The Inconceivable Compassion Of The Enlightened

From the Vimalakirti Nirdesa Sutra ( are lesser known but some very surprising and illuminating teachings:

‘… Then the Licchavi Vimalakirti said to the patriarch Mahakasyapa, “Reverend Mahakasyapa, the Maras who play the devil in the innumerable universes of the ten directions are all bodhisattvas dwelling in the inconceivable liberation, who are playing the devil in order to develop living beings through their skill in liberative technique…”

… Vimalakirti spoke the following verses to the bodhisattva Sarvarupasamdarsana:

… The fearless bodhisattvas can manifest,
All in a single instant,
The forms, sounds, and manners of behavior
Of all living beings.

Although they recognize the deeds of Maras,
They can get along even with these Maras;
For even such activities may be manifested
By those perfected in liberative technique…’

Who are Maras? Mara refers to a powerful god (demon or devil king) who resides in the sixth heaven (Paranirmita-vasha-vartin; Heaven of Freely Enjoying Things Conjured by Others), the highest peak of the sphere of desire. Maras – with an ‘s’ refers to his followers. Mara is also the personification of evil, who delights in manipulating others to his will. As such, evil influences (ranging from simple laziness to complex delusion) that obstruct one from Dharma practice are often called one’s own inner Mara, if not from the outer and actual Mara or his Maras.

Vimalarkirti, who is really an enlightened Bodhisattva endorsed by Shakyamuni Buddha to teach, reveals in the sutra excerpt above that enlightened Bodhisattvas in multiple world systems do not just play the devil’s advocate, but play devils literally, by manifesting as chief Maras, who even mingle with Maras (chief Maras’ minions)! While this might seem like great cruelty or even hypocrisy that tricks them, what they display is really great compassion – that takes shape as skilful means, sometimes using negative examples, to bring out the best in the unenlightened.

From the article at, ‘a Buddha cannot train us as well as an “enemy”, as Buddhas will always be nice to us. Then again, Buddhas can skilfully manifest various forms to give us opportunities to practise the Dharma well!’ I wouldn’t be surprised now, if I come across another sutra, which says how Buddhas can manifest as Maras – since they are in essence perfect Bodhisattvas!

When we study the exploits of Mara (of our world system) versus Shakyamuni Buddha in the sutras, we will realise the essential role Mara played in ‘guiding’ the Buddha-to-be to Buddhahood via being a force to be reckoned with. Their interactions are enlightening to us too – offering many invaluable Dharma lessons! After learning the above, it wouldn’t be hard to imagine perfect Buddhas manifesting as Maras to train Buddhas-to-be to become perfect Buddhas! (That said, in the Brahma Net Sutra, Shakyamuni Buddha reveals that he had already manifested the path to Buddhahood many times – ‘I have come to this world eight thousand times.’) Here is more from the Vimalakirti Nirdesa Sutra:

‘…They [Bodhisattvas] may become suns or moons,
Indras, Brahmas, or lords of creatures,
They may become fire or water
Or earth or wind.

During the short aeons of maladies,
They become the best holy medicine;
They make beings well and happy,
And bring about their liberation.

During the short aeons of famine,
They become food and drink.
Having first alleviated thirst and hunger,
They teach the Dharma to living beings…’

Just as they can manifest as various evil ones like Maras, Bodhisattvas can surely also manifest as various (chief) gods like Indras (Sakras) and Brahmas to guide beings within their reach to enlightenment! Bodhisattvas can even manifest (as) appropriate elements to facilitate physical and spiritual well-being.

If there are Bodhisattvas in various heavens (probably other than the Asanna-satta and Arupa-loka or heavens of ‘mindless’ devas and formlessness respectively) and even hells (such Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva) who will do their best to guide beings there, according to their spiritual capacities, to enlightenment or at least a better rebirth, does it mean there is no need for us to urge anyone to aspire towards superior destinations of rebirth such as Amitabha Buddha’s Pure Land? We should still do our best, as even each and every Buddha, as recorded in the Pure Land Sutras, makes it a point to do so, as Amitabha Buddha’s Pure Land is so excellent in nature that being born there is the swiftest way to Buddhahood.

This has been another article, that explores the mind-blowing concepts of boundless compassion in the sutras. Every time you imagine you know how far perfect compassion can go, think again! (In case you are confused about the possibility of enlightened beings manifesting as demons and gods, it is good to simply adhere to the basic idea that these beings are distinct separate ones!)

Related Articles:

Are Buddhists Atheists?
The Cross-Manifestations of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas & Gods?
The Fastest Way to Buddhahood is Via Birth in Pure Land
Sympathy for the ‘Devil’
Tribute to a Forgotten Bodhisattva? (Devadatta)
How Bodhisattvas Can Aid Beings to Exit Hells
Inconceivable Cosmic Proportions
A Heartfelt & Heartbreaking Paradox of Compassion

1 thought on “The Inconceivable Compassion Of The Enlightened

  1. The Vimalakirti Nirdesa Sutra (維摩詰所說經) is a must read for those who practice Zen… there are cases whereby folks achieve enlightenment after reading and practicing the “concepts” mentioned in the sutra… the numbers are fairly small as the concepts teached by Vimalakirti is very advanced (it’s like PhD which means one have to be at least bachelor/honors/master level to advance to this stage)… this particular teacher is a 在家佛… who came from a different world…

    Chapter 9 is where non-duality is discussed, if one is able to able to understand non-duality just like what Vimalakirti did by maintaining silence when asked (eventually praised) by Manjushri – as any words said is for education purposes only and not to be clinged to… The state of non-duality has no words…

    There are also interesting koans in this sutra – for example Vimalakirti’s cell – 方丈室 which seems to be able to hold anything… why? 天女潵花 (was a favorite chinese opera)where the flowers only stick onto the arhat but no the bodhisattvas… why? and many more…

    On mara, from another angle:


    Most important thing is to light up your inner lights and pass it on… a candle is feeble but it still lights up the darkness, and if you were to pass it on, you can light up the whole world, the whole universe…

    On a separate note:
    Mara can point to the “moon” so can a layman, a great teacher, etc… the important thing about moon-pointing is the “moon” not who is pointing… just like there are many doors to the path of knowledge/enlightenment… you have to find the entrance you prefer, and not stand outside appraising which door looks better…

    PS: FYI, my native tongue is English, the reason I’m using some embedded mandarin phrases is to preserve the actual meaning of what had been said, English translations are great but some meanings tend to change/distorted after being translated… there are only 26 alphabets after all versus a whole bunch of chinese radicals…

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