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Exemplars of bodhisattva Samantabhadra (continued)

William Blake

Perhaps no figure in English literature more fully exemplifies the archetypal qualities of Samantabhadra than the British visionary poet and painter William Blake. A professional engraver, Blake used paintings to adorn his poetry, which is nearly as vast, comprehensive, and colorful as the Flower Ornament Sutra itself. Blake's illuminated poems are a monumental reworking of Western spirituality, imbued with a joyful and profound spirit.

Blake was influenced by lore from England's druidic past, by the Greek and Christian Gothic traditions, and by Swedenborgian theology, which gave a philosophical context for visions of heavenly beings and spirits and for the validity of inner spiritual states. Inspired by his own spiritual experiences, Blake rewrote much of the Bible and sang his own complex, prophetic works like an Old Testament prophet. Characteristics of Blake's work reveal an archetypal kinship to Samantabhadra and give us a wider sense of the bodhisattva of action and vision.

He who sees the Infinite in all things, sees God.

Congruent with Samantabhadra's wondrous visions and samadhis, Blake stressed the role of a person's "poetic genius" and superordinary perceptions, saying "He who sees the Infinite in all things, sees God." Blake was concerned not only with his inner life but also with the society in which he lived, in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. He praised the American Revolution and the beginnings of the French Revolution, offering a visionary interpretation of the spirit of rebellion as celebrating nature in his long poem "America."

Every thing that lives is Holy.

Many of his poems deplore slavery and oppression and speak eloquently of the "marks of weakness, marks of woe" among the poor of the London slums. Blake opposed "mind-forged manacles" with his dream of a liberated England in his vision of Albion.

Blake championed imagination and radiant visions, not unlike Samantabhadra's samadhi and visualizations. Blake said that at sunrise he did not merely see a round disk of fire like a coin; he saw "an innumerable company of the Heavenly host crying, 'Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty.'" He considered most fully real such a sun, shooting forth cavalcades of brilliant angels and choruses of hallelujahs, reminiscent of Samantabhadra's visions of bodhisattvas shining in every atom.

Blake's vast sense of universal inclusivity is expressed in his statement "Every thing possible to be believed is an image of the truth." His encouragement "To see a world in a grain of sand, and a heaven in a wild flower" and "Eternity is in love with the productions of time" illustrate the interpenetration of the universal and the phenomenal.

If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite.

Although Blake's voluminous work was not highly regarded during his life, he was sustained in humble circumstances by his inner visions and samadhi. He died singing joyful hymns of the heavenly realms he beheld.