Spiritual Charity

4. The Reluctance of the Bodhisattvas, cont’d

The Buddha then said to the merchant’s son, Sudatta, “Noble son, go to the Licchavi Vimalakirti to inquire about his illness.” Sudatta replied, “Lord, I am indeed reluctant to go to that good man to inquire about his illness. Why? Lord, I remember one day in my father’s house when, in order to celebrate a great sacrifice, I was bestowing gifts upon religious devotees, Brahmans, the poor, the wretched, the unfortunate, beggars, and all the needy. On the seventh and final day of this great sacrifice, the Licchavi Vimalakirti came there and said, ‘Merchant’s son, you should not celebrate a sacrifice in this way. You should celebrate a Dharma-sacrifice. What is the use of the sacrifice of material things?’ “I then asked him, ‘How does one give a Dharma-sacrifice?’ “He replied, ‘A Dharma-sacrifice is that which develops living beings without beginning or end, giving gifts to them all simultaneously. What is that? It consists of the great love which is consummated in enlightenment; of the great compassion which is consummated in the concentration of the holy Dharma on the liberation of all living beings; of the great joy which is consummated in the awareness of the supreme happiness of all living beings; and of the great equanimity which is consummated in concentration through knowledge. “‘The Dharma-sacrifice consists of the transcendence of generosity, which is consummated in peacefulness and self-discipline; of the transcendence of morality, which is consummated in the moral development of immoral beings; of the transcendence of tolerance, consummated through the principle of selflessness; of the transcendence of effort, consummated in initiative toward enlightenment; of the transcendence of meditation, consummated in the solitude of body and mind; and of the transcendence of wisdom, consummated in the omniscient gnosis. “‘The Dharma-sacrifice consists of the meditation of voidness, consummated in effectiveness in the development of all living beings; of the meditation of signlessness, consummated in the purification of all compounded things; and of the meditation of wishlessness, consummated in voluntarily assuming rebirths. “‘The Dharma-sacrifice consists of heroic strength, consummated in the upholding of the holy Dharma; of the power of life, consummated in the means of unification; of the absence of pride, consummated in becoming the slave and the disciple of all living beings; of the gain of body, health, and wealth, consummated by the extraction of essence from the essenceless; of mindfulness, consummated by the six remembrances; of positive thought, consummated through the truly enjoyable Dharma; of purity of livelihood, consummated by correct spiritual practice; of the respect of saints, consummated by joyful and faithful service; of soberness of mind, consummated by absence of dislike for ordinary people; of high resolve, consummated by renunciation; of skill in erudition, consummated by religious practice; of retirement in solitary retreats, consummated by understanding things free of passions; of introspective meditation, consummated by attainment of the Buddha-gnosis; of the stage of the practice of yoga, consummated by the yoga of liberating all living beings from their passions. “‘The Dharma-sacrifice consists of the store of merit which is consummated by the auspicious signs and marks, the ornaments of the buddha-fields, and all other means of development of living beings; of the store of knowledge which is consummated in the ability to teach the Dharma according to the thoughts and actions of all living beings; of the store of wisdom, which is consummated in the uniform gnosis free of acceptance and rejection in regard to all things; of the store of all roots of virtue, consummated in the abandonment of all passions, obscurations, and unvirtuous things; and of the attainment of all the aids to enlightenment, consummated in the realization of the gnosis of omniscience as well as in accomplishment of all virtue. “‘That, noble son, is the Dharma-sacrifice. The bodhisattva who lives by this Dharma-sacrifice is the best of sacrificers, and, through his extreme sacrifice, is himself worthy of offerings from all people, including the gods.’ “Lord, as soon as the householder had discoursed thus, two hundred Brahmans among the crowd of Brahmans present conceived the spirit of unexcelled, perfect enlightenment. And I, full of astonishment, having saluted this good man by touching his feet with my head, took from around my neck a necklace of pearls worth one hundred thousand pieces of gold and offered it to him. But he would not accept it. I then said to him, ‘Please accept, good man, this necklace of pearls, out of compassion for me, and give it to whomsoever you wish.’ “Then, Vimalakirti took the pearls and divided them into two halves. He gave one half of them to the lowliest poor of the city, who had been disdained by those present at the sacrifice. The other half he offered to the Tathagata Dusprasaha. And he performed a miracle such that all present beheld the universe called Marici and the Tathagata Dusprasaha. On the head of the Tathagata Dusprasaha, the pearl necklace took the form of a pavilion, decorated with strings of pearls, resting on four bases, with four columns, symmetrical, well constructed, and lovely to behold. Having shown such a miracle, Vimalakirti said, ‘The giver who makes gifts to the lowliest poor of the city, considering them as worthy of offering as the Tathagata himself, the giver who gives without any discrimination, impartially, with no expectation of reward, and with great love – this giver, I say, totally fulfills the Dharma-sacrifice.’ “Then the poor of the city, having seen that miracle and having heard that teaching, conceived the spirit of unexcelled, perfect enlightenment. Therefore, Lord, I am reluctant to go to that good man to inquire about his illness.” In the same way, all the bodhisattvas, great spiritual heroes, told the stories of their conversations with Vimalakirti and declared their reluctance to go to him.

The dharma-mark of charity is a markless one. Jure made an insightful comment awhile back (blog, Living in the Material World) It is reproduced here in full:

“There’s also a materialist religion to accompany a materialist society. A religion that is all about feeding the poor, engaged, social action. While this is commendable, it can become like socialism, trying to make “Heaven on Earth”. The poet Hölderlin said that what made Earth Hell was always that people tried to make it Heaven. (How prophetic if we think of how many millions died for communist ideals of changing society into a classless system in which nobody would be poor. It ended it mass poverty and atrocities of all kinds.) The humanization of religion into a “charity” is the triumph of materialism in religion … religion becomes just a vessel for feeding the poor: a materialist aim. A Korean Zen master once said starving masses is an ultimately unimportant, trivial fact. It sounds cruel, but it was an attempt to save religion from humanization, from the materialist temptation of seeing it only as a charity. Dahui said “I would rather suffer torments of Hell that present the Buddha-Dharma as a human feeling.” – When I first read this it struck me, it’s a sentence worth considering, it’s an interesting standard. Isn’t Western Buddhism nowadays mostly just about human feelings?

The essence of charity is in giving up objects, projections (possessions), thoughts. So when we “sit” for dhyana, that is charity, since we donate time, delusions (objects, thoughts), for the projectionless. The highest form of charity. Hui-Neng says we are not saved by giving money as charity. Salvation is only in the mind.

Hence as Tozen and you say, “Dharma-ending age” – when people understand “prayer” as “asking God for objects” instead of “giving up objects for God”, and “charity” as a form of socialism, it is indeed Dharma-ending.”

The context in today’s passage refers to the Vedic practice of offering gifts and sacrifices to the priests, whom in turn relay what is needed for the less fortunate and spiritually-needy. This is not much different from today’s “Materialistic Religions” that equate spiritual nourishment exclusively through altruistic, material means. This is the great “mark” of spiritual-materialism. Thus many assume that their “material sacrifices” will gain them great merit; yet, in terms of authentic spiritual-altruisticity it renders them truly bankrupt. Mara would enjoy nothing more than feeding the mortal carcass while neglecting its true Spiritual-Unborn-Source. Vimalakriti counteracts all this by stating that the true ‘Dharma-sacrifice consists of the store of merit which is consummated by the auspicious signs and marks…” This is referring to the auspicious 32 spiritual marks of the Tathagatas themselves. True spiritual sustenance consists in being sustained by the power of Bodhi…thus feeding the developing bodhi-child—truly the source of authentic spiritual self-emancipation and not, as many assume, the vain attempts of somehow emancipating a rotting skandhic corpse. As saith the spirit of Isaiah, “Why spend your money on food that does not give you strength? Why pay for food that does you no good? Listen to me, and you will eat what is good. You will enjoy the finest (spiritual) food.” In spiritually equating the poorest of the poor with the body of the Tathagatas as Vimalakirti does, a profound spiritual-truth is revealed. As the Lankavatara sutra states:

“In the teachings of all the Tathagatas there is a sameness of meaning. Among all the Buddhas there is a sameness of Buddha-nature. They all have the thirty-two marks of excellence and the eighty minor signs of bodily perfection; there is no distinction among them except as they manifest various transformations according to the different dispositions of beings who are to be disciplined and emancipated by various means. In the Ultimate Essence which is Dharmakaya, all the Buddhas of the past, present and future, are of one SAMENESS.”

In light of Paramārtha-kāya (the Dharma-kāyic Body of Truth), those thirty-two spiritual marks refers to what lies beneath sensory appearances and “images”…thus, the thirty-two marks are “imageless” ones bearing the “sameness” of spirit within the Dharmakaya. How can one possibly materially-sustain THAT which is already self-sustainable? Hence, in this dharma-ending age the dharma-mark of charity is essentially a markless one…as Jure has stated, “the highest form of charity”—no longer vainfully attempting to feed a self-empty mind-projection.

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One Response to Spiritual Charity

  1. Xiao Long says:

    It’s interesting that Bodhidharma is never portrayed as calm and serene. I can’t define the emotion of his facial expression but it’s certainly not “the joyful ease of a sitting Buddha” (Dogen). – Bodhidharma is depicted in many ways, but none show a man in a “joyful ease”.

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