8. The Family of the Tathagatas
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”.