Vimalakīrti Sutra

by John R. McRae | 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 II - Skillful Means

1. At that time there was within the great city of Vaiśālī an elder named Vimalakīrti. He had already made offerings to immeasurable buddhas, deeply planting the foundation of goodness. He had attained forbearance of the nonarising [of dharmas], and his eloquence was unhindered. He disported in the numinous penetrations and had achieved all the dhāraṇīs. He had attained fearlessness and had subjugated the troubling vengeance of the Māras. Entering into [all the] gates of profound Dharma, he was excellent at the perfection of wisdom. Having penetrated skillful means, his great vows had been accomplished. Understanding the tendencies of the minds of sentient beings, he was also able to discriminate between those of sharp and dull faculties. Long [a practitioner of] the path of buddhahood, his mind was already pure, and he was definitively [dedicated to] the Mahayana. He considered well the activities of the realms of existence, and, residing in the deportment of the Buddha, his mind was great as the ocean. The buddhas praised him [as their] disciple, and the Indras, Brahmās, and world lords (i.e., heavenly kings) revered him.

2. Wanting to save people, [Vimalakīrti] used his excellent skillful means to reside in Vaiśālī, where with wealth immeasurable he attracted the poor, with the purity of his morality he attracted the miscreants, with the moderation of his forbearance he attracted the angry, with great exertion he attracted the indolent, with singleminded concentration he attracted the perturbed, and with definitive wisdom he attracted the foolish.

3. Although he was a white-robed [layman], he maintained the pure Vinaya conduct of a śramaṇa; although he resided in the home, he was not attached to the triple world. He manifested the existence of wife and sons, but always cultivated chastity. He revealed the existence of subordinates, but always enjoyed transcendence. Although his clothing was richly decorated, it was with the marks and features [of a Tathāgata] that he adorned his body. Although he drank and ate, the joy of concentration was his [favorite] flavor. If he went to gambling houses or theaters it was only to save people. He hosted those of the heretic paths without breaking his correct faith. Although he illuminated the profane classics he always took pleasure in the Buddha-Dharma. He was revered by all as the one most worthy of offerings.

4. In supporting the correct Dharma he attracted both old and young. In all of his business dealings, although he made worldly profits he never took joy in them. In wandering the crossroads, he dispensed benefit to sentient beings. In entering into government administration, he safeguarded everyone. In entering into the lecture halls, he led people by means of the Mahayana. In entering the schools, he inspired the children. In entering the brothels, he revealed the transgressions [that arise from] desire. In entering the wine shops, he was able to maintain (lit., “establish”) his [good] intention.

5. When he was with the elders, as the most honored of the eminent he explained the excellent Dharma for them. When he was among retired scholars as the most honored of the retired scholars he eradicated their attachments. When he was among kṣatriyas, as the most honored among kṣatriyas he taught them forbearance. When he was among brahmans, as the most honored among brahmans he eliminated their arrogance. When he was among the ministers, as the most honored among ministers he taught them the correct Dharma.

When he was among princes, as the most honored among princes he instructed them with loyalty and filiality.

When he was among palace officials, as the most honored among palace officials he converted the palace women.

6. When he was among the common people, as the most honored among the common people he had them generate the power of blessings.

When he was among Brahmā gods, as the most honored of the Brahmā gods he taught with superior wisdom.

When he was among Indras, as the most honored among Indras he manifested impermanence.

When he was among world-protector [gods], as the most honored among world-protectors he protected sentient beings.

The Elder Vimalakīrti used immeasurable skillful means such as these to benefit sentient beings.

7. Using skillful means he manifested becoming ill himself. Because he was ill, the king, ministers, elders, retired scholars, brahmans, the princes and the other palace retainers, and innumerable thousands of people all came to inquire about his illness.

8. To those who came, Vimalakīrti used the occasion of his illness to make extensive explanations of the Dharma.

“Sirs, the body is impermanent, without strength, without power, without solidity. Given the way it rapidly disintegrates, it cannot be trusted (i.e., relied upon). Alternately suffering and vexatious, it accumulates a host of illnesses. Sirs, the wise do not rely on such a body.

9. “This body is like a bit of foam that cannot be grasped. This body is like bubbles that do not last very long. This body is like a mirage, generated from thirst. This body is like a banana tree, with nothing solid within. This body is like a phantasm arising from confused [views]. This body is like a dream, an illusory view. This body is like a shadow, manifested through karmic conditions. This body is like an echo, dependent on causes and conditions. This body is like a cloud, which changes and disappears in an instant. This body is like lightning, unstable from one moment to another.

10. “This body is without master, like the earth. This body is without self, like fire. This body is without lifespan, like the wind. This body is without person, like water.

11. “This body is insubstantial, being housed in the four elements. This body is empty, transcending self and the qualities of self. This body is ignorant, like plants and rocks. This body is inactive, being turned by the power of the wind. This body is impure, replete with defilements. This body is untrustworthy, since even though one washes, clothes, and feeds it it will necessarily disintegrate. This body is a disaster, vexed by a hundred and one illnesses. This body is like a well on a hill, pressed by age. This body is unreliable, dying in spite of being needed. This body is like a poisonous snake, a vengeful bandit, an empty aggregation. It is the composite of the skandhas, sensory realms, and sensory capacities.

“Sirs, this [body] being so calamitous and repugnant, you should wish for the body of the Buddha. Why?

12. “The body of the Buddha is the body of the Dharma. It is generated through immeasurable wisdom and merit. It is generated through morality, meditation, wisdom, emancipation, and the knowledge and vision of emancipation. It is generated through sympathy, compassion, joy, and equanimity (i.e., the four unlimiteds). It is generated through the perfections of charity, morality, forbearance and adaptability, energetic exertion, meditation, emancipation, samādhi, and learned wisdom. It is generated from skillful means; it has been generated from the six penetrations; it is generated from the three illuminations; it is generated from the thirty-seven factors of enlightenment; it has been generated from concentration and contemplation; it is generated from the ten powers, the four fearlessnesses, and the eighteen exclusive attributes; it is generated from the eradication of all the dharmas that are not good and accumulation of all the good dharmas; it is generated from the truth; it is generated from the absence of negligence.

“The Tathāgata’s body is generated from immeasurable pure dharmas such as these. Sirs, if you wish to attain the body of the Buddha and eradicate all the illnesses of sentient beings, you should generate the intention to achieve anuttarā samyaksaṃbodhi!

13. Thus did the Elder Vimalakīrti explain the Dharma for those who inquired about his illness, causing innumerable thousands of people to all generate the intention to achieve anuttarā samyaksaṃbodhi.

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