Vimalakirti Sutra

by Burton Watson | 1997 | 43,710 words

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

Chapter 10 - Fragrance Accumulated

At that time Shariputra thought to himself, "It is almost noon. What are all these bodhisattvas going to eat?"

Then Vimalakirti, knowing what was in his mind, said, "The Buddha preached the eight emancipations. You, sir, should undertake to practice them. Why be distracted by thoughts of eating when you are listening to the Law? If you want some-thing to eat, wait a moment. I will see that you get the sort of food you have never had before!"

Vimalakirti then entered samadhi and, employing his transcendental powers, showed the great assembly a country called Many Fragrances, situated in a region high above, beyond Buddha lands as numerous as the sands of forty-two Ganges. The Buddha named Fragrance Accumulated was at that time present there. The fragrance of his country was finer than the fragrance of all the human and heavenly realms of the Buddha lands of the ten directions. In his land there was not even the term voice-hearer or pratyekabuddha, but only great bodhisattvas, pure and clean, for whom the Buddha preached the Law. All the inhabitants of his world built their halls and towers out of fragrances, strolled the fragrant ground; and had gardens all made of fragrances. The fragrant aroma of their food wafted to immeasurable worlds in the ten directions. At this time the Buddha and the various bodhisattvas were just sitting down together to eat. Heavenly offspring, all named Fragrant Garland, all with their minds set on attaining anuttara-samyak-sambodhi, were serving the meal to the Buddha and the bodhisattvas.

Among the great assembly [gathered at Vimalakirti's house,] there were none who could not see these things with their own eyes.

Then Vimalakirti addressed the bodhisattvas, saying, "Sirs, who among you can bring us some of that Buddhá s food?" Out of deference to Manjushri's authority and supernatural powers, however, all of them remained silent.

[Addressing Manjushri,] Vimalakirti said, "Sir, a great assembly such as this-this is shameful, is it not?"

Manjushri replied, "As the Buddha has told us, never despise those who have yet to learn."

Thereupon Vimalakirti, without rising from his seat but in the presence of the whole gathering, conjured up a phantom bodhisattva whose auspicious features, shining brightness, authority and virtue were so superior that they outshone the entire group. Then he announced to this bodhisattva, "You must go to the region high above, beyond Buddha lands numerous as the sands of forty-two Ganges, where there is a country called Many Fragrances. The Buddha, named Fragrance Accumulated, is just now sitting down with his bodhisattvas to a meal. When you arrive in his presence, speak as I instruct you, saying, 'Vimalakirti bows his head before the feet of the World-Honored One with immeasurable reverence and begs to inquire if in your daily activities your illnesses are few, your worries are few Does your strength suffice you? He desires to obtain the leftovers from this meal of the World-Honored One so he may carry out the Buddha's work by dispensing them in the saha world, enabling those who delight in a lesser doctrine to be broadened by the great way, and also to cause the Thus Come One's fame to be heard on all sides.'"

At that time this conjured bodhisattva in the presence of the gathering ascended to the region high above. Everyone in the entire assembly could see him as he departed, and as he arrived in the world called Many Fragrances and made his obeisance at the feet of the Buddha there. And they could hear him say, 'Vimalakirti bows his head before the feet of the World-Honored One with immeasurable reverence and begs to inquire if in your daily activities your illnesses are few, your worries are few. Does your strength suffice you? He desires to obtain the leftovers from this meal of the World-Honored One so he may carry out the Buddha's work by dispensing them in the saha world, ensuring that those who delight in a lesser doctrine will be broadened by the great way, and also that the Thus Come One's fame may be heard on all sides."

When the great men [of the country Many Fragrances] saw this conjured bodhisattva, they sighed at seeing what they had never seen before, and said, "Where has this superior being come from? The saha world-where is that? What is this thing he calls a'lesser doctrine?'"[1]

When they had put these questions to their Buddha, the Buddha announced to them, "In the lower region, beyond Buddha lands as numerous as the sands of forty-two Ganges, there is a world called saha. The Buddha named Shakyamuni is at present manifesting himself in that evil world of the five impurities in order to expound the teachings of the Way to living beings who delight in a lesser doctrine. He has a bodhisattva named Vimalakirti who dwells in the emancipation Beyond Comprehension and preaches the Law for the other bodhisattvas. He has purposely dispatched this phantom being to come and extol my name and praise this land, so that thereby he may bring increased benefits to those bodhisattvas."

The bodhisattvas said, "How can this man conjure up a phantom such as this? Does he possess such strength of virtue, such fearlessness, such transcendental powers?"

The Buddha replied, "His powers are great indeed! He dispatches phantoms in all the ten directions to carry out the Buddha's work and bring enrichment to living beings."

Then the Thus Come One Fragrance Accumulated took a bowl of many fragrances, filled it with fragrant rice, and gave it to the phantom bodhisattva.

At that time the nine million bodhisattvas all spoke out in unison, saying, "We wish to visit that saha world and offer alms to Shakyamuni Buddha. And we also wish to see Vimalakirti and the many other bodhisattvas."

"You may go," said the Buddha. "But draw in your bodily fragrances so that you will not cause living beings to be deluded or beguiled by them. And you should put aside your real form so that the persons in that country who are striving to become bodhisattvas will not feel intimidated or ashamed. And you must not look on that land with disdain or contempt or rouse thoughts that obstruct progress. Why? Because all the lands in the ten directions are as empty as the sky. It is just that, since the Buddhas wish to convert those who delight in a lesser doctrine, they do not reveal the full purity of the land."

At that time the phantom bodhisattva, having received the bowl of rice, joined the nine million bodhisattvas and all, relying upon the might and supernatural power of the Buddha and upon Vimalakirti's power, suddenly vanished from that world and then in the space of an instant arrived at Vimalakirti's house.

Vimalakirti immediately conjured up nine million lion seats, beautifully adorned like the ones that were already there, and the bodhisattvas all sat down in them.

The bodhisattva then presented the bowl filled with fragrant rice to Vimalakirti. The fragrance of the rice perfumed the entire city of Vaishali and the whole thousand-millionfold world. The Brahmans, lay believers, and others of Vaishali, smelling this fragrant aroma, were delighted in body and mind, sighing with admiration at something they had never known before.

At that time Moon Canopy, a leader among the rich men, accompanied by eighty-four thousand persons, came to Vimalakirti's house. Seeing the vast number of bodhisattvas gathered in the room and the lion seats, tall, broad, and beautifully adorned, they were aII filled with delight. After paying obeisance to the bodhisattvas and the major disciples, they retired and stood to one side. Various earth deities, sky deities, and heavenly beings of the world of desire and the world of form, smelling the fragrant aroma, all likewise came to Vimalakirti's house.

Then Vimalakirti said to Shariputra and the other great voice-hearers, "Sirs, come eat this rice from the Thus Come One, delicious as sweet dew It is redolent with the odor of great pity. But you must not eat it in a narrow-minded manner, or you will never digest it!"

Some of the other voice-hearers thought to themselves, "There is only a little rice-how can it feed all the people in this great assembly?"

But the phantom bodhisattva said, "Do not try to use your voice-hearers' petty virtue and petty wisdom in appraising the immeasurable blessings and wisdom of the Thus Come One! Though the four seas run dry, this rice will never come to an end. Every person here could eat helpings the size of Mount Sumeru, and do so for a whole kalpa, but still it would never be exhausted. Why? Because this is the Ieftovers from a meal eaten by persons who have acquired inexhaustible merits through the precepts, meditation, wisdom, emancipation, and the insight of emancipation. Therefore it can never be exhausted."

The rice in the bowl was then used to feed to satisfaction all the members of the assembly, yet it remained as it was, with-out any sign of depletion. The bodhisattvas, voice-hearers, and heavenly and human beings who ate the rice had a sense of bodily ease and delight of mind, Iike the bodhisattvas in the Country of All Delights and Adornments. And a wonderful fragrance emanated from the pores of all of them, like the fragrance of the trees in the Iand called Many Fragrances.

At that time Vimalakirti asked the bodhisattvas from the country Many Fragrances, "How does the Thus Come One Fragrance Accumulated preach the Law?"

The bodhisattvas replied, "The Thus Come One in our land does not employ words in his exposition. He just uses various fragrances to induce heavenly and human beings to undertake the observance of the precepts. Each bodhisattva sits under a fragrant tree, and when he smells the marvelous fragrance, he immediately attains the samadhi known as the Storehouse of All Virtues. Persons who are able to attain this samadhi all become endowed with the blessings of a bodhisattva."

The bodhisattvas then asked Vimalakirti, "Now how does the World-Honored One Shakyamuni preach the Law?" Vimalakirti replied, "The living beings of this land are stubborn and strong-willed and hard to convert. Therefore the Buddha uses strong language when preaching to them in order to tame and control them. He says, 'This is hell, this is the realm of beasts, this is the realm of hungry spirits, these are the difficult conditions, this is the place where stupid people are born. These are misdeeds of the body, these are the retribution for misdeeds of the body. These are misdeeds of the mouth, these are the retribution for misdeeds of the mouth. These are misdeeds of the mind, these are the retribution for misdeeds of the mind.

"'This is the killing of living beings, this is the retribution for killing living beings. This is taking what has not been given to you, this is the retribution for taking what has not been given to you. This is sexual misconduct, this is the retribution for sexual misconduct. This is lying, this is the retribution for lying. This is being double-tongued, this is the retribution for being double-tongued. This is harsh speech, this is the retribution for harsh speech. This is specious talk, this is the retribution for specious talk. This is greed, this is the retribution for greed. This is wrath, this is the retribution for wrath.

"'These are erroneous views, this is the retribution for erroneous views. This is stinginess, this is the retribution for stinginess. This is breaking the precepts, this is the retribution for breaking the precepts. This is anger, this is the retribution for anger. This is sloth, this is the retribution for sloth. This is distractedness, this is the retribution for distractedness. This is stupidity, this is the retribution for stupidity.

"'This is accepting the precepts, this is keeping the precepts, this is violating the precepts. This is what ought to be done, this is what ought not to be done. This is creating obstacles, this is not creating obstacles. This is incurring blame, this is avoiding blame. This is purity, this is defilement. This is to have outflows, this is to be free of outflows. This is the wrong way, this is the correct way. This is the conditioned, this is the unconditioned. This is the mundane world, this is nirvana.'

"These people who are difficult to convert have minds like monkeys. Therefore one must resort to various methods in order to control and regulate their minds. Only then can they be tamed and made obedient. It is like dealing with an elephant or horse that is wild and unruly One must apply sharp blows, till it feels them in its bones, and then it can be tamed. And it is the same with these stubborn and strong-willed beings who are difficult to convert. Therefore one uses all sorts of bitter and piercing words, and then they can be made to observe the precepts."

When those bodhisattvas had finished listening to this explanation, they all exclaimed, "We have never heard of such a thing before! A World-Honored One like Shakyamuni who conceals his immeasurable powers of freedom and preaches the Law in a manner that will please the mean in spirit in order to save and liberate all beings! And these bodhisattvas-how zealous of them, in their immeasurably great pity, to condescend to be born in this Buddha land!"

Vimalakirti said, "The bodhisattvas of this land are indeed steadfast in their great pity for all living beings. It is just as you have said. And the enrichment and benefit they bring to living beings in one lifetime here is greater than that bestowed in other worlds over the space of a hundred thousand kalpas. Why? Because in this saha world there are ten good practices that do not exist in any of those pure lands.

"What are these ten? Almsgiving, which does away with poverty and destitution. Pure precepts, which do away with violation of the prohibitions. Forbearance, which does away with anger. Assiduousness, which does away with sloth. Meditation, which does away with distractedness of mind. Wisdom, which does away with stupidity. The explanation of how to remove oneself from difficulties, which saves those who face the eight difficulties. The doctrine of the Great Vehicle, which saves those who delight in the Lesser Vehicle. The cultivation of good roots, which rescues those who are lacking in virtue. And the four ways of winning people, which are constantly employed to guide living beings to success. These are the ten."

The bodhisattvas said, "What methods must these bodhisattvas carry out in their practices in this saha world so that they may be born free of boils and sores in a pure land?"[2]

Vimalakirti replied, "These bodhisattvas must carry out eight methods in their practices in this world in order to be born free of boils and sores in a pure land. What are these eight? They must enrich and benefit living beings but look for no recompense. They must take upon themselves the sufferings of all living beings, and what merit they acquire thereby shall all be a gift to those beings. In mind they must be like other living beings, humbling themselves, descending to their level, erecting no barriers. They shall regard other bodhisattvas as though they were looking at the Buddha himself. When they hear a sutra they have not heard before, they shall not doubt it, and they shall not dispute with or oppose the voice-hearers. They shall not envy the alms received by others, nor boast of their own gains. In carrying out these methods, they must regulate and control their minds, constantly reflecting on their own faults and not censuring the shortcomings of others. At all times they shall with a single mind strive to acquire merits. These are the eight methods."

When Vimalakirti and Manjushri expounded these teachings to the great assembly, a hundred thousand heavenly and human beings all set their minds on attaining anuttara-samyaksam-bodhi, and ten thousand bodhisattvas were able to accept the truth of birthlessness.

Footnotes and references:


The inhabitants of the country Many Fragrances, as we have been told earlier, have never even heard of voice-hearers or pratyekabuddhas.


That is, free of physical ills or defects. Such ills would indicate that the bodhisattva's religious practice had been faulty.

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