Vimalakirti Sutra

by Burton Watson | 1997 | 43,710 words

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

Chapter 5 - Inquiring About The Illness

At that time the Buddha said to Manjushri, "You must go visit Vimalakirti and inquire about his illness."

Manjushri replied to the Buddha, "World-Honored One, that eminent man is very difficult to confront. He is profoundly enlightened in the true nature of reality and skilled at preaching the essentials of the Law. His eloquence never falters, his wisdom is free of impediments. He understands all the rules of bodhisattva conduct, and nothing in the secret storehouse of the Buddhas is beyond his grasp. He has overcome the host of devils and disports himself with transcendental powers. In wisdom and expedient means he has mastered all there is to know. Nevertheless, in obedience to the Buddha's august command, I will go visit him and inquire about his illness."

Then the bodhisattvas and major disciples in the assembly, the Brahmas, Indras, and Four Heavenly Kings, all thought to themselves: "Now these two great men, Manjushri and Vimalakirti, will be talking together, and they will surely expound the wonderful Law!"At that time eight thousand bodhisattvas, five hundred voice-hearers, and hundreds and thousands of heavenly beings all decided at once that they would like to accompany Manjushri on his visit.

Manjushri, with this throng of bodhisattvas, major disciples, and heavenly beings reverently surrounding and accompanying him, proceeded to enter the city of Vaishali.

At that time the rich man Vimalakirti thought to himself, "Now Manjushri is coming with that great assembly!"At once he employed his supernatural powers to empty the room, clearing it of all its contents and his attendants, leaving only a single bed on which he lay in sickness.

When Manjushri entered the house, he saw that the room was bare of contents, with just one bed, Vimalakirti lying alone on it. Vimalakirti said, "Welcome, Manjushri! You come without the marks of coming, you see me without the marks of seeing me."

Manjushri said, "Just so, layman. What has already come can hardly be coming. And what has already departed can hardly be departing. What do I mean? What comes has nowhere it comes from, what departs has nowhere it goes, and what is seen cannot be further seen.l But let us put that aside for the moment.

"Layman, this illness of yours-can you endure it? Is the treatment perhaps not making it worse rather than better? The World-Honored One countless times has made solicitous inquiries concerning you. Layman, what is the cause of this illness? Has it been with you long? And how can it be cured?"

Vimalakirti replied, "This illness of mine is born of ignorance and feelings of attachment. Because all living beings are sick, therefore I am sick. If all living beings are relieved of sickness, then my sickness will be mended. Why? Because the bodhisattva for the sake of living beings enters the realm of birth and death, and because he is in the realm of birth and death he suffers illness. If living beings can gain release from illness, then the bodhisattva will no longer be ill.

"It is like the case of a rich man who has only one child. If the child falls ill, then the father and mother too will be ill, but if the child's illness is cured, the father and mother too will be cured. The bodhisattva is like this, for he loves living beings as though they were his children. If living beings are sick, the bodhisattva will be sick, but if living beings are cured, the bodhisattva too will be cured. You ask what cause this illness arises from-the illness of the bodhisattva arises from his great compassion."

?[1]?

Manjushri said, "Layman, why is this room empty and without attendants?"

Vimalakirti replied, "The lands of the Buddhas too are all empty "

"Why are they empty?"

"They are empty because of emptiness," Vimalakirti replied. "And why is emptiness empty?" asked Manjushri.

"It is empty of distinctions, therefore it is empty," was the reply.

"Can emptiness itself be the subject of distinctions?" asked Manjushri.

"Distinctions too are empty," was the reply.

"How then is emptiness to be sought?" asked Manjushri. "It may be sought in the sixty-two erroneous views of the non-Buddhists," was the reply

"How are the sixty-two views to be sought?" asked Manjushri.

"They may be sought in the emancipation of the Buddhas", was the reply.

"And how is the emancipation of the Buddhas to be sought?" asked Manjushri.

"It may be sought in the minds and actions of all living beings," replied Vimalakirti. "And you asked why I am without attendants. But in fact the whole host of devils and the non-Buddhist believers are all my attendants. Why? Because the host of devils delight in the realm of birth and death, and while the bodhisattva is in the realm of birth and death he does not scorn their company. The non-Buddhist believers delight in various views of reality, and the bodhisattva knows how to remain unmoved by such views."

Manjushri said, "This illness of yours, layman-what form does it take?"

"My illness has no form," replied Vimalakirti. "It cannot be seen."

Manjushri said, "Is this illness seated in the body or in the mind?"

"It is not seated in the body, for it is apart from bodily form", replied Vimalakirti. "And it is not seated in the mind, for the mind is a phantomlike thing."

"Of the four major elements, earth, water, fire, and wind, to which of these elements does this illness pertain?" asked Manjushri.

Vimalakirti replied, "This illness does not pertain to the element earth, but neither is it separated from the element earth. And the same may be said of the elements water, fire, and wind. Yet the illnesses of living beings arise from the four elements. And because living beings have these illnesses, therefore I too am ill."

Then Manjushri asked Vimalakirti, "How should a bodhisattva go about comforting and instructing another bodhisattva who is ill?"

Vimalakirti replied, "Tell him about the impermanence of the body, but do not tell him to despise or turn away from the body. Tell him about the sufferings of the body, but do not tell him to strive for nirvana. Tell him that the body is without ego, but urge him to teach and guide living beings. Tell him of the emptiness of the body, but do not tell him of its final extinction. Tell him to repent of former offenses, but do not tell him to consign them to the past. Tell him to use his own illness as a means of sympathizing with the illness of others, for he should understand their sufferings throughout the countless kalpas of their past existence, and should think how he can bring benefit to all living beings. Tell him to recall the good fortune he has won through religious practice, to concentrate on a life of purity, and not to give way to gloom or worry. He should cultivate constant diligence, striving to become a king of physicians who can heal the ailments of the assembly. This is how a bodhisattva should comfort and instruct a bodhisattva who is ill so as to make him feel happy"

Manjushri said, "Layman, how should a bodhisattva who is ill go about tempering and controlling his mind?"

Vimalakirti replied, "A bodhisattva who is ill should think to himself: 'Now these illnesses of mine all spring from the deluded thoughts, the upside-down thinking and various earthly desires of my past existence. They have no real existence, so who is it who suffers illness? Why? The four major elements come together, and therefore we apply a makeshift name, calling the thing a body. But the four major elements have no master, and the body has no "I" or ego. And these illnesses too all arise from attachment to ego. Therefore I should harbor no such attachment to ego.'

"Once one has understood the origin of illness, one may do away with the thought of an I or ego, and the thought of other living beings. To do so, one should call up the thought of phenomena, thinking to oneself: 'It is simply that various phenomena have come together to form this body. It has appeared simply because phenomena appeared, and it will vanish simply because phenomena vanish. And these phenomena are none of them known to one another. When they appear, they do not say, "I have appeared!," and when they vanish, they do not say, "I have vanished!"

"Then, in order to wipe out the thought of phenomena, the ailing bodhisattva should think to himself: 'This thought or concept of phenomena too is a form of upside-down thinking, and upside-down thinking can lead to great misfortune. I must rid myself of it. But how to rid myself of it? By ridding myself of thoughts of I and mine, which means ridding myself of dualism.'

"What is meant by ridding oneself of dualism? It means not thinking of phenomena as internal or external, but treating all as equal. What is meant by equal? It means that I and nirvana are treated as equal. Why? Because I and nirvana are both empty. Why are they empty? Because they are mere names, hence empty Neither of these two phenomena has any fixed nature or characteristics. Once one has acquired this kind of equal outlook, one will be freed of all other illness and will have only the illness of emptiness, and the illness of emptiness too is empty.

"This ailing bodhisattva of ours has no sensations of pain or pleasure, and yet he allows himself to feel such sensations, and while the Law of the Buddha is incompletely practiced he does not seek to wipe out such sensations in himself and gain entry into final enlightenment. If he feels pain in his body, he thinks of the living beings in the evil realms of existence and summons up a mind of great compassion, saying to himself: 'I have regulated and controlled myself, and now I must regulate and control other living beings!' But he should simply rid them of their illnesses and not deprive them of anything, merely teaching and guiding them so they can cut off the source of illness.

"What is meant by the source of illness? It means having troublesome entanglements. Where there are troublesome entanglements, these become the source of illness. What are these troublesome entanglements tied to? They are tied to the threefold world. And how does one cut them off? By realizing that there is nothing to grasp at. If one ceases to grasp at any-thing, there will be no more troublesome entanglements.

"What is meant by realizing there is nothing to grasp at? It means having done with dualistic views. What is meant by dualistic views? it means viewing this as internal, or viewing that as external. [Have done with such views] and there will be no more grasping at things.

"Manjushri, this is how the ailing bodhisattva should go about regulating and controlling his mind. By doing so, he cuts off the sufferings of old age, sickness, and death. If he fails to do so, then all his religious practice and accomplishment in the past will be void of wisdom or profit. A person who has overcome a sworn enemy deserves to be called a hero. In the same way, one who has cut off both old age, sickness, and death may be called a bodhisattva.

"This ailing bodhisattva should also think to himself: This illness of mine has no reality, no existence, and the illnesses of other living beings likewise have no reality and no existence/ When he adopts this view, if he should conceive a great compassion that is marked by affection and concern for living beings, he should at once thrust it aside. Why? Because the bodhisattva must rid himself of all earthly passions caused by external defilement when he summons up his great compassion. If his compassion is marked by affection and concern, then he will have feelings of weariness and revulsion toward the realm of birth and death. But if he can put aside affection and concern, he will feel no weariness and revulsion; whatever realm he happens to be born into, he will not be blinded by affection or concern.

"He is not bound by the conditions of his birth, and hence he is able to preach the Law for living beings and liberate them from their bonds. As the Buddha has said, if one is in bonds himself, to suppose he can free others from their bonds is hardly reasonable. But if one is himself free of bonds, it is perfectly reasonable to assume he can free the bonds of others. Therefore the bodhisattva must not conjure up bonds for himself.

"What is meant by bonds and what is meant by liberation? To become infatuated with the taste of meditation is the bondage of the bodhisattva. To be born in this world as a form of expedient means is the liberation of the bodhisattva. Wisdom without expedient means is bondage; wisdom with expedient means is liberation. Expedient means without wisdom is bondage; expedient means with wisdom is liberation.[2]

"What is meant by saying that wisdom without expedient means is bondage? It means that, with a mind full of affection and concern, a bodhisattva sets about to adorn the Buddha lands, lead numerous living beings to them, and regulate himself with the doctrines of emptiness, formlessness, and nonaction. This is called the bondage of wisdom without expedient means.

"What is meant by saying that wisdom with expedient means is liberation? It means that, with a mind free of affection and concern, a bodhisattva sets about to adorn the Buddha lands, lead numerous living beings to them, and regulate himself with the doctrines of emptiness, formlessness, and nonaction, never experiencing weariness or revulsion. This is called the liberation of wisdom with expedient means.

"What is meant by saying that expedient means without wisdom is bondage? It means that, while dwelling among the various earthly passions such as greed, anger, and erroneous views, a bodhisattva sets about planting many roots of virtue. This is called the bondage of expedient means without wisdom.

"What is meant by saying that expedient means with wisdom is liberation? It means that, while removing himself from the various earthly passions such as greed, anger, and erroneous views, a bodhisattva sets about planting many roots of virtue, bending all his efforts in the direction of anuttara-samyak-sambodhi. This is called the liberation of expedient means with wisdom.

"Manjushri, the ailing bodhisattva should view all phenomena in this way. And he should view the body and realize that it is marked by impermanence, suffering, emptiness, and absence of ego. This is called wisdom. But though his body may be ailing, he should constantly abide in the realm of birth and death, bringing benefit to all living beings and never giving in to weariness or revulsion. This is called expedient means.

"He should further view the body and realize that the body is never rid of illness, that illness is never rid of the body, and that this body and this illness are neither prior nor posterior to one another. This is called wisdom. But though his body is ailing, the bodhisattva never seeks escape into eternal extinction. This is called expedient means.

"Manjushri, the ailing bodhisattva should regulate his mind by not dwelling in such regulation, but he should not dwell in nonregulation of the mind either. Why? Because if he dwells in nonregulation of the mind, this is the way of a stupid person. But if he dwells in regulation of the mind, this is the way of a voice-hearer. Therefore the bodhisattva should dwell neither in regulation nor in nonregulation of the mind. To remove himself from such dualisms is the practice of the bodhisattva.

"To be in the realm of birth and death without following its tainted ways, to dwell in nirvana while not seeking eternal extinction-such is the practice of the bodhisattva. The practice that is neither that of common mortals nor that of worthies and sages-such is the practice of the bodhisattva. The practice that is neither sullied nor pure-such is the practice of the bodhisattva. Though far transcending the workings of devils, it shows itself in the conquering of numerous devils-such is the practice of the bodhisattva. Seeking comprehensive wisdom, yet not seeking it when the time is not right-such is the practice of the bodhisattva.

"Though he sees that all things are birthless in nature, he does not enter the realm of the absolute-such is the practice of the bodhisattva. Though he sees all in the light of the twelve-linked chain of causation, he can enter into various erroneous views-such is the practice of the bodhisattva. Though he addresses himself to all living beings, he does so without affection or attachment-such is the practice of the bodhisattva. Though he longs to be far removed from the passions, he does not seek this through elimination of the body and mind-such is the practice of the bodhisattva.

"Though he moves in the threefold world, he does no injury to the Dharma-nature-such is the practice of the bodhisattva.

Though he moves in the realm of emptiness, he plants many roots of virtue-such is the practice of the bodhisattva. Though he moves in the realm of formlessness, he yet saves many living beings-such is the practice of the bodhisattva. Though he moves in the realm of nonaction, he manifests himself by taking on a body-such is the practice of the bodhisattva. Though he avoids the arousal of passion, he rouses in himself the determination to do all good deeds-such is the practice of the bodhisattva.

"Though he practices the six paramitas, he can understand the minds and mental activities of all living beings-such is the practice of the bodhisattva. Though he is master of the six transcendental powers, he does not remove himself from all defilements-such is the practice of the bodhisattva. Though he possesses the four immeasurable qualities of mind, he is not greedy for birth in the Brahma heaven-such is the practice of the bodhisattva. Though he practices meditation, emancipation, and samadhi, he does not accept the rebirth that is consequent on these practices-such is the practice of the bodhisattva.

"Though he practices the four states of mindfulness, in the end he does not for long remove himself from the objects of such mindfulness, the body, sensations, the mind, and things-such is the practice of the bodhisattva. Though he applies him-self to the four types of correct effort, he does not cease to be assiduous in matters pertaining to body and mind-such is the practice of the bodhisattva. Though he cultivates the four bases of supernatural power, he is already able to wield transcendental powers at will-such is the practice of the bodhisattva. Though he cultivates the five roots of goodness in himself, he can also distinguish whether the roots or capacities of other living beings are keen or dull-such is the practice of the bodhisattva. Though he possesses the five powers [attained through the five roots of goodness], he delights in seeking to acquire the ten powers of a Buddha-such is the practice of the bodhisattva. Though he observes the seven factors of enlightenment, he can understand all the fine points of the Buddha wisdom-such is the practice of the bodhisattva. Though he walks the eightfold holy path, he also delights in walking the immeasurable Buddha way-such is the practice of the bodhisattva.

"Though he practices concentration and insight as methods to aid one to the way, in the end he does not sink into tranquil extinction-such is the practice of the bodhisattva. Though fully aware that all things are without birth or extinction, he adorns his body with auspicious features-such is the practice of the bodhisattva. Though outwardly displaying the dignity of a voice-hearer or pratyekabuddha, he never forsakes the Buddha Law-such is the practice of the bodhisattva. Though aware that all things in the end are pure in nature, he responds to circum-stances by showing himself in bodily form-such is the practice of the bodhisattva. Though insight tells him that all Buddha lands are eternally tranquil and empty in nature, yet he displays various kinds of pure Buddha lands-such is the practice of the bodhisattva. Though he attains Buddhahood, turns the wheel of the Law, and enters nirvana, in fact he never forsakes the bodhisattva way-such is the practice of the bodhisattva."

When Vimalakirti spoke these words, eight thousand heavenly sons in the great assembly led by Manjushri all set their minds on attaining anuttara-samyak-sambodhi.

Footnotes and references:

[1]:

Vimalakirti and Manjushri do a brief pas de deux on the theme of non-dualism before entering on their main dialogue.

[2]:

In this passage, wisdom stands for the correct mental attitude of the bodhisattva in his efforts to lead others to enlightenment, and expedient means stands for the actual methods he employs. The process of liberation or enlightenment is successfully completed only when both attitude and method are correct.

Let's grow together!

I humbly request your help to keep doing what I do best: provide the world with unbiased sources, definitions and images. Your donation direclty influences the quality and quantity of knowledge, wisdom and spiritual insight the world is exposed to.

Let's make the world a better place together!

Like what you read? Consider supporting this website: