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 2 - The Expedient Method (Upaya) Of Teaching

In the great town of Vaisai, there was an elder called Vimalakirti, who had made offerings to countless Buddhas and had deeply planted all good roots, thereby, achieving the patient endurance of the uncreate. His unhindered power of speech enabled him to roam everywhere using his supernatural powers to teach others. He had achieved absolute control over good and evil influences (dharani) thereby, realizing fearlessness. So he overcame all passions and demons, entered all profound Dharma-doors to enlightenment, excelled in Wisdom perfection (prajna-paramita) and was well versed in all expedient methods (upaya) of teaching, thereby, fulfilling all great Bodhisatva vows. He knew very well the mental propensities of living beings and could distinguish their various (spiritual) roots. For along time, he had trodden the Buddha-path and his mind was spotless. Since he understood Mahayana, all his actions were based on right thinking. While dwelling in the Buddha’s awe-inspiring majesty, his mind was extensive like the great ocean. He was praised by all Buddhas and revered by Indra, Brahma and worldly kings.

As he was set on saving men, he expediently stayed at Vaisali for this purpose. He used his unlimited wealth to aid the poor; he kept all the rules of morality and discipline to correct those breaking the precepts; he used his great patience to teach those giving rise to anger and hate; he taught zeal and devotion to those who were remiss; he used serenity to check stirring thoughts; and employed decisive wisdom to defeat ignorance. Although wearing white clothes (of the laity) he observed all the rules of the Sangha. Although a layman, he was free from all attachments to the three worlds (of desire, form and beyond form). Although he was married and had children, he was diligent in his practice of pure living. Although a householder, he delighted in keeping from domestic establishments. Although he ate and drank (like others), he delighted in tasting the flavour of moderation. When entering a gambling house, he always tried to teach and deliver people there. He received heretics but never strayed from the right faith. Though he knew worldly classics, he always took joy in the Buddha Dharma. He was revered by all who met him. He upheld the right Dharma and taught it to old and young people. Although occasionally he realized some profit in his worldly activities, he was not happy about these earnings. While walking in the street, he never failed to convert others (to the Dharma). When he entered a government office, he always protected others (from injustice). When joining a symposium, he led others to the Mahayana. When visiting a school he enlightened the students. When entering a house of prostitution, he revealed the sin of sexual intercourse. When going to a tavern, he stuck to his determination (to abstain from drinking). When amongst elders he was the most revered for he taught them the exalted Dharma. When amongst upasakas, he was the most respected for he taught them how to wipe out all desires and attachments. When amongst those of the ruling class, he was the most revered, for he taught them forbearance. When amongst Brahmins, he was the most revered, for he taught them how to conquer pride and prejudice. When amongst government officials he was the most revered, for he taught them correct law. When amongst princes, he was the most revered, for he taught them loyalty and filial piety. When in the inner palaces, he was the most revered, for he converted all maids of honour there. When amongst common people, he was the most revered, for he urged them to cultivate all meritorious virtues. When amongst Brahma-devas, he was the most revered, for he urged the gods to realize the Buddha wisdom. When amongst Sakras and Indras, he was the most revered, for he revealed to them the impermanence (of all things). When amongst lokapalas, he was the most revered, for he protected all living beings. Thus, Vimalakirti used countless expedient methods (upaya) to teach for the benefit of living beings.

Now using upaya he appeared ill and because of his indisposition kings, ministers, elders, upasakas, Brahmins, etc., as well as princes and other officials reaching many thousands came to enquire after his health. So Vimalakirti appeared in his sick body to receive and expound the Dharma to them, saying: “Virtuous ones, the human body is impermanent; it is neither strong nor durable; it will decay and is, therefore, unreliable. It causes anxieties and sufferings, being subject to all kinds of ailments. Virtuous ones, all wise men do not rely on this body which is like a mass of foam, which is intangible. It is like a bubble and does not last for a long time. It is like a flame and is the product of the thirst of love. It is like a banana tree, the centre of which is hollow. It is like an illusion being produced by inverted thoughts. It is like a dream being formed by fasle views. It is like a shadow and is caused by karma. This body is like an echo for it results from causes and conditions. It is like a floating cloud, which disperses any moment. It is like lightning for it does not stay for the time of a thought. It is without owner for it is like the earth. It is egoless for it is like fire (that kills itself). It is transient like the wind. It is not human for it is like water. It is unreal and depends on the four elements for its existence. It is empty, being neither ego nor its object. It is without knowledge like grass, trees and potsherds. It is not the prime mover, but is moved by the wind (of passions). It is impure and full of filth. It is false, and though washed, bathed, clothed and fed, it will decay and die in the end. It is a calamity being subject to all kinds of illnesses and sufferings. It is like a dry well, for it is prusued by death. It is unsettled and will pass away. It is like a poisonous snake, a deadly enemy, a temporary assemblage (without underlying reality), being made of the five aggregates, the twelve entrances (the six organs and their objects) and the eighteen realms of sense (the six organs, their objects and their perceptions).

“Virtuous ones, the (human) body being so repulsive, you should seek the Buddha body. Why? Because the Buddha body is called Dharmakaya, the product of boundless merits and wisdom; the outcome of discipline, meditation, wisdom, liberation and perfect knowledge of liberation; the result of kindness, compassion, joy and indifference (to emotions); the consequence of (the six perfections or paramitas) charity, discipline, patience, zeal, meditation and wisdom and the sequel of expedient teaching (upaya); the six supernatural powers; the three insights; the thirty-seven stages contributory to enlightenment; serenity and insight; the ten transcendental powers (dasabala); the four kinds of fearlessness; the eighteen unsurpassed characteristics of the Buddha; the wiping out of all evils and the performance of all good deeds; truthfulness, and freedom from looseness and unrestraint. So countless kinds of purity and cleanness produce the body of the Tathagata.

Virtuous Ones, if you want to realize the Buddha body in order to get rid of all the illnesses of a living being, you should set your minds on the quest of supreme enlightenment (anuttara-samyak-sambodhi).”

Thus, the elder Vimalakirti expounded the Dharma to all those who came to enquire after his health, urging countless visitors to seek supreme enlightenment.

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