Showing posts from May, 2020

The greatest sutra ever! - Vimalakirti sutra - chapters 13 and 14

This chapter, the second last of the book, debates how the Dharma - the doctrines of the Buddha - should be taught. This process is called the “offering of the Dharma” (Vimalakirti sutra, 1997, pp. 136 to 142.) The sutra claims unashamedly that “Offering the Dharma” is the same as studying and teaching itself and related Mahayana sutras. Vimalakirti for once does not say anything in this chapter. This must have been quite difficult for him given his constant urge to teach throughout the book. Instead, Buddha Shakyamuni and the god Indra do the talking in this chapter. The Buddha also mentions his previous existence as a prince called "Moon Parasol" in the assembly of a previous Buddha called Medicine King. This mythical Buddha gave Moon Parasol a prediction of future enlightenment after the latter promised to protect and offer the Dharma. At the opening of the chapter, Indra praises the Vimalakirti sutra and promises to support and protect it and anybody who teaches it. Indra

Unbelievable powers and a heavy piece of lifting - Vimalakirti sutra - chapter 12

The highlight of chapter 12 and probably the dramatic climax of the whole sutra is when Vimalakirti - the lay prodigy and super-bodhisattva - scoops up an entire Buddha land with one hand and deposits it in the middle of the assembly in the Amra Gardens outside the city of Vaishali. This “land” is called “Wonderful Joy”, and in it rules the Buddha Akshobhya who is also ferried across. This world is complete with its own world mountain, its continents, oceans, hells, kingdoms of ghosts, animals and humans. It also has dozens of heavens, a sun and moon. Placing an object the size of a planet into a north Indian park does not cause any space issues of course. The chapter also has a long exposition by Vimalakirti on the body of the Buddha, although he really only tells us all the things that a Buddha is not. And no chapter of the Vimalakirti sutra seems to be complete without a silly question from the Buddha’s senior disciple Shariputra; so we get one of those as well. At the beginning o

Who is doing the Buddha's work? - fragrant rice and other unlikely agents - Vimalakirti Sutra - chapter 11

Chapter 11 contains many instructions how bodhisattva should go about doing their business which is nothing short of making all beings in all worlds happy and safe (Vimalakirti Sutra, 1997, pp. 122-129.) Another way of saying this is “doing the Buddha’s work”. A bodhisattva is after all just a future Buddha. And the advanced bodhisattvas we are meeting in the sutra like Manjushri or Vimalakirti have already come close to buddhahood and possess the appropriate powers. The topic of “doing the Buddha’s work” is introduced through the fragrant rice from the previous chapter. This magical rice, brought by Vimalakirti from a far away Buddha land to feed the assembly in his house, can only be digested after the diner has clarified the Buddha Dharma. This example is followed by a long list of other mundane and extraordinary examples of “doing the Buddha’s work”. The chapter culminates in a teaching of the Buddha about the practice of the bodhisattva in terms of the conditioned and the uncondit

A smell too good to be true - Vimalakirti Sutra - chapter 10 - Fragrance Accumulated

Chapter ten presents a powerful argument why there is no better place than the real world, our world with all its problems and tragedies, to live and practice the way of the bodhisattva (Vimalakirti Sutra, 1997, pp. 112-120.) Our world, the world of Shakyamuni Buddha, is called Sahā world, the world of “endurance” and suffering (ibd., p. 154.) The inhabitants of this world - we - are stupid and stubborn. Ruled by greed and anger, we lead shortened and miserable lives in a world of war, natural disaster and spiritual decline. This is what is also called the world of the five impurities (ibd., p. 150.) Our Sahā world is compared to a very pure Buddha land called “Many Fragrances”. The Buddha who resides in that happy land is aptly called “Fragrance Accumulated”. That world has the finest aromas of all worlds. Th,ere only live pure and great bodhisattvas who don’t know suffering and have never heard of inferior teachings like voice-hearer Buddhism. The buildings in that world are made