At that time the rich man Vimalakirti thought to himself: "I am lying here sick in bed. Why does the World-Honored One in his great compassion fail to show some concern for me?"
The Buddha, aware of this thought, said to Shariputra, "You must go visit Vimalakirti and inquire about his illness."
But Shariputra replied to the Buddha in these words: "World-Honored One, I am not competent to visit him and inquire about his illness. Why? Because I recall one occasion in the past when I was sitting in quiet meditation under a tree in the forest.
"At that time Vimalakirti approached and said to me, 'Ah, Shariputra, you should not assume that this sort of sitting is true quiet sitting! Quiet sitting means that in this threefold world you manifest neither body nor will. This is quiet sitting. Not rising out of your samadhi of complete cessation and yet showing yourself in the ceremonies of daily life-this is quiet sitting. Not abandoning the principles of the Way and yet showing yourself in the activities of a common mortal-this is quiet sitting. Your mind not fixed on internal things and yet not engaged with externals either-this is quiet sitting. Unmoved by sundry theories, but practicing the thirty-seven elements of the Way-this is quiet sitting. Entering nirvana without having put an end to earthly desires-this is quiet sitting. If you can do this kind of sitting, you will merit the Buddha's seal of approval.'
"At that time, World-Honored One, when I heard him speak these words, I remained silent, for I had no way to reply to them. That is why I am not competent to visit him and inquire about his illness."
The Buddha then said to Maudgalyayana, "You must go visit Vimalakirti and inquire about his illness."
But Maudgalyayana replied to the Buddha: "World-Honored One, I am not competent to visit him and inquire about his illness. Why? Because I recall how in the past I entered the great city of Vaishali and in its streets and lanes expounded the Dharma for the lay believers.
"At that time Vimalakirti approached and said to me, 'Ah, Maudgalyayana, when you expound the Dharma for the white-robed lay believers, you should not expound it the way you are doing! Expounding the Dharma should be done in accordance with the Dharma [reality] itself.
"'The Dharma knows nothing of living beings, because it is removed from the defilement of such concepts as "living beings." The Dharma knows nothing of "I," because it is removed from the defilement of such concepts as "I." It knows nothing of a life span, because it knows nothing of birth and death. It knows nothing of individuality, because it is cut off from considerations of past or future lives. The Dharma is forever still and serene, because it has wiped out all characteristics. The Dharma is without characteristics, because it is without anything that can be perceived. The Dharma is without names or appellations, because it is cut off from all language. The Dharma is without any expounding, because it is removed from broad or minute contemplation by the mind. The Dharma is without forms or characteristics, because it is as though vacant and empty. The Dharma is not the subject of frivolous theories, because in the end it is empty. The Dharma is without the concept of "mine," because it is removed from all such concepts of personal possession. The Dharma is without distinctions, because it is apart from all types of consciousness. The Dharma has nothing it can compare to, because there is no entity that can be set beside it.
"'The Dharma is not affected by causes, because it does not exist in a conditioned realm. The Dharma is identical with the Dharma-nature, because it enters into all phenomena [dharmas]. The Dharma conforms with what is truly so, because there is nothing else to conform to. The Dharma abides in the locus of reality, being unaffected by anything on the periphery. The Dharma is without motion or wavering, never depending on the six sense objects. The Dharma is without coming or going, since it never abides anywhere to begin with.
"'The Dharma accords with emptiness, follows what is formless, responds to what is actionless. The Dharma is separate from beautiful or ugly. The Dharma knows no increase or diminution, the Dharma knows no birth or extinction, the Dharma knows no destination. The Dharma transcends eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind. The Dharma knows no high or low. The Dharma constantly abides without moving. The Dharma is separate from all meditational practices.
"'Ah, Maudgalyayana, since the characteristics of the Dharma are such as these, how can one expound it? Expounding the Dharma means no expounding, no demonstrating, and listening to the Dharma means no listening, no grasping. It is like a conjurer of phantoms expounding the Dharma for phantom persons. It is with this understanding that you should expound the Dharma.
"'You should take into account that some living beings are keen in capacity while others are dull, cultivate the kind of skilled insight that is free from all impediment, with a mind steeped in great compassion praise the Great Vehicle, and remember the debt of gratitude you owe the Buddha, never allowing the Three Treasures to come to an end. When you have done all this, then you may expound the Dharma.'
"When Vimalakirti expounded the Dharma in this way, eight hundred lay believers set their minds on the attainment of anuttara-samyak-sambodhi. I possess no such eloquence as this. Therefore I say that I am not competent to visit him and inquire about his illness."
The Buddha then said to Mahakashyapa, "You must go visit Vimalakirti and inquire about his illness."
But Mahakashyapa replied to the Buddha: "World-Honored One, I am not competent to visit him and inquire about his illness. Why? Because I recall how in the past I was begging for alms in a poor village.
"At that time Vimalakirti approached and said to me, 'Ah, Mahakashyapa, you have a mind marked by compassion and pity, but you do not know how to apply it to all alike. Instead you shun the rich and mighty and beg alms among the poor.
"'Mahakashyapa, you must abide by the principle of equanimity and in that spirit go about begging for food. Because in the end there is no such thing as eating, in that spirit one goes about begging for food. Because one wishes to destroy dependence on things characterized by a mere combination of elements, in that spirit one accepts these balls of foodstuff. Because in the end there is no receiving, in that spirit one receives this food.
"'When you enter a village, think of it as an empty village. The forms you see there should appear as they would to a blind man, the sounds you hear should be mere echoes. The aromas you inhale should be so much thin air, the flavors you taste should be undifferentiated.
"'Accept all sensations in accordance with the enlightenment of wisdom, and understand that all phenomena are no more than phantom forms. They have no intrinsic nature, nor do they take on any other nature.
"'Mahakashyapa, if, without casting aside the eight errors, you can enter into the eight emancipations; if, while possessing the marks of error, you can enter the correct Law; if with one meal you can feed all beings, offering alms to the Buddhas and the sages and worthy persons, then after that you may eat your food.
"'One who eats in this manner neither possesses earthly desires nor is separated from earthly desires, neither enters into a meditative state of mind nor arises out of such a state, neither dwells in this world nor dwells in nirvana.
"'One who gives alms in this manner derives neither great fortune nor little fortune, neither profit nor loss. This is the correct way to enter the Buddha way without relying on the path of the voice-hearer.
"'Mahakashyapa, if you can eat your food in this manner, then you will not be eating in vain the food that others give you.' "At that time, World-Honored One, when I heard him speak these words, I gained what I had never had before, and I was inspired with a profound respect for all the bodhisattvas. And I thought to myself, 'If this householder possesses such eloquence and wisdom that he can speak like this, then who could listen to him without being moved to set his mind on the attainment of anuttara-samyak-sambodhi?' From that time on I ceased to urge others to follow the path of the voice-hearer or the pratyekabuddha. That is why I say I am not competent to visit him and inquire about his illness."
The Buddha then said to Subhuti, "You must go visit Vimalakirti and inquire about his illness."
But Subhuti replied to the Buddha: "World-Honored One, I am not competent to visit him and ask about his illness. Why? Because I recall how in the past I went to his house to beg alms.
"At that time Vimalakirti took my begging bowl, filled it with things, to eat, and said, 'Ah, Subhuti, if one can look on all foods as equal, that person can look on all things as equal, and if one looks on all things as equal, one will look on all foods as equal. If one begs alms in this manner, then one is worthy to receive food.
"'Subhuti, if you can not cut yourself off from lewdness, anger, and stupidity and yet not be a part of these; if you can refrain from destroying the idea of a self and yet see all things as of a single nature; if without wiping out stupidity and attachment you can find your way to understanding and freedom from attachment; if you can seem to be a perpetrator of the five cardinal sins and yet gain emancipation; if you can be neither unbound nor bound, neither one who has perceived the four noble truths nor one who has not perceived them, neither one who obtains the fruits of religious practice nor one who does not obtain them, neither a common mortal nor one who has removed himself from the ways of the common mortal, neither a sage nor not a sage-if in this manner you can master all phenomenal things and yet remove yourself from the ways that mark them, then you will be worthy to receive food.
"'Subhuti, if without seeing the Buddha or listening to his Law you are willing to take those six heretical teachers, Purana Kashyapa, Maskarin Goshaliputra, Samjayin Vairatiputra, Ajita Keshakambala, Kakuda Katyayana, and Nirgrantha Jnatiputra, as your teachers, leave the household life because of them, and follow them in falling into the same errors they fall into, then you will be worthy to receive food.
"'Subhuti, if you can subscribe to erroneous views and thus never reach the "other shore" of enlightenment; if you can remain among the eight difficulties and never escape from difficulty, and can make common cause with earthly desires and remove yourself from a state of purity; if when you attain the samadhi of nondisputation you allow all living beings to attain the same degree of concentration; if those who give you alms are not destined to gain good fortune thereby, and those who make offerings to you fall into the three evil paths of existence; if you are willing to join hands with the host of devils and make the defilements your companion; if you can be no different from all these devils and these dusts and defilements; if you can bear hatred toward all living beings, slander the Buddhas, vilify the Law, not be counted among the assembly of monks, and in the end never attain nirvana-if you can do all this, then you will be worthy to receive food.'
"At that time, World-Honored One, when I heard these words, I was dumbfounded, not knowing what sort of words they were or how to answer them. I put down my alms bowl, intending to leave the house, but Vimalakirti said to me, 'Ah, Subhuti, pick up your alms bowl and do not be afraid. Why do I say this? If some phantom person conjured up by the Thus Come One were to reprimand you as I have just done, you would not be afraid, would you?'
"'No,' I replied.
"Vimalakirti said, 'All things in the phenomenal world are just such phantoms and conjured beings. So you have no cause to feel afraid. Why? Because all words and pronouncements too are no different from these other phantom forms. When a person is wise, he does not cling to words and hence is not afraid of them. Why? Because words are something apart from self-nature-words do not really exist. And this is emancipation. All things of the phenomenal world bear this mark of emancipation.'
"When Vimalakirti expounded the Law in this manner, two hundred heavenly beings gained the purity of the Dharma eye. Therefore I say I am not competent to visit him and ask about his illness."
The Buddha then said to Purna Maitrayaniputra, "You must go visit Vimalakirti and ask about his illness."
But Purna said to the Buddha, "World-Honored One, I am not competent to visit him and ask about his illness. Why? Because I recall how once, under a tree in the great forest, I was expounding the Law to some monks who had just begun their study of the Way.
"At that time Vimalakirti approached and said to me, 'Ah, Purna, you should first enter into meditation and observe a person's mind before expounding the Law to that person. One does not put rotten food in a precious vessel. You must determine what thoughts are in the minds of these monks. Do not treat precious lapis lazuli as though it were mere glass!
"'You seem unable to understand the basic capacities of living beings. You must not try to rouse their aspirations by preaching the doctrines of the Lesser Vehicle. Do not inflict injury on those who are without wounds! If you want them to travel the great highway, do not show them a little bypath. Do not try to fit the vast ocean into an ox's hoofprint, do not regard the light of the sun as if it were a firefly's glimmer!
"'Purna, these monks long ago set their minds on the Great Vehicle, but later they forgot their original intentions. Why do you use the doctrines of the Lesser Vehicle to teach and guide them? As I see it, the wisdom of the Lesser Vehicle is trite and shallow, like the understanding of a blind person. It is incapable of discerning whether the capacities of living beings are keen or dull.'
"At that time Vimalakirti entered into samadhi, making it possible for these monks to become aware of their former existences. In the past, under five hundred Buddhas, they had planted the roots of virtue and set their minds on the attainment of anuttara-samyak-sambodhi. And at that moment they were suddenly able to regain their original spirit of resolve. With that, the monks bowed their heads at Vimalakirti's feet. Then he preached the Law for them, insuring that they would never again regress in their striving for anuttara-samyak-sambodhi. And I thought to myself that a voice-hearer should never preach the Law when he cannot discern people's inner capacities. Therefore I say I am not competent to visit Vimalakirti and inquire about his illness."
The Buddha then said to Mahakatyayana, "You must go visit Vimalakirti and ask about his illness."
But Mahakatyayana said to the Buddha, "World-Honored One, I am not competent to visit him and ask about his illness. Why? Because I recall how in the past the Buddha was once summing up for the monks the essential points in his preaching of the Law Later, I expounded and elaborated on what he had said, discussing the meaning of the terms impermanence, suffering, emptiness, non-ego, and tranquil extinction or nirvana.
"At that time Vimalakirti approached and said to me, 'Ah, Mahakatyayana, you must not try to expound on the true nature of phenomena when your mind is concerned with distinctions such as birth or extinction. For in the end all phenomeria know neither birth nor extinction-this is the meaning of impermanence. The five components are wide open, empty, nothing arising in them-this is the meaning of suffering. The various phenomena ultimately have no existence-this is the meaning of emptiness. Ego and non-ego are not two different things-this is the meaning of non-ego. Phenomena have never been "so" to begin with, and hence will never cease to be "so"-this is the meaning of tranquil extinction.'
"When he expounded the Law in this way, the minds of the monks were able to gain emancipation. That is why I say I am not competent to visit Vimalakirti and ask about his illness."
The Buddha then said to Aniruddha, "You must go visit Vimalakirti and ask about his illness."
But Aniruddha said to the Buddha, "World-Honored One, I am not competent to visit him and ask about his illness. Why? Because I recall how once I was walking around to stretch my legs when a Brahma king named Austere Purity, accompanied by ten thousand Brahmas, all emitting beams of pure light, came to the place where I was. Bowing his head in obeisance, he questioned me, saying, 'Aniruddha, how far can this divine eye of yours see?'
"I replied, 'Sir, I can see this whole thousand-millionfold world, the Buddha land of Shakyamuni, as though I were peering down at a myrobalan fruit in the palm of my hand.'
"At that time Vimalakirti approached and said to me, 'Ah, Aniruddha, this sight possessed by the divine eye-is it conditioned in nature, or is it unconditioned? If it is conditioned in nature, then it is the same as the five transcendental powers of the non-Buddhist teachers. And if it is unconditioned, then it is uncreated, and hence is incapable of seeing anything.'
"At that time I remained silent. But the Brahmas, hearing his words, gained what they had never had before. At once they made obeisance to him and said, 'In this world, who possesses the true divine eye?'
"Vimalakirti replied, 'Only the Buddha, the World-Honored One, is able to acquire the true divine eye. He is constantly in a state of samadhi and can see all the Buddha lands, because he does not see in terms of duality.'
"Thereupon the Brahma king Austere Purity and his retinue of five hundred Brahma deities all set their minds on the attainment of anuttara-samyak-sambodhi. They bowed at Vimalakirti's feet and then suddenly were seen no more. Therefore I say I am not competent to visit Vimalakirti and ask about his illness.'
The Buddha then said to Upali, "You must go visit Vimalakirti and ask about his illness."
But Upali replied to the Buddha, "World-Honored One, I am not competent to visit him and ask about his illness. Why? Because I recall once in the past when two monks had violated the rules of conduct and were feeling ashamed of themselves but did not dare ask the Buddha what to do. So they came to me and said, 'Ah, Upali, we have violated the precepts and are truly ashamed, but we do not dare ask the Buddha what to do. Please free us from our doubts and remorse and tell us how we can be excused from blame.'
"I explained to them how one goes about gaining pardon according to the Law But at that time Vimalakirti approached and said to me, 'Ah, Upali, do not make the offense these monks have committed even worse than it is ! You should go about wiping out their doubts and remorse at once and not trouble their minds further!
"'Why do I say this? Because their offense by its nature does not exist either inside them, or outside, or in between. As the Buddha has taught us, when the mind is defiled, the living being will be defiled. When the mind is pure, the living being will be pure. As the mind is, so will be the offense or defilement. The same is true of all things, for none escape the realm of Suchness.
"'Now, Upali, if one gains emancipation from delusion through an understanding of the nature of the mind, does any defilement remain?'
"'No,' I replied.
"Vimalakirti said, 'In the same way, when all living beings gain an understanding of the nature of the mind, then no defilement exists. Ah, Upali, deluded thoughts are defilement. Where there are no deluded thoughts, that is purity. Topsy-turvy thinking is defilement. Where there is no topsy-turvy thinking, that is purity. Belief in the self is defilement. Where there is no such belief, that is purity.
"'Upali, all phenomena are born and pass into extinction, never enduring, like phantoms, like lightning. They do not wait for one another or linger for an instant. All phenomena are the product of deluded vision, like dreams, like flames, like the moon in the water or an image in a mirror, born of deluded thoughts. One who understands this is called a keeper of the precepts, one who understands this is called well liberated.'
"At this, the two monks exclaimed, `Superlative wisdom! Upali could never match this; he who is "foremost in observing the precepts" could never speak like this!' And I added, 'Leaving the Thus Come One aside, no voice-hearer or bodhisattva has ever commanded such eloquence in apt exposition. See how clear and penetrating his wisdom is!'
"At that time the doubts and remorse of the two monks were wiped away and they set their minds on the attainment of anut-tara-samyak-sambodhi, vowing that 'We will enable all living beings to gain eloquence such as this!' Therefore I say I am not competent to visit Vimalakirti and ask about his illness."
The Buddha then said to Rahula, "You must go visit Vimalakirti and ask about his illness."
But Rahula said to the Buddha, "World-Honored One, I am not competent to visit him and ask about his illness. Why? Because I recall how once in the past the sons of the wealthy men of Vaishali came to the place where I was, bowed their heads in obeisance, and questioned me. 'Ah, Rahula,' they said, 'you are the Buddha's son, but you cast aside your claim to the rank of a wheel-turning king and left the household life to become a monk. What benefits does one acquire by leaving the household life?'
"I explained to them the benefits and blessings one gains by leaving the household life as the Law describes them. But at that time Vimalakirti approached and said to me, 'Ah, Rahula, you should not speak of the benefits and blessings gained by leaving the household life. Why? Because to be without benefits and without blessings is to leave household life.
"'In the case of things that are conditioned in nature one may speak of them as having benefits and blessings. But one who leaves household life enters the realm of the unconditioned, and in the realm of the unconditioned there are no benefits, no blessings.
"'Rahula, leaving the household life is not that, not this, and not in between. It means abandoning the sixty-two erroneous views to reside in nirvana; it is accepted by the wise and carried out by the sages. It means conquering and subduing the host of devils, moving beyond the five realms of existence, purifying the five eyes, acquiring the five powers, and cultivating the five roots of goodness. It means not troubling others but removing oneself from sundry evils, refuting the non-Buddhist doctrines, transcending the realm of makeshift names, shaking off mud and defilement. It is without ties or attachments, without personal possessions, without thought of possessions, without fluster or confusion. It means harboring joy within, guarding the minds of others, pursuing the practice of meditation, and freeing oneself from all fault. If one can do all this, then one has truly left the household.'
"Then Vimalakirti addressed the rich men's sons, saying, 'Now that you are in the midst of the correct Law, you should all join in leaving the household life. Why? Because it is rare to happen on a time when the Buddha is in the world!'
"But the rich men's sons said, 'Layman, we have heard the Buddha say that one must not leave the household life without the permission of one's parents.'
"'In that case, you should set your minds on attaining anuttara-samyak-sambodhi,' said Vimalakirti. 'That is the same as leaving the household, the same as taking monastic vows.'
"At that time thirty-two rich men's sons all set their minds on attaining anuttara-samyak-sambodhi. Therefore I say I am not competent to visit Vimalakirti and ask about his illness."
The Buddha then said to Ananda, "You must go visit Vimalakirti and ask about his illness."
But Ananda said to the Buddha, "World-Honored One, I am not competent to visit him and ask about his illness. Why? Because I recall once in the past when the World-Honored One was feeling somewhat ill and needed some cow's milk. I at once took my begging bowl, went to the home of one of the great Brahmans, and stood by the gate. At that time Vimalakirti approached and said to me, 'Ah, Ananda, what are you doing standing here early in the morning with your begging bowl?'
"I replied, 'Layman, the World-Honored One is suffering from a slight bodily illness and needs some cow's milk. That's why I've come here.'
"But Vimalakirti said, 'Hush, hush, Ananda! Never speak such words! The body of the Thus Come One is diamond-hard in substance. All evils have been cut away, manifold good things gather there. How could it know illness, how could it know distress? Go your way in silence, Ananda, and do not defame the Thus Come One. Don't let others hear you speaking such coarse words! Don't let these heavenly beings of great majesty and virtue and these bodhisattvas who have come from the pure lands of other regions hear such utterances!
"'Ananda, even a wheel-turning sage king with his few blessings is still able to exempt himself from illness. How much more so, then, the Thus Come One, in whom immeasurable blessings meet, the surpasser of all! Be on your way, Ananda, and do not inflict this shame on us.
"'If the non-Buddhists and Brahmans should hear such talk they would think to themselves: "Why call this man Teacher? He cannot save himself from illness, so how could he save others from their illnesses?" Slip away quickly now so no one will hear what you have said!
"'Ananda, you should know that the body of the Thus Come One is the Dharma body, not the body of the world of thought and desires. The Buddha is the World-Honored One who transcends the threefold world. The Buddha body is free of out-flows, for all its outflows have been cut off. The Buddha body is unconditioned and does not fall within the realm of destinies. A body such as this-how could it know illness, how could it know distress?'
"At that time, World-Honored One, I felt truly ashamed and thought, I must go to the Buddha and ask if I heard him incorrectly. But at that moment I heard a voice in the sky saying, 'Ananda, it is as the layman has said. But the Buddha has appeared in this evil world of five impurities and at present is practicing the Law so as to save and liberate living beings. Go, Ananda, get the milk and do not feel ashamed!'
"But, World-Honored One, Vimalakirti commands such wisdom and eloquence as this! That is why I say I am not competent to visit him and ask about his illness."
Thus all five hundred of the major disciples one by one described to the Buddha some earlier experience and the words that Vimalakirti had spoken on that occasion, each declaring, "I am not competent to visit him and ask about his illness."
Footnotes and references:
Or, according to another interpretation: "Intrinsically they have never been on fire, and hence will never burn out. "The character jan can mean either "so," or "thus," or "to burn."
Or, according to another interpretation: "Things have never been on fire to begin with, so they cannot go out now." See note 1 in this chapter.
Aniruddha was known among the ten major disciples as foremost in divine sight.
Upali was known as foremost in observing the precepts.