10.The Feast Brought by the Emanated Incarnation
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 of virtue;
10) and to develop living beings without interruption through the four means of unification.
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 myself.
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 virtues.’
“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.”