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 IV - Bodhisattvas

1. At this point the Buddha addressed Maitreya Bodhisattva, “You go inquire about Vimalakīrti’s illness.”

Maitreya addressed the Buddha, “World-honored One, I dare not accept your instruction to go inquire about his illness. Why? I remember once in the past when I was explaining the practice of the stage of irreversibility for the heavenly king of the Tuṣita Heaven and his subordinates. At the time Vimalakīrti came and said to me,

2. “‘Maitreya, the World-honored One has bestowed on your noble person the prediction that you will achieve anuttarā samyaksaṃbodhi in a single lifetime. What lifetime will you use to experience this prediction, past, future, or present? If a past life, then the past life is already extinguished. If a future life, then the future life has not arrived. If the present life, then the present life is nonabiding. It is as the Buddha has explained, “O bhikṣus, you are in this immediate present born, aged, and extinguished.”

“‘If you experience this prediction with birthlessness, then the birthless is the primary status [of Hinayanist enlightenment]. Yet within that primary status there is no receiving the prediction, and also no attainment of anuttarā samyaksaṃbodhi.

3. “‘How, Maitreya, did you receive the prediction of [buddhahood in] a single lifetime? Did you receive the prediction from the generation of suchness, or did you receive the prediction from the extinction of suchness?

“‘If you received the prediction by the generation of suchness, then [understand that] suchness is without generation. If you received the prediction by the extinction of suchness, then [understand that] suchness is without extinction.

“‘All sentient beings are entirely suchlike, and all dharmas are also entirely suchlike. The assembly of sages and wise ones are also suchlike.

Even you, Maitreya, are suchlike. If you received the prediction [of future buddhahood], all sentient beings should also receive it. Why? Suchness is nondual and nondifferentiated. If Maitreya attains anuttarā samyaksaṃbodhi, then all sentient beings should also all attain it. Why? All sentient beings are the characteristic of bodhi. If Maitreya attains extinction, then all sentient beings should also all [attain] extinction. Why? The buddhas understand that all sentient beings are ultimately extinguished, which is the characteristic of nirvana, and cannot again be extinguished.

“‘Therefore, Maitreya, do not inspire the gods with this teaching.

4. “‘Truly, there is no one who generates the intention to achieve anuttarā samyaksaṃbodhi, and there is no one who retrogresses. Maitreya, you should have these gods forsake this discriminative view of bodhi. Why?

“‘Bodhi cannot be attained with the body, and it cannot be attained with the mind.
“‘Extinction is bodhi, because of the extinction of the characteristics.
“‘Non-contemplation is bodhi, because it transcends the conditions.
“‘Non-practice is bodhi, because it is without recollection.
“‘Eradication is bodhi, because of renouncing the views. Transcendence is bodhi, because of the transcendence of false concepts.
“‘Hindrances are bodhi, because of the hindrance of the vows.
“‘Non-entry is bodhi, because of the absence of lustful attachment. Accordance is bodhi, because of accordance with suchness.
“‘Abiding is bodhi, because of abiding [in the] Dharma-nature.
“‘Approach is bodhi, because of the approach to the reality-limit.
“‘Nonduality is bodhi, because of the transcendence of mind and dharmas.
“‘Universal sameness is bodhi, because of universal sameness with space.
“‘The unconditioned is bodhi, because of the absence of generation, abiding, and extinction.
“‘Understanding is bodhi, because of the comprehension of the mental processes of sentient beings.
“‘Non-assemblage is bodhi, because of the non-assemblage of the entrances (āyatanas, i.e., sensory capacities).
“‘Non-aggregation is bodhi, because of the transcendence of the latent influences of the afflictions.
“‘The non-locative is bodhi, because of formlessness.
“‘Provisional names are bodhi, because names are empty.
“‘The [activities of the] conversion of suchness are bodhi, because of the nonexistence of grasping and forsaking.
“‘The non-turbulent is bodhi, because of permanent composure.
“‘Good serenity is bodhi, because of the purity of the natures.
“‘Non-grasping is bodhi, because of the transcendence of objectified mentation.
“‘Nondifferentiation is bodhi, because of the universal sameness of the dharmas.
“‘Non-comparison is bodhi, because of the impossibility of analogy.
“‘The subtle is bodhi, because of the difficulty of understanding the dharmas.’

5. “World-honored One, when Vimalakīrti explained this Dharma, two hundred gods achieved the forbearance of the nonarising of dharmas. Therefore, I cannot accept [your instruction] to go inquire about his illness.”

6. The Buddha told Radiance Ornament Youth, “You go inquire about Vimalakīrti’s illness.”

Radiance Ornament Youth addressed the Buddha, “World-honored One, I dare not accept your instruction to go inquire about his illness. Why? I remember once in the past, when I was coming out of the great city of Vaiśālī just as Vimalakīrti was entering the city. I immediately bowed and asked, ‘Retired scholar, from where are you coming?’

“He answered me, ‘I have come from the place of enlightenment.’

“I asked, ‘Where is the place of enlightenment?’

“He answered,

7. “‘Sincerity is the place of enlightenment, because of the absence of falsity. The generation of practice is the place of enlightenment, because it is able to discriminate things. Profound mind is the place of enlightenment, because of the increase in merit. The mind of bodhi (bodhicitta) is the place of enlightenment, because of the absence of error.

8. “‘Charity is the place of enlightenment, because of not seeking after retribution (i.e., reward). Morality is the place of enlightenment, because of the fulfillment of vows. Forbearance is the place of enlightenment, because of the absence of any mental hindrance regarding sentient beings. Exertion is the place of enlightenment, because of not retrogressing. Meditation is the place of enlightenment, because of the pliable disciplining of the mind. Wisdom is the place of enlightenment, because of the manifest perception of the dharmas.

9. “‘Sympathy is the place of enlightenment, because of the universal sameness of sentient beings. Compassion is the place of enlightenment, because of the forbearance of suffering. Joy is the place of enlightenment, because of taking pleasure in the Dharma. Equanimity is the place of enlightenment, because of the eradication of repugnance and affection.

10. “‘The numinous penetrations are the place of enlightenment, because of the achievement of the six penetrations (i.e., supernatural abilities). Emancipation is the place of enlightenment, because of the ability to forsake. Skillful means are the place of enlightenment, because of the salvation of sentient beings. The four means of attraction are the place of enlightenment, because of the attraction (i.e., conversion) of sentient beings. Erudition is the place of enlightenment, because of practice according to one’s knowledge. Mental control is the place of enlightenment, because of the correct contemplation of the dharmas. The thirty-seven factors of enlightenment are the place of enlightenment, because of forsaking the conditioned dharmas. The truth is the place of enlightenment, because of not misleading the world.

“‘Conditioned generation is the place of enlightenment, because ignorance and so forth through old age and death, are all unexhausted. The afflictions are bodhi, because of understanding according to actuality.

11. “‘Sentient beings are the place of enlightenment, because of understanding no-self.

“‘All dharmas are the place of enlightenment, because of understanding the emptiness of the dharmas. Subjugation of the Māras is the place of enlightenment, because of not being swayed. The triple world is the place of enlightenment, because of the absence of destinations. The lion’s roar is the place of enlightenment, because of the absence of fear. The [ten] powers, [four] fearlessnesses, and [eighteen] exclusive attributes are the place of enlightenment, because of the absence of transgressions. The three illuminations are the place of enlightenment, because of the absence of remaining hindrances. To understand all the dharmas in a single moment of thought is the place of enlightenment, because of the accomplishment of omniscience.

12. “‘Thus, my good man, should the bodhisattva teach sentient beings according to the perfections. In all that is done, [down to every] lifting or placing of one’s foot, you should understand that all these come from the place of enlightenment and abide in the Buddha-Dharma.’

13. “When [Vimalakīrti] explained the Dharma five hundred gods and humans all generated the intention to achieve anuttarā samyaksaṃbodhi. Therefore, I cannot accept [your instruction] to go inquire about his illness.”

14. The Buddha told Maintains the World Bodhisattva, “You go inquire about Vimalakīrti’s illness.”

Maintains the World addressed the Buddha, “World-honored One, I dare not accept your instruction to go inquire about his illness. Why?

“I remember once in the past when I was residing in a meditation chamber, Māra the Evil One, attended by twelve thousand goddesses and in a manner like Indra with his drum, music, and song, proceeded to where I was. He and his subordinates bowed their heads to my feet, held their palms together reverentially, and stood to one side.

“Thinking it was Indra, I said to him, ‘Welcome, Kauśika! Although [you enjoy] blessings you should not be self-indulgent. You should contemplate the impermanence of the five desires and seek for the foundation of goodness, cultivating the perduring dharmas with regard to your body, life, and wealth.’

“He then said to me, ‘O good sir, [please] receive these twelve thousand goddesses to clean and wash [for you].’

“I said, ‘Kauśika, as a śramaṇa and son of Śākya I have no need for improper things such as this. This would not be appropriate for me.’

15. “Before I had even finished saying this Vimalakīrti came and said to me, ‘This is not Indra. This is Māra, who has come only to ridicule you.’

“He then said to Māra, ‘You can give these women to me. If it were I, I would accept them.’

“Māra then thought in shock, ‘Vimalakīrti should not be troubling me!’ He wanted to become invisible and leave but he could not disappear. Even using all his numinous power he was not able to leave.

“He then heard a voice from space, saying, ‘Evil One, if you give him the women you will be able to go.’

“Because of his fear, and with eyes casting nervously about, [Māra] gave Vimalakīrti the women.

16. “Then Vimalakīrti said to the women, ‘Māra has given you to me. You should now all generate the intention to achieve anuttarā samyaksaṃ-bodhi.

“He then explained the Dharma to them in various ways and caused them to generate the intention for enlightenment.

“He then said, ‘Now that you have generated the intention for enlightenment, you may amuse yourselves in the joy of the Dharma, never again taking pleasure in the five desires.’

“The goddesses asked, ‘What is the joy of the Dharma?’

“He answered, ‘Joy is to always trust the Buddha. Joy is to desire to hear the Dharma. Joy is to make offerings to the assembly. Joy is to transcend the five desires. Joy is to contemplate the five skandhas as vengeful bandits. Joy is to contemplate the four elements as poisonous snakes. Joy is to contemplate the interior sensory capacities as being like empty aggregations. Joy is to maintain one’s intention for enlightenment in all situations. Joy is to benefit sentient beings. Joy is to revere teachers. Joy is the extensive practice of charity. Joy is the firm maintenance of the precepts. Joy is forbearance and pliability. Joy is the vigorous accumulation of good roots. Joy is the lack of disturbance in meditation. Joy is to transcend the defilements in wisdom. Joy is to disseminate bodhicitta. Joy is the subjugation of the host of Māras. Joy is the eradication of the afflictions. Joy is purification of the countries of the buddhas. Joy is the accomplishment of the [thirty-two primary] characteristics and [eighty subsidiary] marks, based on the cultivation of the merits. Joy is ornamentation of the place of enlightenment. Joy is to hear the profound Dharma without fear. Joy is the three emancipations and not to take the pleasure [of ultimate enlightenment] at an inappropriate time. Joy is to associate with fellow trainees. Joy is for one’s mind to be without hindrance in the midst of those [who are] not one’s fellow trainees. Joy is to defend against evil friends. Joy is to associate closely with good friends. Joy is to be happy and pure in mind. Joy is to cultivate the immeasurable factors of enlightenment.

“‘These are the bodhisattva’s joy in the Dharma.’

17. “At this Māra the Evil One announced to the women, ‘I want to return with you to the heavenly palace.’

“The women said, ‘You already gave us to this retired scholar. We are extremely joyful in the joy of the Dharma, and will never again take pleasure in the five desires.’

“Māra said, ‘If the retired scholar is able to forsake these women, and everything that exists is given to him, then he is a bodhisattva.’

“Vimalakīrti said, ‘I have already forsaken them. You may take them away, but you must make all sentient beings attain fulfillment of their vows in the Dharma.’

“At this the women asked Vimalakīrti, ‘How should we reside in Māra’s palace?’

18. “Vimalakīrti said, ‘Sisters, there is a Dharma called “inexhaustible lamp.” You should study it. The inexhaustible lamp is like a lamp that ignites a hundred thousand lamps, illuminating all darkness with an illumination that is never exhausted. Thus, sisters, if a single bodhisattva guides a hundred thousand sentient beings, causing them to generate the intention to achieve anuttarā samyaksaṃbodhi, that bodhisattva’s intention to achieve enlightenment will also never be extinguished.

“‘With each teaching of the Dharma all the good dharmas are naturally increased. This is what is called the “inexhaustible lamp.” Although you reside in Māra’s palace, with this inexhaustible lamp you can cause innumerable gods and goddesses to generate the intention to achieve anuttarā samyaksaṃbodhi. Thereby you will repay the Buddha’s kindness and also greatly benefit all sentient beings.’

19. “At that time the goddesses bowed their heads to Vimalakīrti’s feet in worship and suddenly disappeared to return to Māra’s palace.

“World-honored One, Vimalakīrti’s autonomy, numinous power, wisdom, and eloquence are like this. Therefore, I cannot accept [your instruction] to go inquire about his illness.”

20. The Buddha told the elder’s son Good Virtue,“You go inquire about Vimalakīrti’s illness.”

Good Virtue addressed the Buddha, “World-honored One, I dare not accept your instruction to go inquire about his illness. Why?

“I remember once in the past when I was holding a great charity assembly in my father’s house. We made offerings to all the śramaṇas, brahmans, those of the heterodox paths, the poor, low-class, orphans, and beggars. It lasted fully seven days. At the time Vimalakīrti came into the assembly and said to me, ‘Elder’s son, you should not hold a great charity assembly like this. You should have an assembly of the charity of the Dharma. What use is a charity assembly of material wealth?’

“I said, ‘Retired scholar, what is an assembly of the charity of Dharma?’

“He answered,

21. “‘An assembly of the charity of the Dharma is to make offerings to all sentient beings simultaneously, without before and after. This is called an assembly of the charity of the Dharma.

“‘If you ask how I say this, I say that one uses bodhi to generate sympathy. One generates great compassion in order to save sentient beings. One generates joy by maintaining the correct Dharma. One practices equanimity by mastering wisdom.

22. “‘One generates dāna-pāramitā (the perfection of charity) by mastering desire. One generates śīla-pāramitā (the perfection of morality) by attracting those who transgress the precepts. One generates kṣanti-pāramitā (the perfection of forbearance) by the Dharma of no-self. One generates vīrya-pāramitā (the perfection of exertion) by transcending the characteristics of body and mind. One generates dhyāna-pāramitā (the perfection of meditation) with the characteristic of bodhi. One generates prajñā-pāramitā (the perfection of wisdom) with omniscience.

23. “‘One teaches sentient beings and generates emptiness. Without forsaking the conditioned dharmas, one generates that which is without characteristics. One manifests the experience of [re]birth and generates the uncreated.

24. “‘One defends the correct Dharma and generates the power of skillful means. One generates the four means of attraction by saving sentient beings. One generates the elimination of conceit by reverencing all. One generates the three perduring dharmas with regard to body, life, and wealth. One generates contemplation of the dharmas within the six mindfulnesses. One generates sincerity with regard to the six types of considerate esteem. One generates pure livelihood with correct practice of the good dharmas. One becomes close to the wise and sagely with purification of the mind in joy. One generates a disciplined mind by not having aversion for bad people. One generates the profound mind with the dharma of leaving home. One generates erudition by practicing according to the explanation. One generates the locus of empty repose with the dharma of noncontention. In approaching buddha wisdom one generates sitting in repose. In releasing the bonds of sentient beings one generates the stages of cultivation.

25. “‘By becoming replete in the [thirty-two primary] characteristics and [eighty subsidiary] marks and by purifying a buddha land one generates meritorious karma. Understanding the thoughts of all sentient beings and how one should explain the Dharma to them, one generates the karma of wisdom. Understanding all the dharmas, one neither grasps nor forsakes. Entering the gate of the single characteristic, one generates the karma of sagacity. Eradicating all the afflictions, all the hindrances, and all the nongood dharmas, one generates all good karma.

26. “‘By attaining omniscience and all the good dharmas, one universally generates the dharmas that assist one’s buddhahood. Thus, good man, is the assembly of the charity of the Dharma. If a bodhisattva resides in this assembly of the charity of the Dharma he will be a great donor. He will also be a field of blessings for the entire world.’

“World-honored One, when Vimalakīrti explained this Dharma, two hundred people in the congregation of brahmans all generated the intention to achieve anuttarā samyaksaṃbodhi.

27. “At the time my own mind attained a purity which I exclaimed to be unprecedented, and I bowed my head to Vimalakīrti’s feet in worship. Unfastening my necklace, a hundred thousand [coins] in value, I gave it to him but he did not accept it. I said, ‘Please, retired scholar, you must accept this and give it to whomever you please.’ Vimalakīrti then accepted the necklace and divided it into two parts. Taking one part, he gave it to the lowliest beggars in the assembly. Taking the other part, he offered it to the Tathāgata Difficult to Overcome. The entire assembly saw the Radiant Illumination country and Difficult to Overcome Tathāgata. They also saw the necklace on that Buddha change into a four-pillared jewel-laden platform, with mutually noninterfering ornamentation on the four sides.

28. “Having manifested these numinous transformations, Vimalakīrti then said, ‘If a donor with an attitude of universal sameness gives to the lowliest beggars, this is to be like the characteristic of the Tathāgata’s field of blessings, with no distinction, and to be equivalent to great compassion without seeking any reward. This is called “to be replete in the charity of the Dharma.”’

29. “The lowliest beggars in the city witnessed this numinous power and heard his explanation, and they all generated the intention to achieve anuttarā samyaksaṃbodhi.

“Therefore, I cannot accept [your instruction] to go inquire about his illness.”

30. In similar fashion all of the bodhisattvas explained their original encounters and related what Vimalakīrti had said, and each said he was unable to accept [the Buddha’s instruction] to go inquire about his illness.

End of Fascicle One