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 12 - Vision of the Universe Abhirati and the Tathágata Aksobhya

Thereupon, the Buddha said to the Licchavi Vimalakirti, "Noble son, when you would see the Tathágata, how do you view him?"

Thus addressed, the Licchavi Vimalakirti said to the Buddha, "Lord, when I would see the Tathágata, I view him by not seeing any Tathágata. Why? I see him as not born from the past, not passing on to the future, and not abiding in the present time. Why? He is the essence, which is the reality of matter, but he is not matter. He is the essence, which is the reality of sensation, but he is not sensation. He is the essence, which is the reality of intellect, but he is not intellect. He is the essence, which is the reality of motivation, yet he is not motivation. He is the essence, which is the reality of consciousness, yet he is not consciousness. Like the element of space, he does not abide in any of the four elements. Transcending the scope of eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, and mind, he is not produced in the six sense-media. He is not involved in the three worlds, is free of the three defilements, is associated with the triple liberation, is endowed with the three knowledge’s, and has truly attained the unattainable.

"The Tathágata has reached the extreme of detachment in regard to all things, yet he is not a reality-limit. He abides in ultimate reality, yet there is no relationship between it and him. He is not produced from causes, nor does he depend on conditions. He is not without any characteristic, nor has he any characteristic. He has no single nature nor any diversity of natures. He is not a conception, not a mental construction, nor is he a non-conception. He is neither the other shore, nor this shore, nor that between. He is neither here, nor there, nor anywhere else. He is neither this nor that. He cannot be discovered by consciousness, nor is he inherent in consciousness. He is neither darkness nor light. He is neither name nor sign. He is neither weak nor strong.

He lives in no country or direction. He is neither good nor evil. He is neither compounded nor uncompounded.

He cannot be explained as having any meaning whatsoever.

"The Tathágata is neither generosity nor avarice, neither morality nor immorality, neither tolerance nor malice, neither effort nor sloth, neither concentration nor distraction, neither wisdom nor foolishness. He is inexpressible. He is neither truth nor falsehood; neither escape from the world nor failure to escape from the world; neither cause of involvement in the world nor not a cause of involvement in the world; he is the cessation of all theory and all practice. He is neither a field of merit nor not a field of merit; he is neither worthy of offerings nor unworthy of offerings. He is not an object, and cannot be contacted. He is not a whole, nor a conglomeration. He surpasses all calculations. He is utterly unequaled, yet equal to the ultimate reality of things. He is matchless, especially in effort. He surpasses all measure. He does not go, does not stay, and does not pass beyond. He is neither seen, heard, distinguished, nor known. He is without any complexity, having attained the equanimity of omniscient gnosis. Equal toward all things, he does not discriminate between them. He is without reproach, without excess, without corruption, without conception, and without intellectualization. He is without activity, without birth, without occurrence, without origin, without production, and without non-production. He is without fear and without sub-consciousness; without sorrow, without joy, and without strain. No verbal teaching can express him.

"Such is the body of the Tathágata and thus should he be seen. Who sees thus, truly sees. Who sees otherwise, sees falsely."

The venerable Shariputra then asked the Buddha, "Lord, in which Buddha-field did the noble Vimalakirti die, before reincarnating in this Buddha-field?"

The Buddha said, "Shariputra, ask this good man directly where he died to reincarnate here."

Then the venerable Shariputra asked the Licchavi Vimalakirti, "Noble sir, where did you die to reincarnate here?"

Vimalakirti declared, "Is there anything among the things that you see, elder, that dies or is reborn?"

Shariputra: There is nothing that dies or is reborn.

Vimalakirti: Likewise, reverend Shariputra, as all things neither die nor are reborn, why do you ask, "Where did you die to reincarnate here?" Reverend Shariputra, if one were to ask a man or woman created by a magician where he or she had died to reincarnate there, what do you think he or she would answer?

Shariputra: Noble sir, a magical creation does not die, nor is it reborn.

Vimalakirti: Reverend Shariputra, did not the Tathágata declare that all things have the nature of a magical creation?

Shariputra: Yes, noble sir, that is indeed so.

Vimalakirti: Reverend Shariputra, "death" is an end of performance, and "rebirth" is the continuation of performance. But, although a bodhisattva dies, he does not put an end to the performance of the roots of virtue, and although he is reborn, he does not adhere to the continuation of sin.


Then, the Buddha said to the venerable Shariputra, "Shariputra, this holy person came here from the presence of the Tathágata Aksobhya in the universe Abhirati."

 Shariputra: Lord, it is wonderful that this holy person, having left a Buddha-field as pure as Abhirati, should enjoy a Buddha-field as full of defects as this Saha universe!

 The Licchavi Vimalakirti said, "Shariputra, what do you think? Does the light of the sun accompany the darkness?"

 Shariputra: Certainly not, noble sir!

Vimalakirti: Then the two do not go together?

Shariputra: Noble sir, those two do not go together. As soon as the sun rises, all darkness is destroyed.

Vimalakirti: Then why does the sun rise over the world?

Shariputra: It rises to illuminate the world, and to eliminate the darkness.

Vimalakirti: Just in the same way, reverend Shariputra, the bodhisattva reincarnates voluntarily in the impure Buddha-fields in order to purify the living beings, in order to make the light of wisdom shine, and in order to clear away the darkness. Since they do not associate with the passions, they dispel the darkness of the passions of all living beings.

 Thereupon, the entire multitude experienced the desire to behold the universe Abhirati, the Tathágata Aksobhya, his bodhisattvas, and his great disciples. The Buddha, knowing the thoughts of the entire multitude, said to the Licchavi Vimalakirti, "Noble son, this multitude wishes to behold the universe Abhirati and the Tathágata Aksobhya - show them!"

Then the Licchavi Vimalakirti thought, "Without rising from my couch, I shall pick up in my right hand the universe Abhirati and all it contains: its hundreds of thousands of bodhisattvas; its abodes of devas, nagas, yakshas, gandharvas, and asuras, bounded by its Cakravada mountains; its rivers, lakes, fountains, streams, oceans, and other bodies of water; its Mount Sumeru and other hills and mountain ranges; its moon, its sun, and its stars; its devas, nagas, yakshas, gandharvas, and asuras themselves; its Brahma and his retinues; its villages, cities, towns, provinces, kingdoms, men, women, and houses; its bodhisattvas; its disciples; the tree of enlightenment of the Tathágata Aksobhya; and the Tathágata Aksobhya himself, seated in the middle of an assembly vast as an ocean, teaching the Dharma. Also the lotuses that accomplish the Buddha-work among the living beings; the three jeweled ladders that rise from its earth to its Trayastrimsa heaven, on which ladders the gods of that heaven descend to the world to see, honor, and serve the Tathágata Aksobhya and to hear the Dharma, and on which the men of the earth climb to the Trayastrimsa heaven to visit those gods. Like a potter with his wheel, I will reduce that universe Abhirati, with its store of innumerable virtues, from its watery base up to its Akanistha heaven, to a minute size and, carrying it gently like a garland of flowers, will bring it to this Saha universe and will show it to the multitudes."

Then, the Licchavi Vimalakirti entered into a concentration, and performed a miraculous feat such that he reduced the universe Abhirati to a minute size, and took it with his right hand, and brought it into this Saha universe.

In that universe Abhirati, the disciples, bodhisattvas, and those among gods and men who possessed the super-knowledge of the divine eye all cried out, "Lord, we are being carried away! Sugata, we are being carried off! Protect us, O Tathágata!"

But, to discipline them, the Tathágata Aksobhya said to them, "You are being carried off by the bodhisattva Vimalakirti. It is not my affair."

As for the other men and gods, they had no awareness at all that they were being carried anywhere.

Although the universe Abhirati had been brought into the universe Saha, the Saha universe was not increased or diminished; it was neither compressed nor obstructed. Nor was the universe Abhirati reduced internally, and both universes appeared to be the same as they had ever been.

Thereupon, the Buddha Shakyamuni asked all the multitudes, "Friends, behold the splendors of the universe Abhirati, the Tathágata Aksobhya, the array of his Buddha-field, and the splendors of these disciples and bodhisattvas!"

They replied, "We see them, Lord!"

The Buddha said, "Those bodhisattvas who wish to embrace such a Buddha-field should train themselves in all the bodhisattva-practices of the Tathágata Aksobhya."

While Vimalakirti, with his miraculous power, showed them thus the universe Abhirati and the Tathágatas Aksobhya, one hundred and forty thousand living beings among the men and gods of the Saha universe conceived the spirit of unexcelled, perfect enlightenment, and all of them formed a prayer to be reborn in the universe Abhirati. And the Buddha prophesied that in the future all would be reborn in the universe Abhirati.

And the Licchavi Vimalakirti, having thus developed all the living beings that could thereby be developed, returned the universe Abhirati exactly to its former place.

The Lord then said to the venerable Shariputra, "Shariputra, did you see that universe Abhirati, and the Tathágata Aksobhya?"

Shariputra replied, "I saw it, Lord! May all living beings come to live in a Buddha-field as splendid as that! May all living beings come to have miraculous powers just like those of the noble Licchavi Vimalakirti!

"We have gained great benefit from having seen a holy man such as he. We have gained a great benefit from having heard such teaching of the Dharma, whether the Tathágata himself still actually exists or whether he has already attained ultimate liberation. Hence, there is no need to mention the great benefit for those who, having heard it, believe it, rely on it, embrace it, remember it, read it, and penetrate to its depth; and, having found faith in it, teach, recite, and show it to others and apply themselves to the yoga of meditation upon its teaching.

"Those living beings who understand correctly this teaching of the Dharma will obtain the treasury of the jewels of the Dharma.

"Those who study correctly this teaching of the Dharma will become the companions of the Tathágata. Those who honor and serve the adepts of this doctrine will be the true protectors of the Dharma. Those who write, teach, and worship this teaching of the Dharma will be visited by the Tathágata in their homes. Those who take pleasure in this teaching of the Dharma will embrace all merits. Those who teach it to others, whether it be no more than a single stanza of four lines, or a single summary phrase from this teaching of the Dharma, will be performing the great Dharma-sacrifice. And those who devote to this teaching of the Dharma their tolerance, their zeal, their intelligence, their discernment, their vision, and their aspirations, thereby become subject to the prophesy of future Buddhahood!"

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