Lesson
4

Samantabhadra

5 of 13

Samantabhadra's vision: the lively environment

Surveying the samadhis and the vows of Samantabhadra, we begin to realize the vast, panoramic vision of reality that he expresses. Samantabhadra's inspiring and dazzling vision of the universal awakened nature of reality especially emphasizes the interrelatedness of all phenomena and the relation of all phenomena with the ultimate truth or emptiness of all things. In the holographic aspect of his samadhis, each part replicates the whole and yet does not interfere with any other part. This is the reality described in the simile of Indra's net, where each jewel in the vast net fully reflects all other jewels from its own position. So each being, including each of us, reflects the light of the whole universe.

Samantabhadra's vision of the way things are is prescriptive as well as descriptive. It may be true that each part of the universe intimately reflects the whole, but it requires the presence of bodhisattva practice and the aspiration for universal enlightenment. The interpenetrating radiance of all things is only manifested when we are dedicated to the awakening and well-being of the whole. The universal vision can't be realized by one who sees the self as fundamentally at war with others, who is "looking out for number one." Only when we see that we are all in this together and live constructively in that light can we see each other as truly integral to the whole.

Samantabhadra's work sounds very exalted, but he is not a "goody-goody" or naive "do-gooder," trying to do right out of a sense of obligation. He does these things because it is just the most joyful, beautiful way to live. His effort is to further beautify the bodhisattva path by helping others find calm, deep radiance.

One striking aspect of Samantabhadra's vision is the teaching role of inanimate objects. The lands of the Flower Ornament sutra, with their jeweled trees, lakes, clouds, palaces, light beams, and flowers, demonstrate and awaken beings to the luminous reality of interconnectedness and openness. The world is not a collection of dead objects. In pure buddha lands, including this world of ours, every single thing joins in the enlightening work of bodhisattvas.

Interconnectedness and the environment

Samantabhadra could be called the bodhisattva of environmentalism. When we see the interrelatedness of our world, we recognize that clear-cutting the rain forests of the Amazon depletes the oxygen available for our own lungs. Allowing the mass extinction of species, even of unknown insects or tropical plants, impedes the diversity and richness of all life on the planet. Healing medicines that may have been discovered in recently extinct flora will not be available, but also the radiance of the whole fabric of the web of life fades. When each flower, each jeweled tree, each lake, each rock, each bird is a liberating ornament illuminating the bodhisattva work, we appreciate the vow to uphold and maintain all things with delicate care and attentiveness. The world is an intricate, sensitive system in which all parts are integral to the whole, and in which our own beneficial activity is vital. Samantabhadra's application of wisdom is centered on guarding and caring for the world, as expressed most directly in his vows to share the dharma, to benefit beings, and to transfer his own merit.