4. The Reluctance of the Bodhisattvas, cont’d
The Buddha then said to the bodhisattva Jagatimdhara, “Jagatimdhara, go to the Licchavi Vimalakirti to inquire about his illness.” Jagatimdhara replied, “My Lord, I am indeed reluctant to go to that good man to inquire about his illness. Why? Lord, I remember that one day, when I was at home, the wicked Mara, disguised as Indra and surrounded with twelve thousand heavenly maidens, approached me with the sounds of music and singing. Having saluted me by touching my feet with his head, he withdrew with his retinue to one side. I then, thinking he was Sakra, the king of the gods, said to him, ‘Welcome, O Kausika! You should remain consciously aware in the midst of the pleasures of desire. You should often think on impermanence and strive to utilize the essential in body, life, and wealth.’ “Mara then said to me, ‘Good sir, accept from me these twelve thousand divine maidens and make them your servants.’ “I replied, ‘O Kausika, do not offer me, who am religious and a son of the Sakya, things which are not appropriate. It is not proper for me to have these maidens.’ “No sooner had I said these words than the Licchavi Vimalakirti came there and said to me, ‘Noble son, do not think that this is Indra! This is not Indra but the evil Mara,who has come to ridicule you.’ “Then the Licchavi Vimalakirti said to Mara, ‘Evil Mara, since these heavenly maidens are not suitable for this religious devotee, a son of the Sakya, give them to me.’ “Then Mara was terrified and distressed, thinking that the Licchavi Vimalakirti had come to expose him. He tried to make himself invisible, but, try as he might with all his magical powers, he could not vanish from sight. Then a voice resounded in the sky, saying, ‘Evil One, give these heavenly maidens to the good man Vimalakirti, and only then will you be able to return to your own abode.’ “Then Mara was even more frightened and, much against his will, gave the heavenly maidens. “The Licchavi Vimalakirti, having received the goddesses, said to them, ‘Now that you have been given to me by Mara, you should all conceive the spirit of unexcelled, perfect enlightenment.’ “He then exhorted them with discourse suitable for their development toward enlightenment, and soon they conceived the spirit of enlightenment. He then said to them, ‘You have just conceived the spirit of enlightenment. From now on, you should devote yourselves to find joy in pleasures of the Dharma, and should take no pleasure in desires.’ “They then asked him, ‘What is “joy in the pleasures of the Dharma”?’ “He declared, ‘It is the joy of unbreakable faith in the Buddha, of wishing to hear the Dharma, of serving the Sangha and honoring the spiritual benefactors without pride. It is the joy of renunciation of the whole world, of not being fixed in objects, of considering the five aggregates to be like murderers, of considering the elements to be like venomous serpents, and of considering the sense-media to be like an empty town. It is the joy of always guarding the spirit of enlightenment, of helping living beings, of sharing through generosity, of not slackening in morality, of control and tolerance in patience, of thorough cultivation of virtue by effort, of total absorption in meditation, and of absence of passions in wisdom. It is the joy of extending enlightenment, of conquering the Maras, of destroying the passions, and of purifying the buddha-field. It is the joy of accumulating all virtues, in order to cultivate the auspicious marks and signs. It is the joy of the liberation of nonintimidation when hearing the profound teaching. It is the joy of exploration of the three doors of liberation, and of the realization of liberation. It is the joy of being an ornament of the seat of enlightenment, and of not attaining liberation at the wrong time. It is the joy of serving those of equal fortune, of not hating or resenting those of superior fortune, of serving the spiritual benefactors, and of avoiding sinful friends. It is the joy of the superior gladness of faith and devotion to the Dharma. It is the joy of acquiring liberative techniques and of the conscious cultivation of the aids to enlightenment. Thus, the bodhisattva admires and finds joy in the delights of the Dharma.’ “Thereupon, Mara said to the goddesses, ‘Now come along and let us return home.’ “They said, ‘You gave us to this householder. Now we should enjoy the delights of the Dharma and should no longer enjoy the pleasures of desires.’ “Then Mara said to the Licchavi Vimalakirti, ‘If it is so that the bodhisattva, the spiritual hero, has no mental attachment, and gives away all his possessions, then, householder, please give me these goddesses.’ “Vimalakirti replied, ‘They are given, Mara. Go home with your retinue. May you fulfill the religious aspirations of all living beings!’ “Then the goddesses, saluting Vimalakirti, said to him, ‘Householder, how should we live in the abode of the Maras?’ “Vimalakirti replied, ‘Sisters, there is a door of the Dharma called “The Inexhaustible Lamp.” Practice it! What is it? Sisters, a single lamp may light hundreds of thousands of lamps without itself being diminished. Likewise, sisters, a single bodhisattva may establish many hundreds of thousands of living beings in enlightenment without his mindfulness being diminished. In fact, not only does it not diminish, it grows stronger. Likewise, the more you teach and demonstrate virtuous qualities to others, the more you grow with respect to these virtuous qualities. This is the door of the Dharma called “The Inexhaustible Lamp.” When you are living in the realm of Mara, inspire innumerable gods and goddesses with the spirit of enlightenment. In such a way, you will repay the kindness of the Tathagata, and you will become the benefactors of all living beings.’ “Then, those goddesses bowed at the feet of the Licchavi Vimalakirti and departed in the company of Mara. Thus, Lord, I saw the supremacy of the magical power, wisdom, and eloquence of the Licchavi Vimalakirti, and therefore I am reluctant to go to that good man to inquire about his illness.”
Jagatimdhara is a monk who is engaged in quietude within his hermit cell when suddenly, Mara appears with his retinue of vixens (symbolic of all the vexations that can afflict a noble spirit) who tries to seduce him into giving up his noble path. Mara, like Satan, appears frequently in sutra literature; he is the supreme, nefarious adversary to Noble Wisdom. His appearance here is reminiscent of his visit to Shakyamuni Buddha when he came to disturb his reverie beneath the Bodhi-tree. Evil has many faces and when someone is near the point of acquiring the bodhi-mind will stop at nothing to forestall and forever ruin such an auspicious moment. Vimalakriti soon appears and renders Mara’s actions null and void. He truly has the upper-hand with Mara, his Bodhisattva strength being such that he can completely subdue the evil spirit. Mara tries to escape by using all his dark supernatural ability, but is completely helpless in the sight of Vimalakriti—whose presence shines with resilient Unborn Light, a presence that is always blinding and binding to the family of Maras.
In order to help the beleaguered monk, Vimalarkirti vows to take the soiled vixens unto himself. His miraculous bodhi-power empowers these dark maidens of the evil one to turn-away from their dark-path, and instead of conceiving darkness and filth, they are now impregnated and conceive the seed of bodhi—the auspicious Bodhichild. What happened here is that Vimalakriti went one step beyond Shakyamuni who once overcame them beneath that bodhi-tree—he actually has transformed them into maidens of Unborn Light. Defeated, Mara cannot bear to depart without his retinue accompanying him; he tempts Vimalakriti, who is truly the vanquisher of all attachments, with one last ultimate test. Since he has subdued even the overwhelming erotic advances of these former darkly-marked minions—will he commit to surrendering his greatest spiritual triumph? This passage parallels Jesus’ own encounter with Satan in that desert of 40 days, wherein he triumphs over all the devils advances and promises of absolute power. Vimalakriti has no attachments—even willing to give back to Mara what he has justly and incontrovertibly won.
The devas, however, are now reluctant to return with Mara to his dark dominion, but Vimalakriti assures them that when they do return they now have the (bodhi) power to convert and transform many other inhabitants in his dark realm. He proudly proclaims that they now bear the markless mark of the “Inextinguishable Lamp”—the supreme light of inseparable bodhi. Just one spark of this magnificent bodhipower is enough to enkindle bodhi-minds a billion-fold and more. This is also reminiscent of the Bodhisattva Jesus’ admonition to not hide this auspicious light under a bushel basket, but rather to let it shine forever atop the highest hilltop. One can see why from these passages that many consider Vimalakriti’s miraculous abilities as comparable and paralleled with Jesus the Christ—indeed, both are Bodhi-beings of salvific Unborn Light.