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...

anuttara samyaksaṃbodhi: Complete, perfect enlightenment. See also bodhi.

arhat (“one who is worthy” of offerings): A saint who has completely eradicated the passions and attained liberation from the cycle of birth and death (samsara); arhatship is the highest of the four stages of spiritual attainment in the Hinayana. See also Hinayana; samsara.

asura: A class of supernatural beings; a demigod.

bodhi: Enlightenment; the state of the highest perfection of wisdom; the state of undefiled purity and eternal bliss.

bodhicitta: Lit., “mind (citta) of enlightenment (bodhi),” the aspiration or intention to attain enlightenment undertaken by a bodhisattva in order to help other sentient beings to liberation. See also bodhisattva.

bodhisattva (“enlightenment being”): One who has engendered the profound aspiration to achieve enlightenment (bodhicitta) on behalf of all sentient beings, through the practice of the perfections (pāramitās). The spiritual ideal of the Mahayana. See also bodhicitta; Mahayana; perfections.

bodhi tree: The tree under which a buddha attains enlightenment.

buddhahood: The state of becoming or being a buddha; the goal of the bodhisattva path.

buddha land: A cosmic world or realm in which a particular buddha dwells. Also called buddha country.

buddha-nature: The potentiality of becoming a buddha; the essential nature of a buddha inherent in all sentient beings.

deva: A class of supernatural beings; a god or divine being.

dhāraṇī: Generally, a powerful verbal incantation or mantra; also, “to hold,” as a container for good spiritual qualities. In earliest Mahayana texts the term refers to a mnemonic device for the recollection of Buddhist doctrine.

dharma: Any phenomenon, thing, or element; the elements that make up the perceived phenomenal world.

Dharma: The truth, law; the teachings of the Buddha.

Dharma body (dharmakāya): The manifestation of the Buddha as ultimate reality or suchness. See also suchness.

Dharma-nature: The essential nature of all that exists, same as true suchness and the Dharma body. See also Dharma body; suchness.

dhyāna: Meditation; a state of meditative concentration and absorption.

emptiness (śūnyatā): The absence of substantiality or inherent existence of the self and all phenomena (dharmas); all dharmas arise only through the dependent origination of causes and conditions (pratītyasamutpāda). Direct insight into emptiness is the attainment ofprajñā (transcendental wisdom). See also dharma; prajñā.

enlightenment. See bodhi.

entrances (āyatanas): The six sense organs of eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind and their six corresponding objects—form, sound, smell, taste, tangible objects, and mental objects, totaling twelve. See also realms; sense organs; senses.

evil destiny/destination: Refers to rebirth in one of the three lower realms of sam-saric existence, the realms of animals, hungry ghosts (pretas), or hell. See also samsara.

four continents: According to Buddhist cosmology, the four large land masses in the ocean around Mount Sumeru, each in one of the cardinal directions, which comprise the world of human beings. See also Mount Sumeru.

four correct postures: The four basic physical postures of walking, standing, sitting, and lying down; a Buddhist practitioner strives to maintain mindfulness in all of these postures. See also mindfulness.

four elements: The four physical elements that constitute material things (dharmas)— earth, fire, water, and wind.

four heavenly kings: The guardian gods of the four cardinal directions, rulers of the four continents. See also four continents.

four noble truths: The basic doctrine of Buddhism: 1) the truth of suffering, 2) the truth of the cause of suffering, 3) the truth of the cessation of suffering, and 4) the truth of the path that leads to nirvana. See also nirvana.

four unlimiteds (brāhma-vihāras): Four mental states or qualities to be cultivated by bodhisattvas—sympathy (maitrī), compassion (karuṇā), joy (muditā), and equanimity (upekṣā). Also called four unlimited states of mind.

gandharva: A heavenly musician.

garuḍa: A mythological being in the form of a giant bird.

Hinayana (“Small Vehicle”): A term applied by Mahayana Buddhists to various early schools of Buddhism whose primary soteriological aim is individual salvation. Hinayana followers are grouped into the two categories of śrāvakas and pratyeka-buddhas and there are four stages of spiritual attainment, culminating in arhat-ship. See also arhat; Mahayana; non-returner; once-returner; pratyekabuddha; śrāvaka; stream-enterer.

kalpa: An eon, an immensely long period of time.

kiṃnara: A class of mythological beings, half bird and half human, that make celestial music.

lion’s roar: A metaphor for great eloquence in teaching the Dharma.

Mahayana: (“Great Vehicle”): A form of Buddhism that developed in India around 100 B.C.E. and which exalts as its religious ideal the bodhisattva, great beings who aspire to enlightenment on behalf of all sentient beings. See also bodhisattva.

mahoraga: A class of snake-like mythological beings.

Maitreya: The future Buddha, currently still a bodhisattva. See also bodhisattva.

Mañjuśrī: The bodhisattva who represents wisdom. See also bodhisattva.

Māra: The Evil One, the personification of the realm of desire; a symbol of the afflictions that hinder progress on the path to Buddhahood.

mindfulness: A fundamental Buddhist practice of maintaining awareness and clear observation during all one’s activities, physical or mental, in order to bring the mind under control and to a state of rest and provide a stable basis for more profound knowledge and insight.

Mount Sumeru: In Buddhist cosmology, the highest mountain rising from the center of the world, surrounded by an ocean in which the four continents that comprise the world of human beings are situated. See also four continents.

nirvana: Liberation from samsara, a state in which all passions are extinguished and the highest wisdom attained; bodhi, enlightenment. See also bodhi; samsara.

non-returner (anāgāmin): The third of the four stages of spiritual attainment in the Hinayana; one who has attained this stage is no longer subject to rebirth in the realm of desire. See also Hinayana; triple world.

once-returner (sakrdāgāmin): The second of the four stages of spiritual attainment in the Hinayana; one who has attained this state is subject to rebirth only once in each of the three realms of the triple world before attaining nirvana. See also Hinayana; nirvana; triple world.

One Vehicle (ekayāna): The Buddha vehicle, the Mahayana teaching that leads to complete enlightenment and attainment of buddhahood, contrasted with the teachings of the two Hinayana vehicles. The One Vehicle includes and transcends all three vehicles of the śrāvaka, pratyekabuddha, and bodhisattva paths. See also vehicle.

pāramitā. See perfections.

perfections (pāramitās): Six qualities to be perfected by bodhisattvas on their way to complete enlightenment—1) charity or giving (dāna), 2) discipline or morality (śīla), 3) forbearance or patience (kṣānti), 4) exertion or perseverance (vīrya), 5) meditation (dhyāna), and 6) wisdom (prajñā). See also bodhisattva.

prajñā: Transcendental, liberative wisdom; one of the perfections. See also perfections.

Prātimokṣa: A part of the Vinaya which contains the disciplinary rules for monastics. See also Vinaya.

pratyekabuddha (“solitary enlightened one”): One of the two kinds of Hinayana sages, along with śrāvakas, who seek to reach the stage of arhat and attain nirvana. A pratyekabuddha attains liberation through direct observation and understanding of the principle of dependent origination without the guidance of a teacher, and does not teach others. See also arhat; Hinayana; nirvana; śrāvaka.

psychophysical elements, forces (skandhas): The five elements of form, feeling, conception, mental process, and consciousness which comprise the personality and give rise to the mistaken view of a permanent, inherent self.

rakṣasa: A type of demon.

realms (dhātus): The realms of sensory experience brought about by the interaction of the six sense organs with their corresponding objects, and their resulting consciousnesses, totaling eighteen. See also entrances; sense organs; senses.

Śākyamuni: The historical Buddha, who lived in India in the fifth century B.C.E. and whose life and teachings form the basis for Buddhism.

samādhi: A mental state of concentration, focusing the mind on one point; also a transcendent mental state attained by the repeated practice of concentration.

samsara: The cycle of existence, the continuous round of birth and death through which beings transmigrate; the world of suffering, contrasted with the bliss of nirvana. See also nirvana.

samyaksaṃbuddha: One who has attained complete, perfect enlightenment (anut-tarā samyaksaṃbodhi). See also anuttarā samyaksaṃbodhi.

Śāriputra: A principal disciple of the Buddha. In several Mahayana sutras such as the Vimalakīrti Sutra the figure of Śāriputra serves as an example of the inferior learning and understanding of the Hinayana śrāvaka path.

sense organs: The six sense organs of the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind. See also entrances; realms; senses.

senses: The sense perceptions that correspond to the six sense organs—visual, auditory, olfactory, gustatory, tactile, and mental perceptions. See also entrances; realms; sense organs.

skillful means (upāya): The various methods and means used by buddhas and bodhi-sattvas to guide and teach sentient beings, adapted to their different capacities.

śramaṇa: Mendicant, monk; another name for a Buddhist monk, originally applied to those who maintained an ascetic practice.

śrāvaka (“auditor”): Originally, a disciple of the Buddha, one of those who heard him expound the teachings directly; later, the term came to refer to one of the two kinds of Hinayana followers, along with pratyekabuddhas, to distinguish them from followers of the Mahayana. See also Hinayana; Mahayana; pratyekabuddha.

stream-enterer (srota-āpanna): The first of the four stages of spiritual attainment in the Hinayana; one who has entered the stream of the Dharma by destroying various wrong views. See also Hinayana.

suchness: Ultimate reality; the state of things as they really are. Insight into the suchness of all phenomena, i.e., as empty of inherent self-existence, arising only through dependent origination, is perfect wisdom (prajñā). See also emptiness; prajñā.

sutra: A Buddhist scripture, a discourse of the Buddha. Capitalized, the term refers to one of the three divisions of the Tripiṭaka. See also Tripiṭaka.

Tathāgata: An epithet for a buddha, meaning one who has gone to (gata) and come from (āgata) suchness (tathā), i.e., the embodiment of the truth of suchness. See also suchness.

tathāgatagarbha: Lit., the “womb (garbha) of the Tathagata,” the inherent capacity for buddhahood within all sentient beings. See also buddhahood; Tathāgata.

Three Jewels: Buddha, Dharma (the teachings), and Sangha (the monastic community), also called the three refuges.

Tripiṭaka: The three divisions or “baskets” (piṭakas) of the Buddhist canon: the Sutras, discourses and teachings of the Buddha; the Vinaya, codes of monastic discipline; and the Abhidharma, scholastic treatises on the Buddhist teachings.

triple world: The three realms of samsaric existence: the realm of desire (kāmadhātu), i.e., the world of ordinary consciousness accompanied by desires; the realm of form (rūpadhātu), in which desires have been eliminated but the physical body remains; and the formless realm (ārūpyadhātu), in which the physical body no longer exists. See also samsara.

universal ruler (cakravartin): The ideal king, as conceived of in Indian philosophy. Also called wheel-turning sage king.

vehicle (yāna): The various Buddhist paths of practice. The Hinayana comprises the two vehicles of the śrāvaka and pratyekabuddha, contrasted with the bodhisattva vehicle of the Mahayana. See also Hinayana; Mahayana; One Vehicle; pratyekabuddha; śrāvaka.

Vinaya: Precepts and rules of conduct for monastics; along with the Abhidharma and the Sutras, one of the three divisions of the Tripiṭaka. See also Tripiṭaka.

yakṣa: A type of demon.

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