face to face with deathlessness and is perfumed with IT’s markless mark. She can now do as she pleases—her own Bodhi-gnosis is complete and unexcelled.”