Bodhisattva Samantabhadra

The Universal Worthy-One Bodhisattva Samantabhadra arose from his seat in the sacred assembly, bowed and then prostrated himself at the feet of the Tathagata and then circumambulated about him three times to the right. He then knelt down and with hands clasped in a manner depicting sublime devotion, invoked the Blessed One.

“Most Highly Compassionate One! For the sake of both the assembled Bodhisattvas and all sentient beings entrapped in this degenerate age who practice the Great Vehicle, I humbly implore you to reveal how one ought to engage in practice having heard this most perfect embodiment of Primordial Enlightenment.

Blessed One, if sentient beings come to comprehend the nature of illusion, how will they realize that body and mind are also illusory? Further, how can they even possibly employ this self-same illusion to remedy itself? If the nature of illusion is to be extinguished, then the effect is having no-mind whatsoever. Thus, who is there to commence in the practice? Furthermore, how does one even begin to teach an illusory practice? Yet, if there is originally no need for practice in itself, then sentient beings will remain forever entrapped in their diurnal wail of transmigration. This in turn gives birth to all manner of false-conceptualizations. How then will they ever transcend illusory realms?

Therefore, I implore you for the sake of all sentient beings to expound on the nature of the gradual-practice of expedient measures that will best liberate them from their samsaric illusions.”

After invoking his pleas in three-fold fashion, he then once again prostrated himself on the ground before the feet of the Blessed One.

Presently, the World-Honored One addressed the Bodhisattva Samantabhadra: “Most outstanding, most outstanding indeed! Worthy One, for the sake of the assembly you have masterfully queried about the expedient stages of the Bodhisattva’s gradual-practice of the samadhi that is likened unto illusion in order to empower sentient beings to dismantle their illusory mind. Listen-well, as I shall now reveal it before you.”

Bodhisattva Samantabhadra became filled with reverential silence and listened intently along with the rest of the assembly.

“Virtuous ones, the illusory mind of sentient beings is linked with the Mind of the Tathagata’s Primordial Enlightenment. Just like the psychedelic arousal of flowers within the sky of mind. Eventually the fragrant play of the gandharvas subsides, while the nature of the Unborn Mind remains imperishable. The illusory mind of sentient beings likewise soon dissipates, while the Primordial Mind of the Unborn remains unmovable. In the ultimate schemata, speaking of enlightenment by way of an illusory vehicle is itself an illusion. Saying that enlightenment exists, one is not yet free from their illusory mindset. Similarly, saying that enlightenment does not exist amounts to the same illusory mindset. Hence, the cessation of illusion is known as the Unmovable Unborn.”

“Virtuous ones, all Bodhisattvas and sentient beings in this age of degeneracy should sever their relationship with these illusory realms. Be aware, however, that any attachment to the mindset that engages in this separation also needs to be abandoned as illusory. All characteristics of separation, too, need to be jettisoned. Just realize that there is no-thing to be separated from and you shall be liberated from all illusions. This can be likened to the simile of rubbing two sticks together in order to produce a burning flame. As the wood becomes consumed in the flames its ashes are dispersed and the smoke dissolves in the air. Utilizing the whims of delusion to attempt a remedy for the illusory mind is similar in scope. Even though all illusions are eventually extinguished, Mind Itself will never dissolve away into nothingness.”

“Virtuous ones, expedient measures that douse the flames of illusion are not necessary, since one knows the nature behind these illusory realms and becomes free without much ado. Freed from the bondage of illusion already sanctions one in the Mind of Enlightenment, thus there is no need for gradual stages!  Likewise if sentient beings within this dharma-ending age practice accordingly, they will forever be freed from all illusions.”    

In order to reinforce this Mind-teaching, the World-Honored One spoke thus in verse:

Samantabhadra, you should discern
that minds born of beginningless illusion
still rest in the unobstructed field of the
Tathagata’s Primordial Enlightenment.
Like illusory flowers in the sky of mind
their appearance is mind-woven.
When the illusory flowers fade-away
the emptiness of the sky remains.
The sky of mind depends on the Mind of Enlightenment;
when the clouded mind dissipates, the Clear Mind remains,
for the Primordial Enlightened Mind is motionless.
In this degenerate age all sentient beings and Bodhisattvas
need to purge their clouded minds and rest on no-thing whatsoever.
It is like the production of fire utilizing wood,
as the wood is consumed the fire itself disappears in clouds of smoke.
There are no gradual steps here, nor the need for any expedient measures.

The Dharma-series, Entry into the Dharmadhātu, provides a wide-overview of the Bodhisattva Samantabhadra. From that series one can remember that it is non-other than Mañjuśrī himself who points Sudhana towards his True Spiritual Home within the Majestic-Body of Bodhisattva Samantabhadra.

It is through Samantabhadra—known as the Bodhisattva of Universal Good and thus representing the culmination of Sudhana’s enlightening journey. Symbolically Sudhana becomes one with Samantabhadra, who leads all the other Bodhisattvas at the beginning of the Gandavyūha-sūtra. Thus, that “home-motif” comes full-circle, revealing the “Cosmic” symbolization and symbiotic-unification of the “Bodhisattva” Samantabhadra with the “Primordial” Adi-Buddha Samantabhadra—or the Buddha Absolute. Thus all that was manifested in the sutra was non-other than an emanation of this Elemental Buddha.

In our previous blog, Mañjuśrī cuts to the quick (symbolic of sudden-enlightenment) and directly asks for the Bodhi-mind that will also bring a sudden release from all samsaric woes. His “sword” symbolizes that through one quick-slice—avidya is defeated. Not so with Samantabhadra. His journey to bring others to enlightenment is a gradual one, just like in the Gandavyūha-sūtra. This Bodhisattva’s symbol is “riding on an elephant”…a majestic yet “slow-moving” creature. Thus, in this section of the sutra Samantabhadra requests a gradual path of awakening. Yet, at this junction the Blessed One advises otherwise—enlightenment still needs to be sudden, although Samantabhadra does provide “the proper mental disposition with which one should engage in practice”. Steady. Determined. Poised, like that seated Elephant. Illusions can be crafty. So it takes a skilled and determined technician to eradicate them. The Buddha is that technician, and he says to eradicate the illusory mind at its root. After all of its elements are reduced, what one has left is the “unchanging and unmoving” Mind of the Unborn. Samantabhadra asks for the method behind all this—“give us the tools, and we shall finish the job!” The response—“no movement, no problem!”

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