The Buddha then said to Manjusri: “You call on Vimalakirti to inquire after his health.”
Manjusri said: “World Honoured One, he is a man of superior wisdom and it is not easy to match him (in eloquence). For he has reached reality, and is a skillful teacher of the essential aspects of the Dharma. His power of speech is unhindered and his wisdom is boundless. He is well versed in all matters pertaining to Bodhisattva development, for he has entered the mysterious treasure of all Buddhas. He has overcome all demons, has achieved all transcendental powers and has realized wisdom by ingenious devices (upaya). Nevertheless, I will obey the holy command and will call on him to inquire after his health.”
The Bodhisattvas, the chief disciples of the Buddha and the rulers of the four heavens who were present, thought to themselves: “As the two Mahasattvas will be meeting, they will certainly discuss the profound Dharma.” So, eight thousand Bodhisattvas, five hundred sravakas and hundreds and thousands of devas wanted to follow Manjusri.
So Manjusri, reverently surrounded by the Bodhisattvas, the Buddha’s chief disciples and the devas, made for Vaisali town.
Vimalakirti, who knew in advance that Manjusri and his followers would come, used his transcendental powers to empty his house of all attendants and furniture except a sick bed.
When entering the house, Manjusri saw only Vimalakirti lying on sick bed and was greeted by the upasaka.
Who said: “Welcome, Manjusri, you come with no idea of coming and you see with no idea of seeing.”
Manjusri replied: “It is so, Venerable Upasaka, coming should not be further tied to (the idea of) coming, and going should not be further linked with (the concept of) going. Why? Because there is neither whence to come nor whither to go, and that which is visible cannot further be (an object of) seeing. Now, let us put all this aside. Venerable Upasaka, is your illness bearable? Will it get worse with the wrong treatment? The World Honoured One sends me to inquire after your health, and is anxious to have good news of you. Venerable Upasaka, where does your illness come from; how long since it arose, and how will it come to an end?”
Vimalakirti replied: “Stupidity leads to love, which is the origin of my illness. Because all living beings are subject to illness, I am ill as well. When all living beings are no longer ill, my illness will come to an end. Why? A Bodhisattva, because of (his vow to save) living beings, enters the realm of birth and death which is subject to illness; if they are all cured, the Bodhisattva will no longer be ill. For instance, when the only son of an elder falls ill, so do his parents, and when he recovers his health, so do they. Likewise, a Bodhisattva loves all living beings as if they were his sons; so when they fall ill, the Bodhisattva is also ill, and when they recover, he is no longer ill.”
Manjusri asked: “What is the cause of a Bodhisattva’s illness?”
Vimalakirti replied: “A Bodhisattva’s illness comes from (his) great compassion.”
Manjusri asked: “Why is the Venerable Upasaka’s house empty and without servants?”
Vimalakirti replied: “All Buddha lands are also void.”
Manjusri asked: “What is the Buddha land void of?”
Vimalakirti replied: “It is void of voidness.”
Manjusri asked: “Why should voidness be void?”
Vimalakirti replied: “Voidness is void in the absence of discrimination.”
Manjusri asked: “Can voidness be subject to discrimination?”
Vimalakirti replied: “All discrimination is also void.”
Manjusri asked: “Where can voidness be sought?”
Vimalakirti replied: “It should be sought in the sixty-two false views.”
Manjusri asked: “Where should the sixty-two false views be sought?”
Vimalakirti replied: “They should be sought in the liberation of all Buddhas.”
Manjusri asked: “Where should the liberation of all Buddhas be sought?”
Vimalakirti replied: “It should be sought in the minds of all living beings.”
He continued: “The virtuous one has also asked why I have no servants; well, all demons and heretics are my servants. Why? Because demons like (the state of) birth and death which the Bodhisattva does not reject, whereas heretics delight in false views in the midst of which the Bodhisattva remains unmoved.”
Manjusri asked: “What form does the Venerable Upasaka’s illness take?”
Vimalakirti replied: “My illness is formless and invisible.”
Manjusri asked: “Is it an illness of the body or of the mind?”
Vimalakirti replied: “It is not an illness of the body, for it is beyond body and it is not that of the mind, for the mind is like an illusion.”
Manjusri asked: “Of the four elements, earth, water, fire and air, which one is ill?”
Vimalakirti replied: “It is not an illness of the element of earth but it is not beyond it; it is the same with the other elements of water, fire and air. Since the illnesses of all living beings originate from the four elements which cause them to suffer, I am ill too.”
Manjusri then asked: “What should a Bodhisattva say when comforting another Bodhisattva who falls ill?”
Vimalakirti replied: “He should speak of the impermanence of the body but never of the abhorrence and relinquishment of the body. He should speak of the suffering body but never of the joy in nirvana. He should speak of egolessness in the body while teaching and guiding all living beings (in spite of the fact that they are fundamentally non-existent in the absolute state). He should speak of the voidness of the body but should never cling to the ultimate nirvana. He should speak of repentance of past sins but should avoid slipping into the past. Because of his own illness he should take pity on all those who are sick. Knowing that he has suffered during countless past aeons, he should think of the welfare of all living beings. He should think of his past practice of good virtues to uphold (his determination for) right livelihood. Instead of worrying about troubles (klesa) he should give rise to zeal and devotion (in his practice of the Dharma). He should act like a king physician to cure others’ illnesses. Thus, a Bodhisattva should comfort another sick Bodhisattva to make him happy.”
Manjusri asked: “How does a sick Bodhisattva control his mind?”
“A sick Bodhisattva should think thus: ‘My illness comes from inverted thoughts and troubles (klesa) during my previous lives but it has no real nature of its own. Therefore, who is suffering from it? Why is it so? Because when the four elements unite to form a body, the former arewithout owner and the latter is without ego. Moreover, my illness comes from my clinging to an ego; hence, I should wipe out this clinging.’
Now that he knows the source of his illness, he should forsake the concept of an ego and a living being. He should think of things (dharma) thus: ‘A body is created by the union of all sorts of dharmas (elements) which alone rise and all, without knowing one another and without announcing their rise and fall.’ In order to wipe out the concept of things (dharmas), a sick Bodhisattva should think thus: ‘This notion of dharma is also an inversion, which is my great calamity. So I should keep from it.’ What is to be kept from? From both subject and object. What does this keeping from subject and object mean? It means keeping from dualities. What does this keeping from dualities mean? It means not thinking of inner and outer dharmas (i.e. contraries) by the practice of impartiality. What is impartiality? It means equality (of all contraries e.g.) ego and nirvana. Why is it so? Because both ego and nirvana are void. Why are both void? Because they exist only by names which have no independent nature of their own. “When you achieve this equality you are free from all illnesses but there remains the conception of voidness which also is an illusion and should be wiped out as well.’
A sick Bodhisattva should free himself from the conception of sensation (vedana) when experiencing any one of its three states (which are painful, pleasurable and neither painful nor pleasurable feeling). Before his full development into Buddhahood (that is before delivering all living beings in his own mind), he should not wipe out vedana for his own benefit with a view to attaining nirvana for himself only. Knowing that the body is subject to suffering he should think of living beings in the lower realms of existence and give rise to compassion (for them). Since he has succeeded in controlling his false views he should guide all living beings to bring theirs under control as well. He should uproot theirs (inherent) illnesses without (trying to) wipe out non-existence dharmas (externals for sense data). For he should teach them how to cut off the origin of illness. What is the origin of illness? It is their clinging which causes their illness What are the objects of their clinging? They are the three realms (of desire, form and beyond form). By what means should they cut off their clinging? By means (of the doctrine that) nothing whatsoever can be found, and (that) if nothing can be found there will be no clinging. What is meant by ‘nothing can be found’? It means (that) apart from dual views (there is nothing else that can be had). What are dual views? They are inner and outer views beyond which there is nothing.
Manjusri, this is how a sick Bodhissattva should control his mind. Top wipe out suffering from old age, illness and death is the Bodhisattva’s bodhi (enlightened practice). If he fails to do so, his practice lacks wisdom and is ineffective. For instance, a Bodhisattva is (called) courageous if he overcomes hatred; if in addition he wipes out (the concept of) old age, illness and death, he is a true Bodhisattva.
A sick Bodhisattva should again reflect: since my illness is neither real nor existing, the illnesses of all living beings are also unreal and non-existent. But while so thinking if he develops a great compassion derived from his love for living beings and from his attachment to this false view, he should (immediately) keep from these feelings. Why is it so? Because a Bodhisattva should wipe out all external causes of troubles (klesa) while developing great compassion. For (this) love and (these) wrong views result from hate of birth and death. If he can keep from this love and these wrong views, he will be free from hatred, and wherever he may be reborn he will not be hindered by love and wrong views. His next life will be free from obstructions and he will be able to expound the Dharma to all living beings and free them from bondage. As the Buddha has said, there is no such thing as untying others when one is still held in bondage for it is possible to untie others only after one is free from bonds.
Therefore, a Bodhisattva should not tie himself up (with wrong views). What is tying and what is untying? Clinging to serenity (dhyana) is a Bodhisattva’s bondage, but his expedient rebirth (for the salvation of others) is freedom from bondage. Further, he is held in bondage by wisdom which lacks expedient methods (upaya), but is liberated by wisdom supported by expedient device; he is (also) held in bondage by expedient methods which are not upheld by wisdom but is liberated by expedient methods backed by wisdom.
What is bondage by wisdom unsupported by expedient methods? It is bondage caused by the Bodhisattva’s desire to embellish the Buddha land (with merits) in order to bring living beings to perfection while practicing for his self-control (the three gates to nirvana, namely,) voidness, formlessness and inactivity. This is called bondage by wisdom unsupported by expedient methods (upaya).
What is liberation by wisdom backed by expedient methods? It is liberation achieved in the absence of desire to embellish the Buddha land (with merits) in order to bring living beings to perfection, while practicing unremittingly for his self-control (the three gates to nirvana, namely) voidness, formlessness and inactivity. This is called liberation by wisdom supported by expedient methods (upaya).
What is bondage by expedient methods unsupported by wisdom? It is bondage caused by a Bodhisattva’s lack of determination to keep from desire, anger, perverse views and other troubles (klesa) while planting all wisdom roots. This is called bondage by expedient methods, which lack wisdom.
What is liberation by expedient methods sustained by wisdom? It is liberation won by a Bodhisattva who keeps from desire, anger, perverse views and other troubles (klesa) while planting all virtuous roots which he dedicates to his realization of supreme enlightenment. This is called liberation by expedient methods sustained by wisdom.
Manjusri, a sick Bodhisattva should look into all things in this way. He should further meditate on his body, which is impermanent, is subject to suffering and is non-existent and egoless; this is called wisdom. Although his body is sick, he remains in (the realm of) birth and death for the benefit of all (living beings) without complaint; this is called expedient method (upaya).
Manjusri! He should further meditate on the body, which is inseparable from illness and on illness, which is inherent in the body, because sickness and the body are neither new nor old; this is called wisdom. The body, though ill, is not to be annihilated; this is the expedient method (for remaining in the world to work for salvation).
Manjusri, a sick Bodhisattva should thus control his mind while dwelling in neither the (state of) controlled mind nor its opposite, that of uncontrolled mind. For if he dwells in (the state of) uncontrolled mind, this is stupidity and if he dwells in (that of) controlled mind, this is the sravaka stage. Hence, a Bodhisattva should not dwell in either and so keep from both; this is the practice of the Bodhisattva stage. When staying in the realm of birth and death he keeps from its impurity, and when dwelling in nirvana, he keeps from (its condition of) extinction of reincarnation and escape from suffering; this is the practice of the Bodhisattva stage. That which is neither worldly nor saintly is Bodhisattva development (into Buddhahood). That which is neither impure nor pure is Bodhisattva practice. Although he is beyond the demonic state, he appears (in the world) to overcome demons; this is Bodhisattva conduct. In his quest of all knowledge (sarvajna) he does not seek it at an inappropriate moment; this is Bodhisattva conduct. Although he looks into the uncreated he does not achieve Buddhahood; this is Bodhisattva conduct. Although he looks into nidana (or the twelve links in the chain of existence), he enters all states of perverse views (to save living beings); this is Bodhisattva conduct. Although he helps all living beings he does not give rise to clinging; this is Bodhisattva conduct. Although he keeps from the phenomenal he does not lean on the voidness of body and mind; this is Bodhisattva conduct. Although he passes through the three worlds (of desire, form and beyond form), he does not injure the Dharmata; this is the Bodhisattva conduct. Although he realizes the voidness (of thing) he sows the seeds of all merits; this is Bodhisattva conduct. Although he dwells in formlessness, he continues delivering living beings; this is Bodhisattva conduct. Although he refrains from (creative) activities he appears in his physical body; this is Bodhisattva conduct. Although he keeps (all thoughts) from rising he performs all good deeds; this is Bodhisattva conduct. Although he practices the six perfections (paramitas), he knows all the mental states of living beings; this is Bodhisattva conduct. Although he possesses the six supernatural powers, he refrains from putting an end to all worldy streams; this is Bodhisattva conduct. Although he practices the four infinite states of mind, he does not wish to be reborn in the Brahma heavens, this is the Bodhisattva conduct. Although he practices meditation, serenity (dhyana), liberation and samadhi, he does not avail himself of these to be reborn in dhyana heavens; this is Bodhisattva conduct. Although he practices the four states of mindfulness, he does not keep for ever from the karma of body and mind; this is Bodhisattva conduct. Although he practices the four right efforts, he persists in physical and mental zeal and devotion; this is Bodhisattva conduct. Although he practices the four Hinayana steps to supernatural powers, he will continue doing so until he achieves all Mahayana supernatural powers; this is Bodhisattva conduct. Although he practices the five spiritual faculties of the sravaka stage, he discerns the sharp and dull potential of living beings; this is Bodhisattva conduct. Although he practices the five powers of the sravaka stage, he strives to achieve the ten powers of the Buddha; this is Bodhisattva conduct. Although he practices the seven Hinayana degrees of enlightenment, he discerns the Buddha’s all-wisdom (sarvajna); this is Bodhisattva conduct. Although he practices the eightfold noble truth (of Hinayana), he delights in treading the Buddha’s boundless path; this is Bodhisattva conduct. Although he practices samathavipasyana, which contributes to the realization of bodhi (enlightenment), he keeps from slipping into nirvana; this is Bodhisattva conduct. Although he practices the doctrine of not creating and not annihilating things (dharma), he still embellishes his body with the excellent physical marks of the Buddha; this is Bodhisattva conduct. Although he appears as a sravaka or a pratyeka-buddha, he does not stray from the Buddha Dharma; this is Bodhisattva conduct. Although he has realized ultimate purity, he appears in bodily form to do his work of salvation; this is Bodhisattva conduct. Although he sees into all Buddha lands, which are permanently still like space, he causes them to appear in their purity and cleanness; this is Bodhisattva conduct. Although he has reached the Buddha stage, which enables him to turn the wheel of the Law (to preach the Dharma) and to enter the state of nirvana, he does not forsake the Bodhisattva path; this is bodhisattva conduct.”
While Vimalakirti was expounding the Dharma, all the eight thousand sons of devas who had come with Manjusri, developed the profound mind set on the quest of supreme enlightenment (anuttara-samyak-sambodhi).