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 7 - Looking At Living Beings

Manjusri asked Vimalakirti: “How should a Bodhisattva look at living beings?”

Vimalakirti replied: “ A Bodhisattva should look at living beings like an illusionist does at the illusory men (he has created); and like a wise man looking at the moon’s reflection in water; at his own face in a mirror; at the flame of a burning fire; at the echo of a calling voice; at flying clouds in the sky; at foam in a liquid; at bubbles on water; at the (empty) core of a banana tree; at a flash of lightning; at the (non-existent) fifth element (beside the four that make the human body); at the sixth aggregate (beside the five that make a sentient being); at the seventh sense datum (beside the six objects of sense); at the thirteenth entrance (ayatana-beside the twelve involving the six organs and six sense date); at the nineteenth realm of sense (beside the eighteen dhatus or fields of sense); at form in the formless world; at the (non-existent) sprout of a charred grain of rice; at a body seen by a srota-apanna (who has wiped out the illusory body to enter the holy stream); at the entry of an anagamin (or a non-returning sravaka) into the womb of a woman (for rebirth); at an arhat still preserving the three poisons (of desire, anger and stupidity which he has eliminated forever); at a Bodhisattva realizing the patient endurance of the uncreate who is still greedy, resentful and breaking the prohibitions; at a Buddha still suffering from klesa (troubles); at a blind man seeing things; at an adept who still breathes air in and out while in the state of nirvanic imperturbability; at the tracks of birds flying in the air; at the progeny of a barren woman; at the suffering of an illusory man; at a sleeping man seeing he is awake in a dream; at a devout man realizing nirvana who takes a bodily form for (another) reincarnation; and at a smokeless fire. This is how a Bodhisattva should look at living beings.”

At that time, Manjusri asked Vimalakirti: “When a Bodhisattva so meditates how should he practise kindness (maitri)?

When a Bodhisattva has made this meditation, he should think that:

Ought to teach living beings to meditate in the same manner; this is true kindness.

Should practise causeless (nirvanic) kindness which prevents creativeness;

Should practice unheated kindness which puts an end to klesa (troubles and causes of troubles);

Should practice impartial kindness which coves all the three periods of time (which means that it is eternal involving past, future and present);

Should practice passionless kindness which wipes out disputes;

Should practice non-dual kindness which is beyond sense organs within and sense data without;

Should practice indestructible kindness which eradicates all corruption;

Should practice stable kindness which is a characteristic of the undying self-mind;

Should practice pure and clean kindness which is spotless like Dharmata;

Should practice boundless kindness which is all-pervasive like space;

Should practice the kindness of the arhat stage which destroys all bondage;

Should practice the Bodhisattva kindness which gives comfort to living beings;

Should practice the Tathagata kindness which leads to the state of thatness;

Should practice the Buddha kindness which enlightens all living beings;

Should practice spontaneous kindness which is causeless;

Should practice Bodhi kindness which is one flavour (i.e. uniform and unmixed wisdom);

Should practice unsurpassed kindness which cuts off all desires;

Should practice merciful kindness which leads to the Mahayana (path);

Should practice untiring kindness because of deep insight into the void and non-existent ego;

Should practice Dharma-bestowing (dana) kindness which is free from regret and repentance;

Should practice precepts (sila) upholding kindness to convert those who have broken the commandments;

Should practice patient (ksanti) kindness which protects both the self and others;

Should practice Zealous (virya) kindness to liberate all living beings;

Should practice serene (dhyana) kindness which is unaffected by the five senses;

Should practice wise (prajna) kindness which is always timely;

Should practice expedient (upaya) kindness to appear at all times for converting living beings;

Should practice unhidden kindness because of the purity and cleanliness of the straightforward mind;

Should practice profound minded kindness which is free from discrimination;

Should practice undeceptive kindness which is without fault;

Should practice joyful kindness which bestows the Buddha joy (in nirvana). “Such are the specialities of Bodhisattva kindness.”

Manjusri asked Vimalakirti: “What should be his compassion (karuna)?”

Vimalakirti replied: “His compassion should include sharing with all living beings all the merits he has won.”

Manjusri asked: “What should be his joy (mudita)?”

Vimalakirti replied: He should be filled with joy on seeing others win the benefit of the Dharma with no regret whatsoever.”

Manjusri asked “What should he relinquish (upeksa)?”

Vimalakirti replied: “In his work of salvation, he should expect nothing (i.e. no gratitude or reward) in return.”

Manjusri asked: “On what should he rely in his fear of birth and death?”

Vimalakirti replied: “He should rely on the power of the Tathagata’s moral merits.”

Manjusri asked: “What should he do to win support from the power of the Tathagata’s moral merits?”

Vimalakirti replied: “ He should liberate all living beings in order to win support from the power of the Tathagata’s moral merit.”

Manjusri asked: “What should he wipe out in order to liberate living beings?”

Vimalakirti replied: “When liberating living beings, a Bodhisattva should first wipe out their klesa (troubles and causes of troubles)?”

Manjusri asked: “What should he do to wipe out klesa?”

Manjusri asked: “What should he do to uphold right mindfulness?”

Vimalakirti replied: “He should advocate the unborn and the undying.”

Manjusri asked: “What is the unborn and what is the undying?”

Vimalakirti replied: “The unborn is evil that does not arise and the undying is good that does not end.”

Manjusri asked: “What is the root of good and evil?”

Vimalakirti replied: “The body is the root of good and evil.”

Manjusri asked: “What is the root of the body?”

Vimalakirti replied: “Craving is the root of the body.”

Manjusri asked: “What is the root of craving?”

Vimalakirti replied: “Baseless discrimination is the root of craving.”

Manjusri asked: “What is the root of baseless discrimination?”

Vimalakirti replied: “Inverted thinking is the root of discrimination.”

Manjusri asked: “What is the root of inverted thinking?”

Vimalakirti replied: “Non-abiding is the root of inverted thinking.”

Manjusri asked: “What is the root of non-abiding?”

Vimalakirti replied: “Non-abiding is rootless. Manjusri, from this non-abiding root all things arise.”

A goddess (devakanya) who had watched the gods (devas) listening to the Dharma in Vimalakirti’s room appeared in bodily form to shower flowers on the Bodhisattvas and the chief disciples of the Buddha (in their honour). When the flowers fell on the Bodhisattvas, they fell to the ground, but when they fell on the chief disciples, they stuck to their bodies and did not drop in spite of all their efforts to shake them off.

At that time, the goddess asked Sariputra why he tried to shake the flowers off.

Sariputra replied: “I want to shake off these flowers which are not in the state of suchness.”

The goddess said: “Do not say these flowers are not in the state of suchness. Why? Because they do not differentiate, and it is you (alone) who give rise to differentiation. If you (still) differentiate after leaving home in your quest of Dharma, this is not the state of suchness, but if you no longer give rise to differentiation, this will be the state of suchness. Look at the Bodhisattvas whose bodies do not retain the flowers this is because they have put an end to differentiation. This is like a man taking fright who invites trouble for himself is like a man taking right and evil (people). So if a disciple fears birth and death, then form, sound, smell, taste and touch can trouble him, but if he is fearless he is immune from all the five sense data. (in your case). It is because the force of habit still remains that these flowers cleave to your body but if you cut it off, they will not stick to it.”

Sariputra asked: “How long have you been in this room?”

The goddess replied: “My stay in this room is just like the Venerable Elder’s liberation.”

Sariputra asked: “Do you then mean that you have stayed here for a long time?”

The goddess retorted: “Does your liberation also involve time?”

Sariputra kept silent and did not reply.

The goddess then asked: “Why is the wise elder silent on this point?”

Sariputra replied: “He who wins liberation does not express it in words; hence I do not know what to say!”

The goddess said: “Spoken and written word reveal liberation. Why? For liberation is neither within nor without nor in between, and words also are neither inside nor outside nor in between. Therefore, Sariputra, liberation cannot be preached without using words. Why? Because all things point to liberation.”

Sariputra asked: “Do you then mean that thee is no need to keep from carnality, hatred and stupidity to win liberation?”

The goddess replied: “In the presence of those who are proud (of their superior knowledge) the Buddha said it is important to keep from carnality, hatred and stupidity in the quest of liberation; but where they are absent, He said that the underlying nature of carnality, hatred and stupidity (i.e. the self-nature) is identical with liberation.

Sariputra exclaimed: “Excellent, goddess, excellent, what have you gained and experienced that gives you such an eloquence?”

The goddess replied: “The fact that I neither gain nor experience anything gives me this eloquence. Why is it so? Because he who (claims to) have won and experienced (something) is arrogant in the eye of the Buddha Dharma.”

Sariputra asked: “Which of the three vehicles is your aim?”

The goddess replied: “When I preach the sravaka Dharma to convert people, I appear as a sravaka; when I expound the (twelve) links in the chain of existence I appear as a pratyeka-buddha; and when I teach great compassion to convert them, I appear as a (teacher of) Mahayana. Sariputra, like those entering a campa grove who smell only the fragrance of campas to the exclusion of all other odours, those entering this room smell only the fragrance of Buddha merits and no longer like the aroma of achievements by sravakas and pratyeka-buddha.”

Sariputra, when Indra, Brahma, the four deva kings of the four heavens (guardians of the world), heavenly dragons, ghosts and spirits, etc. entered the room and heard this Upasaka (Vimalakirti) expound the right Dharma, they all took delight in smelling the fragrance of Buddha merits and developed the Mahayana mind before returning to their worlds.

Sariputra, I have stayed here for twelve years during which I have never heard the Dharmas of sravakas and pratyeka-buddhas but only the doctrine of great kindness (maitri) and great compassion (karuna) of the Bodhisattvas and the inconceivable Buddha Dharma. Sariputra, in this room there are always eight unusual manifestations:

First, this room is illuminated by a golden light, which is the same by day and by night and does not depend on either sunlight or moonlight to light it up;

Second, he who enters it is immune from all troubles caused by defilements;

Third, this room is visited by Indra, Brahma, the four deva kings of the four heavens and Bodhisattvas from other realms;

Fourth, the never-receding Dharma of the six paramitas is always expounded in it;

Fifth, the most melodious heavenly music intoning countless Dharma doors (to enlightenment) is heard in it;

Sixth, this room contains the four canons (of sutras, vinaya, sastras and miscellaneous scriptures) full of inexhaustible precious treasures for those who are (spiritually) poor

Seventh, when the Venerable Upasaka thinks of Sakyamuni Buddha, Amitabha Buddha, Aksobhya Buddha, the Buddha of Precious Virtues, the Buddha of Precious Flame, the Buddha of Precious Moonshine, the Buddha of Precious Majesty, the Invincible Buddha, the Buddha of the Lion’s Roar, the Buddha of All-Perfection, and countless other Buddhas in the ten directions, they all come to expound the secrets of the esoteric Buddha Dharma, after which they return to their realms;

Eighth, all majestic heavenly palaces and all pure lands of Buddhas appear in this room.

Sariputra, after witnessing these eight remarkable things in this room, who still seeks the sravaka Dharma?”

Sariputra asked: “Why do not you change your female bodily form?”

The goddess replied: “For the last twelve years, I have been looking in vain for a female bodily form; so what do you want me to change? This is like an illusionist who creates an illusory woman; is it correct to ask him to change this unreal woman?”

Sariputra said: “No, because it is not a real body; into what then can it be changed?”

The goddess said: “All phenomena (including forms) are also unreal. So why have you asked me to change my unreal female body?”

At that time, she used her supernatural powers to change Sariputra into a heavenly goddess and herself into a man similar to Sariputra, and asked him: “Why do you change your female form?”

Sariputra replied: “I do not know why I have turned into a goddess.”

The goddess said: “Sariputra, if you can change your female body, all women should also be able to turn into men. Like Sariputra who is not a woman but appears in female bodily form, all women are the same and though they appear in female form, they are fundamentally not women. Hence the Buddha said: ‘All things are neither male nor female’.”

At that time, the goddess again used her supernatural powers to change Sariputra back to his (original) male body, and asked: “Where is your female body now?”

Sariputra replied: “The form of a woman neither exists nor is non-existent.”

The goddess then declared: “Likewise, all things are fundamentally neither existing nor non-existent, and that which neither exists nor is non-existent is proclaimed by the Buddha.”

Sariputra asked: “When will you leave (die) here and where will you be reborn?”

The goddess replied: “I shall be reborn like a Buddha by transformation.”

Sariputra interjected: “The Buddha’s transformation body implies neither birth nor death.”

The goddess said: Likewise all living beings (fundamentally) are subject to neither death nor birth.”

Sariputra asked: “When will you realize supreme enlightenment (anuttara-samyak-sambodhi)?”

The goddess replied: “I shall realize supreme enlightenment when Sariputra returns to the worldly way of life.”

Sariputra retorted: “There is no such thing as myself (a holy man at the sravaka stage) returning to the worldly way of life.”

The goddess said: “There is also no such thing as myself realizing enlightenment. Why? Because bodhi (or enlightenment) is not an objective, which can be realized.”

Sariputra retorted: “There are Buddhas as countless as sand grains in the Ganges, who have realized and will win supreme enlightenment; what will you say of them?”

The goddess said: “The three periods of time(the past, future and present) are spoken of (to the common man) as being in line with worldly thinking but this does not mean that bodhi (which is timeless or eternal) is tied to the past, future and present.” She then asked Sariputra: “Sariputra, have you realized arhatship?”

Sariputra replied: “I have realized it because I hold no concept of winning anything.”

The goddess said: “Likewise, all Buddhas and great Bodhisattvas achieved their goals because they were free from the idea of winning supreme enlightenment.”

At that time, Vimalakirti said to Sariputra: “This goddess has made offering to ninety-two lacs of Buddhas. She is able to play with the Bodhisattva transcendental powers, has fulfilled all her vows, has realized the patient endurance of the uncreate and has reached the never-receding Bodhisattva stage. In fulfillment of a vow, she appears at will (everywhere) to teach and convert living beings.”

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