The Vimalakīrti Sutra

by Vimalakirti | 44,185 words

The Vimalakīrti Nirdeśa Sūtra is a Mahāyāna sūtra that teaches the meaning of nonduality. It contains a report of a teaching addressed to both arhats and bodhisattvas by the layman Vimalakīrti, who expounds the doctrine of śūnyatā, or emptiness, to them. According to Burton Watson, the Vimalakīrti Sūtra probably originated in India in approximatel...

Chapter I - Buddha Land

1. Thus have I heard. At one time the Buddha was in the garden of Āmrapālī near Vaiśālī, in the company of a great congregation of eight thousand bhikṣus.

2. There were thirty-two thousand bodhisattvas, recognized by the congregation.

3. The [bodhisattvas present] had all accomplished the original practices of great wisdom; were established by the numinous charisma of the buddhas; maintained the correct Dharma for the defense of the Dharma city; made their names heard throughout the ten directions through their ability at the lion’s roar; befriended and pacified people without being requested; exalted the Three Jewels (Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha) and were thus able to keep them from being cut off; subjugated the vengeful Māras and controlled those of the heterodox paths; were entirely purified and had forever transcended the impediments (i.e., afflictions); maintained their minds always in peace and unhindered emancipation; were unfailing in their mindfulness, concentration, dhāraṇī (i.e., memorization of the Dharma), and eloquence; were replete in charity (dāna), morality (śīla), forbearance (kṣānti), exertion (vīrya), meditation (dhyāna), wisdom (prajñā), and the power of skillful means; had attained the forbearance of the nonarising of dharmas and the nonattainment [of all things]; were able to accord with [the truth] in turning the irreversible wheel [of the Dharma]; understood well the characteristics of the dharmas and understood the capacities (lit., “roots”) of sentient beings; had attained fearlessness in sheltering the great congregations; cultivated their minds with merit and wisdom; were paramount in the adornment of their bodies with the [thirty-two primary] characteristics and [eighty subsidiary] marks; had dispensed with worldly adornments; were known above and beyond even Mount Sumeru; were firmly resolute in faith like vajra (i.e., diamond); illuminated the Dharma jewel everywhere and rained down the sweet dew [of the Dharma]; were paramount in the subtleties of the host of [spoken] sounds; profoundly entered into conditioned generation to eliminate the false views; were without any residual influence of the two extremes of being and nonbeing; preached the Dharma without fear like the lion’s roar; preached with reverberations like thunder; were without measure and beyond measurement; were like ocean captains who had collected the many Dharma jewels; comprehended the profound and wondrous meanings of the Dharmas; understood well the past tendencies and [current] mental processes of sentient beings; approached the unparalleled autonomous wisdom of the Buddha, the ten powers, [the four] fearlessnesses, and all the eighteen exclusive [attributes of the Buddha]; had closed all the doorways of the evil destinations but were born in the five destinations in order to manifest their bodies there; were great medicine kings who were good at healing the various illnesses; provided medicine according to the illness and caused it to be taken; were accomplished in all the immeasurable merits; had ornamented and purified all the imeasurable buddha lands; unfailingly used what they saw and heard for the benefit [of others]; and never squandered away their endeavors. Thus were they entirely replete in all merits.

4. Their names were Equivalent Contemplation Bodhisattva, Inequivalent Contemplation Bodhisattva, Equivalent-Inequivalent Contemplation Bodhisattva, Autonomy of Meditation King Bodhisattva, Autonomous Dharma King Bodhisattva, Dharma Characteristic Bodhisattva, Radiance Characteristic Bodhisattva, Radiance Ornament Bodhisattva, Great Ornament Bodhisattva, Accumulation of Jewels Bodhisattva, Accumulation of Eloquence Bodhisattva, Jewel Hand Bodhisattva, Jewel Seal Hand Bodhisattva, Constantly Raised Hand Bodhisattva, Constantly Lowered Hand Bodhisattva, Constantly Lamenting Bodhisattva, Roots of Joy Bodhisattva, Joy King Bodhisattva, Eloquent Sound Bodhisattva, Store of Space Bodhisattva, Holding the Jewel Torch Bodhisattva, Jewel Courage Bodhisattva, Jewel Vision Bodhisattva, Indra’s Net Bodhisattva, Illumination Net Bodhisattva, Unconditional Contemplation Bodhisattva, Accumulation of Wisdom Bodhisattva, Excellent Jewel Bodhisattva, Heavenly King Bodhisattva, Destroyer of Māra Bodhisattva, Lightning-like Virtue Bodhisattva, Autonomous King Bodhisattva, Ornament of the Characteristics of Merit Bodhisattva, Lion’s Roar Bodhisattva, Sound of Thunder Bodhisattva, Sound Striking the Mountains Bodhisattva, Fragrant Elephant Bodhisattva, White Fragrant Elephant Bodhisattva, Constant Exertion Bodhisattva, Unresting Bodhisattva, Wondrous Birth Bodhisattva, Flower Ornament Bodhisattva, Contemplates the Sounds of the World (Avalokiteśvara) Bodhisattva, Attains Great Strength Bodhisattva, Brahmā’s Net Bodhisattva, Jewel Staff Bodhisattva, Undefeated Bodhisattva, Ornamented Earth Bodhisattva, Golden Crest Bodhisattva, Pearl Crest Bodhisattva, Maitreya Bodhisattva, Mañjuśrī Dharma Prince Bodhisattva—there were thirty-two thousand such as these.

5. There were also ten thousand Brahmā heavenly kings, Śikhin and others, who descended from the other worlds of four continents to proceed to where the Buddha was in order to hear the Dharma. There were also twelve thousand heavenly emperors (i.e., Indras), who also came from the other worlds of four continents to sit in this assembly, and the other awesomely powerful gods (devas), dragons (nāgas), yakṣas, gandharvas, asuras, garudas, kiṃnaras, and mahoragas, who all came to sit in the assembly. The bhikṣus (monks), bhikṣuṇīs (nuns), upāsakas (laymen), and upāsikās (laywomen) [also] came together to sit in the assembly.

6. At that time the Buddha explained the Dharma for the congregation of immeasurable hundreds of thousands surrounding and revering him. He was like [Mount] Sumeru, the king of mountains, rising high above the ocean. Peacefully seated on the many-jeweled lion seat, he towered over the great congregation of all those who had come there.

7. At that time there was an elder’s son in the city of Vaiśālī named Jewel Accumulation. He and five hundred other elders’ sons proceeded to where the Buddha was, holding canopies made of the seven treasures. Reverencing [the Buddha’s] feet with their heads, they all simultaneously offered their canopies to the Buddha.

8. The Buddha’s numinous charisma made the jewel-laden canopies all turn into a single canopy, which covered the entire trimegachiliocosm, yet allowing all the characteristics of the breadth and length of this world to appear within it. Also, all the trimegachiliocosm’s Mount Sumerus, Snowy Mountains, Mucilinda Mountains, Mahāmucilinda Mountains, Fragrant Mountains, Jewel Mountains, Golden Mountains, Black Mountains, Iron Ring Mountains, and Great Iron Ring Mountains; the oceans, rivers, streams, and springs; the suns, moons, and stars; the palaces of the gods, the palaces of the dragons, and the palaces of the honored gods—all these appeared within that jewel-laden canopy. Also, the buddhas of the ten directions, as well as the buddhas’ preaching of the Dharma, also appeared in that jewelladen canopy.

9. At that time the entire great congregation observed the numinous power of the Buddha and exclaimed in praise of its unprecedented [quality]. They held their palms together and reverenced the Buddha, gazing up at his revered countenance without interruption.

10. At this the elder’s son Jewel Accumulation proclaimed in verse before the Buddha:

1. Your eyes are pure,
And as large as blue lotuses;
Your mind is pure, having mastered the concentrations.
Long have you accumulated pure action—you are immeasurably praiseworthy;
You have guided the congregation with serenity, and therefore we bow our heads to you.

2. We see the Great Sage use numinous transformations
To manifest the immeasurable lands throughout the ten directions,
Within which the buddhas preach the Dharma,
And we thus can see and hear them all!

3. The Dharma power of the Dharma King surpasses all other beings,
And you always give the wealth of Dharma to all.
Well do you discriminate the characteristics of the dharmas and remain unmoved within the cardinal principle.
You have already achieved autonomy with regard to the dharmas, and therefore we bow our heads to you as Dharma King.

4. You explain that the dharmas are neither extant nor non-extant,
Although the dharmas are generated from causes and conditions;
That they are without self, without creation, without experiencer,
Although good and evil karma is also not extinguished.

5. Initially, under the bodhi tree you forcefully subjugated Māra,
Attaining extinction, like sweet dew, and achieving enlightenment.
Without any intention in mind and without experiencing any process,
You thoroughly vanquished the heterodox paths.

6. With three turnings of the wheel of the Dharma in the chiliocosm,
The wheel is fundamentally always pure.
The achievement of enlightenment by gods and humans attests to this,
And the Three Jewels are thus manifest in the world.

7. With this wondrous Dharma you save sentient beings,
Who after experiencing it never regress from permanent serenity.
As the Great Medicine King who saves us from old age, illness, and death,
You should be worshiped as a Dharma sea whose virtues are boundless.

8. Immovable before abuse and praise, like [Mount] Sumeru,
You are equally compassionate to those who are good or not.
Your mental processes are universally same, like space—
Who could hear of the Jewel Among Humans without becoming devoted [to you]?

9. Now we offer the World-honored One this subtle canopy
Within which is manifested to us the trimegachiliocosm,
Including the palaces in which the gods and dragons abide,
As well as the gandharvas and yakṣas.

10. We see all that transpires in the world,
As He of the Ten Powers compassionately manifests these transformations.
The congregation has observed this rare event and all exclaimed in praise of the Buddha,
And now we bow our heads to the Honored One of the triple world.

11. [You,] the Great Sage and Dharma King, are the refuge of the congregation,
Who purify their minds in contemplating [you,] the Buddha, all of them in ecstasy.
They each see the World-honored One in front of himself,
Through the [eighteen] exclusive attributes of [the Buddha’s] numinous power.

12. The Buddha explains the Dharma with one sound,
And sentient beings each attain understanding according to their capacity.
Each one says the World-honored One is speaking his own language,
Through the exclusive attribute of [the Buddha’s] numinous power.

13. The Buddha preaches the Dharma with one sound,
And sentient beings each understand accordingly.
Everyone accepts and practices it, and receives its benefit,
Through the exclusive attribute of [the Buddha’s] numinous power.

14. The Buddha preaches the Dharma with one sound,
But some are afraid and some joyous.
Some generate revulsion [to the world of suffering] or eliminate their doubts,
Through the exclusive attribute of [the Buddha’s] numinous power.

15. We bow our heads to Him of the Ten Powers and Great Exertion.
We bow our heads to Him Who Has Achieved Fearlessness.
We bow our heads to Him Residing in the Exclusive Attributes.
We bow our heads to the Great Guide of All.

16. We bow our heads to Him Who Can Eradicate the Fetters.
We bow our heads to Him Who Has Arrived at the Other Shore.
We bow our heads to Him Who Can Save [Beings in All] the Worlds.
We bow our heads to Him Who Has Eternally Transcended the Realm of Samsara.

17. You understand the past and future characteristics of sentient beings,
And well have you attained emancipation with regard to the dharmas.
Unattached to the world, like the lotus flower [growing out of the mud],
You always enter well into the practice of empty serenity (i.e., nirvana).

18. You have attained the characteristics of the dharmas without hindrance,
And we bow our heads to Him Who Relies On Nothing, Like Space.

11. When the elder’s son Jewel Accumulation finished speaking this verse, he addressed the Buddha, “World-honored One, these five hundred elders’ sons have all generated the intention to achieve anuttarā samyak-saṃbodhi (complete, perfect enlightenment). We wish to hear of the purity of the countries of the Buddha. Would the World-honored One please explain for the bodhisattvas the practices by which a land is purified?”

The Buddha said, “Excellent, Jewel Accumulation! You are able to inquire on behalf of the bodhisattvas regarding the practices by which the Tathāgata purified his land. Listen clearly, listen clearly, and consider this well. I will explain it for you.” At this Jewel Accumulation and the five hundred elders’ sons listened as instructed.

12. The Buddha said, “Jewel Accumulation, the categories of sentient beings are the bodhisattvas’ buddha lands. Why is this? Bodhisattvas acquire the buddha lands according to the sentient beings they convert. They acquire the buddha lands according to the sentient beings they discipline. They acquire the buddha lands according to what country sentient beings need to enter into buddha wisdom. They acquire the buddha lands according to what country sentient beings need to generate the roots [for becoming] bodhisattvas.

Why is this? Because bodhisattvas’ acquisition of the pure countries is entirely for the benefit of sentient beings. It is like a man who wants to build a palace on empty land who is [able to build it] according to his wish without hindrance. He would never be able to build it in space. Bodhisattvas are like this. In order to accomplish the [salvation of] sentient beings, they vow to acquire the buddha countries. The vow to acquire a buddha land is not done in empty space!

13. “Jewel Accumulation, you should understand that sincerity is the bodhisattva’s pure land—when the bodhisattva attains buddhahood, it is sentient beings who do not flatter [and lie] that come be born in his country.

“A profound mind is the bodhisattva’s pure land—when the bodhisattva attains buddhahood, it is sentient beings who are complete in merit that come to be born in his country.

“The mind of bodhi (bodhicitta, i.e., the intention to achieve perfect enlightenment) is the bodhisattva’s pure land—when the bodhisattva achieves buddha-hood, sentient beings of the Mahayana come to be born in his country.

“Charity (dāna) is the bodhisattva’s pure land—all sentient beings capable of renunciation come to be born in his country.

“Morality (śīla, lit., “maintaining the precepts”) is the bodhisattva’s pure land—when the bodhisattva achieves buddhahood, sentient beings who have fulfilled their vows to practice the path of the ten types of good come to be born in his country.

“Forbearance (kṣānti) is the bodhisattva’s pure land—when the bodhisattva achieves buddhahood, sentient beings who have ornamented themselves with the thirty-two marks [of a buddha] come to be born in his country.

“Exertion (vīrya) is the bodhisattva’s pure land—when the bodhisattva achieves buddhahood, sentient beings who have energetically cultivated all the [types of] merit come to be born in his country.

“Meditation (dhyāna) is the bodhisattva’s pure land—when the bodhisattva achieves buddhahood, sentient beings who control their minds and keep them undisturbed come to be born in his country.

“Wisdom (prajñā) is the bodhisattva’s pure land—when the bodhisattva achieves buddhahood, sentient beings who [have achieved] correct concentration come to be born in his country.

“The four unlimited states of mind (i.e., the brāhma-vihāras) are the bodhisattva’s pure land—when the bodhisattva achieves buddhahood, sentient beings who have developed sympathy, compassion, joy, and equanimity come to be born in his pure land.

“The four means of attraction are the bodhisattva’s pure land—when the bodhisattva achieves buddhahood, sentient beings who have been attracted through his emancipation come to be born in his country.

“Skillful means are the bodhisattva’s pure land—when the bodhisattva achieves buddhahood, sentient beings whose skillful means are without hindrance regarding all the the dharmas come to be born in his country.

“The thirty-seven factors of enlightenment are the bodhisattva’s pure land— when the bodhisattva achieves buddhahood, sentient beings who [have accomplished the] foundations of mindfulness, correct exertions, numinous capabilities, faculties, powers, and the noble path come to be born in his country.

“The attitude of rededication [of merit] is the bodhisattva’s pure land— when the bodhisattva achieves buddhahood, he attains a country that is complete in all [forms of] merit.

“Explaining how to eliminate the eight difficult realms [where the Buddha and Dharma are unknown] is the bodhisattva’s pure land—when the bodhisattva achieves buddhahood, his country is without the three evil destinations and eight difficult realms.

“Maintaining one’s own practice of the precepts without reviling the deficiencies of others is the bodhisattva’s pure land—when the bodhisattva achieves buddhahood, his country is without the names (i.e., without even the words) ‘violation’ and ‘prohibition.’

“The ten goods are the bodhisattva’s pure land—when the bodhisattva achieves buddhahood, sentient beings whose lifespans are not interrupted, who are very wealthy, who are chaste, whose words are truthful, who always use gentle language, who do not isolate themselves from their subordinates and who are good at resolving disputes, whose words are always beneficial, who are not jealous, who are not prone to anger, and who have correct views— [all these types of sentient beings] come to be born in his country.

14. “Thus, Jewel Accumulation, according to his sincerity does the bodhisattva generate his practice. According to his generation of practice does he attain the profound mind. According to his profound mind does he discipline his intention. According to the disciplining of his intention does he practice in conformity with the teaching. According to his practice in conformance to the teaching is he able to rededicate [merit].

“According to his rededication does he have skillful means. According to his skillful means does he make sentient beings accomplish [liberation]. According to his accomplishment [of the liberation] of sentient beings is his buddha land pure. According to the purity of the buddha land is his explanation of the Dharma pure. According to the purity of his explanation of the Dharma is his wisdom pure. According to the purity of his wisdom is his mind pure. According to the purity of his mind are all his merits pure.

“Therefore, Jewel Accumulation, if a bodhisattva wishes to attain a pure land he should purify his mind. According to the purity of his mind is his buddha land pure!”

15. At that time Śāriputra was influenced by the Buddha’s numinous charisma to have this thought: “If the bodhisattva’s buddha land is pure according to the purity of the bodhisattva’s mind, then when our World-honored One was a bodhisattva his mind must have been pure. Nevertheless, this buddha land is so impure!”

The Buddha knew what he was thinking and asked him, “What do you think? Although the blind do not see them, can the sun and moon be anything but pure?”

[Śāriputra] answered, “No, World-honored One! This is the fault of the blind, not that of the sun and moon.”

[The Buddha said], “Śāriputra, it is through the transgressions of sentient beings that they do not see the purity of the Tathāgata’s (i.e., my) buddha land. This is not the Tathāgata’s fault! Śāriputra, this land of mine is pure, but you do not see it.”

16. At that time Conch Crest Brahmā King said to Śāriputra, “Do not think thus, saying that this buddha land is not pure. Why? I have witnessed the purity of Śākyamuni’s buddha land. It is like the heavenly palace of Īśvara.”

Śāriputra said, “As I observe this land, it is hills and hollows, brambles and gravel, and rocks and mountains—all filled with defilements.”

Conch Crest Brahmā King said, “Sir, your mind has (i.e., perceives) high and low because you are not relying on buddha wisdom. Hence you perceive this land as impure. Śāriputra, the bodhisattva is universally same [in attitude] regarding all sentient beings. The purity of his profound mind relies on buddha wisdom and therefore is able to perceive the purity of this buddha land.”

17. At this the Buddha pointed to the earth with his toe, and instantly the trimegachiliocosm was as if ornamented with a hundred thousand jewels. It was like the Jewel Ornamentation land, with all its immeasurable merits, of Jewel Ornament Buddha.

The entire great assembly exclaimed at this unprecedented event, and they all saw themselves sitting on many-jeweled lotus flowers.

18. The Buddha told Śāriputra, “You should now observe the purity of this buddha land.”

Śāriputra said, “So it is, World-honored One. Originally I did not see it; originally I did not hear it. Now the purity of the Buddha’s country is entirely apparent.”

The Buddha said to Śāriputra, “My buddha country is always pure, like this. It is only so as to save inferior persons here that I manifest it as a defiled and impure land. It is like the many-jeweled eating utensils used in common by the gods, the food in which is of different colors depending on their merits. Just so, Śāriputra, if a person’s mind is pure he sees the merits and ornaments of this land.”

19. When the Buddha manifested the purity of this country, the five hundred elders’ sons led by Jewel Accumulation all achieved forbearance of the nonarising of dharmas. Eighty-four thousand people all generated the intention to achieve anuttarā samyaksaṃbodhi.

20. The Buddha then withdrew his numinous powers, and the world returned to its former [appearance].

The thirty-two thousand gods and humans who sought the śrāvaka vehicle understood that conditioned dharmas were all entirely impermanent and, distantly transcending sensory defilement, they attained purity of the Dharma eye.

Eight thousand bhikṣus [achieved] nonexperiencing of the dharmas, their minds liberated by the elimination of the flaws.