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...
1. At this time Śakra Devānām Indra, who was in the great congregation, announced to the Buddha, “World-honored One, although I have listened to a hundred thousand sutras by yourself and Mañjuśrī, I had never heard this scripture of the definitive true characteristic of the inconceivable, autonomous, numinous penetration.
2. “According to my understanding of the meaning explained by you, if there are sentient beings who hear this sutra and who devoutly understand, accept and maintain, and read and recite it, they will definitely attain this Dharma, and will not doubt it. How much more so if they cultivate according to its explanation! Such people will immediately close off the host of evil destinations and open the gateways of good. They will always be protected and remembered by the buddhas. They will subjugate the heterodox teachings and demolish the vengeful Māras. They will cultivate bodhi and reside peacefully in the place of enlightenment. They will walk in the very footsteps the Tathāgata has trod.
3. “World-honored One, if there are those who accept and maintain, read and recite, and cultivate [this sutra] as it has explained, I and my subordinates will make offerings and serve them.
“As to the villages, towns, mountain forests, and wildernesses where this sutra is found, I and my subordinates will go to those locations in order to listen to the Dharma. I will cause those who do not yet believe to believe, and those who already believe will be protected.”
4. The Buddha said, “Excellent, excellent! Heavenly emperor, it is as you have spoken. I am happy for you!
“This sutra extensively explains the inconceivable anuttarā samyak-saṃbodhi of the buddhas of the past, present, and future. Therefore, heavenly emperor, if good men and women accept and maintain, read and recite, and make offerings to this sutra, that is tantamount to making offerings to the buddhas of the past, present, and future.
5. “Heavenly emperor, even if the entire trimegachiliocosm were filled with Tathāgatas as numerous as the sugar cane, bamboo, reeds, rice, hemp, and forests, and if a good man or woman were to revere, honor, praise, make offerings, and provide all their needs for a kalpa or even less than a kalpa, until after the nirvana of those Tathāgatas;
“After [the nirvana of those Tathāgatas], if he or she erected a stupa of the seven treasures above the relics of every one of those Tathāgatas’ bodies, as long and wide as a single fourfold world and as tall as the Brahmā heaven, [with each stupa constituting] a field ornamented with all [manner of] flowers, incense, garlands, banners, and musicians, paramount in most subtle wonder; and
“If [that good man or woman] made offerings to [these stupas] for a kalpa or less than a kalpa—
“What do you think, heavenly emperor? Would the blessings planted by that person be great or not?”
Śakra Devānām Indra said, “They would be great, World-honored One! One could not fully explain their merit, even in a hundred thousand koṭis of kalpas.”
6. The Buddha told the heavenly emperor, “You should understand, the good man or woman who hears this scripture of the inconceivable emancipation and who devoutly understands, accepts, recites, and practices it will have blessings even greater than the former person.
“Why? The enlightenment of all the buddhas is born from this. The characteristic of bodhi is immeasurable, and based on this the blessings are immeasurable.”
7. The Buddha told the heavenly emperor, “At a time immeasurable asaṃkhyeyas of kalpas in the past, there was a buddha named Medicine King (Bhaiṣajyarāja), a Tathāgata, Arhat, Fully Enlightened One, One Endowed with Wisdom and Conduct, Well-gone One, Knower of the World, Supreme Master of Discipline, Teacher of Gods and Humans, Buddha, and World-honored One. His world was called Great Ornamentation. His kalpa was called Ornamentation.
“That buddha’s lifespan was twenty small kalpas.
“He had a śrāvaka sangha of thirty-six koṭis of nayutas [of members], and a bodhisattva sangha of twelve koṭis.
“Heavenly emperor, at the time there was a wheel-turning sage king named Jeweled Canopy, who was endowed with the seven treasures [of the cakravartin] and ruled the fourfold world. The king had one thousand sons, who were handsome, courageous, and able to subjugate their enemies.
8. “At the time Jeweled Canopy and his subordinates made offerings to Medicine King Tathāgata, providing all that he needed for a full five kalpas. After five kalpas he told his thousand sons, ‘You should also make offerings to the Buddha with a profound mind, like me.’ Then the thousand sons, accepting their father’s order, made offerings to Medicine King Tathāgata, and they provided for his needs for another full five kalpas.
9. “One of those sons, named Moon Canopy, sat alone, thinking ‘Might there be some offering that would exceed even this?’
“Through the Buddha’s numinous power, a god’s voice was heard from space, ‘Good man, the offering of the Dharma surpasses all other offerings.’
“[Moon Canopy] then asked, ‘What is an offering of the Dharma?’
“The god said, ‘You may go ask Medicine King Tathāgata. He will give you an extensive explanation of offerings of the Dharma.’ Prince Moon Canopy immediately proceeded to Medicine King Tathāgata and bowed to his feet, then stood to one side and addressed the Buddha, ‘World-honored One, of all the offerings, offerings of the Dharma are superior. What are offerings of the Dharma?’
10. Buddha [Medicine King] said, “Good man, offerings of the Dharma are those made to the profound sutras explained by the buddhas.
“In all the worlds, these are difficult to believe in, difficult to accept. They are subtle and difficult to see, pure and without defilement. They cannot be attained with only discriminative thinking.
“They are contained in the storehouse of the Dharma of the bodhisattvas. They are sealed by the seal of dhāraṇī. They take one to [the stage of] nonretrogression and to the accomplishment of the six perfections.
“They discriminate the meanings well, and they accord with the dharma of bodhi. They are supreme among the host of sutras and induct one into great sympathy and compassion. They transcend the affairs of the hosts of Māras and the various heterodox views. They accord with the dharma of causes and conditions.
11. “They are without self, without person, without sentient being, without lifespan. They [teach the three emancipations of] emptiness, signlessness, wishlessness and nonactivation.
“They are able to make sentient beings take their seat in the place of enlightenment and turn the wheel of the Dharma.
“They are praised by all the gods, dragons, [demonic] spirits (yakṣas), gandharvas, and so on.
“They are able to make sentient beings enter the store[house] of the Buddha-Dharma.
“They accommodate all the [types of] wisdom of the worthies and sages. They explain the path practiced by the host of bodhisattvas. They rely on the meanings of the true characteristic of the dharmas. They illuminate the dharmas of impermanence, suffering, emptiness, no-self, and extinction.
“They are able to save all sentient beings who commit infractions. They can render afraid the Māras, heretics, and those attached to desire.
“They are praised by all the buddhas, worthies, and sages. They reject the suffering of samsara and reveal the joy of nirvana. They are explained by all the buddhas of the ten directions and three periods of time.
“One who hears such sutras, and devoutly understands, accepts and maintains, and reads and recites them, will with the power of skillful means explain them clearly and with discriminative understanding for sentient beings. This is because that person will be maintaining and protecting the Dharma. This is called the ‘offering of the Dharma.’
12. “Furthermore, when one practices as is explained in the Dharma, one will be in accord with the twelve [factors of] causes and conditions, transcend the heterodox views, and attain forbearance of the birthlessness of dharmas. There is definitively no self and no sentient beings, and within the retributive results of the causes and conditions there [will be in such persons] no disagreement, no contention, and the transcendence of all the qualities of self.
“They will rely on meanings, not on words. They will rely on wisdom, not on knowledge. They will rely on sutras of comprehensive meaning and not rely on sutras of incomplete meaning. They will rely on the Dharma and not rely on a person. They will be in accord with the characteristics of the Dharma, without anywhere that is entered, without any refuge. Ignorance will be thoroughly extinguished, and hence the processes will be thoroughly extinguished. Thus birth will be thoroughly extinguished, and hence old age and death will be thoroughly extinguished.
“If one performs such a contemplation, the twelve [factors of] causes and conditions will be without the characteristic of being exhausted. One will not generate views again. This is called the ‘offering of the supreme Dharma.’”
13. The Buddha told the heavenly emperor, “When Prince Moon Canopy heard this Dharma from Medicine King Buddha, he attained the forbearance of compliance. Taking off his jeweled robe and bodily ornaments, he offered them to the Buddha, saying ‘World-honored One, after your nirvana I will practice the offering of the Dharma and defend the correct Dharma. Please use your numinous charisma compassionately, so that I will be able to subjugate the vengeful Māras and cultivate the practices of the bodhisattva.’”
Knowing the profound thoughts in [the prince’s] mind, [Medicine King] Buddha made the prediction, “At the very end, you will defend the Dharma city.”
14. [The Buddha told the] heavenly emperor, “Prince Moon Canopy then saw the purity of the Dharma. Hearing the Buddha bestow a prediction [of future buddhahood] on him, he developed faith and left home. After cultivating the good Dharma with exertion for not very long, he attained the five numinous penetrations and became a bodhisattva. He attained dhāraṇī and unending eloquence. After the nirvana of that buddha, using the power of the numinous penetrations, dhāram, and eloquence that he had attained, he disseminated the wheel of the Dharma that Medicine King Buddha had turned for a full ten short kalpas. Through his diligent practice and exertion in defending the Dharma, in that lifetime Moon Canopy bhikṣu converted a million koṭis of people, who became irreversible in their [quest for] anuttarā samyaksaṃbodhi. Fourteen nayutas of people generated the profound inspiration to become śrāvakas andpratyekabuddhas. Immeasurable sentient beings gained birth in the heavens.
“Heavenly emperor, was not the Prince Jeweled Canopy of that time an unusual person! As of now he has attained buddhahood and is entitled Jewel Mirage Tathāgata. Those thousand princes became the thousand buddhas of the bhadrakalpa. The first achieved buddhahood as Krakucchandra, and the last will be the Tathāgata named Ruci. Moon Canopy bhikṣu was I myself.
15. “Thus, heavenly emperor, you should understand this essential point: the offering of the Dharma excels all other offerings. It is supreme, incomparable. Therefore, heavenly emperor, you should use the offering of the Dharma to make offerings to the buddhas.”