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 XI - Practices of the Bodhisattva

1. Meanwhile, the Buddha had been explaining the Dharma in the garden of Āmrapālī. The land there suddenly expanded and became ornamented, and the entire assembly became gold in color.

Ānanda asked the Buddha, “World-honored One, due to what causes and conditions are there these propitious responses? This place has suddenly expanded and became ornamented, and the entire assembly has become gold in color!”

The Buddha told Ānanda, “This is because Vimalakīrti and Mañjuśrī, together with the great congregations that surround and revere them, will decide they want to come here. It is in anticipation of this that these propitious responses have occurred.”

2. Just then Vimalakīrti said to Mañjuśrī, “We should go together to see the Buddha, to revere him and make offerings along with the bodhisattvas.”

Mañjuśrī said, “Excellent! Let us go. This is just the right time.”

Vimalakīrti, using his numinous power, lifted the great congregations together with the lion seats in his right hand and proceeded to where the Buddha was. When he arrived there he placed them on the ground. He bowed his head to the Buddha’s feet, then circumambulated him seven times. Holding his palms together singlemindedly, he then stood to one side.

The bodhisattvas all left their seats and bowed their heads to the Buddha’s feet, then circumambulated him seven times, and stood to one side. The great disciples, Śakras, Brahmās, four heavenly kings, and so on, also all left their seats to bow their heads to the Buddha’s feet, and then stood to one side.

Then the World-honored One, according to custom, requested that the bodhisattvas all sit once again. They all followed these instructions, and the congregation sat and became settled.

3. The Buddha said to Śāriputra, “Have you seen what this bodhisattva, this great being, has done with his autonomous numinous power?”

[Śāriputra said,] “Yes, I have seen.”

[The Buddha said,] “What do you think about it?”

[Śāriputra said,] “World-honored One, I look upon what has been done as inconceivable. It is something that my mind cannot figure out and which my powers cannot even estimate.”

4. Then Ānanda addressed the Buddha, “World-honored One, the fragrance I smell now is one I have never experienced before. What fragrance is it?”

The Buddha told Ānanda, “This is the fragrance from the pores of those bodhisattvas.”

Then Śāriputra said to Ānanda, “Our pores are also emitting this fragrance.”

Ānanda said, “Where does it come from?”

[Śāriputra] said, “This elder, Vimalakīrti, brought the leftover meal from the buddha of the Host of Fragrances country to his house [for us to] eat, and so all our pores are fragrant like this.”

5. Ānanda asked Vimalakīrti, “How long will this fragrance last?”

Vimalakīrti said, “Until the food is digested.”

[Ānanda] said, “When will the food be digested?”

[Vimalakīrti] said, “The energy of this food will be digested after seven days.

6. “Also, Ānanda:

i) “If a śrāvaka who has not yet entered the primary status [of Hinayana enlightenment] eats this food, it will only be digested after he enters the primary status.

ii) “If someone who has already entered the primary status eats this food, it will only be digested after his mind is emancipated.

iii) “If someone who has not generated the intention [to follow the] Mahayana eats this food, it will only be digested after he has generated that intention.

iv) “If someone who has already generated the [Mahayana] intention eats this food, it will only be digested after he has attained forbearance of the birthlessness of dharmas.

v) “If someone who has already attained forbearance of the nonarising of dharmas eats this food, it will only be digested after he has reached his penultimate rebirth.

vi) “It is as if there were a medicine called ‘superior flavor’ that is digested only after all the poisons in the body of the person who takes it have been eliminated.

7. “Like this, this food eliminates all the poisons of the afflictions and then is digested.”

Ānanda addressed the Buddha, “This is unprecedented! World-honored One, can fragrant food perform the Buddha’s work like this?”

The Buddha said, “Just so, just so, Ānanda.

8. “There are buddha lands where the illumination of the Buddha performs the Buddha’s work, or where the bodhisattvas perform the Buddha’s work, or where conjured persons created by the Buddha perform the Buddha’s work, or where the bodhi tree performs the Buddha’s work, or where the Buddha’s clothing and bedding perform the Buddha’s work, or where food performs the Buddha’s work, or where groves and pavilions perform the Buddha’s work, or where the thirty-two characteristics and eighty subsidiary marks perform the Buddha’s work, or where the Buddha’s body performs the Buddha’s work, or where space performs the Buddha’s work. Sentient beings respond to these conditions and are able to enter into the practice of the Vinaya.

9. “There are [other buddha lands] where dreams, phantasms, shadows, echos, images in mirrors, the moon [reflected in] water, mirages during times of heat, and other metaphors perform the Buddha’s work; or where sounds, words, and letters perform the Buddha’s work; or where a pure buddha land is serene and silent, where the wordless, the explanationless, the manifesta-tionless, the consciousnessless, the unconstructed, and the unconditioned perform the Buddha’s work.

10. “Thus, Ānanda, given the buddhas’ deployment of the deportments and their various actions, there is nothing that is not the Buddha’s work.

“Ānanda, there may occur these eighty-four thousand gateways of affliction of the four Māras, which trouble sentient beings.

11. “The buddhas use these dharmas to perform the Buddha’s work— this is called ‘to enter into the Dharma gates of all the buddhas.’

“When bodhisattvas enter these gates, even if they see all the pure and excellent buddha lands they do not become happy, do not desire them, and do not become elated; even if they see all the impure buddha lands, they do not become sad, do not become hindered, and do not become melancholy.

They merely generate pure minds with regard to the buddhas, being joyful and respectful toward the unprecedented [teachings they encounter].

“The merits of the buddhas, the Tathāgatas, are universally same, and it is in order to convert sentient beings that they manifest different buddha lands.

12. “Ānanda, when you observe the buddhas’ countries, the lands are numerous but space is not (i.e., there is only one “space”). Likewise, when you observe the form bodies of the buddhas, they are numerous but their unhindered wisdom is not.

13. “Ānanda, regarding the buddhas’ form bodies; their awesome characteristics and qualities; their morality, meditation, wisdom, emancipation, knowledge and vision of emancipation; their powers, fearlessnesses, [and other] exclusive attributes [of the buddhas]; their great sympathy, great compassion, and the practices of the deportments; their lifespan, explanation of the Dharma, and teaching; and their purification of buddha countries where they accomplish [the emancipation of] sentient beings—

“all [the buddhas] are identically replete in all these Buddha-Dharmas. Therefore, they are called samyaksaṃbuddha, they are called tathāgata, they are called buddha.

“Ānanda, if I were to explain the meanings of these three [Sanskrit] phrases extensively, you would not be able to experience them completely even if you had the lifespan of a kalpa! Even if all the sentient beings in the trimegachiliocosm were, like Ānanda, paramount in erudition, and retained them mindfully with dhāraṇī, and even if they had lifespans of a kalpa, they would not be able to experience them completely! Thus it is, Ānanda, that the anuttarā samyaksaṃbodhi of the buddhas is limitless, and their wisdom and eloquence is inconceivable!”

14. Ānanda addressed the Buddha, “From now on I will not be able to consider myself erudite.”

The Buddha told Ānanda, “Do not become discouraged. Why? I have explained that you are the most erudite among the śrāvakas. I did not say [among the] bodhisattvas. But stop, Ānanda! The wise should not [attempt to] evaluate the bodhisattvas. How could the total depth of the ocean be calculated? All the merits of the bodhisattvas’ meditation, wisdom, dhāraṇī, and eloquence are immeasurable.

“Ānanda, you [śrāvakas] have forsaken the practices of the bodhisattva. The power of numinous penetration that Vimalakīrti has manifested on this one occasion would be impossible for śrāvakas or pratyekabuddhas to do by their powers of transformation even in a hundred thousand kalpas.”

15. At that time the bodhisattvas who had come from the Host of Fragrances world held their palms together and addressed the Buddha, “World-honored One, when we first saw this land we generated the concept of its inferiority. Now we are ashamed of ourselves and have abandoned this attitude. Why? The skillful means of the buddhas are inconceivable. In order to save sentient beings, they manifest different buddha countries in accordance with the responses of [sentient beings].

“Please, O World-honored One, bestow upon us a bit of your Dharma as we return to the other world, so that we might remember you.”

16. The Buddha told the bodhisattvas, “You should learn the teaching of the emancipation of the exhaustible and inexhaustible. What is the exhaustible?

“It is the conditioned dharmas. What is the inexhaustible? It is the unconditioned dharmas. If you are bodhisattvas, you should neither exhaust the conditioned nor abide in the unconditioned.

17. “What is it not to exhaust the conditioned? It is neither to transcend great sympathy nor to forsake great compassion, to profoundly generate the aspiration to achieve omniscience and never forget it even momentarily. It is to teach sentient beings without ever becoming tired, to be constantly mindful of following the teaching of the four attractions. It is to defend the correct Dharma without fear for one’s own life, to plant good roots without becoming fatigued. It is for one’s intent to always be on peaceful abiding and one’s skillful means rededicated [to anuttarā samyaksaṃbodhi]. It is to seek the Dharma without tiring and explain the Dharma without parsimony, and to energetically make offerings to the buddhas.

“By doing so one will enter samsara without fear, be without sadness or joy regarding the various honors and disgraces, not belittle the unlearned and revere the learned as if they are buddhas, cause those who have fallen into the afflictions to generate correct mindfulness, distantly transcend pleasure and not consider it valuable, not be attached to one’s own pleasure yet celebrate the pleasure of others, have the concept that being in the dhyānas is like being in the hells, and have the concept that being in samsara is like being in a garden or pavilion.

“One will have the concept that seeing one coming to make a request is like [seeing] an excellent teacher, have the concept that to forsake one’s various possessions is to be replete in omniscience, have the concept that to see transgressors is to generate salvific protection, have the concept of the pāramitās (perfections) being one’s parents, and have the concept of the [thirty-seven] factors of enlightenment being one’s subordinates. One’s generation of practices and [planting of] good roots will be limitless. One will create one’s own buddha land with the various ornamentations of the pure countries [of different buddhas].

“Practicing limitless charity, one will become replete in the [thirty-two primary] characteristics and [eighty subsidiary] marks. Eliminating all evil, one will purify one’s body, speech, and mind. Being born and dying for countless kalpas, one will remain courageous [throughout]. Hearing of the immeasurable merits and intention of the buddhas, one will never become tired. With the sword of wisdom one will destroy the ‘bandits’ of the afflictions, and one will emerge from the skandhas, realms (dhātus), and entrances (āyatanas).

“One will bear the burden of sentient beings and always make them become emancipated. With great exertion one will subjugate the armies of Māra. One will always seek the practice of wisdom of the real characteristic of no-mindfulness. One will know satisfaction through minimal desire regarding the worldly dharmas. One will seek the supramundane dharmas without tiring. Yet one will be able to accord with the profane, without either forsaking the worldly dharmas or breaking the deportments. One will generate the sagacity of numinous penetration and entice sentient beings [to salvation]. One will not forget what one has heard through the dhāraṇī of memory. One will discriminate well [between] those of the various capacities and eliminate the doubts of sentient beings. One will expound upon the Dharma without hindrance, taking pleasure in one’s eloquence. One will be pure in carrying out the ten types of good and experience the blessing of gods and humans. One will cultivate the four unlimiteds and open up the path to the Brahmā heavens. One will exhort and request [others to] explain the Dharma and be accordingly joyous in praising its excellence.

“Attaining the Buddha’s voice, one will be good in [acts of] body, speech, and mind. Attaining the deportments of the Buddha, one will profoundly cultivate the good qualities, with one’s practice becoming increasingly excellent. With the Mahayana teaching, one will become a bodhisattva monk. Without mental laxity, one will not fail in the host of goods. Practicing a Dharma such as this, one is called ‘a bodhisattva who does not exhaust the conditioned.’

18. “What is a bodhisattva who does not abide in the unconditioned?

“It is to cultivate [the emancipation of the] empty without taking the empty as one’s realization. It is to cultivate [the emancipations of] signlessness and wishlessness without taking the signless and the wishless as one’s realization. It is to cultivate nonactivation without taking nonactivation as one’s realization. It is to contemplate impermanence without having aversion for the roots of goodness. It is to contemplate worldly suffering without considering samsara evil. It is to contemplate no-self while teaching people without tiring. It is to contemplate extinction without undergoing permanent extinction. It is to contemplate transcendence while cultivating the good with mind and body.

“It is to contemplate the absence of any refuge while going for refuge in the dharmas of goodness. It is to contemplate the birthless, yet to bear the burden for all [sentient beings] using the dharmas of birth. It is to contemplate the flawless, yet not eliminate the flaws. It is to contemplate the absence of any practice, yet to teach sentient beings using the dharmas of practice. It is to contemplate emptiness and nonexistence, yet not to forsake great compassion. It is to contemplate the position of the correct Dharma, yet not to follow the Hinayana.

“It is to contemplate the empty falsity of the dharmas, which are without solidity, without selfhood, without subject, and without characteristic. It is not to consider merit, meditation, and wisdom to be in vain when one’s original vow has not been fulfilled. Practicing a Dharma such as this, one is called ‘a bodhisattva who does not abide in the unconditioned.’

19. “Furthermore, in order to be complete in merit one should not abide in the unconditioned; and in order to be complete in wisdom one should not exhaust the conditioned.

“In order to [achieve] great sympathy and compassion, one should not abide in the unconditioned; in order to fulfill one’s original vow, one should not exhaust the conditioned. In order to accumulate the medicines of the Dharma, one should not abide in the unconditioned; in order to bestow medicines according [to the needs of sentient beings], one should not exhaust the conditioned. In order to understand the illnesses of sentient beings, one should not abide in the unconditioned; in order to extinguish the illnesses of sentient beings, one should not exhaust the conditioned. O good sirs, a bodhisattva who cultivates this Dharma does not either exhaust the conditioned or abide in the unconditioned. This is called ‘the teaching of the emancipation of the exhaustible and inexhaustible.’ You should learn this.”

20. When those bodhisattvas heard the explanation of this Dharma they were all extremely happy, and they scattered hosts of wondrous flowers of several colors and fragrances throughout the trimegachiliocosm, making offerings to the Buddha, this teaching, and the bodhisattvas [of this world]. They bowed their heads to the Buddha’s feet and exclaimed at this unprecedented [teaching], saying, “Śākyamuni Buddha is able to perform the skillful means of this excellent practice in this [world].” Saying this, they suddenly disappeared, returning to that other country.