Huseng wrote:This is just a popular story, possibly a grassroots folk tale of sorts, that made it into the Chinese canon.
Moreover, I imagine it was written with an intention of provoking a response from certain members in the community at the time.
The Vimalakīrti Nirdeśa Sūtra is one example of a text saying rather provocative things. The tantras go beyond that.
On the contrary I think that all the bizarre forms of indian religiosity etc... existed during the time of Shakyamuni and that therefore this sutra is based on real incidents.