According to the Vimalakirti Nirdesa Sutra, Mara (the most evil heavenly demon king from the Paranirmita-vashavartin heaven) once disguised as Sakra (the chief god of Trayastrimsa heaven) and appeared with twelve thousand music-making goddesses before World-Upholding Bodhisattva. After they paid respects, the Bodhisattva reminded ‘Sakra’ that although he had gathered merits [which are limited, just like his wisdom], he should not indulge himself; and ought to contemplate the five desires (for the seen, heard, smelt, tasted and touched; for wealth, sex, fame, food and sleep) to be impermanent, and seek (good roots for) enlightenment with this [impermanent] body, life and wealth, so as to cultivate the indestructible Dharma [for an immeasurable body, life and (spiritual) wealth, which are attainable in Pure Land and Buddhahood]. ‘Sakra’ therefore asked the Bodhisattva to receive the goddesses for serving him, to which he quickly replied that he should not make this inappropriate offering to a monastic disciple of the Buddha.
Vimalakirti the layman Bodhisattva appeared and revealed that this ‘Sakra’ is actually Mara, who has come to confuse the Bodhisattva, asking that the goddesses be given to him instead. Frightened, Mara tried to become invisible, but to no avail. Exhausting his supernormal powers, he could not leave with the goddesses. A voice then manifested in the air, [probably from Vimalakirti too,] saying he could leave only if he gives them, which he fearfully agreed to. Vimalakirti next instructed the goddesses to aspire for Buddhahood, and to experience ‘thirty kinds of joy in the Dharma for Bodhisattvas’ * instead of joy in the five desires. After hearing this, Mara says he wishes them to return to his heavenly palace with him. However, they replied that as they now delight much in the joy in the Dharma, they no longer crave the five desires. Mara next remarked to Vimalakirti that he ought to be able to part with them as Bodhisattvas practise giving all, to which he consented, saying that they will enable all to fulfil their Dharma aspirations [even if they return].
When the goddesses asked Vimalakirti what they should do at the palace, he replied that there is this Dharma teaching called the Inexhaustible Lamp which should be learnt. Its practitioner is like a lamp, able to light up hundreds and thousands lamps, dispelling the darkness with inexhaustible brightness [without losing its own light]. Likewise, a Bodhisattva should guide hundreds and thousands of beings to aspire for Buddhahood inexhaustibly. With this Dharma teaching of the Inexhaustible Lamp, it will lead to increase in all excellent Dharma teachings [including itself]. Although staying at the palace, this Inexhaustible Lamp can be used to to guide countless gods and goddesses to aspire for Buddhahood, so as to repay the debt of gratitude to the Buddha [for his teachings], and to benefit all beings. Agreeing to do so, the goddesses bowed and vanished.
Even if Mara does not tempt us personally, as long as we are not advanced Bodhisattvas like Vimalakirti, we are already sufficiently distracting ourselves with worldly joys. Having the resources to indulge does not mean that we should, lest we become unmindfully caught up in fleeting pleasures, in contrast with truly lasting Dharma joy. This episode also reminds us not to make inappropriate offerings to spiritual practitioners, lest we become their maras! Mara rightly feared Vimalakirti as not only was he able to disclose his identity, he was able to inhibit his powers while teaching his many followers, who were in turn urged to return to Mara’s domain to teach more of his followers with the teaching of the Inexhaustible Lamp to share the brightness of wisdom indefinitely. The great saboteur becomes greatly sabotaged for good cause! May we too, be Inexhaustible Lamps, wherever we are, to joyously spread the light of the Dharma.
When all practise and share
the Dharma well to benefit all,
all will become Buddhas.
Understanding Amituofo Via The Amitabha Sutra (11th Run)
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Question: There are some who say that one vows to be reborn in this filthy land in order to convert the beings by one’s teaching, and that one does not vow to go to the Pure Land to be reborn. How is this so?
Answer: Of such persons also there is a certain group. Why? If the body resides in [an estate from which there is] no backsliding, or beyond, in order to convert the sundry evil beings it may dwell in contamination without becoming contaminated or encounter evil without being transformed, just as the swan and the duck may enter the water but the water cannot wet them. Such persons as these can dwell in filth and extricate the beings from their suffering. But if the person is in truth an ordinary man, I only fear that his own conduct is not yet established, and that if he encounters suffering he will immediately change. He who wishes to save him will perish together with him. For example, if one forces a chicken into the water, how can one not get wet?…
Question: There are some who say: “Within the Pure Land here are only enjoyable things. Much pleasure in clinging to enjoyment hinders and destroys the practice of the Way. Why should one vow to go thither and be reborn?”
Answer: Since it is called “Pure Land”, it means that there are no impurities in it. If one speaks of “clinging to enjoyment,” this refers to lust and the afflictions. If so,why call it pure?
Excerpt from ‘The Compendium On The Happy Land’ [An-lo Chi]
Ti’en-t’ai Master Tao-ch’o
Understanding Amituofo Via The Amitabha Sutra (11th Run)
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