Journey back with me to 2017 when a blog-series entitled, Vasubandhu and the Absolute, was introduced. Vasubandhu was drawn to the Mahāyāna largely through the efforts of his half-brother, Asanga, in particular via the following which was posted at that time:
Asanga heard about this attitude of his brother, and decided to attempt to open him up to the Mahāyāna. He sent two of his students with Mahāyāna texts to Vasubandhu. The evening they arrived, they recited the Aksayamati-nirdesa-sūtra. In this sūtra, a figure from outer space teaches the terrestrial denizens about the absence of own-being, the absence of existing and ceasing, and the absence of any detriment or excellence, in all events and “personalities”. This sūtra seems to have greatly appealed to the critical mind of Vasubandhu.
The Akṣayamatinirdeśasūtra is a most fascinating text, really quite intriguing considering the character of that extraterrestrial. We will be exploring it now.
Our primary resource is The Aksayamatinirdesasutra Volume II The Tradition of Imperishability in Buddhist Thought, by Jens Braarvig who provides both the translation and exegesis. The dominant strain in the Sutra concerns the notion of imperishability. Jens Braarvig writes,
This concept of imperishability is also connected with another important Mahayana idea which combines with it to give the Aksayamatinirdesa its form, namely that of the unification of opposites, of insight and action, absolute and relative, universal and individual – and the religious development integrating both, the yuganaddha- vahimargah.
Closely allied with this notion is Aksayapradipa, “The imperishable lamp”, which incidentally, Vimalakirti invites the daughters of gods to study:
Sisters, there is a way into religion called “The Imperishable Lamp” (aksayapradipo nama dharmamukham), and in it you should make progress. What is it? Just, sisters, as one and the same lamp does not diminish even though it ignites a hundred thousand other lamps, in the same way, sisters, the remembrance of the thought of awakening (cittasmrti) of one and the same bodhisattva who has established many hundred thousand beings in awakening is not diminished or reduced, but rather increases. Thus, to the extent that all the good moments of existence (kusaladharma) are enjoined and taught to others, to that extent there is increase of all the good moments of existence. This is called the way into religion called “The Imperishable Lamp”. (Vimalakirti Sutra)
What is most fascinating, in light of this present series, is that the Alien Bodhisattva, Aksayamati, also appears in the Vimalakirti text:
The bodhisattva Aksayamati said: Generosity (dana) and transformation into omniscience (sarvajhataparinamana) are two, but the essential nature of generosity (idanasvabhava) is omniscience and the essential nature of omniscience (,sarvajnatdsvabhava) is transformation (parinamand). Thus with morality, tolerance, vigour and meditation; insight (prajfid) and transformation into omniscience are two, but omniscience is the essential nature of insight, and the essential nature of omniscience is transformation. Entering this [teaching of] one principle (ekanaya) is entering nonduality (advayapravesa). ibid
These salient themes are most predominant in the Akṣayamatinirdeśasūtra. What this highlights is that the central character, the Alien Bodhisattva Aksayamati is a denizen from the far corners of mysterious universes; certainly this falls into place with the Vimalakirti since denizens from those far-reaching corners are also represented. One could perhaps argue that the Akṣayamatinirdeśasūtra is a sister text to the Vimalakirti. So then, is this most intriguing character a real persona, or just some literary device? Again from Jens Braarvig:
The main character of the sutra, the bodhisattva Aksayamati, “Imperishable intelligence”, is nothing but the personification of the Mahayana aspirations – an idealized human being who is unlikely to have had any historical counterpart – which is also the case with most of the other bodhisattvas appearing in similar sutras. Thus the character Aksayamati was invented to represent the doctrines of the tradition concerned with imperishability:
“The name ‘Imperishable Intelligence’ is the outcome of having all moments of existence as object. For what reason? Because of the imperishability of all moments of existence,” says Aksayamati to explain his name in introducing his sermons. He is said to come from the southern part of the universe, from the world called Animisa, innumerable universes away from this world, where the perfect Buddha Samantabhadra is in power.
This blogger contends that this type of analysis is far from the Reality of such personas that literally fill the far-reaching bodhifields which are part and parcel of Sambhogakayic Realms. Therefore such a narrow stance would also include the likes of advanced Bodhisattvas such as Avalokiteśvara and Manjusri who appear often in their enjoyment-bodies. Having been at this for quite some time, I can unequivocally state with absolute certainty that these Denizens of Reality, or the Dharmadhatu, truly are present in their full-essential-stature in proclaiming the Buddhadharma.
Also, like many other sutras covered here in these voluminous blog-series, the [abridged] rendition portrayed here will be written in Light of the Unborn; once again auspiciously rendered and inspired by the unparalleled aid of the Tathagatas, or the Primordial Mentors. During my study of the Akṣayamatinirdeśasūtra I also sensed some auspicious guidance from that extraterrestrial Maha-Bodhisattva himself.
Reading from the translation has been no easy endeavor; the following is a snapshot of the manuscript and how it was laid-out throughout the sutra:
Jens Braarvig expounds on his methodology:
After much hesitation I have chosen to reproduce ample reconstructions of the supposed Sanskrit original in parentheses () throughout the translation. In the process of translating and analysing the text this proved to be a really indispensable tool for understanding the text – since we have no access to a Sanskrit original apart from the edited fragments – and for comparing it with related literature with which it shares the stock phrases so characteristic of Buddhist texts.
Within this methodology he also incorporates his own exegesis which appears embedded in the text via parenthesis. Within our rendition his exegesis is also present in the same fashion since it’s invaluable for comprehending the Sutra. So, soon our new series will be presented and I must say that it’s a labor of love for the Buddhadharma. I’ve also found myself meditating on today’s accompanying image of an Alien Buddha; one soon finds the “third-eye” or urna-point and focusing upon it one indeed enters into Deep Samadhi. I highly recommend its use during the series as you will find yourself in good company with Bodhisattva Aksayamati.
I have also purchased the hard-copy of Professor Braarvig’s marvelous translation of the sutra:
I ordered it directly from the publisher (Hermes Academic Publishing) in Norway. It’s a most weighty volume comprising 591 pages. Quite a marvelous find and well-worth the cost.