Emptiness on a Thursday Afternoon


Mahāratnakūṭa Sūtra
46. Mañjuśrī Teaches Prajñāpāramitā
Translated from Taishō Tripiṭaka volume 11, number 310

Thus have I heard. At one time, the Buddha was in Śrāvastī, at the Jeta Grove, in Anāthapiṇḍada’s park, along with a great saṃgha of bhikṣus, one thousand people in all. There were ten thousand bodhisattva-mahāsattvas who were majestically adorned and all abiding upon the ground of non-regression. Their names were Maitreya Bodhisattva, Mañjuśrī Bodhisattva, Unimpeded Eloquence Bodhisattva, Not Abandoning the Undertaking Bodhisattva, and other such great bodhisattvas.

saṃgha: Sanskrti rendering of the Pali sangha, or devout assembly (body of believers); in this instance an assembly of Buddhist monks, or bhiksus.

A most august assembly of monks and bodhisattva-mahāsattvas gathering in the familiar setting of the Jeta Grove in Śrāvastī; in particular the majestic Maitreya, the future Buddha of this saha-realm, and the beloved Mañjuśrī, whose wisdom is the epicenter of the Prajñāpāramitā.

At dawn, the pure youth Mañjuśrī Bodhisattva-mahāsattva went from his abode to go to the place of the Buddha, and stood outside. At that time, Venerable Śāriputra, Pūrṇamaitrāyaniputra, ahāmaudgalyāyana, Mahākāśyapa, Mahākātyāyana, Mahākauṣṭhila, and other such great śrāvakas, each went to the place of the Buddha from his own abode and stood outside. The Buddha was aware that the multitude had convened and assembled there, and was standing outside. 

At that time, the Tathāgata emerged from the abode, spread his seat, and sat down. He spoke to Śāriputra, saying, “For what reason are you now standing outside?” Śāriputra addressed the Buddha, saying, “Bhagavān, the pure youth Mañjuśrī Bodhisattva came here earlier and stood outside the door, while I only arrived later.”

pure youth Mañjuśrī: he is usually depicted as a sixteen-year old youth. But don’t let his age fool you. This is an assurance that Holy Wisdom is not dependent upon age and experience, but rather as an indicator of a spirit that is in direct-contact with the true nature of Reality, an unsurpassed sage of those Noble Shining One’s who hold the eternal flame of Buddha-gnosis.

Venerable Śāriputra: certainly no stranger on the stage of sutra-literature; he is the voice of the śrāvaka tradition. In the Vimalakirti Sutra he is deeply humbled, in particular by a female deva who momentarily transforms him into a woman. Perhaps his finest appearance is in the Heart Sutra, wherein his dialog with Avalokiteśvara illustrates the profound realization of the Perfection of Noble Wisdom.

Bhagavān: the Blessed One, the Lord and preeminent teacher of the Buddhadharma.

At that time, the Bhagavān asked Mañjuśrī, “You arrived at this abode earlier, wishing to perceive the Tathāgata?” Mañjuśrī then addressed the Buddha, saying, “Thusly, Bhagavān, have I come wishing to perceive the Tathāgata. Why? I delight in correct contemplation for the benefit of sentient beings. I contemplate the Tathāgata’s appearance of suchness and nothing else: neither moving nor acting, without birth and without death, neither existing nor void, neither here nor away, neither in the Three Times nor apart from the Three Times, neither dual nor non-dual, and neither impure nor pure. Such is the correct contemplation of the Tathāgata for the benefit of sentient beings.” The Buddha told Mañjuśrī, “If one is able to perceive the Tathāgata thusly, then the mind has nothing to grasp nor not grasp, and neither accumulates nor does not accumulate.”

I delight in correct contemplation: meaning Right Contemplation, the form we encountered in our Awakening of Faith series; herein one is totally immune to external and internal karmic hindrances. One is exclusively in tune-with the Samadhi of Suchness, which is the only supernal-mode wherein one discerns and contemplates (as Mañjuśrī describes here) the Absolute Suchness of the Tathagata. The Buddha assures him here that being empowered to discern the Tathagata in such a manner one Perceives Thusly—beyond all dualistic categories, like grasping, or non-grasping.

At that time, Śāriputra spoke to Mañjuśrī saying, “If one is able to contemplate the Tathāgata as you have explained, then this is extremely rare. This is because as all sentient beings perceive the Tathāgata, their minds do not grasp an appearance of sentient beings. As sentient beings transform and head toward Nirvāṇa, their minds do not grasp an appearance of heading toward Nirvāṇa. As sentient beings manifest great majestic adornments, their minds do not perceive an appearance of majestic adornments.” At that time, the pure youth Mañjuśrī Bodhisattva-mahāsattva spoke to Śāriputra saying, “Thusly, thusly! It is just as you have said. Although all sentient beings manifest the mind of great majestic adornment, they do not perceive the existence of an appearance of sentient beings. As sentient beings manifest great majestic adornments, still the destiny of sentient beings neither increases nor decreases.

To be able to perceive the Tathagata with the mind detached from the nature of sentient reality is quite extraordinary. Likewise the ability to perceive the Right Nature of Nirvana without being *attached to the idea of nirvana* is also very rare.

manifest great majestic adornments: meaning the virtues, the kind of which, adorns a Bodhisattva. Mañjuśrī indicates that although cloaked in great virtues, the realm and destiny of sentient beings neither increases nor decreases.

“Suppose a buddha dwells in the world for an eon or more, and just as it would be one buddha world realm, there were immeasurable limitless buddhas like sand grains of the Ganges River. Then suppose each buddha for an eon or more expounded the Dharma without rest, day and night, each crossing over innumerable sentient beings to enter Nirvāṇa, like the sand grains of the Ganges River. Still, the realm of sentient beings would neither increase nor decrease. The world realms of the buddhas of the ten directions are also such as this: each buddha expounds the Dharma teaching of transformation, each crossing over innumerable sentient beings to enter Nirvāṇa, like the sand grains of the Ganges River, and yet the realm of sentient beings neither increases nor decreases. Why? A fixed appearance of sentient beings cannot be grasped, and for this reason, the realm of sentient beings neither increases nor decreases.”

Sentient reality does not exist of its own accord; standing alone in the void it is empty of the Mind-Stuff that comprises the Real Nature of Reality—the Dharmadhatu. In this realization the vast numbers of sentient beings that are ferried-over by immeasurable Buddhas into infinite dharma-realms are truly measureless, since all that constitutes that vision is a mere specter of Mind when asleep from Its unique singularity as it begins to ingest apparent phantasms—like being entrapped in a vast holographic- bubble.

Śāriputra again spoke to Mañjuśrī saying, “If the realm of sentient beings neither increases nor decreases, then why does a bodhisattva, for sentient beings, seek Anuttarā Samyaksaṃbodhi and always expound the Dharma?” Mañjuśrī said, “If sentient beings are each empty of characteristics, then there is also no bodhisattva seeking Anuttarā Samyaksaṃbodhi, and likewise no sentient beings to whom he expounds the Dharma. Why? I say that amongst all dharmas, there is not even a single dharma which may be grasped.” At that time, the Buddha said to Mañjuśrī, “If there are no sentient beings, then why do you speak of sentient beings, and even of a realm of sentient beings?” Mañjuśrī said, “The appearance of the realm of sentient beings is like the realm of buddhas.” He was again asked, “Does the realm of sentient beings have a limit?” He replied saying, “The limit of the realm of sentient beings is like the limit of the realm of buddhas.” The Buddha again asked, “Does the limit of the realm of sentient beings exist in any place?” He replied, saying, “The limit of the realm of sentient beings is inconceivable.” He was again asked, “Do you abide in the appearance of the realm of sentient beings?” He replied saying, “Sentient beings do not abide, so it is similar to the abiding of empty space.”

By now the student of this sutra begins to realize that the Dharma being articulated by Mañjuśrī is reflective of the Principle of Emptiness. While sentient reality is empty of substance in the Absolute sense, they are manifested in the relative sense; yet the underlying Nature of both is emptiness (Śūnyatā). There is no abiding anywhere and nowhere. Thus abiding in no-dharma is in truth the inconceivable perfection of Mañjuśrī’s Wisdom-Store. No-thing to be grasped at and no-thing to attain yet still abiding in the greatness of Bhūtathatā—Absolute Suchness.

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