Unimpeded Recollection

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Surendrabha

Sudhana’s meeting with Surendrabha is the final encounter with the goddesses. Hence, Sudhana sojourned to Trayastrimsa Heaven to visit her in the abode of the gods. Surendrabha, whose name broken-down is “divine-maiden” (deva-kanyā), informs him that she has attained an enlightening liberation called pure manifestation of unimpeded recollection.

Thus, constantly engrossed in this liberation, I recollect, remember, keep in mind, reflect on, and recall the supernal manifestations of all those buddhas from their stages of enlightening to the end of the duration of their true teachings, by means of this enlightening liberation of pure manifestation of unimpeded recollection.

In a similar light Surendrabha entrusts Sudhana with this unimpeded and undivided recollection which will perpetually keep him in union with all Buddhas and all the Spiritual Benefactors he has encountered on his journey. Mirenda Shaw nicely brings to summation Sudhana’s meeting with the goddesses:

Sudhana’s meetings with the goddesses may be said to represent the apogee of his journey. The literary structure of the Gandavyuha highlights these encounters in several ways. Compositionally, they receive emphasis by virtue of their occurrence as a series, the only example of a lengthy sequence of the same type of figure. In terms of numerical representation, the goddesses constitute a high percentage of his teachers, that is, more than one-fifth of his guides. Proportionately, the goddesses constitute a major focus of the scripture and vehicle of its message. Nearly 40 percent of the text is devoted to their description and teachings. Moreover, they are attributed with some of the pivotal revelations, such as the prediction of Sudhana’s enlightenment and the discourse on the birth of a Buddha. The denouement is arguably the encounter with Māyādevī, for she revealed within her universal womb a vision of reality in which all things harmoniously coexist and interpenetrate one another, the key doctrine of Huayen metaphysics. 

Scripture, Sudhana’s religious world was vibrantly alive with goddesses. These female divinities inhabit the earth and pervade the sky, sacralizing the physical setting ofhis journey with their spiritual presence. They are said to convey their compassion through trees, fruit, flowers, ponds, caves, rivers, medicinal herbs, moonlight, stars, and clouds. They voice their wisdom through the sounds of water, fire, wind, ocean wave, and birdsong? Among them we find genres of goddesses that appear to have been widely revered in the Indic setting: earth goddesses, night goddesses, house goddesses, and city goddesses. When Sudhana gazed into the night sky, arrived at a crossroads, entered a city or dwelling, or visited the sites of the birth, upbringing, and enlightenment of Shakyamuni Buddha, the pilgrim received spiritual sustenance and guidance from the female deities inhabiting those locales.

Every preceptor he encountered is implicitly a bodhisattva, and thus the goddesses too are cast in this role, as beings aspiring to complete awakening for themselves and others, motivated by compassion, replete with insight about the path to enlightenment. They revealed their beauty and imparted their knowledge to Sudhana, inspiring his devotional rapture and poetic eulogies, deepening his wisdom. (Buddhist Goddesses of India, pg 164)

After his mystic encounters with all the goddesses, Sudhana henceforth has seven brief encounters with teachers who are lay-folk, each described in just a few lines of text, accompanied also with a very short interview with two children.

 

Vishwamitra

Vishwamitra does not say anything directly to Sudhana but sends him on to his next meeting. This is symbolic that teachers do not journey alone, but are connected with other associates in the Spiritual-Arts.

Shilpabhijna

Shilpabhijna informs Sudhana that he has attained a liberation of a higher-knowledge of the arts. In particular, he constantly recites forty-two phonemes and has thus entered countless facets of Divine Gnosis. For example:

In uttering the phonemes, as I pronounce A, by the associative power of an enlightening being I enter a door of transcendent wisdom called sphere of totality; pronouncing Ra, I enter a door of transcendent wisdom called differentiation of infinite levels; pronouncing Pa, I enter a door of transcendent wisdom called differentiation of levels of the cosmos of realities; pronouncing Cha, I enter a door of transcendent wisdom called analysis of the universal sphere…

 

Bhadrottama

The laywoman Bhadrottama teaches Sudhana that Reality has no place of phenomenal abode, hence she teaches “a doctrine called ‘baseless sphere’ and I have attained a concentration of mystic empowerment.”

In that concentration there is no foundation of any phenomenon whatsoever. Therein is produced the mystical empowerment of the eye of omniscience, the mystical empowerment of the ear of omniscience, the mystical empowerment of the nose of omniscience, the mystical empowerment of the tongue of omniscience, the mystical empowerment of the body of omniscience, the mystical empowerment of the mind of omniscience, the mystical power of the waves of omniscience, the mystical power of the lightning of omniscience, the mystical power of the flood of omniscience, spheres illumining the world.

 

Muktasara

The goldsmith Muktasara proclaims that he knows “an enlightening liberation called supernal manifestation of unobstructed mindfulness, and I ceaselessly seek the Teaching at the feet of all Buddha’s in the ten directions.” Thus Sudhana learns that this is the way to “pure liberation” without being distracted by any phenomenal thoughts.

Suchandra

The householder Suchandra informs Sudhana that he has “attained an enlightening liberation called light of undefiled knowledge.” Sudhana learns that this can be attained while still working in the world.

Ajitasena

The householder Ajitasena represents “victory over the demons of birth and death.”  Ajitasena’s “enlightening liberation called inexhaustible appearance, with the attainment of which I obtained an inexhaustible treasury of vision of buddhas” assures the gnosis of discovering “infinite forms in formlessness.”

Shivaragra

Shivaragra is a Brahmin and empowers Sudhana to realize “the way of speaking in such a way that truth is always revealed.”

“I act on a vow of truth, that as by truth, by speaking truth, there has never been, is not now, and never will he, a single enlightening being who has turned away from supreme perfect enlightenment, who is turning away, or who will turn away, by that vow of truthful speech this work of mine may succeed. So whatever I wish comes to fruition. By this vow of truth, I accomplish all my tasks. It is this vow of truth that I know.”

Thus, truth is revealed through the very “essence” (not the form) of speech; hence there is, in this sense, no “empty-talk.”

Shrisambhava and Shrimati

The boy Shrisambhava and the girl Shrimati have “attained and experienced an enlightening liberation called illusory”:

Having realized this liberation, we see all worlds as illusory, being produced by the illusion of causes and conditions. We know all beings are illusory, by knowledge of the illusion of afflictions in action. We see all worldlings as illusory, born of the illusion of ignorant craving for existence. We see all phenomena as illusory, arisen from the illusion of mutual conditioning. We see the whole triple world as illusory, produced by the illusion of misunderstanding. We see all sentient beings, afflicted by birth, old age, death, grief, lament, suffering, and sorrow, as illusory, born of the illusion of untrue ideas. We see all lands as born of illusion, produced by the delusion of ideas of substance of existence in the illusions wrongly seen by the conceiving mind. We sec all hearers and individual illuminates as illusory, born of illusory thoughts of knowledge and effort. We know the succession of all enlightening beings’ practices, vows, and developmental guidance of sentient beings as illusory, being essentially illusions of action and teaching created from illusion. We see the circle of all buddhas and enlightening beings as illusory, being essentially illusions of the inconceivable realm, produced by the illusions of vows and knowledge.

Li Tongxuan extrapolates:

In the illusory state, there is neither real nor false; mind and objects merge, essence and appearance do not interfere: the body and the environment interpenetrate, their radiance and reflections multiply ad infinitum. The being pervades the sacred and the profane, the essence complete through all time, they abide in the world permanently yet without resting on anything. Therefore they said the essence of illusory states is inconceivable.  (ibid, pg. 77)

The children also leave Sudhana with a final reflection on the nature of Spiritual Benefactors:

“Think of yourself as sick, and think of spiritual benefactors as physicians;
think of their instructions as medicines, and think of the practices as getting
rid of disease. Think of yourself as a traveler, and think of spiritual benefactors as guides; think of their instructions as the road, and think of the
practices as going to the land of your destination. Think of yourself as crossing over to the other shore, and think of spiritual benefactors as boatmen; think of their instructions as a ford, and think of the practices as a boat.
Think of yourself as a farmer, and think of spiritual benefactors as water spirits; think of their instructions as rain, and think of the practices as the
ripening of the crops. Think of yourself as a pauper, and think of spiritual
benefactors as the givers of wealth; think of their instructions as wealth, and
think of the practices as getting rid of poverty. Think of yourself as an
apprentice, and think of spiritual benefactors as mentors; think of their
instructions as arts, and think of the practices as accomplishments. Think of
yourself as fearless, and think of spiritual benefactors as heroic warriors;
think of their instructions as attack, and think of the practices as vanquishing
enemies. Think of yourself as a merchant, and think of spiritual
benefactors as ship captains; think of their instructions as treasure, and think
of the practices as obtaining treasures. Think of yourself as a good son, and
think of spiritual benefactors as parents; think of their instructions as the
family business, and think of the practices as the perpetuation of the family
business. Think of yourself as a prince, and think of spiritual benefactors as
the chief ministers of a spiritual king; think of their instructions as the precepts of kingship, and think of the practices as putting on the turban of truth adorned with the crest of knowledge and overseeing the capital of the spiritual sovereign. 
“You should approach spiritual benefactors with these thoughts in mind.
Why? With their attitude toward spiritual benefactors purified in this way,
practicing the instructions of spiritual benefactors, enlightening beings
grow in goodness, like plants, bushes, and trees growing up the mountains;
they become vessels of all buddha-teachings, as the oceans are of water; they
become repositories of all virtues, as the seas are of pearls; they purify the
determination for enlightenment, as fire does gold; they rise above the
world, like the polar mountain over the sea; they become unstained by
things of the world, like a lotus in water; they reject all bad actions, as the
ocean throws up a corpse; they increase in good qualities, as the moon grows
brighter as it waxes; they illumine the reality realm, as the sun does the
earth; they grow the bodies of vows of enlightening beings, just as children
grow in the care of their parents.

It’s interesting how these meetings with lay-folk end in an encounter with children; indeed, children are usually able to sift through what is real and what is unreal—being the chief creators of illusory realms in their own mind, children are symbolic of this inconceivable enterprise. As we can see from this exchange, spiritually the children become the parents of the young man.

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