The Bodhisattva & Sexuality – The Skill In Means Sutra

 
We had some discussion on the blog about ethics & safety. We mainly looked onto the ethics from the point of view of the Vinaya, and we only slightly touched the ethics from the Vajrayana point of view. This post should stress the Mahayana point of view and is an extract / quote from the The Skill in Means Sutra (Upayakausalya-Sutra) translated by Prof. Dr. Mark Tatz who dedicated the work to his gurus Kalu Rinpoche and Dezhung Rinpoche.

The cover of the book says about this sutra:

This rare Sutra, ancient but timely, has long been treated with circumspection because of its liberal attitude toward sexuality and other ethical concerns. One of the original statements of the early Mahayana school, it is here collated from Chinese and Tibetan translations, and from passages that remain in the original Sanskrit. Originally part of a larger sutra on the six perfections that included the well-known Perfection of Wisdom Sutra, the Skill in Means Sutra explicates the other five perfections of the Bodhisattva. The translator has traced its source to verses of the Ratnagunasamcaya-gatha that have no counterpart in the Perfection of Wisdom. The Skill in Means is also found as part of the Ratnakuta collection of sutras, under the title The Question of Jnanottara’.

The Bodhisattva and Sexuality: The Bodhisattva “King at the Head of the Masses”

23. Then the master Ananda said to the Lord:
“Venerable Lord, the Thus-Come-One may be the teacher of all sentient beings; and it may be that there is nothing not known to, not seen and realized by, not directly evident to him. Nevertheless, the Thus-Come-One has said, ‘When you see a monk incur a transgression, do not dissemble, but tell your fellow celibates or the Thus-Come-One. Therefore I relate this to the Lord, with friendliness and the intention of avoiding an act of transgression.

“Venerable Lord, as I was making my round for alms in this great city of Sravasti, I saw the Bodhisattva King at the Head of the Masses inside a certain house, together with a woman on a couch.”

When master Ananda had finished speaking, the great earth suddenly shook in six ways.

24. Then the Bodhisattva King at the Head of Masses levitated and sat in the atmosphere before the Lord at seven times the height of a palm tree. Addressing master Ananda, he said: “Master Ananda, what do you think of this? Can someone sit in the atmosphere while possessed of a subject of transgression?”

Ananda answered, “No, son of the family, he cannot.”

The Bodhisattva King at the Head of the Masses asked again: “Then let master Ananda ask the Thus-Come-One who is present before us now how one comes to be possessed of a subject of Bodhisattva transgression.”

Master Ananda was disconcerted. Bowing his head to the feet of the Lord, he said to the Lord:

“Venerable Lord, I disclose as an offense the offense I have committed in accusing such a standard-bearer of a fault. May it please the Lord to accept as an offense the offense I have confessed as an offense.”

25. The Lord replied to master Ananda: “Ananda, do not conceive of a holy person, someone practicing the Greater Vehicle correctly, as being faulty. Ananda, this is how you should understand it: A person of the vehicle of the auditors, in order to be absolutely peerless in maintaining meditative calm, will seek uninterruptedly to exhaust the outflows. In the same way, Ananda, the Bodhisattva great hero who is skilled in means, who is endowed with the thought of omniscience, will seek uninterruptedly for omniscience, even to the point of abiding among a holy retinue of women and enjoying, playing with, and taking pleasure in it.

“Why so? Ananda, the Bodhisattva great hero who is skilled in means takes a retinue only to introduce it to the three jewels—the jewel of the Buddha, the jewel of the doctrine and the jewel of the community—and to supreme,
right and full awakening.

“Ananda, if you should see a son of the family or a daughter of the family (someone of the Bodhisattva vehicle) who, while not parted from the thought of omniscience, is enjoying, playing with and taking pleasure in the five sensuous qualities—then, Ananda, you should understand that the holy person in question is endowed with five faculties like those of the Thus-Come-One.

26, “Now listen, Ananda, to why the Bodhisattva King at the Head of the Masses was sitting together with a woman on a couch. That woman, Ananda, had been the wife of Bodhisattva King at the Head of the Masses for the past
five hundred lives. Because of that clumsiness (ayonisa) in the past, her thoughts clung to that son of the family. On the other band, she perceived the splendor and majesty (generated by the power of his past morality) of the Bodhisattva King at the Head of the Masses. She found herself incapable of uttering the words that would take her to (sic) a lower rebirth.

“Off in private, the thought arose in her mind, If the Bodhisattva King at the Head of the Masses were to sit with me on a couch, I also would generate the thought of supreme, right and full awakening.

27.  Ananda, the Bodhisattva King at the Head of the Masses 
cognized that sister’s supposition with his mind.
He let the night pass and in the morning put on his under and outer robes, took his bowl and went for alms to the great city of Sravasti. Wandering through the great city of Sravasti for alms, he came to the house of that sister.

“He thought about the earth-equivalency—the spiritual exercise of equating the internal and external elements of earth. He took that sister by the right hand, and they sat down on a couch. As soon as they had been seated, he spoke this stanza:

The Buddha does not praise desire;
That is the range of the foolish.
Eliminate craving for sense-objects,
And become the best of humanity—a Buddha.

28. “Ananda, then that sister, hearing the stanza, was elated and jubilant.
 She rose from the couch and fell at the feet of the Bodhisattva King at the
 Head of the Masses, Then she uttered these stanzas:

Desires censured by the Buddha,
I will not seek hereafter;
Abandoning thirst for sense-objects,
I’ll become the best humanity—a Buddha.

The offensive thought I was thinking,
I hereby confess to you;
For the welfare of all living creatures,
I generate the wish for awakening.

29, “Ananda, the Bodhisattva King at the Head of the Masses instructed that sister in supreme, right and full awakening, built her up to it, introduced her to it, and established her in it with that skill in means. Then he rose from the couch and departed.

“Ananda, regard the distinction of his beneficent intentions! Ananda, I make this prediction in regard to that sister: Upon transmigrating from here, she will exchange her woman’s body. After 9.9 million ‘incalculable’ eons, she will become and appear in the world as a Thus-Come-One, a Worthy, a fully perfected Buddha named Free From Obsession, in the Buddha-field in which he obtains awakening, sentient beings will have no unwholesome obsession at all in their minds.

“Ananda, you may understand by this account how a Bodhisattva takes a retinue without its becoming a subject of transgression.”

30. Then the Bodhisattva King at the Head of the Masses descended from the atmosphere. He made a prostration to the Lord, and said:

“Venerable Lord, a Bodhisattva maintains skill in means and great compassion. Venerable Lord, this is how I think of it:

“Suppose that a transgression would befall a Bodhisattva in the course of creating a store of merit for a particular sentient being, and the offense would cause him to bum in hell for a hundred thousand eons. The Bodhisattva will incur the transgression—and the suffering of hell-enthusiastically, O Venerable Lord, rather than relinquish the store of merit of a single sentient being.”

31. The Lord gave a “Well done!” to the Bodhisattva King at the Head of the Masses. “Well done, well done, holy personage. With such great compassion, a Bodhisattva avoids any transgression; he possesses no subject
of transgression. How is this the case?

pp. 30–33

The Bodhisattva and Sexuality: The Story of Jyotis

[…]

The Bodhisattva and Sexuality: The Story of Vimala

36. Then the Lord again addressed the Bodhisattva great hero Jnanottara:

“Son of the family: If the monks Sariputra and Maudgalyayana had been skilled in means, the monk Kokalika would not have gone to hell. Why so?

37. “Son of the family, this I know for myself. Once upon a time, during the promulgation of the Thus-Come-One, the Worthy, the fully perfected Buddha Kakutsunda, there was a monk a preacher of doctrine named Vimala (‘Immaculate’) who dwelt in a remote cave. Not far from him lived five hundred rsis. During that period a mass of clouds arose unseasonably, and a great rain came to fall. A pair of women who were en route between villages
entered Vimala’s cave seeking refuge from the rain. When they re-
emerged from the cave, they were spied by the five hundred rsis. Seeing them, 
the five hundred rsis thought 
harsh and hateful thoughts:    in alarm:

“‘ Aha! This monk Vimala is lusting for wickedness. He is uncelibate.’

38. “‘Then the monk Vimala, knowing in his mind the thinking of those
 five hundred rsis, levitated into the atmosphere to seven times the height of
 a palm tree. Seeing him sitting there, the rsis thought to themselves:
“‘According to our theories, someone who is uncelibate cannot levitate and sit in the atmosphere.’

“Without further ado they made prostration with five limbs to the feet of the monk Vimala and confessed their fault to be a fault.

“Son of the family: If the monk Vimala had not levitated and sat in the atmosphere at that time, those five hundred rsis would have fallen physically into hell.

39. “Son of the family, what do you think of this? At that time, in that 
life the present Bodhisattva Maitreya was none other than the monk Vimala. Do not view it otherwise. Have no second thoughts or doubt on this point.

“Son Of the family: You should understand by this account that if the monks Sariputra and Maudgalyayana had levitated and sat in the atmosphere, the monk Kokalika would not have gone to hell.

pp. 35–36

From the Conclusion (pp. 39–45)

52. The thought occurred to him, “What have I done to be reborn here?” Knowledge that is a recollection of past deeds arose in him, and he thought:

“I was the daughter of a merchant in the great city of Sravasti, and while there I gazed amorously upon the Bodhisattva great hero Priyamkara. After dying with my mind possessed by lust, I transformed my woman’s body to obtain a male body here. I have become opulent beyond measure.”

Then the male divinity (devaputra) thought: “If this be the reward for thoughts of lust, what would be my reward for doing prostrations and service with thoughts of faith to the Bodhisattva great hero Priyamkara? It is inappropriate and wrong for me to continue in a state of careless indulgence in sensual exhilaration and play and sexual pleasure. Instead, let me go before the Lord and the Bodhisattva great hero Priyamkara.”

[…]

58. Then Master Ananda said to the Lord:

“Venerable Lord, it is like this. All sentient beings who stand before Sumeru, the king of mountains, have the same color—the color of gold—regardless of whether they have thoughts of hatred, serenity, or attachment, or thoughts hindered in access to the doctrine. In the same way, venerable Lord, all sentient beings who stand before Bodhisattvas, whether they have thoughts of hatred, serenity, or attachment, or thoughts hindered in access to the doctrine, all have thoughts of the same complexion—the complexion of omniscience. Venerable Lord, henceforth I will consider all bodhisattvas to be like the king of mountains.

——————-

Professor Mark Tatz holds a Ph.D. in Buddhist Studies from the University of British Columbia, and an M.A. in Asian Languages (Sanskrit and Tibetan) from the University of Washington. Resident in Berkeley, California, he teaches at the Institute of Buddhist Studies. He is the author of numerous books and articles, including Rebirth: The Tibetan Game of Liberation; and The Complete Bodhisattva: Asanga ‘s Chapter on Ethics with the Commentary by Tsong-kha-pa.*

* from the book cover