Can Great Bodhisattvas Manifest As Demon Kings? 大菩萨能化为魔王吗?

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— 阿难尊者

All these sentient beings [in the Dharma-Ending Age], will leave the Buddha to gradually become distant. Evil teachers who speak the [false] Dharma, will be like the Ganges River’s sands.

— Elder Ānanda
Śūraṅgama Sūtra’s Section On Four Kinds Of Clear And Definitive Instructions On Purity

In the Sūtra That Was Spoken By Vimalakīrti《维摩诘所说经》, the following was taught in Chapter Six On The Inconceivable (不思议品第六):

Vimalakīrti said to Mahākāśyapa, ‘Benevolent one, those within the ten directions’ immeasurable asaṃkhyeya worlds becoming Māra Kings, mostly are Bodhisattvas abiding in inconceivable liberation. With skilful means thus, teaching and transforming sentient beings, appearing to become Māra Kings.’ (维摩诘语大迦叶:「仁者!十方无量阿僧祗世界中作魔王者,多是住不可思议解脱菩萨。以方便力故,教化众生,现作魔王。」)

As simplified, among the Demon Kings who reside in many world’s heavens everywhere, most are manifested by Great Bodhisattvas (大菩萨) who are already liberated with inconceivable supernormal powers, who are thus able to use all kinds of appropriate ways to guide beings under their influence to progress towards Buddhahood. These Bodhisattvas strive to take up key positions of power in the universe, even among the most ‘wretched.’

Perhaps, Bodhisattvas might also manifest as Māras to test and motivate other Bodhisattvas on their path to Buddhahood. Of course, being Bodhisattvas in disguise, they do not encourage or do any actual evils, even if they might appear to do so, also as a skilful means to blend in. This also means that those who do actual evils cannot be such Bodhisattvas, and not all Demon Kings are Bodhisattvas. Thus, none of the clearly evil should be blindly ‘idealised’ or rationalised as not being evil.

The following was also taught in Chapter Eight On The Buddha Path (佛道品第八):

[Mañjuśrī Bodhisattva] further asked, ‘How do Bodhisattvas practise on non-paths?’ [Vimalakīrti] replied, ‘… Manifesting entering of the demonic, yet according with the Buddhas’ wisdom, not following other teachings… Bodhisattvas who are able to thus practise on non-paths, are as those thoroughly understanding the Buddha path.’ ([文殊师利菩萨]又问:「云何菩萨行于非道?」[维摩诘]答曰:「… 示入于魔,而顺佛智慧,不随他教… 菩萨能如是行于非道,是为通达佛道。」)

As simplified, even though skilful Bodhisattvas seem to enter demonic paths to influence those truly demonic, they actually still abide by the Buddhas’ teachings, and never stray off to any external paths (外道), that veer away from the Buddha’s teachings. They are able to continue practising the Buddha path because they already have complete realisation of it. This also means that beginner and average Bodhisattvas are not yet capable of doing this.

The following was also taught in the same chapter:

[Vimalakīrti’s reply to Universal Manifestation Of Physical Forms Bodhisattva]: Destroying and eliminating afflictions’ thieves, brave and strong without those able to exceed them, subduing the four kinds of Māras [i.e. as defined below], with victory’s pennant established on places for realising the path… Although knowing all Buddha Lands, and with sentient beings are empty, yet constantly cultivating a Pure Land, to teach and transform all sentient beings. As all existing sentient beings’ kinds, shapes, sounds and [majestic] conduct, fearless and powerful Bodhisattvas, are at once able to completely manifest them. Aware of all demonic matters, then manifesting to accord with their practices, with skilful means and wisdom, according to their wishes, with all able to appear. Perhaps manifesting ageing, sickness and death, accomplishing all sentient beings, completely knowing they are like illusions manifested, with thorough understanding without having obstacles. ([维摩诘答普现色身菩萨]: 摧灭烦恼贼,勇健无能踰,降伏四种魔,胜旛建道场。… 虽知诸佛国,及与众生空,而常修净土,教化于群生。诸有众生类,形声及威仪,无畏力菩萨, 一时能尽现。觉知众魔事,而示随其行,以善方便智,随意皆能现。或示老病死,成就诸群生,了知如幻化,通达无有碍。)

As simplified, Great Bodhisattvas are able to rid all defilements that give rise to suffering, thus able to conquer all demons and realise enlightenment. Those who can skilfully manifest as external Māras to subdue other Māras (and their minions) without being influenced by them must have already subdued their own internal māras. Since sentient beings can only be guided with forms (which are empty in nature, without permanence and substance), these Bodhisattvas continue to create and recommend Pure Lands, which offer pure forms for guidance. At the same time, they are able to manifest as all kinds of beings in defiled lands (秽土) like this with courage and ease, to guide similar beings to Pure Lands.

To blend in, they might even seem to follow beings’ demonic ways, but never really do. They can also appear to age, sicken and die like ordinary beings, to be both good and cautionary examples to illustrate principles of the Buddha’s teachings. The importance of Pure Lands also means that those who disparage the Pure Land teachings and discourage people from practising to reach Pure Lands are not functioning like true Bodhisattvas, while they might be functioning like ‘manifestations’ of demons. As taught by the Buddha, for definitive progress towards Buddhahood by the end of this life, the Pure Land Dharma Door (净土法门) is crucial in this Dharma-Ending Age (末法时期).

The Four Māras (which means ‘Killers’ or ‘Demons’) (四魔/罗) are those who ‘kill’ our spiritual progress. They include (1) afflictions’ māras (烦恼魔) from the three poisons (三毒) of greed, anger and delusion (贪嗔痴), (2) aggregates’ māras (阴魔) from clinging to the five aggregates (五蕴) of form, feelings, perception, mental formations and consciousness (色受想行识) as self (我), (3) death’s māra (死魔) that cuts short our lives and creates fear, and (4) Ease Heaven’s Māra (自在天魔), who is Ease Heaven’s King (自在天王), the ‘ruler’ of Desire Realm (欲界) in its Sixth Heaven (第六天), also known as Pāpīyāms (波旬), which means the Evil One.

The following was also taught in Chapter Eleven On Bodhisattva Practices (菩萨行品第十一):

[Śākyamuni Buddha]: All Buddhas’ majestic conduct with advancing and retreating, all those behaviour, are without those not as Buddhas’ practices. Ānanda, where there are these four māras, eighty-four thousand all afflictions’ doors, and all sentient beings by them fatigued, all Buddhas are then with these [many skilful] methods then doing Buddhas’ practices [to alleviate and liberate them from suffering]. This is named as Entering All Buddhas’ Dharma Door. ([释迦牟尼佛]诸佛威仪进止,诸所施为,无非佛事。阿难!有此四魔,八万四千诸烦恼门,而诸众生为之疲劳,诸佛即以此法而作佛事,是名入一切诸佛法门。)

As simplified, all Buddhas’ fully enlightened activities and even non-activities are not unlike those of Bodhisattvas abiding in inconceivable liberation (不可思议解脱), except that they are perfect in quality (of skilfulness) and quantity (of manifestations). Wherever and whenever there are beings facing inner or outer demonic hindrances, Buddhas (and Bodhisattvas) will, according with their affinities, with all kinds of skilful means do their best to deliver them by appealing to their senses. This also means that as long as there are beings in need, their great works will never end. We can also help them better help us by more sincerely practising mindfulness of their names, thus deepening our affinities with them.

Above is but a summary of the inconceivable mind-blowingly great scope of Buddhas’ and Bodhisattvas’ compassion. Covering the entire spectrum of realms, not only do they manifest in the hells in appropriate forms to guide those who have ready affinities, they are also able to ‘infiltrate’ among those with little affinities, to manifest as the seemingly very ‘evil’ to guide them. Maximising all means possible, Buddhas and Bodhisattvas manifest in both the purest of lands (i.e. Pure Lands) and the most evil of places (i.e. Māra heavens). How incredibly moving!


— 释迦牟尼佛

Such that I have spoken, is named as Buddhas’ speech. Not such as spoken, is Pāpīyāms’ speech.

— Śākyamuni Buddha
Śūraṅgama Sūtra’s Section On Four Kinds Of Clear And Definitive Instructions On Purity

Please Be Mindful Of Your Speech, Namo Amituofo!

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