Lesson
4

Samantabhadra

7 of 13

Samantabhadra hidden in the world

Although Samantabhadra is omnipresent in all places and times, even in every atom, he is hard to encounter explicitly. He often acts beneficially while seeming to be just an ordinary person. Such "hidden practice" has been a colorful motif in Buddhist history, as many great masters have spent time going about incognito in the bustle of the marketplace or living humbly "under a bridge."

Dongshan, ninth-century founder of the Soto Zen lineage in China, advised his successors, "Hide your practice, serving secretly, as if a fool, like an imbecile."

Keeping practice within, not being identified as a bodhisattva, nurtures the practitioner's skill and capacity and allows more effective work in many situations. He is willing to see the workings of the world and act, discreetly when possible, transforming social systems in order to help beings. And Samantabhadra's presence as an example produces more bodhisattvas, like Tom Sawyer inviting others to paint the fence.

The Flower Ornament Sutra presents a variety of lessons on how to put the Samantabhadra archetype into practice. He calls anger the greatest mistake possible, because each angry feeling creates millions of obstacles when we hold on to these feelings or act on them. Samantabhadra instead encourages certain practices as antidotes, such as maintaining a spacious, impartial mind without attachments. Imagine the usefulness of such a practice if you are working for transformation amid the contentiousness of worldly institutions.

A catalog of specific practices for mindful attitudes is listed in the Flower Ornament Sutra. These practices use the occasion of everyday sights and actions as reminders of spiritual purpose:

Upon seeing a bridge, wish that all beings carry everyone across to liberation; going to sleep, wish that all beings attain physical ease and undisturbed minds; coming to a door, wish that all beings enter all doors of buddhas' teachings; seeing the sick, wish that all beings know the emptiness of the body and abandon contention; seeing a flower, wish that all beings' spiritual powers would blossom.