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 11 - The Bodhisattva Conduct

The Buddha was expounding the Dharma at Amravana park which suddenly became majestic and extensive while all those present turned golden hued.

Ananda asked the Buddha: “World Honoured One, what is the cause of these auspicious signs, why does this place become extensive and majestic and why does the assembly turn golden hued?”

The Buddha replied: “This is because Vimalakirti and Manjusri, with their followers circumambulating them, want to come here; hence these auspicious signs.”

At Vaisali, Vimalakirti said to Manjusri: “We can now go and see the Buddha, so that we and the Bodhisattvas can pay reverence and make offerings to Him.”

Manjusri said: “Excellent, let us go; it is now time to start.”

Vimalakirti then used his transcendental powers to carry the whole meeting with the lion thrones on the palm of his right hand and flew (in the air) to the Buddha’s place. When they landed there, Vimalakirti bowed his head at His feet, walked round Him from the right seven times, and bringing his palms together, stood at one side. The Bodhisattvas left their lion thrones to bow their heads at His feet, and also walked round Him seven times and stood at one side. The Buddha’s chief disciples with Indra, Brahma (both as protectors of the Dharma) and the four deva kings of the four heavens, also left their lion thrones, bowed their heads at His feet, walked round Him seven times and then stood at one side.

The Buddha comforted the Bodhisattvas and ordered them to take their seats to listen to His teaching.

After they had sat down the Buddha asked Sariputra: “Have you seen what the great Bodhisattvas have done with their transcendental powers?”

Sariputra replied that he had.

The Buddha asked: “What do you think of all this?”

Sariputra answered: “I saw them do inconceivable (feats), which the mind can neither think of nor anticipate.”

Ananda then asked the Buddha: “World Honoured One, the fragrance we are smelling was never perceived before; what is it?”

The Buddha replied: “Ananda, it is the fragrance given out by the pores of these Bodhisattvas.”

At that, Sariputra said to Ananda: “Our pores also give the same fragrance!”

Ananda asked Sariputra: “Where does it come from?”

Sariputra replied: “It is this Upasaka Vimalakirti who obtained what was left over from the Buddha’s meal in the Fragrant Land, and those who ate it at his abode give out this fragrance from their pores.”

Ananda then asked Vimalakirti: “How long does this fragrance last?”

Vimalakirti replied: “It lasts until the rice has been digested.”

Ananda asked: “How long does this take?”

Vimalakirti replied: “It will be digested after a week. Ananda, sravakas who have not reached the right position (nirvana) will attain it after taking this rice which will then be digestible, and those who have attained nirvana will realize liberation of their minds (from the subtle conception of nirvana) and then the rice will be digested. Those who have not developed the Mahayana mind will develop it and then the rice will be digested. Those who have developed it and take this rice will achieve the patient endurance of the uncreate, and the rice will then be digestible. Those who have achieved the patient endurance of the uncreate and take this rice will reincarnate once more for final development into Buddhahood and the rice will be digested. Like an effective medicine which cures an ailment before wasting away, this rice will be digestible after it has killed all troubles and afflictions (klesa).”

Ananda said to the Buddha: “World Honoured One, it is indeed a rare thing that this fragrant rice performs the Buddha work of salvation.”

The Buddha said: “It is so, Ananda, it is so.”

There are Buddha lands where the Buddha light performs the work of salvation;

Where the Bodhisattvas perform it;

Where illusory men created by the Buddha do it;

Where the Bodhi-trees do it;

Where the Buddha’s robe and bedding do it;

Where the rice taken by the Buddha does it;

Where parks and temples do it;

Where (the Buddha’s) thirty-two physical marks and their eighty notable characteristics do it;

Where the Buddha’s body (rupa-kaya) does it;

Where empty space does it;

Living beings practice discipline with success because of these causes. Also used for the same purpose are dream, illusion, shadow echo, the image in a mirror, the moon reflected in water, the flame of a fire, sound, voice, word, speech and writing,

The pure and clean Buddha land, silence with neither word nor speech, neither pointing, discerning, action nor activity. Thus, Ananda, whatever the Buddhas do by either revealing or concealing their awe-inspiring majesty, is the work of salvation.

Ananda, because of the four basic delusions (in reference to the ego) divided into 84,000 defilements which cause living beings to endure troubles and tribulations, the Buddhas avail themselves of these trials to perform their works of salvation. This is called entering the Buddha’s Dharma door to enlightenment (Dharmaparyaya).

“When entering this Dharma door, if a Bodhisattva sees all the clean Buddha lands, he should not give rise to joy, desire and pride, and if he sees all the unclean Buddha lands he should not give rise to sadness, hindrance and disappointment; he should develop a pure and clean mind to revere all Tathagatas who rarely appear and whose merits are equal in spite of their appearance in different lands (clean and unclean) to teach and convert living beings.

“Ananda, you can see different Buddha lands (i.e. clean and unclean) but you see no difference in space which is the same everywhere. Likewise, the physical bodies of Buddhas differ from one another but their omniscience is the same.

“Ananda, the (underlying) nature of the physical bodies of the Buddhas, their discipline, serenity, liberation and full knowledge of liberation, their (ten) powers, their (four) fearlessnesses, their eighteen unsurpassed characteristics, their boundless kindness and compassion, their dignified deeds, their infinite lives, their preaching of the Dharma to teach and convert living beings and to purify Buddha lands are all the same. Hence, their titles of Samyaksambuddha, Tathagata and Buddha.

“Ananda, if I am to give you the full meaning of these three titles, you will pass the whole aeon without being able to hear it completely. Even if the great chiliososm is full of living beings who are all good listeners and like you can hold in memory everything they hear about the Dharma, they will also pass the whole aeon without being able to hear my full explanation (of these three titles). For, Ananda, the Buddha’s supreme enlightenment is boundless and his wisdom and power of speech are inconceivable.”

Ananda said: “From now on I dare no more claim to have heard much of the Dharma.”

The Buddha said: “Ananda, do not give way to backsliding. Why? Because I have said that you have heard much more about the Dharma than the sravakas but not than the Bodhisattvas. Ananda, a wise man should not make a limited estimate of the Bodhisattva stage (because) the depths of the oceans can be measured but the Bodhisattva’s serenity, wisdom, imperturbability, power of speech and all his merits cannot be measured. Ananda, let us put aside the Bodhisattva conduct. The transcendental powers which Vimalakirti has demonstrated today cannot be achieved by all sravakas and pratyeka-buddhas using their spiritual powers for hundreds and thousands of aeons.”

At that time, the visiting Bodhisattvas put their palms together and said to the Buddha: “World Honoured One, when we first saw this world we thought of its inferiority but we now repent of our wrong opinion. Why? Because the expedients (upaya) employed by all Buddhas are inconceivable; their aim being to deliver living beings they appear in different Buddha lands suitable for the purpose. World Honoured One, will you please bestow upon us some little Dharma so that when we return to our own land we can always remember you.”

The Buddha said to them: “There are the exhaustible and the inexhaustible Dharmas which you should study. What is the exhaustible? It is the active (yu wei or mundane) Dharma. What is the inexhaustible? It is the non-active (wu wei or supramundane) Dharma. As Bodhisattvas, you should not exhaust (or put an end to) the mundane (state); nor should you stay in the supramundane (state).

“What is meant by not exhausting the mundane (state)? It means not discarding great benevolence; not abandoning great compassion; developing a profound mind set on the quest of all-knowledge (sarvajna or Buddha knowledge) without relaxing for even an instant; relentless teaching and converting living beings; constant practice of the four Bodhisattva winning methods; upholding the right Dharma even at the risk of one’s body and life; unwearied planting of all excellent roots; unceasing application of expedient devices (upaya) and dedication (parinamana); never-ending quest of the Dharma; unsparing preaching of it; diligent worship of all Buddhas; hence fearlessness when entering the stream of birth and death; absence of joy in honour and of sadness in disgrace; refraining from slighting non-practisers of the Dharma; respecting practisers of Dharma as if they were Buddhas; helping those suffering from klesa to develop the right thought; keeping away from (desire and) pleasure with no idea of prizing such a high conduct; no preference for one’s happiness but joy at that of others; regarding one’s experience in the state of samadhi as similar to that in a hell; considering one’s stay in samsara (i.e. state of birth and death) as similar to a stroll in a park; giving rise to the thought of being a good teacher of Dharma when meeting those seeking it; giving away all possessions to realize all-knowledge (sarvajna); giving rise to the thought of salvation when seeing those breaking the precepts; thinking of the (six) perfections (paramitas) as dear as one’s parents; thinking of the (thirty-seven) conditions contributory to enlightenment as if they were one’s helpful relatives; planting all excellent roots without any restrictions; gathering the glorious adornments of all pure lands to set up one’s own Buddha land; unrestricted bestowal of Dharma to win all the excellent physical marks (of the Buddha); wiping out all evils to purify one’s body, mouth and mind; developing undiminished bravery while transmigrating through samsara in countless aeons; untiring determination to listen to (an account of) the Buddha’s countless merits; using the sword of wisdom to destroy the bandit of klesa (temptation) to take living beings out of (the realm of the five) aggregates (skandhas) and (twelve) entrances (ayatana) so as to liberate them for ever; using firm devotion to destroy the army of demons; unceasing search for the thought-free wisdom of reality; content with few desires while not running away from the world in order to continue the Bodhisattva work of salvation; not infringing the rules of respect-inspiring deportment while entering the world )to deliver living beings); use of the transcendental power derived from wisdom to guide and lead all living beings; controlling (dharani) the thinking process in order never to forget the Dharma; being aware of the roots of all living beings in order to cut off their doubts and suspicions (about their underlying nature); use of the power of speech to preach the Dharma without impediment; perfecting the ten good (deeds) to win the blessings of men and devas (in order to be reborn among them to spread the Dharma); practicing the four infinite minds (kindness, pity, joy and indifference) to teach the Brahma heavens; rejoicing at being invited to expound and extol the Dharma in order to win the Buddha’s (skillful) method of preaching; realizing excellence of body, mouth and mind to win the Buddha’s respect-inspiring deportment; profound practice of good Dharma to make one’s deeds unsurpassed; practicing Mahayana to become a Bodhisattva monk; and developing a never-receding mind in order not to miss all excellent merits.

“This is the Bodhisattva not exhausting the mundane state.

“What is the Bodhisattva not staying in the supra-mundane state (nirvana)? It means studying and practicing the immaterial but without abiding in voidness; studying and practicing formlessness and inaction but without abiding in them; studying and practicing that which is beyond causes but without discarding the roots of good causation; looking into suffering in the world without hating birth and death (i.e. samsara); looking into the absence of the ego while continuing to teach all living beings indefatigably (relentlessly); looking into nirvana with no intention of dwelling in it permanently; looking into the relinquishment (of nirvana) while one’s body and mind are set on the practice of all good deeds; looking into the (non-existing) destinations of all things while the mind is set on practicing excellent actions (as true destinations); looking into the unborn (i.e. the uncreate) while abiding in (the illusion of) life to shoulder responsibility (to save others); looking into passionlessness without cutting off the passion-stream (in order to stay in the world to liberate others); looking into the state of non-action while carrying out the Dharma to teach and convert living beings; looking into nothingness without forgetting about great compassion; looking into the right position (of nirvana) without following the Hinayana habit (of staying in it); looking into the non-reality of all phenomena which are neither firm nor have an independent nature, and are egoless and formless, but since one’s own fundamental vows are not entirely fulfilled, one should not regard merits, serenity and wisdom as unreal and so cease practicing them.

“This is the Bodhisattva not staying in the non-active (wu wei) state.

“Further, to win merits, a Bodhisattva does not stay in the supramundane, and to realize wisdom he does not exhaust the mundane. Because of his great kindness and compassion, he does not remain in the supramundane, and in order to fullfil all his vows, he does not exhaust the mundane. To gather the Dharma medicines he does not stay in the supramundane, and to administer remedies he does not exhaust the mundane. Since he knows the illnesses of all living beings he does not stay in the supramundane, and since he wants to cure their illnesses, he does not exhaust the mundane.

“Virtuous Ones, a Bodhisattva practicing this Dharma neither exhausts the mundane nor stays in the supramundane. This is called the exhaustible and inexhaustible Dharma doors to liberation which you should study.”

After hearing the Buddha expounding the Dharma, the visiting Bodhisattvas were filled with joy and rained (heavenly) flowers of various colours and fragrances in the great chiliocosm as offerings to the Buddha and His sermon. After this, they bowed their heads at the Buddha’s feet and praised His teaching which they had not heard before, saying: “How wonderful is Sakyamuni Buddha’s skillful use of expedient methods (upaya).”

After saying this, they disappeared to return to their own land.

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