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 VIII - The Path of Buddhahood

1. Mañjuśri then asked Vimalakīrti, “How should the bodhisattva penetrate the path of buddhahood?”

Vimalakīrti said, “If a bodhisattva traverses the unacceptable paths, this is to penetrate the path of buddhahood.”

[Mañjuśri] also asked, “How does the bodhisattva traverse the unacceptable paths?”

[Vimalakīrti] answered, “The bodhisattva practices the five [deeds of] interminable [retribution] without becoming distraught.

“He goes to the hells without the defilements of transgression; goes among the animals without the errors of ignorance, conceit, and so on.

“He goes among the hungry ghosts replete in merit; traverses the paths of the form and formless realms without considering himself superior.

“He manifests acting out of desire but transcends the defiled attachments; manifests acting out of anger at sentient beings but is without aversion.

“He manifests acting out of stupidity but uses wisdom to control his mind.

“He manifests acting out of lust but forsakes both internal and external and does not begrudge his own life; manifests the practicing of moral infractions but peacefully resides in the pure precepts, even unto harboring great fear about even minor transgressions; manifests acting out of anger but is always sympathetically forbearant; manifests acting out of laziness, yet vigorously cultivates merit; manifests acting out of a disturbed mind, yet is always mindfully concentrated; manifests acting out of stupidity, yet penetrates both mundane and supramundane wisdom.

“He manifests the practicing of flattery and deception, yet uses good skillful means to accord with the meanings found in the sutras; manifests acting out of conceit, yet is like a bridge for sentient beings.

“He manifests acting out of the afflictions, yet is always pure in mind; manifests becoming a Māra, yet accords with the wisdom of the Buddha and follows no other teaching; manifests becoming a śrāvaka, yet for sentient beings explains Dharmas they have not heard before; manifests becoming a pratyekabuddha, yet accomplishes great compassion to teach sentient beings; manifests becoming destitute, yet has the unlimited merit of the ‘hand of treasures’; manifests becoming maimed through criminal punishment, yet adorns himself with all the [thirty-two primary] characteristics and [eighty subsidiary] marks; manifests becoming low-born, yet is [actually] born within the Buddha’s lineage and replete in its various merits; manifests becoming feeble and ugly, yet attains the body of a Nārāyaṇa, which all sentient beings enjoy seeing.

“He manifests becoming old and sick, yet always eradicates the roots of illness and transcends the fear of death.

“He manifests having the material requisites, yet always views [the world as] impermanent and is truly without desire; manifests having wife, concubines, and mistresses, yet always distantly transcends the muddy filth of the five desires; manifests dumbness (i.e., muteness), yet accomplishes eloquence and unfailing dhāraṇīs.

“He manifests becoming a ‘false ford’ (i.e., a heretic), yet uses the correct ford to ‘cross over’ sentient beings [to salvation].

“He manifests entering all the destinies, yet eradicates their causes and conditions; and manifests nirvana, yet does not eradicate samsara.

“Mañjuśrī, if a bodhisattva can traverse the unacceptable paths in this way, this is to penetrate the path of buddhahood.”

2. At this Vimalakīrti asked Mañjuśrī, “What is the seed of the Tathā-gata?”

Mañjuśrī said, “The possession of a body constitutes this seed. Ignorance and affection constitute this seed. Lust, anger, and stupidity constitute this seed. The four confusions constitute this seed. The five hindrances constitute this seed. The six entrances (āyatanas) constitute this seed. The seven loci of consciousness constitute this seed. The eight heterodox dharmas and nine loci of affliction constitute this seed. The ten evil actions constitute this seed. In essence, the sixty-two mistaken views and all the afflictions constitute this seed.”

3. [Vimalakīrti] said, “Why is this?”

[Mañjuśrī] answered, “Anyone who sees the unconditioned and enters the primary status [of Hinayana enlightenment] will be unable to generate the intention to achieve anuttarā samyaksaṃbodhi.

“It is just as lotus flowers do not grow on dry land on the high plateau— these flowers grow in the muddy filth of the lowly marshes. Thus one who sees the unconditioned dharmas and enters the primary status will never be able to generate the dharmas of a buddha. It is only within the mud of the afflictions that sentient beings give rise to the dharmas of a buddha.

“Or again, it is like planting a seed in space, where it would never grow— only in nightsoil-enriched earth can it flourish. In this way, one who enters the unconditioned primary status will not be able to generate the dharmas of a buddha.

“It is only when one generates a view of self as great as Mount Sumeru that one is able to generate the intention to achieve anuttarā samyaksaṃ-bodhi and generate the dharmas of a buddha.

“Therefore, you should understand that all the afflictions constitute the seed of the Tathāgata. It is like not being able to attain the priceless jewel-pearl without entering the ocean. Therefore, if one does not enter the great sea of the afflictions, one will not be able to attain the jewel of omniscience.”

4. At this time Mahākāśyapa exclaimed, “Excellent, excellent, Mañjuśrī! It is well that you have spoken thus; truly, it is as you have said! The field of the sensory troubles constitutes the seed of the Tathāgata.

“We [disciples] are now unable to bear generating the intention to achieve anuttarā samyaksaṃbodhi. It will only be after [we have committed] the transgressions [leading to] the five interminable [hells] that we will be able to generate that intention and generate the dharmas of a buddha. [As we are] now we will never be able to generate it.

5. “It is like a man whose sense organs are destroyed being unable to benefit from the five desires. Likewise, śrāvakas who have eradicated the fetters are unable to benefit from the dharmas of a buddha and will never vow [to achieve buddhahood].

6. “Therefore, Mañjuśrī, ordinary people can respond to the dharmas of a buddha, but śrāvakas cannot. Why? When an ordinary person hears the Buddha-Dharma he is able to generate the intention to achieve unsurpassable enlightenment and not eradicate the Three Jewels. Even if śrāvakas spend their whole lives hearing about the dharmas of a buddha, [including the ten] powers, [the four] fearlessnesses, [and the other] unique [dharmas of a buddha], they will never be able to generate the intention to achieve unsurpassable enlightenment!”

7. At that time there was a bodhisattva in the assembly named Universally Manifests the Form Body. He asked Vimalakīrti,

“O retired scholar, who are your parents, wife and sons, relatives, subordinates, servants, and friends? Where are your slaves, servants, elephants, horses, and vehicles?”

At this, Vimalakīrti replied in verse:

1. The perfection of wisdom is the bodhisattva’s mother;
Skillful means is his father.
All the assembly of guides
Without exception are the causes of his birth.

2. Joy in the Dharma is his wife,
And the mind of sympathy and compassion his daughters.
The mind of goodness and sincerity is his sons,
And ultimate emptiness and serenity his home.

3. His congregation of disciples is the sensory troubles,
Which he converts as he wishes.
The factors of enlightenment are his good friends,
On whom he depends to achieve correct enlightenment.

4. The dharmas of the perfections are his companions,
And the four types of attraction his dancing girls,
Who sing the words of Dharma
And thereby create their music.

5. In the garden of dhāraṇī
And the grove of the flawless Dharma,
Is the pure and wonderful flower of the intention for enlightenment
And the fruit of wisdom and emancipation.

6. The pool of the eight emancipations
Is filled with the peaceful waters of concentration.
Scattering the flowers of the seven purities,
Here bathe the undefiled persons.

7. His elephants and horses are the five penetrations that race,
And the Mahayana is his chariot.
Control is through singlemindedness,
So he wanders the roads of the eightfold correct [paths].

8. With the [thirty-two primary] characteristics replete to ornament his form,
And the host of [eighty subsidiary] marks to decorate his bodies,
Shame is his upper garment,
And the profound mind his flowered necklace

9. His wealth is the seven treasures [of the Dharma],
Which he bestows in teaching so that [beings] will flourish.
He practices according to [the Buddha’s] explanation
And rededicates [the ensuing merit] for great benefit.

10. The four dhyānas are his seat,
From which his pure livelihood is generated.
Erudition increases his wisdom
And becomes the sound of his own enlightenment.

11. His food is the sweet dew of the Dharma,
And his drink the flavor of emancipation.
With the pure mind does he bathe,
Using the categories of the precepts as his incense powder.

12. Demolishing the bandits of the afflictions,
He is courageous and invincible.
Subjugating the four types of Māras,
The banner of his victory is erected at the place of enlightenment.

13. Although he understands there is no generation and no extinction,
He is born so as to manifest [the Dharma] to others.
He manifests all the countries,
With none invisible, as [plain as] the sun.

14. He makes offerings to the immeasurable koṭis
Of Tathāgatas throughout the ten directions,
Without having any thought of discriminating
Between the buddhas and himself.

15. Although he understands that the buddha lands
And sentient beings are empty,
He always practices purifying his land,
Teaching the hosts of beings.

16. The various categories of sentient beings—
Their forms, sounds, and deportments—
The bodhisattva with the power of fearlessness
Can simultaneously manifest them all.

17. Recognizing the affairs of the host of Māras,
And while seeming to go along with their activities,
He uses wisdom and good skillful means,
So that he can manifest anything he wishes.

18. He may manifest old age, illness, and death
To accomplish [the liberation of] the hosts of beings.
Comprehending that [all things] are like phantasmagorical transformations,
His penetration is without hindrance.

19. He may manifest the kalpa-ending conflagration, 
In which heaven and earth are entirely incinerated.
To the hosts of people who have the conception of permanence,
He illuminates [the truth] so that they understand impermanence.

20. Innumerable koṭis of sentient beings
All come to request the bodhisattva’s [assistance].
He simultaneously goes to their homes
And converts them so that they turn toward the path of buddhahood.

21. The magical arts prohibited in the scriptures,
The various skills and arts—
He manifests the performance of all these things
To benefit the hosts of beings.

22. In all the religious teachings of this world
Does he leave home [to dedicate himself],
Thereby to release people from their delusions,
So they will not fall into heterodox views.

23. He may become the god of the sun or moon,
A Brahmā king, or a world lord,
And at times he may become earth or water,
Or again wind or fire.

24. When there are epidemics in the middle of
a kalpa He manifests himself as medicinal plants.
If someone takes [these herbs],
They eradicate illness and eliminate the host of poisons.

25. When there are famines in the middle of a kalpa
He manifests himself as food and drink,
First saving the hungry and thirsty,
And then speaking of the Dharma to people.

26. When armed soldiers appear in the middle of a kalpa
He generates sympathy for them.
He converts the sentient beings,
Causing them to abide in noncontention.

27. If there are great armies
Facing each other with equal strength,
The bodhisattva manifests his awesome power,
And, subjugating them, imposes peace.

28. In all the countries,
Wherever there are hells
Does he go to save [the beings there]
From their sufferings.

29. In all the countries,
Wherever animals devour one another,
He always manifests being born there
To provide benefit for them there.

30. He manifests experiencing the five desires
And also manifests the practice of dhyāna,
Making Māra distressed
At being unable to take control.

31. For a lotus flower to be born in the midst of fire
Can certainly be called rare!
To practice dhyāna within the desires—
This is just as rare.

32. He may manifest himself as a prostitute,
Enticing those who enjoy sensuality.
First enticing them with desire,
And later causing them to enter the wisdom of the Buddha.

33. He may become a village master,
Or become a merchant guide,
National teacher, great minister—
In order to benefit sentient beings.

34. For the destitute
He manifests inexhaustible treasuries,
Thereby exhorting and guiding them,
Causing them to generate the intention to achieve enlightenment.

35. For those who are selfish and conceited,
He manifests himself as a great warrior,
Decimating the pretensions [of sentient beings],
And causing them to abide in the unsurpassable path.

36. The hosts of the fear-stricken
He shields and comforts,
First giving them fearlessness
And then causing them to generate the intention to achieve enlightenment.

37. He may manifest the transcendence of licentious desire
And become a transcendent of the five penetrations,
Guiding the hosts of beings
And making them abide in morality, forbearance, and sympathy.

38. Seeing those who should be served,
He manifests himself as a servant.
Taking joy in the affirmation of one’s intention,
[Those to be honored] generate the intention to achieve enlightenment.

39. In accordance with the needs of others,
He causes them to enter into the path of buddhahood.
Using the power of good skillful means
He provides sufficiency to all.

40. Thus are the paths immeasurable
Which he traverses without restriction.
His wisdom is without limit
In saving the innumerable hosts [of beings].

41. Even if we had all the buddhas
Throughout immeasurable koṭis of kalpas
Praise his merits,
They would not be able to do so completely.

42. Whoever hears the Dharma such as this
And does not generate the intention to achieve bodhi
Excluding those who do not even seem human—
Are ignorant fools.

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