The Vimalakirti Nirdesa Sutra

by Charles Luk | 1972 | 32,509 words

Translated and edited from the Chinese (Kumarajiva ed. T.475) by Charles Luk (Lu K'uan Yi) in 1972....

Chapter 1 - The Buddha Land

Thus have I heard, once upon a time the Buddha sojourned in the Amra park at Vaisali with an assembly of eight thousand great bhiksus. With them, here were thirty-two thousand Bodhisattvas, who were well known for having achieved all the perfections that lead to the great wisdom. They had received instructions from many Buddhas and formed a Dharma-protecting citadel. By upholding the right Dharma, they could fearlessly give the lion’s roar to teach sentient beings; so their names were heard in the ten directions. They were not invited but came to the assembly to spread the teaching on the Three Treasures to transmit it in perpetuity. They had overcome all demons and defeated heresies; and their six faculties, karmas of deeds, words and thoughts were pure and clean; being free from the (five) hindrances and the (ten) bonds. They had realized serenity of mind and had achieved unimpeded liberation. They had achieved right concentration and mental stability, thereby, acquiring the uninterrupted power of speech. They had achieved all the (six) paramitas: charity (dana), discipline (sila), patience (ksanti), devotion (virya), serenity (dhyana) and wisdom (prajna), as well as the expedient method (upaya) of teaching which completely benefit self and others. However, to them, these realizations did not mean any gain whatsoever for themselves, so, that they were in line with the patient endurance of the uncreate (anutpattika-dharma-ksanti). They were able to turn the wheel of the Law that never turns back. Being able to interpret the (underlying nature of) phenomena, they knew very well the roots (propensities) of all living beings; they surpassed them all and realized fearlessness.

They had cultivated their minds by means of merits and wisdom, with which they embellished their physical features which were unsurpassable, thus, giving up all earthly adornments. Their towering reputation exceeded the height of Mount Sumeru. Their profound faith (in the uncreate) was unbreakable like a diamond. Their treasures of the Dharma illuminated all lands and rained down nectar. Their speeches were profound and unsurpassed.

They entered deep into all (worldly) causes but cut off all heretical views, for they were already free from all dualities and had rooted out all (previous) habits. They were fearless and gave the lion’s roar to proclaim the Dharma, their voices being like thunder. They could not be gauged, for they were beyond all measures.

They had amassed all treasures of the Dharma and acted like (skillful) seafaring pilots. They were well versed in the profound meanings of all Dharmas. They knew very well the mental states of all living beings and their comings and goings (within the realms of existence). They had reached the state near the unsurpassed sovereign wisdom of all Buddhas, having acquired the ten fearless powers (dasabala) giving complete knowledge and the eighteen different characteristics (of a Buddha as compared with Bodhisattvas (avenikadharma). Although they were free from (rebirth in ) evil existences, they appeared in five mortal realms as royal physicians to cure all ailments, prescribing the right medicine in each individual case, thereby, winning countless merits to embellish countless Buddha lands. Each living being derived great benefit from seeing and hearing them, for their deeds were not in vain. Thus, they had achieved all excellent merits.

Their names were: the Bodhisattva Beholding All Things As Equal, the Bodhisattva Beholding All Things As Unequal, the Bodhisattva Beholding All Things As Equal Yet As Unequal, the Bodhisattva of Sovereign Serenity, the Bodhisattva of Sovereign Dharma, the Bodhisattva of Dharma-aspects, the Bodhisattva of Light, the Bodhisattva of Glorious Light, the Bodhisattva of Great Majesty, the Bodhisattva Store of Treasures, the Bodhisattva Store of Rhetoric, the Bodhisattva of Precious Hands, the Bodhisattva of Precious Mudra, the Hand Raising Bodhisattva, the Hand Lowering Bodhisattva, the Always Grieved Bodhisattva, the Bodhisattva Root of Joy, the Bodhisattva Prince of Joy, the Bodhisattva Discerner of Sound, the Bodhisattva Womb of Space, the Bodhisattva Holding the Precious Torch, the Bodhisattva of Precious Boldness, the Bodhisattva of Precious Insight, the Bodhisattva of Indra-jala, the Bodhisattva Net of Light, the Bodhisattva of Causeless Contemplation, the Bodhisattva of Accumulated Wisdom, the Bodhisattva Precious Conqueror, the Bodhisattva King of Heavens, the Bodhisattva Destroyer of Demons, the Bodhisattva with Lightning Merits, the Bodhisattva of Sovereign Comfort, the Bodhisattva of Majestic Merits, the Bodhisattva of the Lion’s Roar, the Bodhisattva of Thundering Voice, the Bodhisattva with a Voice like Rocks Knocking One Another, the Bodhisattva Fragrant Elephant, the Bodhisattva White Fragrant Elephant, the Bodhisattva of Constant Devotion, the Bodhisattva of Unremitting Care, the Bodhisattva of Wonderful Rebirth, the Bodhisattva Garland, the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, the Bodhisattva Mahasthama, the Bodhisattva Brahma-jala, the Bodhisattva of Precious Staff, the Unconquerable Bodhisattva, the Bodhisattva of Majestic Land, the Bodhisattva with a Golden Topknot, the Bodhisattva with a Pearl in His Topknot, the Bodhisattva Maitreya, the Bodhisattva Manjusri and other Bodhisattvas numbering in all thirty-two thousand.

There were also ten thousand Brahma-devas including Mahadeva Sikhin, coming from the four quarters to hear about the Dharma. There were as well twelve thousand kings of heavens who came from the four quarters to sit in the assembly. There were also other devas of awe-inspiring majesty, dragons, spirits, yaksas, gandharas, asuras, garudas, kin-naras and mahoragas who came to sit in the assembly. Many bhiksus, bhiksunis, upasakas and upasikas also came to the assembly.

Thus, surrounded by an incalculable number of people circumambulating to pay their respects, the Buddha was about to expound the Dharma. Like the towering Mount Sumeru emerging from the great ocean. He sat comfortably on the lion throne eclipsing the imposing assembly.

A son of an elder (grhapati), called Ratna-rasi, came with five hundred sons of elders, with canopies decorated with the seven gems to pay respect and offer them to Him. By using His transcendental powers, the Buddha transformed all the canopies into a single one which contained the great chiliocosm.

With Mount Sumeru and all the concentric ranges around it, great seas, rivers, streams, the sun, the moon, planets and stars, and the palaces of devas, dragons, and holy spirits appeared in the precious canopy, which also covered all the Buddhas who were expounding the Dharma in the ten directions.

All those present, who witnessed the Buddha’s supernatural powers, praised the rare occurrence which they had never seen before, brought their palms together and gazed at Him without pausing for an instant. Thereupon, Ratna-rasi chanted the following gatha of praise:

“I salute Him whose eyes are broad like the green Lotus, whose mind is unchanging and serene, who has accumulated countless pure deeds that lead all beings to the extinction of mortality.

I have seen the great saint use His transcendental powers to create in the ten directions countless lands in which Buddhas still proclaim the Dharma; all this has the assembly seen and heard.

The power of your Dharma surpasses all beings and bestows on them the wealth of the Law. With great skill your discernment all while unmoved in Reality.

You are from all phenomena released; hence, to the King of Dharma, I bow down. You preached neither is nor is not for all things by causes are created. There is neither self nor doing nor thing done, but good or evil karma is infallible.

Under the Bodhi tree You conquered Mara, obtained Ambrosia, realized Nirvana and won Bodhi. From mind, thought and feeling are You free, thereby, overcoming heresies, turning thrice in the chiliocosm the wheel of the Law that is pure and clean at heart.

To this gods and men who were saved attested, thus, the Three Treasures appeared in the saha world to save living beings with this profound Dharma which, when applied, fails never to Nirvana lead. You are the king physician who destroys old age, illness and death. So your unfathomable Dharma of boundless merits, I salute.

While like Mount Sumeru you are unmoved by both praise and censure. Your compassion is extended to both good and evil men, like space thy mind remains impartial. Does not anyone revere this human Buddha after hearing about Him?

I have offered Him a small canopy, which encloses the great chiliocosm with palaces of gods, dragons and spirits, Gandharas, yaksas and others such as well.

As all kings in this world. With mercy He used His ‘ten powers’ to make this change. The witnesses praise the Buddha. I bow to the most Honoured One in the three realms. The whole assembly (now) take refuge in the King of The Law. Those gazing at Him are filled with joy, each seeing the Bhagavat before him; ‘tis one of His eighteen characteristics.

When he proclaims the Dharma with unchanging voice, all beings understand according to their natures saying the Bhagavat speaks their own languages; this one of His eighteen characteristics.

When He expounds the Dharma in one voice, they understand according to their versions deriving great benefit from what they have gathered; this is one more of His eighteen characteristics.

When He expounds the Dharma in one voice, some are filled with fear, others are joyful, some hate it while others are from doubts relieved; ‘this is one of His eighteen characteristics.

I bow to the Possessor of ‘ten powers’, I bow to Him who has achieved fearlessness acquiring all eighteen characteristics; I bow to Him who guides others like a pilot.

I bow to Him who has untied all bonds; I bow to Him who has reached the other shore; I bow to Him who can all worlds deliver; I bow to Him who from birth and death is free.

Who knows how living beings come and go and penetrates all things to win His freedom, who is skillful in nirvanic deeds, cannot be soiled like the lotus.

Who plumbs the depths of everything without hindrance. I bow to Him, who like space, relies on nothing.

After chanting the gatha, Ratna-rasi said to the Buddha: “World Honoured One, these five hundred sons of elders have set their minds on seeking supreme enlightenments (anuttara-samyak-sambodhi); they all wish to know how to win the pure and clean land of the Buddha. Will the World Honoured One teach us the Bodhisattva deeds that leads to the realization of the Pure Land?”

The Buddha said: “Excellent, Ratna-rasi, it is good that you can ask on behalf of these Bodhisattvas about deeds that lead to the realization of the Buddha’s Pure Land. Listen carefully and ponder over all what I now tell you.”

At that time, Ratna-rasi and the five hundred sons of elders listened attentively to His instruction.

The Buddha said: “Ratna-rasi, all species of living beings are the Buddha land sought by all Bodhisattvas. Why is it so? Because a Bodhisattva wins the Buddha land, according to the living beings converted by him (to the Dharma); according to the living beings tamed by him; according to the country (where they will be reborn to) realize the Buddha-wisdom and in which they will grow the Bodhisattva root. Why is it so? Because a Bodhisattva wins the pure land solely for the benefit of all living beings. For instance, a man can build palaces and houses on vacant ground without difficulty, but he will fail if he attempts to build them in (empty) space. So, a Bodhisattva, in order to bring living beings to perfection seeks the Buddha land which cannot be sought in (empty) space.

a) The straightforward mind is the Bodhisattva’s pure land, for when he realizes Buddhahood, beings who do not flatter will be reborn in his land.

b) The profound mind is the Bodhisattva’s pure land, for when he realizes Buddhahood, living beings who have accumulated all merits will be reborn there.

c) The Mahayana (Bodhi) mind is the Bodhisattva’s pure land, for when he attains Buddhahood all living beings seeking Mahayana will be reborn there.

d) Charity (dana) is the Bodhisattva.s pure land, for when he attains Buddhahood, living beings who can give away (to charity) will be reborn there.

e) Discipline (sila) is the Bodhisattva’s pure land, for when he realizes Buddhahood, living beings who have kept the ten prohibitions will be reborn there.

f) Patience (ksanti) is the Bodhisattva’s pure land, for when he attains Buddhahood, living beings endowed with the thirty-two excellent physical marks will be reborn there.

g) Devotion (virya) is the Bodhisattva.s pure land, for when he attains Buddhahood, living beings who are diligent in their performance of meritorious deeds will be reborn there.

h) Serenity (dhyana) is the Bodhisattva’s pure land, for when he attains Buddhahood, living beings whose minds are disciplined and unstirred will be reborn there.

i) Wisdom (prajna) is the Bodhisattva’s pure land, for when he attains Buddhahood, living beings who have realized samadhi will be reborn there.

j) The four boundless minds (catvari apramanani) are the Bodhisattva’s pure land, for when he attains Buddhahood, living beings who have practiced and perfected the four infinites: kindness, compassion, joy and indifference, will be reborn there.

k) The four persuasive actions (catuh-samgraha-vastu) are the Bodhisattva’s pure land, for when he attains Buddhahood, living beings who have benefited from his helpful persuasion will be reborn there.

l) The expedient methods (upaya) of teaching the absolute truth are the Bodhisattva’s pure land, for when he attains Buddhahood, living beings conversant with upaya will be reborn there.

m) The thirty-seven contributory states to enlightenment (bodhipaksika-dharma) are the Bodhisattva’s pure land, for when he attains Buddhahood, living beings who have successfully practised the four states of mindfulness (smrtyu-pasthana), the four proper lines of exertion (samyakpra-hana), the four steps towards supramundane powers (rddhipada), the five spiritual faculties (panca indriyani), the five transcendental powers (panca balani), the seven degrees of enlightenment (sapta bodhyanga) and the eightfold noble path (asta-marga) will be reborn in his land.

n) Dedication (of one’s merits to the salvation of others) is the Bodhisattva’s pure land, for when he attains Buddhahood, his land will be adorned with all kinds of meritorious virtues.

o) Preaching the ending of the eight sad conditions is the Buddhahood his land will be free from these evil states.

p) To keep the precepts while refraining from criticizing those who do not is the Bodhisattva’s pure land, for when he attains Buddhahood, his country will be free from people who break the commandments.

q) The ten good deeds are the Bodhisattva’s pure land, for when he attains Buddhahood, he will not die young, he will be wealthy, he will live purely, his words are true, his speech is gentle, his encourage will not desert him because of his gift of conciliation, his talk is profitable to others and living beings free from envy and anger and holding right views will be reborn in his land.

So, Ratna-rasi, because of his straightforward mind, a Bodhisattva can act straightforwardly; because of his straightforward deeds, he realizes the profound mind; because of his profound mind his thoughts are kept under control; because of his controlled thoughts, his acts accord with the Dharma (he has heard); because of his deeds in accord with the Dharma, he can dedicate his merits to the benefit of others; because of this dedication, he can make use of expedient methods (upaya); because of his expedient methods, he can bring living beings to perfection; because he can bring them to perfection, his Buddha land is pure; because of his pure Buddha land, his preaching of the Dharma is pure; because of his pure preaching, his wisdom is pure; because of his pure wisdom, his mind is pure, and because of his pure mind, all his merits are pure. Therefore, Ratna-rasi, if a Bodhisattva wants to win the pure land, he should purify his mind and because of his pure mind, the Buddha land is pure.”

As Sariputra was fascinated by the Buddha’s awe-inspiring majesty, he thought: “If the Buddha land is pure, because of the Bodhisattva’s pure mind, is it because the mind of the World Honoured One was not pure when He was still in the Bodhisattva stage, that this Buddha land (i.e. this world) is so unclean (as we see it now)?”

The Buddha knew of his thought and said to Sariputra: “Are the sun and the moon not clean when a blind man does not see their cleanliness?”

Sariputra said: “World Honoured One, this is the fault of the blind man and not that of the sun and the moon.”

The Buddha said: “Sariputra, because of their (spiritual) blindness, living beings do not see the imposing majesty of the Tathagata’s pure land; this is not the fault of the Tathagata. Sariputra, this land of mine is pure but you do not see its purity.”

Thereupon, Brahma with a tuft of hair on his head (resembling a conch) said to Sariputra: “Don’t think this Buddha land is impure. Why? Because I see that the land of Sakyamuni Buddha is pure and clean, like a heavenly palace.”

Sariputra said: “I see that this world is full of hills, mountains, pits, thorns, stones and earth, which are all unclean.”

Brahma said: “Because your mind is up and down and disagrees with the Buddha-wisdom, you see that this land is unclean. Sariputra, because a Bodhisattva is impartial towards all living beings and his profound mind is pure and clean in accord with the Buddha Dharma, he can see that this Buddha land is (also) pure and clean.”

At that time, the Buddha pressed the toes of His (right ) foot on the ground and the world was suddenly adorned with hundreds and thousands of rare and precious gems of the great chiliocosm, like the precious Majestic Buddha’s pure land adorned with countless precious merits, which the assembly praised as never seen before; in addition each person present found himself seated on a precious lotus throne.

The Buddha said to Sariputra: “Look at the majestic purity of this Buddha land of mine.”

Sariputra said: “World Honoured One, I have never seen and heard of this Buddha land in its majestic purity.”

The Buddha said: “This Buddha land of mine is always pure, but appears filthy so that I can lead people of inferior spirituality to their salvation. This is like the food of devas which takes various colours according to the merits of each individual eater. So, Sariputra, the man whose mind is pure sees this world in its majestic purity.”

When this Buddha land (i.e. the world) appeared in its majestic purity, the five hundred sons of elders, who came with Ratna-rasi, realized the patient endurance of the uncreate (anutpattika-dharma-ksanti), and eighty-four thousand people developed their minds set on Supreme Enlightenment (anuttara-samyak-sambodhi).

The Buddha then stopped pressing His toes on the ground and the world returned to its previous (filthy) condition. Thirty-two thousand devas and men aspiring to the sravaka stage understood the impermanence of all phenomena, kept from earthly impurities and achieved the Dharma-eye (which sees the truth of the four noble truths); eight thousand bhiksus kept from phenomena and succeeded in putting an end to the stream of transmigration (thus realizing arhatship).

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