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The Inexhaustible Lamp

I was recently going through books in my office and discovered “The Vimalakirti Sutra.” Vimalakirti, according to legend, was a lay person of some wealth who resided in the city Vaishali in northern India. He had great wisdom and understanding of the Buddha’s teachings and lived his life according to those principles. This sutra is a little humorous in that Vimalakirti appears to be ill so that the officials of the region would come to visit him and he could talk to them about Buddhism. Buddha heard about this and was trying to get his disciples and the bodhisattvas to go, but one by one they all refused because Vimalakirti had sort of put them in their place at one time or another. In one part of the sutra, Buddhas asked the bodhisattva, Upholder of the Age, to go see Vimalakirti , but Upholder of the Age also refused to go and told the Buddha a story about a devil coming to see Vimalakirtki with thousands of “heavenly women” and the devil offered them to Vimalakirti. Vimalakirti accepted the women, taught them the Buddhist teachings until they were all enlightened and then asked them to go back to the devils palace.

And what Vimalakirti said to these women really struck me. “Sisters,” he said, “there is a teaching call the Inexhaustible Lamp. You must study it. This Inexhaustible Lamp is like a single lamp that lights a hundred or a thousand other lamps, till the darkness is all made bright with a brightness that never ends. In this same way, sisters, one bodhisattva guides and opens a path for a hundred or a thousand living beings, causing them to set their minds on attaining enlightenment. And this desire for the Way will be never be extinguished. By following the teaching as it has been preached, one keeps adding until one has acquired all good teachings. This is what is called the Inexhaustible Lamp.”

In this time of great sorrow and anger remembering the first of the 4 Great Vows, “Sentient beings are numberless; we vow to save them all” is taking on the vow of the Inexhaustible Lamp – each of us living our lives in such a way that we can light the lamp of compassion in our selves and in others.

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