May 27, 2022
Martin Goodson

Introducing the Man Himself: Vimalakīrti

The Vimalakīrti Sūtra

Having sensed the presence of the Buddha, successful businessman and lay practitioner, the Bodhisattva Vimalakirti, sets in motion a crafty plan to teach the Dharma to all who have assembled.

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Now finally, we get to the man himself: Vimalakirti.

It was said that for aeons throughout his many lives he had dedicated himself to serving previous Buddhas. He made offerings to them, and from their lips had learned the Dharma. Not only that but he had applied this learning to his own life and as a result in his current life he was reaping the fruit.

That’s how it works in Buddhism - put down good seeds, good roots, look after them and nurture them and then stand back and let nature take her course.

His big talent was for Mahayana. He was a total whizz when it came to skillful means, whether that be eloquence of speech or (and this you will see), manufacturing crazy situations that would lead beings to liberation and Enlightenment!

He was a master of disguises. To look at him you would never guess all this. He was a wealthy merchant from the city of Vaisali, sure. He had a big house, check. He had servants, check. He had wives (yes you heard correctly at that time men just didn’t know when to stop when it came to getting married). He had a son, check. He dressed like Gianni Versace and wore bling like Lady Gaga.

Amongst his peers he was thought to be a businessman, par excellence. He had all the awards from the local chamber of commerce. He was kind. He was generous and led the way in charitable works and was always approachable.

And yet, none of these things could take hold of him. Not the money, not the status, not even his wives (and it wasn’t through any lack of trying on their behalf because he was considered quite a catch). Amidst the busy throng of the marketplace he was like one alone - a solitary; but never aloof.

Thus, lived Vimalakirti in the city of Vaisali, an upstanding member of the business community, family man and philanthropist. Always behind the scenes through gently but determinedly leading those around him to liberation by the power of his purity of heart and by living the Dharma.

As a great being, Vimalakirti, had the supernormal powers of a Great Bodhisattva and knew full well what was going down in Amrapali Park. The crowds pressing around the Buddha. The miracles, already mentioned, the crowd’s attention had been caught. The Buddha had set the stage for the benefit of all beings who were there and who would in future hear about these stories. It was time to play his part.

Vimalakirti was in his upper chamber, sitting in his comfortable chair draped with fine cloth. He looked through the arch leading to the upper terrace which overlooked the city, its main thoroughfare, its thronging markets and beyond to Amrapali Park where he could see the dust rising into the sky disturbed by the feet of thousands upon thousands of hopeful beings.

He sat back, resting his elbows on the wide arms of the chair and pressed his fingertips together in front of his furrowed brow. Suddenly a light appeared in his eyes, the frown disappeared to be replaced by a quiet smile upon his lips.

An idea had occurred to him.

He took off his day clothes and instead took to his night shirt and took to his bed. Lying there, using his supernormal powers he made the skin of his face pale and raised his temperature so that his forehead perspired whilst periodically inducing a shivering cold throughout his whole body. His eyes turned bloodshot and watery. His beautiful hair became lank and greasy. In this state he rang the bell beside his bed and in a moment his servant appeared.

“I am unwell and must take to my bed. Please be so good as to inform my family, my business partners, the king, my customers and all at the chamber of commerce that I cannot see them today.”

The servant fussed around him to make sure his master had everything that he needed (he was well loved by all the household), before departing to spread the message that Vimalakirti was not well and had taken to his bed and would not be able to do any business for the foreseeable future.

As Vimalakirti lay in bed feeling thoroughly ill; a smile crept across his lips at the wheels he was about to set into motion.

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