5. The Consolation of the Invalid, cont’d
Manjusri: Householder, why is your house empty? Why have you no servants?
Vimalakirti: Manjusri, all buddha-fields are also empty.
Manjusri: What makes them empty?
Vimalakirti: They are empty because of emptiness.
Manjusri: What is “empty” about emptiness?
Vimalakirti: Constructions are empty, because of emptiness.
Manjusri: Can emptiness be conceptually constructed?
Vimalakirti: Even that concept is itself empty, and emptiness cannot construct emptiness.
Manjusri: Householder, where should emptiness be sought?
Vimalakirti: Manjusri, emptiness should be sought among the sixty-two convictions.
Manjusri: Where should the sixty-two convictions be sought?
Vimalakirti: They should be sought in the liberation of the Tathagatas.
Manjusri: Where should the liberation of the Tathagatas be sought?
Vimalakirti: It should be sought in the prime mental activity of all living beings. Manjusri, you ask me why I am without servants, but all Maras and opponents are my servants. Why? The Maras advocate this life of birth and death and the bodhisattva does not avoid life. The heterodox opponents advocate convictions, and the bodhisattva is not troubled by convictions. Therefore, all Maras and opponents are my servants.
Manjusri: Householder, of what sort is your sickness?
Vimalakirti: It is immaterial and invisible.
Manjusri: Is it physical or mental?
Vimalakirti: It is not physical, since the body is insubstantial in itself. It is not mental,
since the nature of the mind is like illusion.
Manjusri: Householder, which of the four main elements is disturbed – earth, water, fire,
Vimalakirti: Manjusri, I am sick only because the elements of living beings are disturbed by sicknesses.
The chapter continues with a lively tennis-match between Vimalakriti and Mañjuśrī on the nature of voidness, culminating in the realization that emptiness is itself self-empty of emptiness itself and thus can never be sought-after or discriminated. The nature of Vimalakirti’s illness is neither of form nor of formlessness—neither an illness of the body nor the mind. The earth elements in themselves do not constitute the nature of this illness, nor are they separate from them. This is something that Nisargadatta Maharaj used to convey again and again concerning the nature of the “gunas”—these earth elements are threads that make up the material-structure of reality…but they are not the Essential-Self.
Manjusri: Householder, how should a bodhisattva console another bodhisattva who is sick?
Vimalakirti: He should tell him that the body is impermanent, but should not exhort him to renunciation or disgust. He should tell him that the body is miserable, but should not encourage him to find solace in liberation; that the body is selfless, but that living beings should be developed; that the body is peaceful, but not to seek any ultimate calm. He should urge him to confess his evil deeds, but not for the sake of absolution. He should encourage his empathy for all living beings on account of his own sickness, his remembrance of suffering experienced from beginningless time, and his consciousness of working for the welfare of living beings. He should encourage him not to be distressed, but to manifest the roots of virtue, to maintain the primal purity and the lack of craving, and thus to always strive to become the king of healers, who can cure all sicknesses. Thus should a bodhisattva console a sick bodhisattva, in such a way as to make him happy.
Vimalakirti assures Mañjuśrī that the nature of illness has to do with impermanency. The body (rūpakāya) is miserable, but at the same time one should not shun-it. That was the major fault of Jansenism—an obsessive sect of Catholicism that used excessive, masochistic actions to beat the body into submission of spirit. While the corporal-body in itself is not self-existent, one should still be present to sentient beings entrapped in the phantasmagoric prison of samsara; this reality, although not self-existent, as seen in the light of the Lanka is a concrete synthesis of those “gunas”—highly visible and touchable. Although one cannot escape self-suffering (the hall-mark of samsara) one should not take comfort in the false notion of nirvana—of some kind of future eternal reward—this is the fallacy of eternalism. One can be mindful of former past transgressions, though one should not cling to them, thinking that they somehow need to be absolved. Absolvement of the projections within the Alaya is not possible–they just keep reproducing themselves over and over and over–perpetual regenesis. This is clearly consigning oneself to past-karma—always slipping into the past and believing that past-actions are the jailors of mind that always need to be contended with. It’s OK to use one’s one experience of illness to help alleviate the illness and distress of others; this is indicative of the diligent Bodhisattvaic-resolve to put-on-samsara for the sake of sentient beings—and to do so with zeal, to be zealous for the Buddhadharma.
Manjusri asked, “Noble sir, how should a sick bodhisattva control his own mind?”
Vimalakirti replied, “Manjusri, a sick bodhisattva should control his own mind with the following consideration: Sickness arises from total involvement in the process of misunderstanding from beginningless time. It arises from the passions that result from unreal mental constructions, and hence ultimately nothing is perceived which can be said to be sick. Why? The body is the issue of the four main elements, and in these elements there is no owner and no agent. There is no self in this body, and except for arbitrary insistence on self, ultimately no “I” which can be said to be sick can be apprehended. Therefore, thinking “I” should not adhere to any self, and “I” should rest in the knowledge of the root of illness,’ he should abandon the conception of himself as a personality and produce the conception of himself as a thing, thinking, ‘This body is an aggregate of many things; when it is born, only things are born; when it ceases, only things cease; these things have no awareness or feeling of each other; when they are born, they do not think, “I am born.” When they cease, they do not think, “I cease.”‘
“Furthermore, he should understand thoroughly the conception of himself as a thing by cultivating the following consideration: ‘Just as in the case of the conception of “self,” so the conception of “thing” is also a misunderstanding, and this misunderstanding is also a grave sickness; I should free myself from this sickness and should strive to abandon it.’ “What is the elimination of this sickness? It is the elimination of egoism and possessiveness. What is the elimination of egoism and possessiveness? It is the freedom from dualism. What is freedom from dualism? It is the absence of involvement with either the external or the internal. What is absence of involvement with either external or internal? It is nondeviation, nonfluctuation, and nondistraction from equanimity. What is equanimity? It is the equality of everything from self to liberation. Why? Because both self and liberation are void. How can both be void? As verbal designations, they both are void, and neither is established in reality. Therefore, one who sees such equality makes no difference between sickness and voidness; his sickness is itself voidness, and that sickness as voidness is itself void.
How best to make the Bodhi-mind aware of all these facets of illness? Vimalakriti does so in brilliant systematic fashion:
1. The Root of all these illnesses stem from Karmic-ties and associations since the beginningless past. No one particular illness has any intrinsic-nature in itself. Also, all these “past-selves” are not intrinsically real apart from their projections. There are so-many apparent “selves” from the past—so which self is suffering now?
2. What is this apparent existence? It’s those four major earth elements (gunas) coming together. The “I” is not really existent. So, do not be attached to this false “I”, this fraudulent-personality. The purported personhood are really just the composed skandhas. When these 5 skandhas (form, sensation, mind-will, volition, mortal consciousness) become cessated, where is the person? Love Thurman’s take on this that they are not even “aware” when they come into apparent existence—somehow thinking “now I am born”, and when the skandhic cycle has run its course thinking, “Hey, I now cease to exist.” So, it’s a very grave sickness indeed to give any credit to this skandhic-self.
3. It’s all about freeing oneself from dualism itself. It’s all really One—just One Substance (Mind) projecting a kaleidoscopic array of images that produce one phantasmagoric orgasm.
4. The ultimate illness is emptiness itself—the belief of emptiness which is of itself, self-empty. Thus, the Void is devoid of Void.