Vimalakirti Sutra

by Burton Watson | 1997 | 43,710 words

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

Chapter 7 - Regarding Living Beings

At that time Manjushri asked Vimalakirti, "How does the bodhisattva regard living beings?"

Vimalakirti replied, "As a conjurer looks on the beings he conjures up-thus does the bodhisattva regard living beings. As the wise view the moon in the water, or a face or form seen in a mirror; as shimmers of heat in a torrid season, as the echo that follows a cry, as clouds in the sky, as foam on the water, bubbles on the water, as a thing no firmer that the trunk of the plantain, no longer lasting than a flash of lightning; as a fifth great element, a sixth component, a seventh sense-media, a thirteenth sense-media, a nineteenth sense-realml-thus does the bodhisattva regard living beings.

"As forms in the world of formlessness, as sprouts from charred grain, as mistaken views of the body in one who has entered the stream that leads to the state of arhat, as a reentering of the womb by one no longer subject to rebirth, as the three poisons of greed, anger, and ignorance in ari arhat, as greed, anger, or violation of the precepts on the part of a bodhisattva who has accepted the birthless nature of all existence, as vestiges of earthly desire in a Buddha, as forms seen by a blind person, as the breathing in and out of one immersed in the samadhi of utter tranquility, as the tracks of a bird in the sky, as a child born to a barren woman, as, earthly desires in a phantom being, as sights in a dream after one has wakened, as the taking on of bodily form by one who has entered extinction, as fire that has no smoke-thus does the bodhisattva regard living beings."

?[1]?

Manjushri said, "If the bodhisattva looks on beings in this way, how can he treat them with compassion?"

Vimalakirti replied, "When the bodhisattva has finished regarding them in this way, he thinks to himself. 'For the sake of living beings I must preach this Law to them!' This is true compassion.

"He treats them with a compassion of tranquil extinction, for it results in no birth; treats them with a compassion unburning, for it is void of earthly desires; treats them with a compassion that is impartial, as the three existences of past, present, and future are impartial; treats them with a compassion free of contention, for nothing arises to oppose it; treats them with a compassion undualistic, for internal and external have no place in it; treats them with a compassion unfaltering, for it carries through to the end; treats them with a compassion firm and durable, for the mind of the bodhisattva never flags; treats them with a compassion clean and pure, as the nature of all phenomena is pure; treats them with a compassion boundless, boundless as the empty sky.

"He treats them with the compassion of the arhat, who has conquered the thieves of desire; treats them with the compassion of the bodhisattva, who brings contentment to all beings; treats them with the compassion of the Thus Come One, who has grasped the marks of Suchness; treats them with the compassion of the Buddha, who awakens living beings; treats them with a compassion wholly natural, understanding that it is causeless; treats them with a compassion of bodhi, which is of one flavor only; treats them with a compassion that has no gradation, for it cuts off all favoritism; treats them with great pity and compassion, guiding them with the Great Vehicle.

"He treats them with a compassion that never despairs, seeing that all is empty and without ego; treats them with the compassion of bestowal of the Law, never stinting in its gifts; treats them with the compassion of observance of the precepts, training those who break them to do better; treats them with the compassion of forbearance, guarding both others and self; treats them with the compassion of assiduousness, shouldering all beings as its burden; treats them with the compassion of meditation, unaffected by taste; treats them with the compassion of wisdom, which always knows the right time; treats them with the compassion of expedient means, with manifestations suited to every occasion.

"He treats them with a compassion that hides nothing, proceeding with the purity of an upright mind; treats them with the compassion of a deeply searching mind, one free of irrelevant motion; treats them with a compassion that is unerring, innocent of falsity and sham; treats them with a compassion full of peace and delight, for through it they gain the delight of the Buddha. Such is the compassion of the bodhisattva."

Continuing his questioning, Manjushri asked, "What do you mean when you speak of pity?"

"I mean that whatever benefits the bodhisattva gains, he shares them all with all other living beings," replied Vimalakirti. Manjushri: "What do you mean by joy?"

Vimalakirti: "Any way the bodhisattva can aid or enrich others he views as an occasion for joy and never for regret." Manjushri: "What do you mean by indifference?" Vimalakirti: "Whatever blessings or good fortune the bodhisattva bestows, he expects nothing in return."[2]

Manjushri then asked, "If the bodhisattva fears the cycle of birth and death, what should he rely on?"

Vimalakirti replied, "The bodhisattva, fearing the cycle of birth and death, should rely on the power of the Tathagata's blessings." Manjushri: "If he hopes to rely on the power of the Tathagata's blessings, what course should he pursue?"

Vimalakirti: "If he hopes to rely on the power of the Tathagata's blessings, he should devote himself to saving and liberating all living beings."

Manjushri: "If he hopes to save living beings, what must he free them from?"

Vimalakirti: "If he hopes to save living beings, he must free them from earthly desires."

Manjushri: "If he hopes to free them from earthly desires, how should he proceed?"

Vimalakirti: "He should proceed by the method of correct mindfulness."

Manjushri: "How does one proceed by the method of correct mindfulness?"

Vimalakirti: "One proceeds on the premise of no birth and no extinction."

Manjushri: "What has no birth, and what has no extinction?" Vimalakirti: "The not good has no birth, the good has no extinction."

Manjushri: "What is the root of good and not good?" Vimalakirti: "The body is the root."

Manjushri: "What is the root of the body?" Vimalakirti: "Desire and greed are the root." Manjushri: "What is the root of desire and greed?" Vimalakirti: "False and empty distinctions are the root." Manjushri: "What is the root of false and empty distinctions?" Vimalakirti: "Topsy-turvy thinking is the root."

Manjushri: "What is the root of topsy-turvy thinking?" Vimalakirti: "Groundless assumptions are the root of topsy-turvy thinking."

Manjushri: "What is the root of groundless assumptions?" Vimalakirti: "What is groundless can have no root. Manjushri, it is on the root of this groundlessness that all the other concepts are built up."

At that time there was a heavenly being, a goddess, in Vimalakirti's room who, seeing these great men and hearing them expound the Law, proceeded to make herself visible and, taking heavenly flowers, scattered them over the bodhisattvas and major disciples. When the flowers touched the bodhisattvas, they all fell to the floor at once, but when they touched the major disciples, they stuck to them and did not fall off. The disciples all tried to shake off the flowers through their supernatural powers, but they could not do so.

At that time the goddess said to Shariputra, "Why try to brush off the flowers?"

"Such flowers are not in accordance with the Law," he replied. "That's why I try to brush them off."[3]

The goddess said, "Don't say these flowers are not in accordance with the Law. Why? Because the flowers make no such distinctions. You in your thinking have made up these distinctions, that's all. If one who has left the household life to follow the Buddha's Law makes such distinctions, that is not in accordance with the Law. One must be without distinctions to be in accordance with the Law Look at the bodhisattvas-the flowers do not stick to them because they have already cut off all thought of distinctions. Just as evil spirits are able to take advantage of a person who is beset by fear, so because you disciples are fearful of the cycle of birth and death, the senses of form, sound, smell, taste, and touch are able to take advantage of you. But once a person has done away with fear, then the five desires that arise from these senses will not be able to get at him. So long as one has not done away with all such entanglements, the flowers will stick to him. But they will not stick to someone who has eliminated them all."

Shariputra said, "Goddess, have you been staying in this room long?"

She replied, "Venerable sir, my stay in this room is about as long as your attainment of emancipation."

Shariputra said, "So you've been here a long time?" "Venerable sir," said the goddess, "how long has your attainment of emancipation been?"

Shariputra was silent and did not answer.

The goddess said, "With your great wisdom, venerable sir, why do you remain silent?"

Shariputra replied, "Emancipation cannot be spoken of in words. Therefore I do not know what I can say to you."

The goddess said, "Words, writing, all are marks of emancipation. Why? Because emancipation is not internal, not external, and not in between. And words likewise are not internal, not external, and not in between. Therefore, Shariputra, you can speak of emancipation without putting words aside. Why? Because all things that exist are marks of emancipation."

Shariputra said, "Doesn't emancipation mean putting aside lewdness, anger, and stupidity?"

The goddess said, "The Buddha, addressing persons of over-bearing arrogance, asserted that one must put aside lewdness, anger, and stupidity in order to gain emancipation, that is all. If he was addressing those who were free of overbearing arrogance, the Buddha asserted that the nature of lewdness, anger, and stupidity is emancipation itself."

Shariputra said, "Excellent, excellent! Goddess, what have you seized on, what have you seen into, that you speak with such eloquence?"

The goddess replied, "I have seized on nothing, seen into nothing, and hence speak with eloquence. Why? If one claims to have seized on something or seen into something, then in the light of the Buddha's Law one is being overbearingly arrogant."

Shariputra asked the goddess, "Of the three vehicles, which do you pursue?"

The goddess replied, "I use the Law of the voice-hearer to convert living beings, and therefore I practice the way of the voice-hearer. I use the Law of causes and conditions to convert living beings, and therefore I practice the way of the pratyekabuddha. I use the Law of great pity to convert living beings, and therefore I practice the Great Vehicle.

"Shariputra, when one enters a grove of champak trees, one smells only the odor of the champak and does not smell any other odor. And in the same way, when one enters this room, one smells only the fragrance of the Buddha blessings but takes no delight in smelling the fragrance of the voice-hearer's or the pratyekabuddha's blessings

"Shariputra, these Brahmas, Indras, Four Heavenly Kings, heavenly beings, dragons, spirits, and others who have entered this room and listen to this great man expound the correct Law all delight in the fragrance of the Buddha blessings and leave with their minds set on attaining them.

"Shariputra, I have been staying in this room for twelve years and never from the first have I heard any expounding of the Law of the voice-hearer or the pratyekabuddha. I have heard only of the great compassion and great pity of the bodhisattva, the Law of the Buddha that is beyond comprehension.

"Shariputra, this room constantly manifests eight rare and unprecedented phenomena. What are these eight? This room is constantly flooded with rays of golden light that never change, day or night. It is not lit by the shining of the sun or moon. This is the first rare and unprecedented phenomenon.

"Those who enter this room are never troubled by defilements. This is the second rare and unprecedented phenomenon. "In this room Brahmas, Indras, Four Heavenly Kings, and bodhisattvas from other regions constantly come together in a gathering that never ends. This is the third rare and unprecedented phenomenon.

"In this room there is constant exposition of the six paramitas and the unregressing wheel of the Law. This is the fourth rare and unprecedented phenomenon.

"In this room heavenly beings constantly make superlative music, and from their strings come forth the sounds of immeasurable Dharma persuasions. This is the fifth rare and unprecedented phenomenon.

"In this room are four great storehouses stacked high with varied treasures to relieve the destitute and rescue those in want, a supply to be drawn on yet never exhausted. This is the sixth rare and unprecedented phenomenon.

"When this great man turns his thoughts to them, Shakyamuni Buddha, Amita Buddha, Akshobhya Buddha, Jeweled Virtue, jeweled Flame, Jeweled Moon, Jeweled Majesty, Hard to Surpass, Lion Echo, Profiting All, and countless other such Buddhas from the ten directions come at once to this room and broadly expound the secret and essential teachings, the store-house of the Dharma. And when they have finished expounding, they return to where they came from. This is the seventh rare and unprecedented phenomenon.

"Within this room the magnificently adorned palaces of all the heavenly beings and the pure lands of the various Buddhas are all to be seen. This is the eighth rare and unprecedented phenomenon.

"These are the eight rare and unprecedented phenomena. Shariputra, who, seeing these sights beyond belief, would still delight in the Law of the voice-hearer?"

Shariputra said, "Why don't you change out of this female body?"[4]

The goddess replied, "For the past twelve years I have been trying to take on female form, but in the end with no success. What is there to change? If a sorcerer were to conjure up a phantom woman and then someone asked her why she didn't change out of her female body, would that be any kind of reasonable question?"

"No," said Shariputra. "Phantoms have no fixed form, so what would there be to change?"

The goddess said, "All things are just the same-they have no fixed form. So why ask why I don't change out of my female form?"

At that time the goddess employed her supernatural powers to change Shariputra into a goddess like herself, while she took on Shariputra's form. Then she asked, "Why don't you change out of this female body?"

Shariputra, now in the form of a goddess, replied, "I don't know why I have suddenly changed and taken on a female body! " The goddess said, "Shariputra, if you can change out of this female body, then all women can change likewise. Shariputra, who is not a woman, appears in a woman's body. And the same is true of all women-though they appear in women's bodies, they are not women. Therefore the Buddha teaches that all phenomena are neither male nor female."

Then the goddess withdrew her supernatural powers, and Shariputra returned to his original form. The goddess said to Shariputra, "Where now is the form and shape of your female body?"

Shariputra said, "The form and shape of my female body does not exist, yet does not not exist."

The goddess said, "All things are just like that-they do not exist, yet do not not exist. And that they do not exist, yet do not not exist, is exactly what the Buddha teaches."

Shariputra said to the goddess, "When your present existence comes to an end, where will you be reborn?"

The goddess replied, "The way the Buddha is born in his transformation body-that's how I'll be born."[5]

Shariputra said, "When the Buddha is born in his transformation body, it is not a matter of birth or death.

The goddess said, "It's that way with living beings too-they are without birth or death."

Shariputra said to the goddess, "How long will it be before you attain anuttara-samyak-sambodhi?"

The goddess replied, "Shariputra, when you revert to the state of a common unenlightened mortal, then I will succeed in gaining anuttara-samyak-sambodhi."

Shariputra said, "It is unthinkable that I should become a common mortal again!"

The goddess said, "It is likewise unthinkable that I should attain anuttara-samyak-sambodhi. Why? Because bodhi is nothing to be thought about, hence nothing to be attained."

Shariputra said, "The Buddhas who are now attaining anuttara-samyak-sambodhi, and those who have attained it in the past and will attain it in the future, numerous as the sands of the Ganges-what would you say of all those?"

The goddess said, "We use the numbers of everyday language, and so we speak of all those as belonging to the three existences of past, present, and future. But this is not to say that bodhi knows anything of past, present, and future." .

Then the goddess said, "Shariputra, have you attained the way of the arhat?"

Shariputra said, "I've realized there is nothing to be attained, so I've attained it."

The goddess said, "The Buddhas and bodhisattvas are that waĆ½ too. They've realized there is nothing to attain, and so they've attained it."

At this time Vimalakirti said to Shariputra, "This goddess has in the past made offerings to ninety-two million Buddhas and can disport herself with the supernatural powers of a bodhisattva. She has fulfilled all that she vowed, has accepted the truth of birthlessness, and dwells in a state from which she will never regress. Because of her original vow, she can show herself anytime she ;vishes and teach and convert living beings."

Footnotes and references:

[1]:

That is, as one more of each category than actually exists.

[2]:

Compassion, pity, joy, and indif ference constitute the four immeasurable qualities. See glossary.

[3]:

The wearing of flowers or other personal ornaments was forbidden to members of the Buddhist order.

[4]:

Shariputra assumes that any woman would naturally want to change into a man if she had the power to do so.

[5]:

The Buddha takes on a "transformation body" when he appears in one of the lower realms of existence in order to guide and instruct the beings there. See glossary, under "three bodies."

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