by Robert A. F. Thurman | 37,346 words
The Vimalakīrti Nirdeśa Sūtra teaches, among other subjects, the meaning of nonduality. It contains a report of a teaching addressed to both arhats and bodhisattvas by the layman Vimalakīrti ("Undefiled Reputation"), who expounds the doctrine of śūnyatā, or emptiness, to them. This culminates with the wordless teaching of silence....
Reverence to all Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, Aryasravakas, and Pratyekabuddhas, in the past, the present, and the future.
Thus have I heard:
At one time the Lord Buddha was in residence in the garden of Amrapali, in the city of Vaisali, attended by a great gathering. Of Bhikkhus there were eight thousand, all saints. They were free from impurities and afflictions, and all had attained self-mastery. Their minds were entirely liberated by perfect knowledge. They were calm and dignified, like royal elephants. They had accomplished their work, done what they had to do, cast off their burdens, attained their goals, and totally destroyed the bonds of existence. They all had attained the utmost perfection of every form of mind control.
Of bodhisattvas there were thirty-two thousand, great spiritual heroes who were universally acclaimed. They were dedicated through the penetrating activity of their great super-knowledge’s and were sustained by the grace of the Buddha. Guardians of the city of Dharma, they upheld the true doctrine, and their great teachings resounded like the lion's roar throughout the ten directions.
Without having to be asked, they were the natural spiritual benefactors of all living beings. They maintained unbroken the succession of the Three Jewels, conquering devils and foes and overwhelming all critics.
Their mindfulness, intelligence, realization, meditation, incantation, and eloquence all were perfected. They had attained the intuitive tolerance of the ultimate incomprehensibility of all things. They turned the irreversible wheel of the Dharma. They were stamped with the insignia of sign-less-ness. They were expert in knowing the spiritual faculties of all living beings. They were brave with the confidence that overawes all assemblies. They had gathered the great stores of merit and of wisdom, and their bodies, beautiful without ornaments, were adorned with all the auspicious signs and marks.
They were exalted in fame and glory, like the lofty summit of Mount Sumeru. Their high resolve as hard as diamond, unbreakable in their faith in Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, they showered forth the rain of ambrosia that is released by the light rays of the jewel of the Dharma, which shines everywhere.
Their voices were perfect in diction and resonance, and versatile in speaking all languages. They had penetrated the profound principle of relativity and had destroyed the persistence of the instinctual mental habits underlying all convictions concerning finitude and infinitude. They spoke fearlessly, like lions, sounding the thunder of the magnificent teaching. Unequaled, they surpassed all measure. They were the best captains for the voyage of discovery of the treasures of the Dharma, the stores of merit and wisdom. They were expert in the way of the Dharma, which is straight, peaceful, subtle, gentle, hard to see, and difficult to realize.
They were endowed with the wisdom that is able to understand the thoughts of living beings, as well as their comings and goings. They had been consecrated with the anointment of the peerless gnosis (intuitive knowledge) of the Buddha. With their high resolve, they approached the ten powers, the four fearlessnesses, and the eighteen special qualities of the Buddha.
They had crossed the terrifying abyss of the bad migrations, and yet they assumed reincarnation voluntarily in all migrations for the sake of disciplining living beings. Great Kings of medicine, understanding all the sicknesses of passions, they could apply the medicine of the Dharma appropriately. They were inexhaustible mines of limitless virtues, and they glorified innumerable Buddha-fields with the splendor of these virtues. They conferred great benefit when seen, heard, or even approached. Were one to extol them for innumerable hundreds of thousands of myriads of aeons, one still could not exhaust their mighty flood of virtues.
These bodhisattvas were named: Samadarsana, Asamadarsana, Samadhivikurvitaraja, harmesvara, Dharmaketu, Prabhaketu, Prabhavyuha, Ratnavyuha, Mahavyuha, Pratibhanakuta, Ratnakuta, Ratnapani, Ratnamudrahasta, Nityapralambahasta, Nityotksipthasta, Nityatapta, Nityamuditendriya, Pramodyaraja, Devaraja, Pranidhanapravesaprapta, Prasiddhapratisamvitprapta, Gaganaganja, Ratnolkaparigrhita, Ratnasura, Ratnapriya, Ratnasri, Indrajala, Jaliniprabha, Niralambanadhyana, Prajnakuta, Ratnadatta, Marapramardaka, Vidyuddeva, Vikurvanaraja, Kutanimittasamatikranta, Simhanadanadin, Giryagrapramardiraja, Gandhahastin, Gandhakunjaranaga, Nityodyukta, Aniksiptadhura, Pramati, Sujata, Padmasrigarbha, Padmavyuha, Avalokitesvara, Mahasthamaprapta, Brahmajala, Ratnadandin, Marakarmavijeta, Ksetrasamalamkara, Maniratnacchattra, Suvarnacuda, Manicuda, Maitreya, Manjusrikumarabhuta, and so forth, with the remainder of the thirty-two thousand.
There were also gathered there ten thousand Brahmas, at their head Brahma Sikhin, who had come from the Ashoka universe with its four sectors to see, venerate, and serve the Buddha and to hear the Dharma from his own mouth. There were twelve thousand Sakras, from various four-sector universes. And there were other powerful gods: Brahmas, Sakras, Lokapalas, devas, nagas, yakshas, gandharvas, asuras, garudas, kimnaras, and mahoragas. Finally, there was the fourfold community, consisting of Bhikkhus, Bhikkhunis, laymen, and laywomen.
The Lord Buddha, thus surrounded and venerated by these multitudes of many hundreds of thousands of living beings, sat upon a majestic lion-throne and began to teach the Dharma. Dominating all the multitudes, just as Sumeru, the king of mountains, looms high over the oceans, the Lord Buddha shone, radiated, and glittered as he sat upon his magnificent lion-throne.
Thereupon, the Licchavi bodhisattva Ratnakara, with five hundred Licchavi youths, each holding a precious parasol made of seven different kinds of jewels, came forth from the city of Vaisali and presented himself at the grove of Amrapali. Each approached the Buddha, bowed at his feet, circumambulated him clockwise seven times, laid down his precious parasol in offering, and withdrew to one side.
As soon as all these precious parasols had been laid down, suddenly, by the miraculous power of the Lord, they were transformed into a single precious canopy so great that it formed a covering for this entire billion-world galaxy. The surface of the entire billion-world galaxy was reflected in the interior of the great precious canopy, where the total content of this galaxy could be seen: limitless mansions of suns, moons, and stellar bodies; the realms of the devas, nagas, yakshas, gandharvas, asuras, garudas, kimnaras, and mahoragas, as well as the realms of the four Maharajas; the king of mountains, Mound Sumeru; Mount Himadri, Mount Mucilinda, Mount Mahamucilinda, Mount Gandhamadana, Mount Ratnaparvata, Mount Kalaparvata, Mount Cakravada, Mount Mahacakravada; all the great oceans, rivers, bays torrents, streams, brooks, and springs; finally, all the villages, suburbs, cities, capitals, provinces, and wildernesses. All this could be clearly seen by everyone. And the voices of all the Buddhas of the ten directions could be heard proclaiming their teachings of the Dharma in all the worlds, the sounds reverberating in the space beneath the great precious canopy.
At this vision of the magnificent miracle affected by the supernatural power of the Lord Buddha, the entire host was ecstatic, enraptured, astonished, delighted, satisfied, and filled with awe and pleasure. They all bowed down to the Tathágata, withdrew to one side with palms pressed together, and gazed upon him with fixed attention. The young Licchavi Ratnakara knelt with his right knee on the ground raised his hands; palms pressed together in salute of the Buddha, and praised him with the following hymn:
Pure are your eyes, broad and beautiful, like the petals of a blue lotus.
Pure is your thought, having discovered the supreme transcendence of all trances.
Immeasurable is the ocean of your virtues, the accumulation of your good deeds.
You affirm the path of peace.
Oh, Great Ascetic, obeisance to you!
Leader, bull of men, we behold the revelation of your miracle.
The superb and radiant fields of the Sugatas appear before us,
And your extensive spiritual teachings, that lead to immortality
Make themselves heard throughout the whole reach of space.
Dharma-King, you rule with the Dharma your supreme Dharma-kingdom,
And thereby bestow the treasures of the Dharma upon all living beings.
Expert in the deep analysis of things, you teach their ultimate meaning.
Sovereign Lord of Dharma, obeisance to you.
All these things arise dependently, from causes,
Yet they are neither existent nor nonexistent.
Therein is neither ego, nor experiencer, nor doer,
Yet no action, good or evil, loses its effects.
Such is your teaching.
O Shakyamuni, conquering the powerful host of Mara,
You found peace, immortality, and the happiness of that supreme enlightenment,
Which is not realized by any among the heterodox,
Though they arrest their feeling, thought and mental processes.
O Wonderful King of Dharma,
You turned the wheel of Dharma before men and gods,
With its threefold revolution, its manifold aspects,
Its purity of nature, and its extreme peace;
And thereby the Three Jewels were revealed.
Those who are well disciplined by your precious Dharma
Are free of vain imaginings and always deeply peaceful.
Supreme doctor, you put an end to birth, decay, sickness, and death.
Immeasurable Ocean of virtue, obeisance to you!
Like Mount Sumeru, you are unmoved by honor or scorn.
You love moral beings and immoral beings equally.
Poised in equanimity, your mind is like the sky.
Who would not honor such a precious jewel of a being?
Great Sage, in all these multitudes gathered here,
Who look upon your countenance with hearts sincere in faith,
Each being beholds the Victor, as if just before him.
This is a special quality of the Buddha.
Although the Lord speaks with but one voice,
Those present perceive that same voice differently,
And each understands in his own language according to his own needs.
This is a special quality of the Buddha.
From the Leader's act of speaking in a single voice,
Some merely develop an instinct for the teaching, some gain realization,
Some find pacification of all their doubts.
This is a special quality of the Buddha.
Obeisance to you who command the force of leadership and the ten powers!
Obeisance to you who are dauntless, knowing no fear!
Obeisance to you, leader of all living beings,
Who fully manifests the special qualities!
Obeisance to you who have cut the bondage of all fetters!
Obeisance to you who, having gone beyond, stand on firm ground!
Obeisance to you who save the suffering beings!
Obeisance to you who do not remain in the migrations!
You associate with living beings by frequenting their migrations.
Yet your mind is liberated from all migrations.
Just as the lotus, born of mud, is not tainted thereby,
So the lotus of the Buddha preserves the realization of void-ness.
You nullify all signs in all things everywhere.
You are not subject to any wish for anything at all.
The miraculous power of the Buddhas is inconceivable.
I bow to you, who stand nowhere, like infinite space.
Then, the young Licchavi Ratnakara, having celebrated the Buddha with these verses, further addressed him:
"Lord, these five hundred young Licchavis are truly on their way to unexcelled, perfect enlightenment, and they have asked what is the bodhisattvas' purification of the Buddha-field. Please, Lord, explain to them the bodhisattvas' purification of the Buddha-field!"
Upon this request, the Buddha gave his approval to the young Licchavi Ratnakara: "Good, good, young man!
Your question to the Tathágata about the purification of the Buddha-field is indeed good. Therefore, young man, listen well and remember! I will explain to you the purification of the Buddha-field of the bodhisattvas."
"Very good, Lord," replied Ratnakara and the five hundred young Licchavis, and they set themselves to listen.
The Buddha said, "Noble sons, a Buddha-field of bodhisattvas is a field of living beings. Why so? A bodhisattva embraces a Buddha-field to the same extent that he causes the development of living beings. He embraces a Buddha-field to the same extent that living beings become disciplined. He embraces a Buddha-field to the same extent that, through entrance into a Buddha-field, living beings are introduced to the Buddha-gnosis. He embraces a Buddha-field to the same extent that, through entrance into that Buddha-field, living beings increase their holy spiritual faculties. Why so? Noble son, a Buddha-field of bodhisattvas springs from the aims of living beings.
"For example, Ratnakara, should one wish to build in empty space, one might go ahead in spite of the fact that it is not possible to build or to adorn anything in empty space. In just the same way, should a bodhisattva, who knows full well that all things are like empty space, wish to build a Buddha-field in order to develop living beings, he might go ahead, in spite of the fact that it is not possible to build or to adorn a Buddha-field in empty space.
"Yet, Ratnakara, a bodhisattva's Buddha-field is a field of positive thought. When he attains enlightenment, living beings free of hypocrisy and deceit will be born in his Buddha-field.
"Noble son, a bodhisattva's Buddha-field is a field of high resolve. When he attains enlightenment, living beings that have harvested the two stores and have planted the roots of virtue will be born in his Buddha-field.
"A bodhisattva's Buddha-field is a field of virtuous application. When he attains enlightenment living beings that live by all virtuous principles will be born in his Buddha-field.
"A bodhisattva's Buddha-field is the magnificence of the conception of the spirit of enlightenment. When he attains enlightenment, living beings that are actually participating in the Mahayana will be born in his Buddha-field.
"A bodhisattva's Buddha-field is a field of generosity. When he attains enlightenment, living beings that give away all their possessions will be born in his Buddha-field.
"A bodhisattva's Buddha-field is a field of tolerance. When he attains enlightenment, living beings with the transcendences of tolerance, discipline, and the superior trance - hence beautiful with the thirty-two auspicious signs - will be born in his Buddha-field.
"A bodhisattva's Buddha-field is a field of meditation. When he attains enlightenment, living beings that are evenly balanced through mindfulness and awareness will be born in his Buddha-field.
"A bodhisattva's Buddha-field is a field of wisdom. When he attains enlightenment, living beings that are destined for the ultimate will be born in his Buddha-field.
"A bodhisattva's Buddha-field consists of the four immeasurables. When he attains enlightenment, living beings that live by love, compassion, joy, and impartiality will be born in his Buddha-field.
"A bodhisattva's Buddha-field consists of the four means of unification. When he attains enlightenment, living beings that are held together by all the liberations will be born in his Buddha-field.
"A bodhisattva's Buddha-field is skill in liberative technique.
When he attains enlightenment, living beings skilled in all liberative techniques and activities will be born in his Buddha-field.
"A bodhisattva's Buddha-field consists of the thirty-seven aids to enlightenment. Living beings who devote their efforts to the four foci of mindfulness, the four right efforts, the four bases of magical power, the five spiritual faculties, the five strengths, the seven factors of enlightenment, and the eight branches of the holy path will be born in his Buddha-field.
"A bodhisattva's Buddha-field is his mind of total dedication. When he attains enlightenment, the ornaments of all virtues will appear in his Buddha-field.
"A bodhisattva's Buddha-field is the doctrine that eradicates the eight adversities. When he attains enlightenment, the three bad migrations will cease, and there will be no such thing as the eight adversities in his Buddha-field.
"A bodhisattva's Buddha-field consists of his personal observance of the basic precepts and his restraint in blaming others for their transgressions. When he attains enlightenment, even the word 'crime' will never be mentioned in his Buddha-field.
"A bodhisattva's Buddha-field is the purity of the path of the ten virtues. When he attains enlightenment, living beings who are secure in long life, great in wealth, chaste in conduct, enhanced by true speech, soft-spoken, free of divisive intrigues and adroit in reconciling factions, enlightening in their conversations, free of envy, free of malice, and endowed with perfect views will be born in his Buddha-field.
"Thus, noble son, just as is the bodhisattva's production of the spirit of enlightenment, so is his positive thought. And just as is his positive thought, so is his virtuous application.
"His virtuous application is tantamount to his high resolve, his high resolve is tantamount to his determination, his determination is tantamount to his practice, and his practice is tantamount to his total dedication, his total dedication is tantamount to his liberative technique, his liberative technique is tantamount to his development of living beings, and his development of living beings is tantamount to the purity of his Buddha-field.
"The purity of his Buddha-field reflects the purity of living beings; the purity of the living beings reflects the purity of his gnosis; the purity of his gnosis reflects the purity of his doctrine; the purity of his doctrine reflects the purity of his transcendental practice; and the purity of his transcendental practice reflects the purity of his own mind."
Thereupon, magically influenced by the Buddha, the venerable Shariputra had this thought: "If the Buddha-field is pure only to the extent that the mind of the bodhisattva is pure, then, when Shakyamuni Buddha was engaged in the career of the bodhisattva, his mind must have been impure. Otherwise, how could this Buddha-field appear to be so impure?"
The Buddha, knowing telepathically the thought of venerable Shariputra, said to him, "What do you think, Shariputra? Is it because the sun and moon are impure that those blind from birth do not see them?"
Shariputra replied, "No, Lord. It is not so. The fault lies with those blind from birth, and not with the sun and moon."
The Buddha declared, "In the same way, Shariputra, the fact that some living beings do not behold the splendid display of virtues of the Buddha-field of the Tathágata is due to their own ignorance. It is not the fault of the Tathágata. Shariputra, the Buddha-field of the Tathágata is pure, but you do not see it."
Then the Brahma Sikhin said to the venerable Shariputra, "Reverend Shariputra, do not say that the Buddha-field of the Tathágata is impure. Reverend Shariputra, the Buddha-field of the Tathágata is pure. I see the splendid expanse of the Buddha-field of the Lord Shakyamuni as equal to the splendor of, for example, the abodes of the highest deities."
Then the venerable Shariputra said to the Brahma Sikhin, "As for me, O Brahma, I see this great earth, with its highs and lows, its thorns, its precipices, its peaks, and its abysses, as if it were entirely filled with ordure."
Brahma Sikhin replied, "The fact that you see such a Buddha-field as this as if it were so impure, reverend Shariputra, is a sure sign that there are highs and lows in your mind and that your positive thought in regard to the Buddha-gnosis is not pure either. Reverend Shariputra, those whose minds are impartial toward all living beings and whose positive thoughts toward the Buddha-gnosis are pure see this Buddha-field as perfectly pure."
Thereupon the Lord touched the ground of this billion-world-galactic universe with his big toe, and suddenly it was transformed into a huge mass of precious jewels, a magnificent array of many hundreds of thousands of clusters of precious gems, until it resembled the universe of the Tathágata Ratnavyuha, called Anantagunaratnavyuha. Everyone in the entire assembly was filled with wonder, each perceiving himself seated on a throne of jeweled lotuses.
Then, the Buddha said to the venerable Shariputra, "Shariputra, do you see this splendor of the virtues of the Buddha-field?"
Shariputra replied, "I see it, Lord! Here before me is a display of splendor such as I never before heard of or beheld!"
The Buddha said, "Shariputra, this Buddha-field is always thus pure, but the Tathágata makes it appear to be spoiled by many faults, in order to bring about the maturity of the inferior living beings. For example, Shariputra, the gods of the Trayastrimsa heaven all take their food from a single precious vessel, yet the nectar, which nourishes each one, differs according to the differences of the merits each has accumulated. Just so, Shariputra, living beings born in the same Buddha-field see the splendor of the virtues of the Buddha-fields of the Buddhas according to their own degrees of purity."
When this splendor of the beauty of the virtues of the Buddha-field shone forth, eighty-four thousand beings conceived the spirit of unexcelled perfect enlightenment, and the five hundred Licchavi youths who had accompanied the young Licchavi Ratnakara all attained the conformative tolerance of ultimate birthlessness.
Then, the Lord withdrew his miraculous power and at once the Buddha-field was restored to its usual appearance. Then, both men and gods who subscribed to the disciple-vehicle thought, "Alas! All constructed things are impermanent."
Thereby, thirty-two thousand living beings purified their immaculate, undistorted Dharma-eye in regard to all things. The eight thousand Bhikkhus were liberated from their mental defilements, attaining the state of non-grasping. And the eighty-four thousand living beings that were devoted to the grandeur of the Buddha-field, having understood that all things are by nature but magical creations, all conceived in their own minds the spirit of unexcelled, totally perfect enlightenment.