The Extended Vision of the Mahayana

Vimalakirti is a pretty good example of the Boddhisattva ideal, but there are others that are important to mention just to see how broadly the Mahayana ideal was extended.

Queen Srimala

There is an important queen by the name of Srimala who is the focus of another Mahayana text. She is a queen and has a lot of responsibilities that bears in the ordinary life in the palace, and yet, she is portrayed as being one of the wisest followers of the Buddha. She is the source of one of the most important Mahayana doctrines.

Even queen Srimala, who in many respects seems to be engaged in a life that is very different from the life of a traditional monk or nun, can be an exemplary practitioner of the Mahayana ideal.

Sudhana: The Curious Young Man

Another figure who is worth knowing and becomes important in later Chinese and Japanese Buddhism is a young man by the name of Sudhana. He goes out on a long quest in order to achieve some kind of religious insight. He visits fifty different teachers. At the very end, he comes to a Boddhisattva by the name of Samantabhadra and is given a vision of the universe vastly more complex and complete than anything we found earlier in this tradition. Let me quote a passage from the text that describes Sudhana’s concluding vision:

“Then Sudhana, the teenager, reflecting upon the body of the final Boddhisattva in his quest, the Boddhisattva Samantabhadra, saw in every pore of that body untold quadrillions of Buddha fields being entirely filled up with Buddhas, and in every single one of those Buddha fields, he saw Buddha surrounded by countless assemblies of Boddhisattvas. Gradually he came to equal the Boddhisattva Samantabhadra. He came to equal all the Buddhas.”

This is a vision of reality vastly greater than anything we’ve seen in the earlier tradition. This has to do with an expansion of the imagination that brought the Mahayana into realms and practices very different from anything we saw before.

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