Vimalakirti Sutra

by Burton Watson | 1997 | 43,710 words

Translated by Burton Watson in 1997 from the Chinese version by Kumarajiva (T.475)...

Chapter 1 - Buddha Lands

This is what I heard:

At one time the Buddha was in the Amra Gardens in the city of Vaishali, accompanied by a multitude of leading monks numbering eight thousand. There were also thirty-two thousand bodhisattvas, all known to the assembly, persons who had carried out all the basic practices of great wisdom. Sustained by the might and supernatural powers of the Buddhas, they accepted and upheld the correct Law in order to guard the citadel of the Dharma. They knew how to roar the lion's roar, and their fame resounded in the ten directions. Without waiting to be asked, they befriended others and brought them comfort. They ensured the continuance and prosperity of the Three Treasures, making certain that these never expired. They conquered and subdued the ill will of the devils and curbed the non-Buddhist doctrines.

All were spotless and pure, having long ago rid themselves of snares and obstructions; their minds constantly resided in a state of unhindered emancipation. Their mindfulness, meditation, retention of the teachings, and eloquence never faltered, and of almsgiving, keeping of the precepts, forbearance, assiduousness, meditation, wisdom, and the power to employ expedient means, there was not one they were deficient in.

They had learned to accept the fact that there is nothing to be grasped at, no view of phenomena to be entertained. They knew how to respond compliantly to others and to turn the unregressing wheel of the Law. Expert in comprehending the characteristics of phenomena, able to understand the capacities of living beings, they towered over the others of the great assembly and had learned to be fearful of nothing.

With their merits and wisdom they disciplined their minds; they adorned their bodies with auspicious signs, ranking foremost in aspect and form, but rejected all worldly embellishments. In fame and renown they soared higher than Mount Sumeru; their profound faith was diamondlike in its firmness. The jewels of their Dharma shone everywhere, raining down sweet dew, and among the assembly the sound of their words was the most subtle and wonderful of all.

They had plumbed the depths of dependent origination and cut off all erroneous views, no longer entertaining the concepts either of being or nonbeing. In expounding the Law they were fearless as roaring lions, and their disquisitions on it rolled forth like thunder. There was no measuring them, for they had passed beyond measure. In seeking out the jewels of the Dharma, they were like practiced pilots at sea. They had mastered all the profound and subtle meanings of the doctrines and were expert in perceiving the past and future existences of living beings and the workings of their minds.

They came close to equaling the freely exercised wisdom of the Buddha, the unparalleled one, his ten powers, his fearlessness, and his eighteen unshared properties. Though they had firmly closed the gate to all manner of evil existences, yet they allowed themselves to be born in the five lower realms, manifesting themselves there so that they might act as great physician kings, adroitly healing the ills of others, doling out whatever medicine suited the ailment, and insuring that the patient took it as prescribed.

Countless benefits-all these they had acquired; countless Buddha lands- all these they had made marvelously pure. No one saw or listened to them without profiting thereby, and no action of theirs was ever performed in vain. Such was the manner in which all merits adhered to them.

The names of the bodhisattvas were Bodhisattva Viewing Equality, Bodhisattva Viewing Inequality, Bodhisattva Viewing Equality and Inequality, Bodhisattva Meditation Freedom King, Bodhisattva Dharma Freedom King, Bodhisattva Dharma Forms, Bodhisattva Shining Forms, Bodhisattva Shining Adornment, Bodhisattva Great Adornment, Bodhisattva Jeweled Accumulation, Bodhisattva Accumulation of Eloquence, Bodhisattva Jeweled Hand, Bodhisattva Jeweled Seal Hand, Bodhisattva Constantly Raised Hand, Bodhisattva Constantly Extended Hand, Bodhisattva Constantly Commiserating, Bodhisattva Joyful Capacity, Bodhisattva Joyful King, Bodhisattva Eloquent Sound, Bodhisattva Storehouse of Emptiness, Bodhisattva Holder of the Jeweled Torch, Bodhisattva Jeweled Valor, Bodhisattva Jeweled View, Bodhisattva of Indra's Net, Bodhisattva Bright Net, Bodhisattva Unconditioned View, Bodhisattva Wisdom Accumulation, Bodhisattva Jeweled Supremacy, Bodhisattva Heavenly King, Bodhisattva Devil Defeating, Bodhisattva Lightning Virtue, Bodhisattva Freedom King, Bodhisattva Merit Forms and Adornments, Bodhisattva Lion's Roar, Bodhisattva Thunder Sound, Bodhisattva Mountain Form Smiting Sound, Bodhisattva Rutting Elephant, Bodhisattva White Rutting Elephant, Bodhisattva Constant Exertion, Bodhisattva Never Resting, Bodhisattva Wonderful Birth, Bodhisattva Flower Adornment, Bodhisattva Perceiver of the World's Sounds, Bodhisattva Gainer of Great Authority, Bodhisattva of Brahma's Net, Bodhisattva Jeweled Staff, Bodhisattva Unsurpassed, Bodhisattva Adorned Land, Bodhisattva Golden Locks, Bodhisattva Gemmed Locks, Bodhisattva Maitreya, and Bodhisattva Dharma Prince Manjushri. There were thirty-two thousand bodhisattvas such as these

There were also ten thousand Brahma kings, Shikhin and others, who had come from the other four continent worlds to visit the place where the Buddha was and listen to the Dharma. There were also twelve thousand Indras who had come from the other four continent worlds to take a seat in the gathering. In addition, there were other heavenly beings of great authority and power, as well as dragons, spirits, yakshas, gandharvas, asuras, garudas, kimnaras, mahoragas, and others, all come to take a seat in the assembly. Also arrived to take seats in the assembly were the various monks, nuns, laymen, and laywomen.

At that time the Buddha, reverently surrounded by this multitude of countless hundreds and thousands of beings, expounded the Law for them. He was like Mount Sumeru, king of mountains, rising up out of the great sea. Resting at ease in his lion's seat clustered with jewels, he shed his radiance over all the great throng gathered there.

At that time a man named Jeweled Accumulation, son of a wealthy man of the city of Vaishali, along with five hundred other sons of wealthy men, had come to the place where the Buddha was, all of them bearing parasols adorned with the seven treasures. Bowing their heads in obeisance before the feet of the Buddha, they joined in offering their parasols as alms to the Buddha.

The Buddha with his supernatural powers then caused all the jeweled parasols to come together and form one single parasol that spread over the entire thousand-millionfold world. All the vast features of that world were visible there in its midst. All the Mount Sumerus of the thousand-millionfold world, Snow Mountains, Muchilinda Mountains, Mahamuchilinda Mountains, Fragrant Mountains, Jeweled Mountains, Gold Mountains, Black Mountains, Iron Encircling Mountains, Great Iron Encircling Mountains, the huge seas, the rivers and watercourses, brooks and streams, fountains and springs, as well as the suns, moons, stars, constellations, heavenly palaces, dragon palaces, and the palaces of the venerable spirits-all these were to be seen within the jeweled parasol. And the Buddhas of the ten directions, the Buddhas as they preached the Law-these too were visible within the jeweled parasol.

At that time all the members of the great assembly, witnessing this manifestation of the Buddha's supernatural powers, sighed in admiration at what they had never seen before. Pressing their palms together, they made obeisance to the Buddha, gazing up in reverence at the face of the Honored One and never taking their eyes from it.

Then the rich man's son, Jeweled Accumulation, in the presence of the Buddha recited these verses of praise:

Eyes pure and broad like the blue lotus;
mind pure, steeped in meditations;
for pure deeds long accumulated, boundless in fame,
your quietude guides the assembly-thus we bow our heads.

We have seen the great sage work miraculous transformations,
showing us all the countless lands in ten directions,
the Buddhas expounding the Law therein-
every one of these we have seen and heard.

The Dharma King's Dharma powers surpass all other beings,
constantly he bestows Dharma riches on them all.
Skillfully he distinguishes the characteristics of phenomena,
never faltering in his grasp of the one great Truth.

You have learned to treat all phenomena with freedom,
so we bow our heads to this Dharma King.
You define things as neither existing nor not existing;
causes and conditions bring about their birth.

No "I," no doer, no recipient,
yet good and bad karma never cease to function.
Beneath the Buddha tree, you used your might to overpower the devil;
gaining the sweet dew of nirvana, you won your way to enlightenment.

Already free of thought, perception, and volition,
you refuted all the non-Buddhist doctrines.
Three times you turned the wheel of the Law in the thousand-millionfold world,
the wheel that from the first has always been pure.

Heavenly and human beings gained the way-this was proof of it;
the Three Treasures thereupon appeared in the world.
This wonderful Law brought rescue to the many beings;
embracing it, they never regress but dwell in constant quietude.

Great physician king, healer of old age, sickness and death,
we pay homage to the boundless virtue of your Dharma sea;
unmoved by acclamation or abuse, like Mount Sumeru,
you pity in equal measure the good and the not good.

In mind and action impartial, like the empty sky-
who can hark to this jewel of humankind, not give respectful assent?
Now we offer these little parasols to the World-Honored One,
and in them is revealed to us the three thousand worlds.

Palaces where gods, dragons, and spirits reside,
kimnaras, yakshas, and all those other beings,
everything that exists in the world we see-
the ten-powered one in pity manifests these transformations.

The assembly, seeing this rare sight, all praise the Buddha;
now we bow our heads to the venerable one of the threefold world.
Great sage, Dharma King, refuge of the multitude-
viewing the Buddha with purified mind, none who do not rejoice!

Each sees the World-Honored One standing right before him-
such are the Buddha's transcendental powers, his unshared properties.
The Buddha preaches the Law with a single voice,
but each living being understands it according to his kind.

All believe the World-Honored One speaks the same words to all-
such are his transcendental powers, his unshared properties.
The Buddha preaches the Law with a single voice,
but each living being understands it in his own way.

All undertake the Buddha's practices and gain profit thereby-
such are his transcendental powers, his unshared properties.
The Buddha preaches the Law with a single voice,
but to some it brings fear, to others delight and joy

Some are moved to leave the world, some are freed of doubt-
such are his transcendental powers, his unshared properties.
Before the great diligence of the ten-powered one we bow our heads;
we bow our heads to the fearlessness he has attained.

We bow heads before the one who dwells in unshared properties,
bow heads before the great leader of all beings.
You can cut the thongs that bind the multitude-we bow heads to that;
you crossed to the other shore-we bow heads to that.

We bow heads to one who can save all those in this world,
bow heads to one who long ago left the path of birth and death.
You know the marks of all beings in their comings and goings,
you have gained apt liberation from all phenomena.

Free of worldly attachments, like the lotus blossom,
constantly you move within the realm of emptiness and quiet;
you have mastered the marks of all phenomena, no blocks or hindrances;
like the sky, you lean on nothing-we bow our heads!

When the rich man's son, Jeweled Accumulation, had finished reciting these verses, he addressed the Buddha, saying, "World-Honored One, these five hundred sons of rich men have all set their minds on anuttara-samyak-sambodhi. They wish to hear how one can purify the Buddha lands.[1] We beg the World-Honored One to explain the practices carried out by bodhisattvas in purifying the lands."

The Buddha said, "Excellent, Jeweled Accumulation! For the sake of the bodhisattvas you do right to ask the Thus Come One about the practices for purifying the lands. Listen well, listen well, and mull it over in your thoughts! I will now explain to you."

Jeweled Accumulation and the other five hundred sons of rich men then made ready to listen to the teachings addressed to them.

The Buddha said, "Jeweled Accumulation, the various kinds of living beings are in themselves the Buddha lands of the bodhisattvas. Why so? Because it is by converting various beings to the teachings that the bodhisattvas acquire their Buddha lands. It is by persuading various beings and overcoming their objections that the bodhisattvas acquire their Buddha lands. It is by inducing the various living beings to enter into the Buddha wisdom in such-and-such a land that they acquire their Buddha lands. It is by inducing the various living beings to develop the capacity for bodhisattva practices in such-and-such a land that they acquire their Buddha lands.

"Why is this? Because the bodhisattva's acquisition of a pure land is wholly due to his having brought benefit to living beings. Suppose a man proposes to build a mansion on a plot of open land. He may do so as he wishes without hindrance. But if he tries to build it in the empty air, he will never be successful. It is the same with the bodhisattvas. It is because they wish to help others to achieve success that they take their vow to acquire Buddha lands. Their vow to acquire Buddha lands in not founded on emptiness.

"Jeweled Accumulation, you should understand that an upright mind is the pure land of the bodhisattva.[2] When the bodhisattva attains Buddhahood, then beings who are free of flattery will be born in his country.

"A deeply searching mind is the pure land of the bodhisattva. When he attains Buddhahood, beings who are endowed with blessings will be born in his country.

"A mind that aspires to bodhi or enlightenment is the pure land of the bodhisattva. When he attains Buddhahood, beings dedicated to the Great Vehicle will be born in his country

"Almsgiving is the pure land of the bodhisattva. When he attains Buddhahood, beings who are capable of casting away everything will be born in his country.

"Keeping of the precepts is the pure land of the bodhisattva. When he attains Buddhahood, beings who fulfill their vow to carry out the ten good actions will be born in his country.

"Forbearance. is the pure land of the bodhisattva. When he attains Buddhahood, beings who are adorned with the thirty-two features will be born in his country.

"Assiduousness is the pure land of the bodhisattva. When he attains Buddhahood, beings who strive diligently to acquire all manner of blessings will be born in his country

"Meditation is the pure land of the bodhisattva. When he attains Buddhahood, beings who can regulate their minds and keep them from disorder will be born in his country.

"Wisdom is the pure land of the bodhisattva. When he attains Buddhahood, beings who are correct and certain in understanding will be born in his country.

"A mind devoted to the four immeasurable qualities is the pure land of the bodhisattva. When he attains Buddhahood, beings perfect in the exercise of pity, compassion, joy, and indifference will be born in his country.

"The four methods of winning people are the pure land of the bodhisattva. When he attains Buddhahood, beings who are regulated by the emancipations will be born in his country.

"Expedient means are the pure land of the bodhisattva. When he attains Buddhahood, beings who can employ all manner of expedient means with complete freedom will be born in his country.

"The thirty-seven elements of the Way are the pure land of the bodhisattva. When he attains Buddhahood, beings will be born in his country who are proficient in the four states of mindfulness, the four types of correct effort, the four bases of supernatural power, the five roots of goodness, the five powers, the seven factors of enlightenment, and the eightfold holy path.

"A mind intent on transferring merit to others is the pure land of the bodhisattva. When he attains Buddhahood, he will acquire a country endowed with all manner of blessings.

"Teaching others to avoid the eight difficulties is the pure land of the bodhisattva. When he attains Buddhahood, his country will be free of the three evils and the eight difficulties.

"Observing the precepts himself but not taxing others with their shortcomings is the pure land of the bodhisattva. When he attains Buddhahood, no one in his country will be called a violater of prohibitions.

"The ten good actions are the pure land of the bodhisattva. When he attains Buddhahood, beings will be born in his country who suffer no untimely death, possess great wealth, are pure in action, sincere and truthful in word, ever mild in speech, never alienated from kin or associates, skillful in solving disputes, invariably speaking profitable words, never envious, never irate, and correct in understanding.[3]

"Therefore, Jeweled Accumulation, because the bodhisattva has an upright mind, he is impelled to action. Because he is impelled to action, he gains a deeply searching mind. Because he has a deeply searching mind, his will is well controlled. Because his will is well controlled, he acts in accord with the teachings. Because he acts in accord with the teachings, he can transfer merit to others. Because he transfers merit to others, he knows how to employ expedient means. Because he knows how to employ expedient means, he can lead others to enlightenment. Because he leads others to enlightenment, his Buddha land is pure. Because his Buddha land is pure, his preaching of the Law is pure. Because his preaching of the Law is pure, his wisdom is pure. Because his wisdom is pure, his mind is pure. And because his mind is pure, all the blessings he enjoys will be pure.

"Therefore, Jeweled Accumulation, if the bodhisattva wishes to acquire a pure land, he must purify his mind. When the mind is pure, the Buddha land will be pure."

At that time Shariputra, moved by the Buddha's supernatural powers, thought to himself: "If the mind of the bodhisattva is pure, then his Buddha land will be pure. Now when our World-Honored One first determined to become a bodhisattva, surely his intentions were pure. Why then is this Buddha land so filled with impurities?"[4]

The Buddha, knowing his thoughts, said to him, "What do you think? Are the sun and moon impure? Is that why the blind man fails to see them?"

Shariputra replied, "No, World-Honored One. That is the fault of the blind man. The sun and moon are not to blame." "Shariputra, it is the failings of living beings that prevent them from seeing the marvelous purity of the land of the Buddha, the Thus Come One. The Thus Come One is not to blame. Shariputra, this land of mine is pure, but you fail to see it."

At that time one of the Brahma kings with his conchshaped tuft of hair said to Shariputra, "You must not think that this Buddha land is impure. Why do I say this? Because to my eyes, Shakyamuni's Buddha land is as pure and spotless as the palace of the heavenly being Great Freedom."

Shariputra said, "When I look at this land, I see it full of knolls and hollows, thorny underbrush, sand and gravel, dirt, rocks, many mountains, filth and defilement."

The Brahma king said, "It is just that your mind has highs and lows and does not rest on Buddha wisdom. Therefore you see this land as impure. Shariputra, the bodhisattva treats all things and beings, each one of them, with perfect equality. His deeply searching mind is pure, and because it rests on Buddha wisdom, it can see the purity of this Buddha land."

The Buddha then pressed his toe against the earth, and immediately the thousand-millionfold world was adorned with hundreds and thousands of rare jewels, till it resembled Jeweled Adornment Buddha's Jeweled Adornment Land of Immeasurible Blessings. All the members of the great assembly sighed in wonder at what they had never seen before, and all saw that hey themselves were seated on jeweled lotuses.[5]

The Buddha said to Shariputra, "Now do you see the marwelous purity of this Buddha land?"

Shariputra replied, "Indeed I do, World-Honored One. Somehing I have never seen before, and never even heard of-now all he marvelous purity of the Buddha land is visible before me!"

The Buddha said to Shariputra, "My Buddha land has always been pure like this. But because I wish to save those persons who are lowly and inferior, I make it seem an impure land full of defilements, that is all. It is like the case of heavenly beings. All ate their food from the same precious vessel, but the food looks different for each one, depending upon the merits and virtues hat each possesses. It is the same in this case, Shariputra. If a person's mind is pure, then he will see the wonderful blessings that adorn this land."

When the Buddha in this way revealed the marvelous purity of the land, the five hundred sons of rich men who accompanied Jeweled Accumulation all were able to grasp the truth of birthlessness, and eighty-four thousand persons all set their minds on attaining anuttara-samyak-sambodhi. The Buddha then released the supernatural power that he had exercised with his toe and the world returned to its former appearance.

Thirty-two thousand heavenly and human beings who wished to pursue the path of the voice-hearer, understanding that all things are impermanent in nature, cast off the dust, removed themselves from defilement, and attained the pure Dharma eye; and eight thousand monks, ceasing to accept the phenomenal world, put an end to all outflows and gained emancipation of mind.

Footnotes and references:


To "purify the Buddha lands" here means to work diligently to lead the beings of various realms or Buddha lands to enlightenment, which is one of the chief aims of the bodhisattva's activities.


The term chih-hsin, "upright mind,"may also be translated "straightforward mind" or "direct mind. "In the paragraphs that follow, the term "pure land" is being used to mean a state of mind or course of action that allows a bodhisattva to create a Buddha land that is pure in nature by leading others to enlightenment. The quality or action in the bodhisattva produces a similar state in the beings who are born in his land; for example, because he himself is honest and upright in mind, they are free from flattery or deviousness.


Each of the ten merits listed here results from the observance of one of the ten good actions.


Shariputra, one of the Buddha's ten major disciples, customarily appears in the Vimalakirti Sutra~us an expresser of doubts or expounder of erroneous views associated with Hinayana teachings. But as indicated here, the Buddha at times deliberately implants such doubts in Shariputra's mind as a means of furthering the exposition of the doctrine.


That is, they perceived that they themselves were possessed of the Buddha nature.

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