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Trickster of the inconceivable

With the arrival in his room of the gigantic lion thrones, Vimalakirti goes beyond the bodhisattva as wealthy philanthropist mixing in worldly realms, beyond the bodhisattva as iconoclastic layman and critic of other bodhisattvas, beyond the bodhisattva as expounder of the paradoxical qualities of emptiness, and beyond the bodhisattva as invalid healer. Now we see Vimalakirti as magician. Along with his other attributes, Vimalakirti is a trickster who upsets all familiar preconceptions, not only with his eloquent and incisive critiques of the disciples, but also with spectacular displays.

Of course, all the cosmic bodhisattva figures have extraordinary powers. But Vimalakirti, while still seeming to be an ordinary man of the world, performs his marvels with panache, achieving specific effects on people's awareness. He displays the startling realm of emptiness—teaching with special theatricality to express the bodhisattva quality of inconceivable liberation. He is a kind of entertainer, creating spectacles to educate his audience into deeper understanding and experience of the true, wondrous nature of reality.

After seating his audience in their vast lion thrones, Vimalakirti informs Shariputra of the liberation called inconceivable, which defies our usual sense and perceptions of form and dimension. This inconceivability is a key principle for Vimalakirti. The endless depths of reality are far beyond the limitations of our intellectual or perceptual capacities. We cannot possibly comprehend in full either the relative or ultimate truth of any entity or event. Vimalakirti encourages us to develop ever more subtle acceptance of the ungraspability and nonarising of all phenomena. This patience implies an ongoing process of opening up to new possibilities and to the freshness of experience, of entering strange new worlds where none have gone before.

Vimalakirti's marvels are not for showmanship but only for the purpose of awakening all beings. He tells Shariputra that a bodhisattva living in inconceivable liberation can transform himself or any other being into a divine spirit, a sage, a bodhisattva, or even into a buddha. Vimalakirti performs his miraculous displays as a master of liberative technique, using his powers appropriately to help beings develop according to their own potential on the given occasion.