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Exemplars of bodhisattva Vimalakirti

It is revealing to compare Vimalakirti with two bodhisattvas discussed previously, with whom he especially shares qualities. Vimalakirti eloquently expounds the emptiness teaching associated with Manjushri, but Vimalakirti is perhaps less didactic than the prince of wisdom, revealing the teachings through marvelous, theatrical tricks or displays, and in silence, as well as through eloquent orations.

Vimalakirti enters many spheres of society, as does Samantabhadra, but in a less programmatic way, without Samantabhadra's sense of a particular mission or benevolent aim. All the varied milieus are simply where Vimalakirti lives. And right in the many realms of the marketplace, he naturally expresses the inconceivable awakening also expressed in Samantabhadra's visions. But whereas Samantabhadra may be exemplified by different individuals, each occupying one of many diverse worldly roles, each exemplar of Vimalakirti enters many realms and arenas within his or her own one life. Vimalakirti thus fits the image of the renaissance person, at home in many roles and with multiple interests.

Vimalakirti has many modes. He is the iconoclastic critic of all spiritual pretension, showing practitioners where they are caught by subtle attachments. He is the wealthy philanthropist acting benevolently and mixing throughout society, in the very middle of its ethical ambiguities. He is the invalid as teacher, using his malady to demonstrate and educate about the underlying dis-ease that separates us from our fundamental health and wholeness. Finally, Vimalakirti is the trickster magician, playing with our consciousness with miracles and mind-boggling powers to liberate us from false notions of the world, and of liberation itself. The following persons, likely exemplars of Vimalakirti's qualities, may clarify one or more aspects of Vimalakirti's enlightening character and strategy. None, of course, displays the whole of Vimalakirti's vast range.