Sariputra was thinking of mealtime and of the food for the Bodhisattvas in the meeting when Vimalakirti, who read his thought, said to him: “The Buddha taught the eight forms of liberation which you have received for practice; do you know mix your desire to eat with His Dharma? If you want to eat, please wait for a moment and you will have a rare treat.”
At that, Vimalakirti entered the state of samadhi and used his transcendental power to show to the assembly a country, which is above separated from this world by a distance represented by Buddha lands as countless as sand grains in forty-two Ganges rivers and which was called the country of All Fragrances, whose Buddha was called the Tathagata of the Fragrant Land, and was still there. The fragrance of that country surpassed all scents emitted by the devas in Buddha lands in the ten directions. In that Buddha land, there were neither sravakas nor pratyeka-buddhas but only pure and clean Bodhisattvas to whom that Buddha expounded the Dharma. All things there are formed by fragrances, such as palaces, the earth, gardens and parks which emit sweet scent, and the fragrance of its food spreads to countless worlds in the ten directions.
Its Buddha and Bodhisattvas were sitting down for the meal offered to them by the sons of devas who were all called Glorious Fragrances and were setting their minds on the quest of supreme enlightenment. This was seen by all those present in the meeting.
Vimalakirti said to his listeners: “Virtuous Ones, who of you can go there to beg for food from that Buddha?”
As Manjusri was noted for his supernatural power, all the Bodhisattvas kept silent. At that time, Vimalakirti said: “Are not the Virtuous Ones ashamed (of their inability to do so)? “
Manjusri retorted: “As the Buddha has said, those who have not yet study and practiced Mahayana should not be slighted.”
Thereupon, Vimalakirti, without rising from his seat, used his transcendental power to create an illusory (bogus) Bodhisattva whose features were radiant and whose dignity was unsurpassable, overshadowing the whole assembly. He then said to this illusory Bodhisattva: “Ascend to the Fragrant Land to call on its Buddha, saying what I now tell you: ‘Upasaka Vimalakirti bows his head at your feet to pay his reverence and inquires respectfully about your happy tidings; he hopes you are well and have no difficulties (in converting living beings) and that your vigor is full. He wishes to receive some leftovers from your meal to do the salvation work in the saha world for the purpose of converting to Mahayana those of the small vehicle and of spreading the renown of the Tathagata to make it known everywhere’.”
After that, the illusory Bodhisattva ascended and was seen by the whole assembly to approach the Buddha of Fragrant Land and repeat what Vimalakirti had ordered him to say. When the Bodhisattvas there saw the messenger, they praised the rare visit, asking their Buddha: “Where does this Bodhisattva come from? Where is this world called saha? What does the small vehicle mean?”
Their Buddha replied: “There is a world called saha, which is below and is separated from here by Buddha lands as countless as the sand grains in forty-two Ganges rivers, whose Buddha is called Sakyamuni and is now staying in the midst of five turbid conditions, where he teaches the supreme Dharma to those clinging to the small vehicle. Over there is a Bodhisattva called Vimalakirti who has achieved inconceivable liberation and is expounding the Dharma to other (young) Bodhisattvas. Hence, he has created an illusory messenger to extol my name and praise this land so that they can earn more merits.”
The Bodhisattvas asked: “Who is that Bodhisattva who can create an illusory messenger and whose transcendental powers, fearlessness and ubiquity are so great?”
That Buddha replied: “His (powers, fearlessness and ubiquity) are very great indeed. He used to send his illusory messengers to all places in the ten directions to perform the Bodhisattva work of salvation for the benefit of living beings.”
That Buddha then filled a bowl of fragrant rice and handed it to the illusory messenger. All his nine million Bodhisattvas declared they all wished to go to saha to pay reverence to Sakyamuni Buddha and to see Vimalakirti and the other Bodhisattvas there.
That Buddha warned them: “You may go there but hide your fragrance, if not, the people give rise to the wrong thought of clinging to it. You should also change your appearance in order not to provoke their self-abasement. To avoid wrong views do not slight them. Why? Because all worlds in the ten directions are (fundamentally immaterial) like space and because all Buddhas wishing to convert those of the small vehicle do not reveal completely to them their own pure and clean lands.”
At that, the illusory messenger received the bowl of fragrant rice and together with the nine million Bodhisattvas availed themselves of that Buddha’s and Vimalakirti’s transcendental powers, disappeared from the Fragrant Land and, a little later, arrived at Vimalakirti’s abode.
Vimalakirti then used his transcendental powers to make nine million lion thrones as majestic as those already there, for the visitors. The illusory messenger then handed him the bowl of rice the fragrance of which spread to the whole town of Vaisali and then to the whole great chiliocosm.
Brahmin devotees at Vaisali perceived the fragrance and became elated; they praised the rare occurrence. Their chief, called “Lunar Canopy” took eighty-four thousand men to Vimalakirti’s house where they saw many Bodhisattvas seated on majestic lion thrones; they were jubilant and paid reverence to the Bodhisattvas and the Buddha’s chief disciples, and then stood at one side. Earthly and heavenly ghosts as well as the devas of the worlds of desire and of form who smelt the fragrance, came as well.
At that time, Vimalakirti said to Sariputra and the sravakas: “Virtuous Ones, you may now take the Tathagata’s immortal rice which has been infused with great compassion; do not give rise to the thought of limitation when taking it or you will not be able to digest it.” When some sravakas thought that the small quantity of rice seemed insufficient for the whole assembly.
The illusory Bodhisattva said: “Do not use the little virtue and intelligence of a sravaka to estimate the Tathagata’s boundless blessing and wisdom; the four oceans are exhaustible but this rice is inexhaustible. If all men took and rolled it into a ball as large as (Mount) Sumeru, they would not have finished eating it by the end of the aeon. Why? Because food that has been left over by those who have practiced boundless morality and discipline (sila), serenity (dhyana) and wisdom (prajna), liberation and knowledge of liberation, and who have won all merits, is inexhaustible.
Hence this bowl of rice will satisfy the whole meeting without being exhausted. The Bodhisattvas, Sravakas, devas and men who take it will experience comfort and joy, like the Bodhisattvas of all blessed pure lands. Their pores will give out profound fragrance which is like the scent of the trees in Fragrant Lands.”
Vimalakirti then asked the visiting Bodhisattvas: “How does the Tathagata of your land preach the Dharma?”
They replied: “The Tathagata of our land does not use word and speech to preach but uses the various fragrance to stimulate the devas in their observance of the commandments. They sit under fragrant trees and perceive how sweet the trees smell thereby realizing the samadhi derived from the store of all merits. When they realize this samadhi, they win all merits.”
These Bodhisattvas then asked Vimalakirti: “How does the World Honoured One, Sakyamuni Buddha, preach the Dharma?”
Vimalakirti replied: “Living beings of this world are pig-headed (stubborn) and difficult to convert; hence the Buddha uses strong language to tame them. He speaks of hells, animals and hungry ghosts in their planes (realms) of suffering; of the places of rebirth for stupid men as retribution for perverse deeds, words and thoughts, i.e. for killing, stealing, carnality, lying, double tongue, coarse language, affected speech, covetousness, anger, perverted views (which are the ten evils); for stinginess, breaking the precepts, anger, remissness, confused thoughts and stupidity (i.e. the six hindrances to the six paramitas); for accepting, observing and breaking the prohibitions; for things that should and should not be done; for obstructions and non-obstructions; for what is sinful and what is not; for purity and filthiness; for the worldly and holy states; for heterodoxy and orthodoxy; for activity and non-activity; and for samsara and nirvana. Since the minds of those who are difficult to convert are like monkeys, various methods of preaching are devised to check them so that they can be entirely tamed. Like elephants and horses which cannot be tamed without whipping them until they feel pain and become easily managed, the stubborn of this world can be disciplined only with bitter and eager words.”
After hearing this, the visiting Bodhisattvas said: “We have never heard of the World Honoured One, Sakyamuni Buddha, who conceals his boundless sovereign power to appear as a beggar to mix with those who are poor in order to win their confidence (for the purpose of liberating them) and of the Bodhisattvas here who are indefatigable and so humble and whose boundless compassion caused their rebirth in this Buddha land.”
Vimalakirti said: “As you have said, the Bodhisattvas of this world have strong compassion and their lifelong works of salvation for all living beings surpass those done in other pure lands during hundreds and thousands of aeons. Why? Because they achieved ten excellent deeds which are not required in other pure lands. What are these ten excellent deeds? They are: 1, charity (dana) to succour the poor; 2, precept-keeping (sila) to help those who have broken the commandments; 3, patient endurance (ksanti) to subdue their anger; 4, zeal and devotion (virya) to cure their remissness; 5, serenity (dhyana) to stop their confused thoughts; 6, wisdom (prajna) to wipe out ignorance; 7, putting an end to the eight distressful conditions for those suffering from them; 8, teaching Mahayana to those who cling to Hinayana; 9, cultivation of good roots for those in want of merits; and 10, the four Bodhisattva winning devices for the purpose of leading all living beings to their goals (in Bodhisattva development). These are the ten excellent deeds.”
The visiting Bodhisattvas asked: “How many Dharmas should a Bodhisattva achieve in this world to stop its morbid growth (defilements) in order to be reborn in the Buddha’s pure land?”
Vimalakirti replied: “A Bodhisattva should bring to perfection eight Dharmas to stop morbid growth in this world in order to be reborn in the Pure Land. They are: 1, benevolence towards all living beings with no expectation of reward; 2, endurance of sufferings for all living beings dedicating all merits to them; 3, impartiality towards them with all humility free from pride and arrogance; 4, reverence to all Bodhisattvas with the same devotion as to all Buddhas (i.e. without discrimination between Bodhisattvas and Buddhas); 5, absence of doubt and suspicion when hearing (the expounding of) sutras which he has not heard before; 6, abstention from opposition to the sravaka Dharma, 7, abstention from discrimination in regard to donations and offerings received with no thought of self-profit in order to subdue his mind; and 8, self-examination without contending with others. Thus, he should achieve singleness of mind bent on achieving all merits; these are the eight Dharmas.”
After Vimalakirti and Manjusri had thus expounded the Dharma, hundreds and thousands of devas developed the mind set on supreme enlightenment, and ten thousand Bodhisattvas realized the patient endurance of the uncreate.