Vimalakirti Sutra

by Burton Watson | 1997 | 43,710 words

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

Chapter 4 - The Bodhisattvas

The Buddha then said to the bodhisattva Maitreya, "You must go visit Vimalakirti and inquire about his illness."

But Maitreya replied to the Buddha: "World-Honored One, I am not competent to visit him and inquire about his illness. Why? Because I recall how once in the past I was preaching to the king of the Tushita heaven and his followers on the practices required to attain the state of nonregression.

"At that time Vimalakirti approached and said to me, 'Maitreya, the World-Honored One prophesied that with one more birth you will be able to attain anuttara-samyak-sambodhi. Now just what birth does this prophecy apply to? Does it apply to your past birth, your future birth, or your present birth?

"'If it applies to a past birth, that past birth has already passed into extinction. If it applies to a future birth, that future birth has yet to arrive. And if it applies to a present birth, this present birth lacks permanence. For, as the Buddha has said, "Monks, one moment you are born, the next you grow old, the next you pass into extinction.'

"'Or does the prophecy apply to the state of birthlessness? But birthlessness is none other than the state of Correct Realization, and the stage of Correct Realization can have nothing to do with prophecies of enlightenment or with the attainment of anuttara-samyak-sambodhi. So how, Maitreya, can you be given this prophecy about "one birth"?

"'Were you given this prophecy because of some birth that pertains to Suchness? Or were you given this prophecy because of some extinction that pertains to Suchness? If you were given this prophecy because of some birth that pertains to Suchness, you should know that in Suchness there is no birth. And if you were given this prophecy because of some extinction that pertains to Suchness, you should know that in Suchness there is no extinction.

"'All living beings are a part of Suchness, and all other things as well are a part of Suchness. The sages and worthy ones too are a part of Suchness; even you, Maitreya, are a part of Suchness. So if you have been given a prophecy of enlightenment, then all living beings should likewise be given such a prophecy. Why? Because Suchness knows no dualism or differentiation. If you, Maitreya, are able to attain anuttara-samyak-sambodhi, then all living beings should likewise be able to attain it. Why? Because all living beings in truth bear the marks of bodhi. If you, Maitreya, are able to gain nirvana, then all living beings should likewise be able to gain it. Why? Because the Buddhas know that all living beings bear the marks of tranquil extinction, which is nirvana, and that there is no further extinction. Therefore, Maitreya, you must not use doctrines such as this to mislead these offspring of the gods. For in truth there is no such thing as setting one's mind on the attainment of anuttara-samyak-sambodhi or of attaining the state of nonregression.

"'Maitreya, you should persuade these offspring of the gods to abandon any view that makes distinctions concerning bodhi. Why? Because bodhi is not something that can be acquired by the body, or acquired by the mind.

"'Tranquil extinction is bodhi, for in it all marks become extinct. Noncontemplation is bodhi, for it is divorced from all causes. Nonaction is bodhi, for it is devoid of thought and mental activity Cutting off is bodhi, for it abandons all views. Removal is bodhi, for it means the removal of all deluded thoughts.

"'Blocking is bodhi, because it blocks out all aspiration. Non-involvement is bodhi, because it is without greed or attachment. Compliance is bodhi, because it complies with Suchness. Abiding is bodhi, because it abides in the Dharma-nature.

"'Extending is bodhi, for it extends to the limit of reality. Nonduality is bodhi, for it is removed from thoughts and thought objects. Equality is bodhi, for in it all is equally empty and void. The unconditioned is bodhi, for it knows no birth, abiding, or extinction. Understanding is bodhi, for it fully comprehends the mental activities of living beings.

"Nonengagement is bodhi, because it enters into no kind of engagement with objects. Nonparticipation is bodhi, because it has freed itself from the habits of earthly desire. The dwellingless is bodhi, because it lacks shape or form. The provisionally named is bodhi, because names and words are void.

"'Phantomlike is bodhi, for it neither grasps nor lets go. Untroubled is bodhi, for it is forever still of itself. Good tranquillityl is bodhi, for it is pure in nature. Ungrasping is bodhi; for it is removed from distracting causes. Nondifferentiation is bodhi, for in it all phenomena are equal. Incomparable is bodhi, for no simile can convey it. Subtle and wonderful is bodhi, for phenomena are hard to understand.'

"World-Honored One, when Vimalakirti expounded the Law in this fashion, two hundred offspring of the gods were able to grasp the truth of birthlessness. Therefore I say I am not competent to visit him and ask about his illness."

The Buddha then said to the bodhisattva Shining Adornment, a young boy, "You must go visit Vimalakirti and ask about his illness."

But Shining Adornment replied to the Buddha: "World-Honored One, I am not competent to visit him and inquire about his illness. Why? Because I remember once in the past when I was leaving the great city of Vaishali. Vimalakirti was just then entering the city, and I accordingly bowed to him and said, 'Layman, where are you coming from?'

"He replied, 'I am coming from the place of practice.'

?[1]?

"'The place of practice-where is that?' I asked.

"He replied, 'An upright mind is the place of practice, for it is without sham or falsehood. The resolve to act is the place of practice, for it can judge matters properly. A deeply searching mind is the place of practice, for it multiplies benefits. The mind that aspires to bodhi is the place of practice, for it is without error or misconception.

"'Almsgiving is the place of practice, because it hopes for no reward. Observance of the precepts is the place of practice, because it brings fulfillment of vows. Forbearance is the place of practice, because it enabJes one to view all living beings with a mind free of obstruction. Assiduousness is the place of practice, because it forestalls laziness and regression. Meditation is the place of practice, because it makes the mind tame and gentle. Wisdom is the place of practice, because it sees all things as they are.

"'Pity is the place of practice, for it views all living beings equally. Compassion is the pJace of practice, for it bears up under weariness and pain. Joy is the place of practice, for it revels in Dharma delight. Indifference is the place of practice, for it rejects both hatred and love.

"'Transcendental powers are the place of practice, because thereby one masters the six powers. Emancipation is the place of practice, because it knows how to renounce and set aside. Expedient means are the place of practice, because they can teach and convert living beings. The four methods of winning people are the place of practice, because they can win living beings over. Much learning is the place of practice, because one carries out what one has learned. A disciplined mind is the place of practice, because one can thereby contempJate all phenomena correctly The thirty-seven elements of the Way are the place of practice, because through them, one rejects what is conditioned. Truth[2] is the place of practice, because it does not deceive the world.

"'Causes and conditions are the place of practice, for none of the links in the chain of causation, from ignorance to old age and death, ever come to an end. Earthly desires are the place of practice, for through them we know the nature of Suchness. Living beings are the place of practice, for through them we know that there is no ego. All phenomena are the place of practice, for through them we know the emptiness of all phenomena.

"'Conquering devils is the place of practice, because one is unswayed, unflinching. The threefold world is the place of practice, because there is no path for one there. The lion's roar is the place of practice, because it has nothing it fears. The ten powers, the four kinds of fearlessness, the eighteen unshared properties are the place of practice, because they are free of all fault. The three understandings are the place of practice, because they are without the least obstruction. Understanding all phenomena in one instant of thought is the place of practice, because one thereby becomes master of all wisdom.

"'My good fellow, if bodhisattvas apply themselves to the paramitas and teach and convert living beings, then you should understand that everything they do, every lifting of a foot, every placing of a foot, will in effect be a "coming from the place of practice," an abiding in the Buddha's Law.'

"When Vimalakirti preached the Law in this manner, five hundred heavenly and human beings all set their minds on attaining anuttara-samyak-sambodhi. Therefore I say I am not competent to visit him and ask about his illness."

The Buddha then said to the bodhisattva Upholder of the Age, "You must go visit Vimalakirti and ask about his illness." But Upholder of the Age said to the Buddha: "World-Honored

One, I am not competent to visit him and inquire about his illness. Why? Because I recall once when I was staying in my quiet room. At that time the devil king Papiyas, accompanied by twelve thousand heavenly maidens, appeared in the guise of the god Indra. Playing on musical instruments and singing, they came to where I was, and then the devil and his retinue bowed their heads at my feet, pressed their palms together, and stood to one side.

"I thought it was Indra, and I said to him, 'Welcome, Kaushika.[3] Though you enjoy good fortune, you should never behave willfully. You should contemplate the impermanence of the five desires and strive thereby to plant good roots. With body, life, and resources you should cultivate the steadfast Law.'

"But Indra said to me, 'Upright one, please accept these twelve thousand heavenly maidens. They can serve and wait on you.' "I replied, 'Kaushika, a monk, a son of Shakyamuni, has no use for unlawful things such as these. It would not be right for me to accept them.'

"Before I had finished speaking, Vimalakirti approached and said to me, 'This is not Indra. This is only a devil who has come tó trouble and vex you.' Then he said to the devil, 'You may give these women to me. It is quite all right for me to accept them.'

"The devil was alarmed and fearful, thinking that Vimalakirti was perhaps going to make trouble for him. He tried to hide him-self and escape, but he could not make himself invisible. Though he exhausted all his supernatural powers, he could not get away

"Just then a voice was heard in the sky saying, 'Papiyas, give him the women. Then you can escape.'

"The devil, terrified, looked this way and that and then handed over the women. Vimalakirti then addressed the women, saying, 'The devil has given you to me. Now it is proper that you should all set your minds on attaining anuttara-samyak-sambodhi.'

"Then, adopting whatever approach was appropriate, he expounded the Law to them, awakening in them a desire for the Way. Then he said, 'Nów that you have conceived a desire for the Way, you may regale yourselves with Dharma delight and need no longer delight in the pleasures of the five desires.'

"The heavenly maidens asked, 'What is this you call Dharma delight?'

"Vimalakirti replied, 'To delight in constant faith in the Buddha, to delight in the desire to hear the Law, to delight in giving alms to the assembly, to delight in casting off the five desires, to delight in viewing the five components as vengeful bandits, to delight in viewing the four great elements as poisonous snakes, to delight in viewing the mind and the senses as an empty village, to delight in pursuing and guarding a desire for the Way, to delight in benefiting living beings, to delight in honoring and supporting teachers, to delight in practicing widespread generosity, to delight in strict observance of the precepts, to delight in patience, humility, gentleness, and harmony, to delight in diligently amassing good roots, to delight in meditation that is never disordered, to delight in bright, undefiled wisdom, to delight in broadening the mind that aspires to bodhi, to delight in conquering and subduing devils, to delight in cutting off all earthly desires, to delight in purifying the Buddha lands, to delight in gaining merits so that one may in time succeed in acquiring auspicious marks and characteristics, to delight in adorning the place of practice, to delight in listening fearlessly to profound teachings, to delight in the three gates to emancipation and not to delight in untimely teachings, to delight in being friendly with those of like learning, to delight in a mind free of anger and hostility when among those of unlike learning, to delight in guiding and protecting evil friends, to delight in being friendly with good friends, to delight in a mind that finds joy in purity, to delight in practicing the teachings regarding the immeasurable elements of the Way-these make up the Dharma delight of the bodhisattva.'

"Papiyas then addressed the women, saying, 'I want now to return with you to my heavenly palace.' But the women said ,

'You gave us to this layman. Possessing this Dharma delight that affords us such pleasure, we no longer delight in the pleasures of the five desires.'

"The devil said, 'Layman, you should give up these women. He who gives all he possesses as a gift to others is a bodhisattva.'

"Vimalakirti replied, 'I have already given them up. You may take them away, and may you enable all living beings to fulfill their desire for the Dharma!'

"But the women said to Vimalakirti, 'How can we remain in the palace of the devil?'

"Vimalakirti replied, 'Sisters, there is a teaching called the Inexhaustible Lamp. You must study it. This Inexhaustible Lamp is like a single lamp that lights a hundred or a thousand other lamps, till the darkness is all made bright with a brightness that never ends. In this same way, sisters, one bodhisattva guides and opens a path for a hundred or a thousand living beings, causing them to set their minds on attaining anuttara-samyak-sambodhi. And this desire for the Way will never be extinguished or go out. By following the teaching as it has been preached, one keeps adding until one has acquired all good teachings. This is what is called the Inexhaustible Lamp.

"'Although you live in the palace of the devil, with this Inexhaustible Lamp you can enable countless heavenly sons and heavenly daughters to set their minds on attaining anuttara-samyak-sambodhi. Thus you will repay the debt of gratitude you owe the Buddha and at the same time bring great benefit to all living beings.'

"At that time the heavenly maidens bowed their heads at Vimalakirti's feet and then accompanied the devil back to his palace, suddenly disappearing from sight. World-Honored One, such are the freely commanded supernatural powers, wisdom, and eloquence that Vimalakirti possesses! Therefore I say I am not competent to visit him."

The Buddha then said to Good Virtue, one of the wealthy men's sons, "You must go visit Vimalakirti and ask about his illness."

But Good Virtue said to the Buddha, "World-Honored One, I am not competent to visit him and inquire about his illness.

Why? Because I recall once when a great bestowal gathering[4] was held at my father's house, where for a period of seven days alms were given out to all the monks, Brahmans and non-Buddhist believers, and to poor and humble folk, orphans, friendless persons and beggars.

"At that time Vimalakirti, who had joined the gathering, said to me, 'You are a wealthy man's son-you should not be holding a great bestowal gathering such as this. You should hold a gathering for Dharma bestowal. Why hold a gathering for the bestowal of mere material goods?'

"'Layman,' I said, 'what do you mean by a gathering for Dharma bestowal?'

"He replied, 'A gathering for Dharma bestowal is one which has no beginning and no end, in which alms are given out simultaneously to all living beings. What does this mean? It means that through bodhi one cultivates a loving mind, through saving living beings one cultivates a mind of great compassion, through adherence to the correct Law one cultivates a joyful mind, and through one's grasp of wisdom one exercises an indifferent mind.

"'By controlling stinginess and greed one carries out the paramita of dana or almsgiving, by converting those who violate the precepts one carries out the paramita of shila or keeping of the precepts, through the doctrine of no ego one carries out the paramita of kshanti or forbearance, by dispelling attachment to the characteristics of body and mind one carries out the paramita of virya or assiduousness, through an understanding of the nature of bodhi one carries out the paramita of dhyana or meditation, and through compřehensive wisdom one carries out the paramita of prajna or wisdom.

"'By teaching and converting living beings one comes to understand emptiness, by not casting aside conditioned phenomena one comes to understand formlessness, by recognizing that living beings take on visible form one comes to understand nonaction.

"'By guarding and upholding the correct Law one acquires the power of expedient means, by rescuing living beings one acquires the four methods of winning people, by respecting and serving others one learns how to banish pride.

"'With regard to body, life, and wealth, one follows the doctrine that these three are indestructible;s with regard to the six objects of reverence, one follows the method of thoughtful meditation; with regard to the six types of harmonious respect one cultivates a straightforward mind. By correctly practicing the good Law one achieves a pure way of life; through purity of mind, joy and delight one draws near to the worthy ones and sages; by not hating evil persons one learns to temper and discipline one's mind.

"'By following the rules for those who have left the household life one cultivates a deeply searching mind; by carrying out religious practices in the prescribed way one acquires much learning; by observing ways that are free from contention one creates peaceful and uncrowded surroundings; by directing one's efforts toward Buddha wisdom one learns quiet meditation; by freeing living beings from their bonds one creates a setting for religious practice.

"'Acquiring auspicious marks and purifying the Buddha lands, one pursues actions that bring blessing and good fortune; understanding the minds and thoughts of all living beings and preaching the Law to them in an appropriate manner, one pursues actions that bring wisdom; understanding that all phenomena are neither to be seized nor rejected, one enters the doctrinal gate of the single nature of all phenomena and pursues wise actions; cutting off all earthly desires, all blocks and hindrances, all doctrines that are not good, one pursues all manner of good works; acquiring all types of wisdom, all good doctrines, one cultivates all the methods that aid one to the Buddha way.[5]

"'This, my good man, is what I mean by a gathering for Dharma bestowal. If one is a bodhisattva and abides in such a gathering for Dharma bestowal, he may be deemed a great donor of alms, and he will also be creating a field of blessings for all the world.'

"World-Honored One, when Vimalakirti expounded the Law in this fashion, two hundred of the Br,ahmans gathered there all set their minds on attaining anuttara-samyak-sambodhi. At that time my mind gained a purity I had never known before and I sighed with delight. Bowing my head in obeisance at the feet of Vimalakirti, I took off my jeweled necklace worth hundreds and thousands in gold and presented it to him, but he was unwilling to accept it.

"'Layman,' I said, "I beg you by all means to accept this and to dispose of it as you wish.'

"Vimalakirti then accepted the necklace and divided it into two parts. One part he gave to the lowliest beggars in the assembly, and one part he presented to the Thus Come One Rarely Surpassed. At that time all the members of the gathering were able to see Thus Come One Rarely Surpassed in his land called Light Bright, and they could also see the necklace placed on his person. Then the necklace changed into a jeweled dias fitted with four pillars, richly adorned on four sides but without screens or obstructions enclosing it.

?[6]?

"Vimalakirti, having worked these supernatural wonders, then spoke these words:'If a donor of alms bestows gifts on the lowliest beggars with equality of mind, dispensing them with impartiality as the Thus Come One does in his field of blessings; if one exercises great compassion in equal measure without seeking reward or recompense, this may be called a perfectly performed Dharma bestowal.'

"Then the lowliest beggars in the city, seeing these displays of supernatural power and hearing the words of doctrine that Vimalakirti had spoken, all set their minds on the attainment of anuttara-samyak-sambodhi. Therefore I say I am not competent to visit him and ask about his illness."

In this manner the various bodhisattvas one by one described to the Buddha some past encounter with Vimalakirti and praised the words he had spoken on that occasion, and all declared that they were not competent to visit him and ask about his illness. 

Footnotes and references:

[1]:

Some texts read "The tranquillity of meditation."

[2]:

Some texts read "The four noble truths."

[3]:

Kaushika is another name for Indra.

[4]:

A Brahmanical ceremony marked by sacrifices to the gods and the dispensing of charity to those pursuing the religious life and to needy persons

[5]:

Not the ordinary body but the true or eternal body, etc.

[6]:

There are places in this troublesome passage where cause and effect seem to be in the reverse of their logical order; for example, one would expect the text to say that because one possesses a mind of great compassion, one seeks to save living beings, not that through saving living beings one acquires a mind of great compassion. But the Chinese seems to be saying the latter, and translations of the Tibetan version bear out this interpretation of the syntax throughout the passage. Note that Charles Luk, apparently in an effort to avoid such difficulties, in his translation of the Chinese (p. 46) arbitrarily reverses the order of cause and effect in the latter part of the passage.

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