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The Mystery of Human Communication

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by Sangharakshita

Lecture 148: The Mystery of Human Communication

Mr Chairman and friends.

In the course of the second talk, which I think some of you at least may remember, was on 'Building the Buddha Land', we saw that space is infinite. We saw also that infinite space is occupied by infinite world systems. One thousand world systems we saw make up one small universe. A thousand small universes make up one middling universe. A thousand middling universes make up one great universe. And what is called a "Buddha Land" or a "Buddha-field" "Buddha-ksetra" corresponds to one or more of these great universes. And a Buddha Land or a Buddha-field is so called because it represents, because it comprises, the sphere of influence of one particular Buddha, or enlightened one. That Buddha, so tradition informs us, is responsible for the spiritual development, the spiritual maturation of all the living beings within that particular vast area - that particular Buddha Land or Buddha-field. And Buddha Lands, or Buddha-fields, we are further informed, are mainly of two kinds: some are pure, and some are impure.

Impure Buddha Lands are those which contain, which accommodate, all six realms of sentient existence: that is to say the realms of the gods; the anti-gods or Asuras; the hungry ghosts; the beings suffering in states of hell, or perhaps we should better say purgatory; animals, and men.

Pure Buddha Lands, pure Buddha-fields on the other hand, are those containing only gods and men, or only gods and Bodhisattvas. The best known of all pure lands, as we saw in the course of that talk, is Sukhavati - the Happy Land, the Pure Land of the Buddha Amitabha, the Buddha of Infinite Light, the Buddha of the West.

There beings are born from magnificent lotus flowers. As the beings within the as yet unfolded flowers become aware of where they've been reborn, then the petals open, and they find that they're in Sukhavati. And there, they've nothing to do but to listen to the Dharma - to hear the Dharma.

Nothing to do but grow. Nothing to do but develop.

So much we saw in the course of the second talk in this series. And tonight, in Chapter 10 of The Vimalakirti Nirdesa, in the Chapter entitled "The Feast brought by the Emanated Incarnation" we find ourselves introduced to another Pure Land - not Sukhavati this time, but another Pure Land, and this is the Pure Land called - I'm afraid it has rather a long name as places and people in Buddhist scriptures only too often have this Pure Land is called Sarvagandhasugandha which means "Sweetly fragrant with all fragrances". Or you can also translate it as "Sweetly perfumed with all perfumes". It's located in the zenith - that is to say in the upward direction. And it's infinitely distant from our own wretched, impure Buddha Land. The text says that it is beyond as many Buddha-fields as there are sands in 42 Ganges rivers! That takes quite a bit of imagining. It's very very far indeed. And this Buddha -land, this Buddha-field, is presided over by the Buddha Sugandhakuta, which means "Heap of Fragrance" or "Heap of Perfume" and in that Buddha Land, the trees emit a wonderful fragrance - emit a fragrance we're told, that surpasses all other fragrance, whether human or divine, of all the Buddhafields, of all ten directions. We're also told that even the names of Arahat, and Pratyekabuddha are unheard of there. The Buddha Sughandhakuta we're told, teaches the Dharma to an assembly consisting exclusively of Bodhisattvas. And in that universe, in that Buddha Land, all the houses, the avenues, the parks, the palaces, are made not of brick and stone, not even of marble, not even of jewels as they often are in the Mahayana Sutras, they're all made of various perfumes. And the fragrance of the food even, eaten by those Bodhisattvas in that Pure Land pervades, permeates, innumerable universes.

So this is the description that we are given. This is the Pure Land to which we are introduced in Chapter 10 of The Vimalakirti Nirdesa. But how does this wonderful Pure Land come into the picture so to speak? What is its precise connection with The Vimalakirti Nirdesa? What is its connection with the mystery of human communication? In order to understand that, we'll have to go back to the beginning of the chapter.

At the end of the previous Chapter, at the end of Chapter 10, we were left, you may recall, perhaps feeling rather astounded, we were left with Vimalakirti's thunder-like silence, and we might have thought that it would have been rather difficult to follow on from that. Might have thought that almost anything, however sublime, however impressive would have been an anticlimax after that tremendous climax, after the thunder-like silence of Vimalakirti. But it's not really so difficult to follow on from apparently. Not while we have Sariputra, because at the beginning of this Chapter Sariputra is worrying again. The text says "Thereupon the Venerable Sariputra thought to himself "If these great Bodhisattvas" that is to say those actually present with him, with Vimalakirti, with Manjushri, "if these great Bodhisattvas do not adjourn before noontime, when are they going to eat?" At the beginning of Chapter 6, Sariputra was worrying about chairs. Now he's worrying about food. But why noonday? Well, Sariputra is a monk, he's an Arahat, and Arahats apparently are monks - we're not so sure about the Bodhisattvas. And according to the Hinayana Vinaya, or monastic law, monks are supposed to finish eating before noon. otherwise they just have to wait until the following morning when they can't eat until they can clearly distinguish the lines on their own hand by means of natural light. And this rule is still observed in many parts of the Buddhist world. I know this because I observed it myself for quite a number of years, and in this connection, in connection with this rule, in connection with what some of the monks used to rather irreverently call the "twelve o'clock business", I had several interesting experiences. I noticed for instance the behaviour of some of the other monks. If food had not made its appearance by 11.30 they became very uneasy. Usually of course monks are dependent for food on the laity. Some monks I found started feeling uneasy if the food had not appeared by 10.30 And a few started worrying about lunch as soon as they'd finished breakfast. I could relate quite a number of anecdotes in this connection but we'll keep them for some other time. I'm simply concerned to give a little bit of background to Sariputra's question, the question with which Chapter 10 opens, the question about food. I should make it clear though, incidentally, that the Sariputra of The Vimalakirti Nirdesa is not really the same figure as the relatively historical Sariputra that we encounter in the pages of the Pali scriptures. He simply represents within the context of the Mahayana Sutras, the narrow, rather literalistic, Hinayana attitude or approach which had been developed in some Buddhist circles, an attitude which the Mahayana tries to correct.

So here we see Sariputra worrying about food. So once again we see Vimalakirti taking Sariputra to task. He knows what Sariputra is thinking of course, and he says, "Reverend Sariputra, the Tathagata, the Buddha, has taught the Eight Liberations.

You should concentrate on those liberations, listening to the Dharma with a mind free of preoccupations with material things; just wait a minute Reverend Sariputra, and you will eat such food as you have never before tasted".

So this is how the Pure Land is called "Sweetly Perfumed with all Perfumes", this is how it comes into the picture. Vimalakirti puts himself into a state of deep concentration. He exerts his magical power, and as a result of this the whole assembly is able to see the Pure Land called "Sweetly perfumed with all perfumes", the Pure Land of the Buddha Sugandhakuta or "Heap of Perfumes".

They see it in the way that I described a few minutes ago. They see it as consisting entirely of perfumes. Now as they're all looking, as they're all gazing in wonder as you may well imagine, something happens. Something happens in the Pure Land called "Sweetly Perfumed with all Perfumes" - you notice I'm sparing you the Sanskrit.

Buddha Sugandhakuta sits down there with his Bodhisattvas to a meal. Apparently it's 11.30 in that Buddha Land too, as well as here on earth. And the meal is served by a class of deities, a class of gods called "Gandavyuha" which means "gloriously perfumed". All these deities we are told, are devoted to the Mahayana. Vimalakirti then asks if anyone would like to go to that Buddha Land and bring back some of their food. But nobody's willing to go. In fact they're restrained from offering to go by the supernatural power of Manjushri, the Bodhisattva of Wisdom. Manjushri of course wants Vimalakirti to perform a magical feat. And this is what Vimalakirti obligingly does.

By means of his magical power, he emanates an incarnation Bodhisattva, an Incarnation Bodhisattva of youthful appearance, adorned with all sorts of auspicious marks and signs, and so beautiful that he outshines the whole assembly. Now there's quite a lot that could be said about this emanated incarnation, this Bodhisattva, especially as providing a link between the Pure Land called "Sweetly Perfumed with all Perfumes" and our own world. But we must press on with the story. Vimalakirti tells the emanated Incarnation to go in the direction of the zenith. Tells him to go to the Pure Land called "Sweetly Perfumed with all Perfumes". Tells him to bow down before the Buddha Sugandhakuta, and directs him to say that Vimalakirti ...

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