Vimalakirti Nirdesa Sutra

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....

Chapter 10 - The Feast Brought by the Emanated Incarnation

Thereupon, the venerable Shariputra thought to himself, "If these great bodhisattvas do not adjourn before noontime, when are they going to eat?"

The Licchavi Vimalakirti, knowing telepathically the thought of the venerable Shariputra, spoke to him:

"Reverend Shariputra, the Tathágata has taught the eight liberations. You should concentrate on those liberations, listening to the Dharma with a mind free of preoccupations with material things. Just wait a minute, reverend Shariputra, and you will eat such food as you have never before tasted."

Then, the Licchavi Vimalakirti set himself in such a concentration and performed such a miraculous feat that those bodhisattvas and those great disciples were enabled to see the universe called Sarvagandhasugandha, which is located in the direction of the zenith, beyond as many Buddha-fields as there are sands in forty-two Ganges rivers. There the Tathágata named Sugandhakuta resides, lives, and is manifest. In that universe, the trees emit a fragrance that far surpasses all the fragrances, human and divine, of all the Buddha-fields of the ten directions. In that universe, even the names "disciple" and "solitary sage" do not exist, and the Tathágata Sugandhakuta teaches the Dharma to a gathering of bodhisattvas only. In that universe, all the houses, the avenues, the parks, and the palaces are made of various perfumes, and the fragrance of the food eaten by those bodhisattvas pervades immeasurable universes.

At this time, the Tathágata Sugandhakuta sat down with his bodhisattvas to take his meal, and the deities called Gandhavyuhahara, who were all devoted to the Mahayana, served and attended upon the Buddha and his bodhisattvas. Everyone in the gathering at the house of Vimalakirti was able to see distinctly this universe wherein the Tathágata Sugandhakuta and his bodhisattvas were taking their meal.

The Licchavi Vimalakirti addressed the whole gathering of bodhisattvas: "Good sirs, is there any among you who would like to go to that Buddha-field to bring back some food?"

But, restrained by the supernatural power of Manjusri, none of them volunteered to go.

The Licchavi Vimalakirti said to crown prince Manjusri, "Manjusri, are you not ashamed of such a gathering?"

Manjusri replied, "Noble sir, did not the Tathágata declare, 'Those who are unlearned should not be despised'?"

Then, the Licchavi Vimalakirti, without rising from his couch, magically emanated an incarnation-bodhisattva, whose body was of golden color, adorned with the auspicious signs and marks, and of such an appearance that he outshone the whole assembly. The Licchavi Vimalakirti addressed that incarnated bodhisattva: "Noble son, go in the direction of the zenith and when you have crossed as many Buddha-fields as there are sands in forty-two Ganges rivers, you will reach a universe called Sarvagandhasugandha, where you will find the Tathágata Sugandhakuta taking his meal. Go to him and, having bowed down at his feet, make the following request of him:

"'The Licchavi Vimalakirti bows down one hundred thousand times at your feet, O Lord, and asks after your health - if you have but little trouble, little discomfort, little unrest; if you are strong, well, without complaint, and living in touch with supreme happiness.'

"Having thus asked after his health, you should request of him 'Vimalakirti asks the Lord to give me the remains of your meal, with which he will accomplish the Buddha-work in the universe called "Saha." (Saha means ‘endurance’ and always refers to our present world system) Thus, those living beings with inferior aspirations will be inspired with lofty aspirations, and the good name of the Tathágata will be celebrated far and wide."

At that, the incarnated bodhisattva said, "Very good!" to the Licchavi Vimalakirti and obeyed his instructions.

In sight of all the bodhisattvas, he turned his face upward and was gone, and they saw him no more. When he reached the universe Sarvagandhasugandha, he bowed down at the feet of the Tathágata Sugandhakuta and said, "Lord, the bodhisattva Vimalakirti, bowing down at the feet of the Lord, greets the Lord, saying: 'do you have little trouble, little discomfort, and little unrest? Are you strong, well, without complaint, and living in touch with the supreme happiness?' He then requests, having bowed down one hundred thousand times at the feet of the Lord: 'May the Lord be gracious and give to me the remains of his meal in order to accomplish the Buddha-work in the universe called Saha. Then, those living beings who aspire to inferior ways may gain the intelligence to aspire to the great Dharma of the Buddha, and the name of the Buddha will be celebrated far and wide.'"

At that the bodhisattvas of the Buddha-field of the Tathágata Sugandhakuta were astonished and asked the Tathágata Sugandhakuta, "Lord, where is there such a great being as this? Where is the universe Saha? What does he mean by 'those who aspire to inferior ways'?"

Having thus been questioned by those bodhisattvas, the Tathágata Sugandhakuta said, "Noble sons, the universe Saha exists beyond as many Buddha-fields in the direction of the nadir as there are sands in forty-two Ganges Rivers. There the Tathágata Shakyamuni teaches the Dharma to living beings that aspire to the inferior ways, in that Buddha-field tainted with five corruptions. There the bodhisattva Vimalakirti, who lives in the inconceivable liberation, teaches the Dharma to the bodhisattvas. He sends this incarnation-bodhisattva here in order to celebrate my name, in order to show the advantages of this universe, and in order to increase the roots of virtue of those bodhisattvas."

The bodhisattvas exclaimed, "How great must that bodhisattva be himself if his magical incarnation is thus endowed with supernatural power, strength, and fearlessness!"

The Tathágata said, "The greatness of that bodhisattva is such that he sends magical incarnations to all the Buddha-fields of the ten directions, and all these incarnations accomplish the Buddha-work for all the living beings in all those Buddha-fields."

Then, the Tathágata Sugandhakuta poured some of his food, impregnated with all perfumes, into a fragrant vessel and gave it to the incarnation-bodhisattva. And the ninety million bodhisattvas of that universe volunteered to go along with him: "Lord, we also would like to go to that universe Saha, to see, honor, and serve the Buddha Shakyamuni and to see Vimalakirti and those bodhisattvas."

The Tathágata declared, "Noble sons, go ahead if you think it is the right time. But, lest those living beings become mad and intoxicated, go without your perfumes. And, lest those living beings of the Saha world become jealous of you, change your bodies to hide your beauty. And do not conceive ideas of contempt and aversion for that universe. Why? Noble sons, a Buddha-field is a field of pure space, but the Lord Buddhas, in order to develop living beings, do not reveal all at once the pure realm of the Buddha."

Then the incarnation-bodhisattva took the food and departed with the ninety million bodhisattvas and by the power of the Buddha and the supernatural operation of Vimalakirti, disappeared from that universe Sarvagandhasugandha and stood again in the house of Vimalakirti in a fraction of a second. The Licchavi Vimalakirti created ninety million lion-thrones exactly like those already there, and the bodhisattvas were seated.

Then, the incarnation-bodhisattva gave the vessel full of food to Vimalakirti, and the fragrance of that food permeated the entire great city of Vaisali and its sweet perfume spread throughout one hundred universes.

Within the city of Vaisali, the Brahmans, householders, and even the Licchavi chieftain Candracchattra, having noticed this fragrance, were amazed and filled with wonder. They were so cleansed in body and mind that they came at once to the house of Vimalakirti, along with all eighty-four thousand of the Licchavis.

Seeing there the bodhisattvas seated on the high, wide, and beautiful lion-thrones, they were filled with admiration and great joy. They all bowed down to those great disciples and bodhisattvas and then sat down to one side. And the gods of the earth, the gods of the desire-world, and the gods of the material world, attracted by the perfume, also came to the house of Vimalakirti.

Then, the Licchavi Vimalakirti spoke to the elder Shariputra and the great disciples: "Reverends, eat of the food of the Tathágata! It is ambrosia perfumed by the great compassion. But do not fix your minds in narrow-minded attitudes, lest you be unable to receive its gift."

But some of the disciples had already had the thought: "How can such a huge multitude eat such a small amount of food?"

Then the incarnation-bodhisattva said to those disciples, "Do not compare, venerable ones, your own wisdom and merits with the wisdom and the merits of the Tathágata! Why? For example, the four great oceans might dry up, but this food would never be exhausted. If all living beings were to eat for an aeon an amount of this food equal to Mount Sumeru in size, it would not be depleted. Why? Issued from inexhaustible morality, concentration, and wisdom, the remains of the food of the Tathágata contained in this vessel cannot be exhausted."

Indeed, the entire gathering was satisfied by that food, and the food was not at all depleted. Having eaten that food, there arose in the bodies of those bodhisattvas, disciples, Sakras, Brahmas, Lokapalas, and other living beings, bliss just like the bliss of the bodhisattvas of the universe Sarvasukhamandita. And from all the pores of their skin arose a perfume like that of the trees that grow in the universe Sarvagandhasugandha.

Then, the Licchavi Vimalakirti knowingly addressed those bodhisattvas who had come from the Buddha-field of the Lord Tathágata Sugandhakuta: "Noble sirs, how does the Tathágata Sugandhakuta teach his Dharma?"

They replied, "The Tathágata does not teach the Dharma by means of sound and language. He disciplines the bodhisattvas only by means of perfumes. At the foot of each perfume-tree sits a bodhisattva, and the trees emit perfumes like this one. From the moment they smell that perfume, the bodhisattvas attain the concentration called 'source of all bodhisattva-virtues.' From the moment they attain that concentration, all the bodhisattva-virtues are produced in them."

Those bodhisattvas then asked the Licchavi Vimalakirti, "How does the Buddha Shakyamuni teach the Dharma?"

Vimalakirti replied, "Good sirs, these living beings here are hard to discipline. Therefore, he teaches them with discourses appropriate for the disciplining of the wild and uncivilized. How does he discipline the wild and uncivilized? What discourses are appropriate? Here they are:

"'This is hell. This is the animal world. This is the world of the lord of death. These are the adversities. These are the rebirths with crippled faculties. These are physical misdeeds, and these are the retributions for physical misdeeds. These are verbal misdeeds, and these are the retributions for verbal misdeeds. These are mental misdeeds, and these are the retributions for mental misdeeds. This is killing. This is stealing. This is sexual misconduct. This is lying. This is backbiting. This is harsh speech. This is frivolous speech. This is covetousness. This is malice. This is false view. These are their retributions. This is miserliness, and this is its effect. This is immorality. This is hatred. This is sloth. This is the fruit of sloth. This is false wisdom and this is the fruit of false wisdom. These are the transgressions of the precepts. This is the vow of personal liberation.

This should be done and that should not be done. This is proper and that should be abandoned. This is an obscuration and that is without obscuration. This is sin and that rises above sin. This is the path and that is the wrong path. This is virtue and that is evil. This is blameworthy and that is blameless. This is defiled and that is immaculate. This is mundane and that is transcendental. This is compounded and that is uncompounded. This is passion and that is purification. This is life and that is liberation.'

"Thus, by means of these varied explanations of the Dharma, the Buddha trains the minds of those living beings who are just like wild horses. Just as wild horses or wild elephants will not be tamed unless the goad pierces them to the marrow, so living beings who are wild and hard to civilize are disciplined only by means of discourses about all kinds of miseries."

The bodhisattvas said, "Thus is established the greatness of the Buddha Shakyamuni! It is marvelous how, concealing his miraculous power, he civilizes the wild living beings that are poor and inferior. And the bodhisattvas who settle in a Buddha-field of such intense hardships must have inconceivably great compassion!"

The Licchavi Vimalakirti declared, "So be it, good sirs! It is as you say. The great compassion of the bodhisattvas who reincarnate here is extremely firm. In a single lifetime in this universe, they accomplish much benefit for living beings. So much benefit for living beings could not be accomplished in the universe Sarvagandhasugandha even in one hundred thousand aeons. Why? Good sirs, in this Saha universe, there are ten virtuous practices, which do not exist in any other Buddha-field. What are these ten? Here they are: to win the poor by generosity; to win the immoral by morality; to win the hateful by means of tolerance; to win the lazy by means of effort; to win the mentally troubled by means of concentration; to win the falsely wise by means of true wisdom; to show those suffering from the eight adversities how to rise above them; to teach the Mahayana to those of narrow-minded behavior; to win those who have not produced the roots of virtue by means of the roots of virtue; and to develop living beings without interruption through the four means of unification. Those who engage in these ten virtuous practices do not exist in any other Buddha-field."

Again the bodhisattvas asked, "How many qualities must a bodhisattva have, to go safe and sound to a pure Buddha-field after he transmigrates at death away from this Saha universe?"

Vimalakirti replied, "After he transmigrates at death away from this Saha universe, a bodhisattva must have eight qualities to reach a pure Buddha-field safe and sound. What are the eight? He must resolve to himself: 'I must benefit all living beings, without seeking even the slightest benefit for myself. I must bear all the miseries of all living beings and give all my accumulated roots of virtue to all living beings. I must have no resentment toward any living being. I must rejoice in all bodhisattvas as if they were the Teacher. I must not neglect any teachings, whether or not I have heard them before. I must control my mind, without coveting the gains of others, and without taking pride in gains of my own. I must examine my own faults and not blame others for their faults. I must take pleasure in being consciously aware and must truly undertake all virtues.'

"If a bodhisattva has these eight qualities, when he transmigrates at death away from the Saha universe, he will go safe and sound to a pure Buddha-field."

When the Licchavi Vimalakirti and the crown prince Manjusri had thus taught the Dharma to the multitude gathered there, one hundred thousand living beings conceived the spirit of unexcelled, perfect enlightenment, and ten thousand bodhisattvas attained the tolerance of the birthlessness of things.

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