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 4 - The Bodhisattvas


The Buddha then said to Maitreya Bodhisattva: “You go to Vimalakirti to inquire after his health on my behalf.”

Maitreya replied: “World Honoured One, I am not qualified to call on him and inquire after his health. The reason is that once when I was expounding to the deva-king and his retinue in the Tusita heaven the never-receding stage (of Bodhisattva development into Buddhahood) Vimalakirti came and said to me: ‘Maitreya, when the World Honoured One predicted your future attainment of supreme enlightenment (anuttara-sayak-sambodhi) in one lifetime, tell me in which life, whether in the past, future or present, did or will you receive His prophecy? If it was in your past life, that has gone; if it will be in your future life, that has not yet come; and if it is in your present life, that does not stay. As the Buddha once said: ‘O bhiksus, you are born, are aging and are dying simultaneously at this very moment’; if you received His prophecy in a lifeless (state), the latter is prediction (of your future Buddhahood) nor realization of supreme enlightenment. How then did you receive the prediction of your attainment of Buddhahood in one lifetime? Or did you receive it in the absolute state (thatness or tathata) of either birth or death? If you receive it in the absolute state of birth, this absolute state is uncreated. If you receive it in the absolute state of death, this absolute state does not die. For (the underlying nature of) all living beings and of all things is absolute; all saints and sages are in this absolute state, and so, also are you, Maitreya. So, if you, Maitreya, received the Buddhahood, all living beings (who are absolute by nature) should also receive it. Why? Because that which is absolute is non-dual and is beyond differentiation. If you, Maitreya, realize supreme enlightenment, so should all living beings. Why? Because they are the manifestation of bodhi (enlightenment). If you, Maitreya, win nirvana, they should also realize it. Why? Because all Buddhas know that every living being is basically in the condition of extinction of existence and suffering which is nirvana, in which there can be no further extinction of existence. Therefore, Maitreya, do not mislead the devas because there is neither development of supreme bodhi-mind nor its backsliding. Maitreya, you should instead urge them to keep from discriminating views about bodhi (enlightenment). Why? Because bodhi can be won by neither body nor mind. For bodhi is the state of calmness and extinction of passion (i.e. nirvana) because it wipes out all forms. Bodhi is unseeing, for it keeps from all causes. Bodhi is non-discrimination, for it stops memorizing and thinking. Bodhi cuts off ideation, for it is free from all views. Bodhi forsakes inversion, for it prevents perverse thoughts. Bodhi puts an end to desire, for it keeps from longing. Bodhi is unresponsive, for it wipes out all clinging. Bodhi complies (with self-nature), for it is in line with the state of suchness. Bodhi dwells (in this suchness), for it abides in (changeless) Dharma-nature (or Dharmata, the underlying nature of all things.) Bodhi reaches this suchness, for it attains the region of reality. Bodhi is non-dual, for it keeps from (both) intellect and its objects. Bodhi is impartial, for it is equal to boundless space. Bodhi is the non-active (we wei) state, for it is above the conditions of birth, existence and death. Bodhi is true knowledge, for it discerns the mental activities of all living beings. Bodhi does not unite, for it is free from all confrontation. Bodhi disentangles, for it breaks contact with habitual troubles (klesa). Bodhi is that of which the position cannot be determined, for it is beyond form and shape, and is that which cannot be called by name for all names (have no independent nature and so) are void. Bodhi is like the mindlessness of an illusory man, for it neither accepts nor rejects anything. Bodhi is beyond disturbance, for it is always serene by itself. Bodhi is real stillness, because of its pure and clean nature. Bodhi is non-acceptance, for it keeps from causal attachments. Bodhi is non-differentiating, because of its impartiality towards all. Bodhi is without compare, for it is indescribable. Bodhi is profound and subtle, for although unknowing, it knows all.’

World Honoured One, when Vimalakirti so expounded the Dharma, two hundred sons of devas realized the patient endurance of the uncreate (anutpattika-dharma-ksanti). This is why I am not qualified to call on him and inquire after his health.”


The Buddha then said to the Bodhisattva Glorious Light: “You go to Vimalakirti to inquire after his health on my behalf.”

Glorious Light replied: “World Honoured One, I am not qualified to call on him to inquire after his health. The reason is that once while I was leaving Vaisali, I met Vimalakirti who was entering it. I saluted and asked him ‘Where does the Venerable Upasaka come form?

He replied: ‘From a bodhimandala (a holy site).’

I asked him: ‘Where is this bodhimandala?’

He replied: ‘The straightforward mind is the bodhimandala, for it is free from falsehood. The initiated mind is the bodhimandala, for it can keep discipline. The profound mind is the bodhimandala, for it accumulates merits. The enlightened mind is the bodhimandala, for it is infallible. Charity (dana) is the bodhimandala, for it does not expect reward. Discipline (sila) is the bodhimandala, for it fulfills all vows. Patience (ksanti) is the bodhimandala for it has access to the minds of all living beings. Zeal (virya) is the bodhimandala, for it is free from being remiss. Serenity (dhyana) is the bodhimandala, because of its harmonious mind. Wisdom (prajna) is the bodhimandala, for it discerns all things. Kindness (maitri) is the bodhimandala, for it treats all living beings on an equal footing. Compassion (karuna) is the bodhimandala, because of its great forbearance. Joy (mudita) is the bodhimandala, for it is pleasant. Indifference (upeksa) is the bodhimandala, for it wipes out both love and hate. Transcendental efficiency is the bodhimandala, for it perfects all the six supernatural powers (sadabhijna). Liberation is the bodhimandala, for it turns its back to all phenomenal conditions. Expedient devices (upaya) are the bodhimandala, for they teach and convert living beings. The four winning actions of a Bodhisattva are the bodhimandala, for they benefit all living beings. Wide knowledge through hearing the Dharma is the bodhimandala, for its practice leads to enlightenment. Control of the mind is the Bodhimandala, because of its correct perception of all things. The thirty-seven contributory stages to enlightenment are the bodhimandala, for they keep from all worldly activities. The four noble truths are the bodhimandala, because they do not deceive. The twelve links in the chain of existence are the bodhimandala, because of their underlying nature which is infinite. Troubles (klesa) are the bodhimandala, for their underlying nature is reality. Living beings are the bodhimandala, because they are (basically) egoless. All things are the bodhimandala, for they are empty. The defeat of demons is the bodhimandala, for it is imperturbable. The three realms (of desire, form and beyond form) are the bodhimandala, for fundamentally they lead to no real destination. The lion’s roar is the bodhimandala, because of its fearlessness. The ten powers (dasabla), the four kinds of fearlessness and the eighteen unsurpassed characteristics of the Buddha are the bodhimandala, for they are without fault. The three insights are the bodhimandala, for they are free from all remaining hindrances. The knowledge of all things in the time of a thought is the bodhimandala, for it brings omniscience (sarvajna) to perfection. Thus, son of good family, a Bodhisattva should convert living beings according to the various modes of perfection (paramitas) and all his acts, including the raising or lowering of a foot, should be interpreted as coming from the seat of learning (bodhimandala); he should thus stay within the Buddha Dharma.’

While Vimalakirti was thus expounding the Dharma, five hundred devas developed their minds set on supreme enlightenment. This is why I am not qualified to call on him to inquire after his health.”


The Buddha then said to the Bodhisattva Ruler of the World: “You call on Vimalakirti to inquire after his health on my behalf.”

Ruler of the World replied: “World Honoured One, I am not qualified to call on him and inquire after his health. I still remember that once as I was staying in a vihara, a demon like Indra appeared followed by twelve thousand goddesses (devakanya) playing music and singing songs. After bowing their heads at my feet they brought their palms together and stood at my side. I mistook the demon for Sakra and said to him: ‘Welcome, Sakra, although you have won merits, you should guard against passion (arising from music, song and sex). You should look into the five desires (for the objects of the five senses) in your practice of morality. You should look into the impermanence of body, life and wealth in your quest of indestructible Dharma (i.e. boundless body, endless life and inexhaustible spiritual wealth.).’

He said: ‘Bodhisattva, please take these twelve thousand goddesses who will serve you.’ I replied: ’Sakra, please do not make to a monk this unclean offering which does not suit me.’ “Even before I had finished speaking, Vimalakirti came and said: ‘He is not Sakra; he is a demon who comes to disturb you.’ He then said to the demon: ‘You can give me these girls and I will keep them.’

The demon was frightened, and being afraid that Vimalakirti might give him trouble, he tried to make himself invisible but failed, and in spite of his use of supernatural powers, he could not go away. Suddenly a voice was heard in the air, saying: ‘Demon, give him the girls and then you can go.’ Being scared, he gave the girls.’

At that time, Vimalakirti said to them: “The demon has given you to me. You can now develop a mind set on the quest of supreme enlightenment.” Vimalakirti then expounded the Dharma to them urging them to seek the truth. He declared: ‘You have now set your minds on the quest for the truth and can experience joy in the Dharma instead of in the five worldly pleasures (arising from the objects of the five senses).’ “They asked him: ‘What is this joy in the Dharma?’

“He replied: ‘Joy in having faith in the Buddha; joy in listening to the Dharma; joy in making offerings to the Sangha; and joy in forsaking the five worldly pleasures; joy in finding out that the five aggregates are like deadly enemies; that the four elements (that make the body) are like poisonous snakes; and that the sense organs and their objects are empty like space; joy in following and upholding the truth; joy in being beneficial to living beings; joy in revering and making offerings to your masters; joy in spreading the practice of charity (dana); joy in firmly keeping the rules of discipline (sila); joy in forbearance (ksanti); joy in unflinching zeal (virya) to sow all excellent roots; joy in unperturbed serenity (dhyana); joy in wiping out all defilement that screens clear wisdom (prajna); joy in expanding the enlightened (bodhi) mind; joy in overcoming all demons; joy in eradicating all troubles (klesa); joy in purifying the Buddha land; joy in winning merits from excellent physical marks; joy in embellishing the bodhimandala (the holy site); joy in fearlessness to hear (and understand ) the profound Dharma; joy in the three perfect doors to nirvana (i.e. voidness, formlessness and inactivity) as contrasted with their incomplete counterparts (which still cling to the notion of objective realization); joy of being with those studying the same Dharma and joy in the freedom from hindrance when amongst those who do not study it; joy to guide and convert evil men and to be with men of good counsel; joy in thestat of purity and cleanness; joy in the practice of countless conditions contributory to enlightenment. All this is the Bodhisattva joy in the Dharma.’

At that time, the demon said to the girls: ‘I want you all to return with me to our palace.’

The girls replied: ‘While we are here with the Venerable Upasaka, we delight in the joy of the Dharma; we no longer want the five kinds of worldly pleasures.’

The demon then said to Vimalakirti: ‘Will the Upasaka give away all these girls, as he who gives away everything to others is a Bodhisattva?’

Vimalakirti said: ‘I now give up all of them and you can take them away so that all living beings can fulfill their vows to realize the Dharma.’

The girls then asked Vimalakirti: ‘What should we do while staying at the demon’s palace?’

Vimalakirti replied: ‘Sisters, there is a Dharma called the Inexhaustible Lamp, which you should study and practice. For instance, a lamp can (be used to) light up hundreds and thousands of other lamps; darkness will thus be bright and this brightness will be inexhaustible. So, sisters, a Bodhisattva should guide and convert hundreds and thousands of living beings so that they all develop the mind set on supreme enlightenment; thus his deep thought (of enlightening others) is, likewise, inexhaustible. This teaching of the Dharma will then increase in all excellent Dharmas; this is called the Inexhaustible Lamp. Although you will be staying at the demon’s palace you should use this Inexhaustible Lamp to guide countless sons and daughters of devas to develop their minds set on supreme enlightenment, in order to repay your debt of gratitude to the Buddha, and also for the benefit of all living beings.’

The devas’ daughters bowed their heads at Vimalakirti’s feet and followed the demon to return to his palace and all of a sudden they vanished.”

World Honoured One, since Vimalakirti possesses such supernatural power, wisdom and eloquence, I am not qualified to call on him to inquire after his health.”


The Buddha then said to a son of an elder called Excellent Virtue: “You call on Vimalakirti to inquire his health on my behalf.”

Excellent Virtue said: “World Honoured One, I am not qualified to call on him to inquire after his health. The reason is that once I held a ceremonial meeting at my father’s house to make offerings to the gods and also to monks, brahmins, poor people, outcastes and beggars. When the meeting ended seven days later, Vimalakirti came and said to me: ‘O son of the elder, an offering meeting should not be held in the way you did; it should bestow the Dharma upon others, for what is the use of giving alms away?’

I asked: ‘Venerable Upasaka, what do you mean by bestowal of Dharma?’

He replied: ‘The bestowal of Dharma is (beyond the element of time, having) neither start nor finish and each offering should benefit all living beings at the same time. This is a bestowal of Dharma.’

I asked: ‘What does this mean?’

He replied: ‘This means that bodhi springs from kindness (maitri) toward living beings; the salvation of living beings springs from compassion (karuna); the upholding of right Dharma from joy (mudita); wisdom from indifference (upeksa); the overcoming of greed from charity–perfection (dana-parmita); ceasing to break the precepts from discipline-perfection (sila-paramita); egolessness from patience-perfection (ksanti-paramita); relinquishment of body and mind from zeal-perfection (virya-paramita); realization of enlightenment from serenity-perfection (dhyana-paramita); realization of all-knowledge (sarvajna) from wisdom–perfection (prajna-paramita); the teaching and converting of living beings spring from the void; non-rejection of worldly activities springs from formlessness; appearance in the world springs from inactivity; sustaining the right Dharma from the power of expedient devices (upaya); the liberation of living beings from the four winning virtues; respect for and service to others from the determination to wipe out arrogance; the relinquishment of body, life and wealth from the three indestructibles; the six thoughts to dwell upon from concentration on the Dharma; the six points of reverent harmony in a monastery form the straightforward mind; right deeds from pure livelihood; joy in the pure mind from nearness to saints and sages; non-rising of hate for bad people from the effective control of mind; retiring from the world from the profound mind; practice in accordance with the preaching from the wide knowledge gained from hearing (about the Dharma); absence of disputation from a leisurely life; the quest of Buddha wisdom from meditation; the freeing of living beings from bondage from actual practice; the earning of all excellent physical marks to embellish Buddha lands from the karma of mortal excellence; the knowledge of the minds of all living beings and the relevant expounding of Dharma to them, from the karma of good knowledge; the understanding of all things commensurate with neither acceptance nor rejection of them to realize their oneness, from the karma of wisdom; the eradication of all troubles (klesa), hindrances and evils from all excellent karmas; the realization of all wisdom and good virtue from the contributory conditions leading to enlightenment. All this, son of good family, pertains to the bestowal of Dharma. A Bodhisattva holding this meeting that bestows the Dharma, is a great almsgiver (danapati); he is also a field of blessings for all worlds.’

World Honoured One, as Vimalakirti was expounding the Dharma, two hundred Brahmins who listened to it, set their minds on the quest of supreme enlightenment.

I myself realized purity and cleanliness of mind, which I had never experienced before. I then bowed my head at his feet and took out my priceless necklace of precious stones, which I offered to him but he refused it. I then said: ‘Venerable Upasaka, please accept my present and do what you like with it.’ He took my necklace and divided it in two, offering half to the poorest beggar in the assembly and the other half to the ‘Invincible Tathagata’, whose radiant land was then visible to all those present, who saw the half-necklace transformed into a precious tower in all its majesty on four pillars which did not shield one another.

After this supernatural transformation, Vimalakirti said: ‘He who gives alms to the poorest beggar with an impartial mind performs an act which does not differ from the field of blessings of the Tathagata, for it derives from great compassion with no expectation of reward. This is called the complete bestowal of Dharma.’

After witnessing Vimalakirti’s supernatural power, the poorest beggar who had also listened to his expounding of the Dharma developed a mind set on supreme enlightenment. Hence, I am not qualified to call on Vimalakirti to inquire after his health.”

Thus, each of the Bodhisattvas present related his encounter with Vimalakirti and declined to call on him to inquire after his health.

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