The Purification of the Buddha Field
The Vimalakīrti Sūtra
In this episode the buddha demonstrates how impurity can exist, in the purity of the Buddha field.
The young man leading the 500 bodhisattvas, Ratnakara, stood up and praised the Buddha after the wonderful spectacle of the parasol miracle; then he remembered why he had come.
“Lord Buddha, we would be most grateful if you would explain something to us?”
The Buddha looked down from his Great Lion throne and smiled, which meant that he was happy to do so.
We have to remember that when people came to see the Buddha he rarely spoke first. Most of the time people would ask him a question and the Buddha would reply. That is how it was done in those days. These days people write books, blogs, pamphlets and record podcasts. In fact we can barely stop talking! In those days great teachers, like the Buddha, remained silent until someone asked them a question.
Ratnakara bowed deeply with folded hands and asked: “What is meant by ‘the purification of the Buddha-field’?”
Now, you can be forgiven for thinking that this is an odd question for a young man to ask. Most young men of my acquaintance do not ask such questions. They are usually interested in girls or football. Sometimes they might be interested in politics or just causes and might ask about those but questions about Buddha fields, that is not usually on a young man’s agenda. However at that time these odd questions really did mean something to young men and women. This is because what he is talking about is about how to live a good and noble life. You see Ratnakara and his followers were all bodhisattvas. These are people who aim to become Buddhas and have taken a vow to do this. Why do they want to do this? Well, because they feel a deep aspiration to help other people whom they see as suffering unnecessarily and this is why Buddhas appear in the first place.
In many ways that is similar to today as many young men and women also get involved in things to help the environment, or the poor (both here and abroad), or animals etc. However this young man is aware that, as the old adage puts it: “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Some people get so angry with what they see as injustice in the world that they begin to attack others and can cause even more suffering. This is a mistake but, alas, all too common in human history. The purification of the Buddha field can prevent this by ensuring that the hearts of those within that sphere of influence does not become carried away with hatred or greed.
The Buddha spoke.
His answer was rather long and as always very thorough and detailed. Although it was rather lengthy, the Buddha was very precise and to the point. He talked about the necessity for virtue, for the cultivation of Wisdom and Compassion, about tolerance about gentling ones own heart before telling others what they should be doing. He told them that a ‘Buddha field’ is a sphere of influence that when he speaks from virtue that power leads those who hear in the right direction to lead them out of suffering.
He also pointed out that originally the Buddha field is already pure to the extent that the bodhsattva’s mind is also pure. By this he means that someone whose mind is impure cannot purify those around him.
Now standing nearby was the arhat Sariputra and he thought to himself. “Wait a minute! Here I am standing close to the Buddha, within his Buddhafield, which he says is pure because his Mind is pure. Yet when I look around I do not see purity here!” At that moment he was looking at some rather badly behaving children, one boy was twisting the ear of the another boy, whilst a small girl sat there looking bored and picking her nose.
You have to be a bit careful what you think when standing near Buddhas because they can read hearts and minds. The Buddha turned to Sariputra and said:
“What do you think, Sariputra? If someone cannot see and thinks therefore that the sun and moon do not exist that therefore the sun and moon really do not exist?”
“No, Lord! It means that, for whatever reason the person cannot see, that is why they do not see those heavenly bodies, but they still do surely exist.” Sariputra, being an arhat, managed not to have his face turn crimson, but in truth he did feel a bit put out being caught out like that!
Next the god Brahma, who is in charge of our world, said: “Venerable Sariputra, do not say that the Buddha-field is impure. I see that it is quite pure from the top of the mountain to the thorny thicket in the valley below.”
“Oh!” thought Sariputra: “Typical, now everybody is going to start having a go…”
“That’s all very well, Lord Brahma, but I see that thorny thicket has sharp thorns! That high mountain has lions living on it and is dangerous!”
“That is a sure sign that seeing this Buddha field as impure you have highs & lows in your own mind.”
The Buddha could see that Sariputra was getting a bit upset by all this talk and so stretched out his big toe and touched the earth.
In one instant the purity of the Buddha field was revealed to the whole assembly. The two boys stopped fighting and the little girl sat open-mouthed in astonishment, as did Sariputra!
“My Lord! Everything is quite different to how I saw it! And yet, everything is the same.” Sariputra stared wide-eyed around him at the mountains and the valleys. It was true everything was the same and yet it had been transformed and was radiant.
Once more the assembly bowed down in awe and respect.
“So you can now see, Sariputra. This Buddha field is quite pure and is always pure it is just that the eyes of men cannot see it that way because they contain impurities.” The smiled withdrawing his big toe. Sariputra was dismayed to see the vision withdrawing too but he had seen it there was no denying that fact.
That day thousands of people made their bodhisattva vows to attain Perfect Enlightenment for the benefit of all beings.
In the end two miracles in one afternoon was quite enough to convince anyone.
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