Vimalakirti Sutra

by Burton Watson | 1997 | 43,710 words

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

Chapter 11 - Actions Of The Bodhisattvas

At that time the Buddha was in the Amra Gardens preaching the Law when the ground suddenly became broad and beautifully adorned, and all the persons assembled there took on a golden color.

Ananda said to the Buddha, "World-Honored One, what is the reason for this auspicious sign? The area has become suddenly broadened and adorned, and the members of the assembly have all taken on a golden color!"

The Buddha said to Ananda, "Vimalakirti and Manjushri, reverently surrounded by a great gathering of persons, have decided to come here. Therefore this auspicious sign has first of all appeared."

At that moment Vimalakirti said to Manjushri, "Let us go together to see the Buddha and join the bodhisattvas in paying obeisance and making offerings."

Manjushri said, "Excellent, we will go indeed. This is just the time to do so."

Vimalakirti, employing his supernatural powers, proceeded to pick up the whole great assembly, along with their lion seats, place them in the palm of his right hand, and journey with them to the place where the Buddha was. After arriving there and depositing them on the ground, he bowed his head at the feet of the Buddha, circled to the right, performing seven circumambulations of the Buddha and, pressing his palms together with a single mind, stood to one side. The bodhisattvas all immediately left their seats, bowed their heads at the Buddha's feet, performed seven circumambulations, and stood to one side. The major disciples, Brahmas, Indras, and Four Heavenly Kings all likewise left their seats, bowed their heads at the Buddha's feet, and stood to one side.

Then the Buddha, after making the customary greetings and inquiries, sent them back to their seats. After all of them, following his instructions, had settled again in their seats, the Buddha said to Shariputra, "Did you see what these bodhisattvas, these great men, did through their freely exercised supernatural powers?"

"Yes, I saw it."

"And what did you think of it?"

"World-Honored One, what I saw them do was incredible. My mind cannot comprehend it, it is beyond my fathoming!" At that time Ananda said to the Buddha, "World-Honored

One, this fragrance I smell is like nothing I have ever known. What fragrance is this?"

The Buddha replied to Ananda, "This is the fragrance that comes from the pores of these bodhisattvas."

Then Shariputra said to Ananda, "Our pores too put forth this fragrance!"

"Where does it come from?" asked Ananda.

"It comes from the rice left over from the Buddha's meal that the rich man Vimalakirti had brought from the country Many Fragrances," replied Shariputra. "The pores of everyone who ate it at his house emit this kind of fragrance."

Then Ananda asked Vimalakirti, "How long will this fragrant aroma last?"

Vimalakirti said, "Until the rice is digested."

"And how long will it be before the rice is digested?"

"The power of this rice is such that it will be seven days before it is digested. Moreover, Ananda, if voice-hearers who have not yet reached the stage of ultimate determination eat this rice, they will be able to digest it only after they reach that stage. And if persons who have already reached that stage eat this rice, they will be able to digest it only after they have gained liberation of mind. If those who have not yet set their minds on attaining the Great Vehicle eat this rice, they will have to set their minds on that before they can digest it. If those who have already set their minds on doing so eat this rice, they will have to accept the truth of birthlessness before they can digest it. If those who have already accepted the truth of birthlessness eat this rice, they will have to advance to the place where Buddhahood is assured them in their next birth before they can digest it. It is like the medicine called Superior Flavor that remains undigested until all the poisons in the body of the person who takes it have been eliminated. This rice is the sameonly after all the poisons of earthly desires have been wiped out will it be digested."

Ananda said to the Buddha, "I have never heard of such a thing, World-Honored One-to think that this fragrant rice can be used to do the Buddha's work!"

The Buddha said, "just so, just so, Ananda. And there are some Buddha lands where the radiant light of the Buddha is used to do the Buddha's work. Some where bodhisattvas are used to do the Buddha's work. Some where phantom beings conjured up by the Buddha are used for the Buddha's work. Some where the bodhi tree is used for the Buddha's work. Some where the Buddha's garments or bedding are used for the Buddha's work. Some where the Buddha's food is used for the Buddha's work. Some where gardens, groves, pavilions, and towers are used to do the Buddha's work. Some where the thirty-two features and eighty characteristics, auspicious marks that accompany the body of the Buddha, are used to do the Buddha's work. Some where the Buddha's body is used for the Buddha's work. And some where empty space is used for the Buddha's work. Living beings, responding to these various agents, are thereby led to undertake the practice of the precepts.

"There are lands where similes such as dreams, phantoms, reflections, echoes, images in a mirror, the moon in the water, or shimmering heat waves are used to do the Buddha's work. There are some where voices, spoken words, or written words are used to do the Buddha's work. Or pure Buddha lands where tranquil silence, without words, without explanations, without purport, without cognition, without action, without conditioning, does the Buddha's work. Thus, Ananda, among all daily activities of the Buddhas, their comings and goings, every act that they carry out, there is not one that does not do the Buddha's work.

"Ananda, there is a gate known as the four devils and the eighty-four thousand earthly desires. Living beings are wearied and belabored by these devils and desires, but the Buddhas use this as a method by which to do the Buddha's work. This is called the Dharma gate of entry to all Buddhas. Bodhisattvas who have entered this gate, when they see Buddha lands replete with all manner of purity and beauty, will not for that reason feel delight or longing or elation, and when they see Buddha lands with all sorts of impurities, they will not feel sad or vexed or downcast. They will merely regard the Buddhas with renewed purity of mind, experiencing a joy and reverence they have never known before. The merits of the various Buddhas, the Thus Come Ones, are all equal, but in order to convert living beings, they manifest themselves in different kinds of Buddha lands.

"Ananda, look at the various Buddha lands. The land in them is varied, but there is no variation in the sky. And it is the same when you look at the various Buddhas. Their physical bodies are varied, but that is all. There is no variation in their unimpeded wisdom. Ananda, a physical body, impressive features, lineage, precepts, meditation, wisdom, emancipations, the insight of emancipations, powers, fearlessnesses, properties not shared by others, great compassion, great pity, the observance of proper demeanor, as well as a fixed life span, the power to preach the Law, to teach and convert others, to lead living beings to enlightenment, to purify the Buddha lands, and to assimilate the Law of other Buddhas-all these are possessed equally by all the various Buddhas. Therefore they are called Samyak-sambuddha (Perfectly Enlightened Buddha), they are called Tathagata (Thus Come One), they are called Buddha (Enlightened One).

"Ananda, if I were to explain to you in detail the meaning of these three epithets, you could live for a whole kalpa and still not hear all I have to say. Even if all the living beings in the thousand-millionfold world were like you, Ananda, who are foremost in hearing the teachings and concentrating on and retaining all you have heard, and they were to live for a whole kalpa, they could not hear it all. So it is, Ananda-the anuttara-samyak-sambodhi of the Buddhas is beyond fathoming, and their wisdom and eloquence defy comprehension."

Ananda said to the Buddha, "From now on, I will never dare think of myself as a person who has 'heard many of the teachings.'"

The Buddha said to Ananda, "Don't be discouraged! Why? Because when I spoke of you as foremost among the voice-hearers in the volume of teachings you have heard, I was not speaking with the bodhisattvas in mind. So do not take the matter to heart, Ananda. No wise person should try to estimate the abilities of the bodhisattvas. All the deepest places in the sea can still be fathomed, but the meditation, wisdom, power to retain the teachings, eloquence, and all the various merits of the bodhisattvas are immeasurable. Ananda, you and the others had best forget about the actions of the bodhisattvas. This manifestation of supernatural power that Vimalakirti has just now shown us no voice-hearer or pratyekabuddha could equal in a hundred thousand kalpas, no matter how he might exhaust his powers of transformation!"

Then the bodhisattvas who had come from the world Many Fragrances pressed their palms together and addressed the Buddha, saying, "WorId-Honored One, when we first saw this land, we thought of it as base and inferior. But now we regret our error and have put such thoughts out of our minds. Why? Because the expedient means employed by the Buddhas are beyond comprehension. In order to save living beings, they manifest different kinds of Buddha lands, depending upon what is appropriate to the circumstances. Very well then, World-Honored One. We would like you to bestow a little of your teachings on us so that when we return to our own land we will have something to remember the Thus Come One by."

The Buddha announced to the bodhisattvas, "There is the doctrine of the exhaustible and the inexhaustible emancipation. You would do well to learn this. What does exhaustible mean? It means those things that are conditioned. What does inexhaustible mean? It means those things that are unconditioned. But beings such as the bodhisattvas do not exhaust [or have done with] the conditioned, nor do they dwell in the unconditioned.

"What is meant by not exhausting the conditioned? It means not setting aside great compassion, not renouncing great pity; giving profound expression to the mind of comprehensive wisdom and never forgetting it; teaching and converting living beings without ever wearying; being constantly mindful of the four methods of winning people and applying them in season; guarding and upholding the correct Law without thought for life or limb. It means to work tirelessly to plant the roots of goodness; to keep the will at all times fixed on expedient means and the transfer of merit to others; to seek the Law without ever slacking, to preach the Law without ever stinting. It means diligently making offerings to the Buddhas; purposely entering the realm of birth and death with no feelings of fear; facing all types of honor or disgrace without thought of sadness or joy; not looking with contempt on those who have yet to learn and respecting the learned as though they were the Buddha himself. It means arousing correct thoughts in those sunk in earthly desires, but without unduly prizing the desire to remove oneself from passion. One should not cling to one's own desires, but applaud the desires of others.

"It means looking on meditational states as though they were a form of hell, but on the realm of birth and death as though contemplating a garden; viewing those who come seeking instruction with thoughts of how one may be a good teacher; setting aside one's own possessions and thinking how to acquire comprehensive wisdom; seeing those who violate the precepts and rousing thoughts of how to save them.

"It means thinking of the paramitas as one's father and mother; thinking of the elements of the Way as one's retinue of followers; working ceaselessly to nourish the roots of goodness; using the adornments of other pure lands to complete a Buddha land of one's own; practicing unbounded charity and thereby acquiring auspicious physical characteristics; putting aside all evil and purifying body, mouth, and mind; dwelling in the realm of birth and death for countless kalpas, ever valiant in mind; listening to the immeasurable virtues of the Buddha, one's determination never flagging; using the sword of wisdom to cut down the thieves of earthly desires; going beyond the realm of components, elements, and sense-media, shouldering the burden of living beings and bringing them to unending emancipation; employing great assiduousness in driving back and vanquishing the armies of the devil; constantly seeking to practice the wisdom that is without discriminative thought, the true aspect of reality; with regard to worldly things, lessening desires, knowing what is enough; with regard to unworldly things, tirelessly seeking them, and yet not rejecting the things of the world.

"It means never breaking the rules of proper demeanor, yet being able to accommQdate to worldly ways; calling up transcendental powers and wisdom and using them to guide living beings; acquiring concentration and retention of memory so that one never forgets what one has heard; being able to distinguish the different capacities of people correctly and freeing them from doubt; expounding the Law with a pleasing and appropriate eloquence that flows unimpeded; scrupulously carrying out the ten good actions and receiving the blessings of human and heavenly beings; cultivating the four immeasurable qualities of mind and opening up the Brahma way; earnestly requesting to hear the preaching of the Law and receiving it with joy and commendation; acquiring the voice of the Buddha and the excellence of his body, mouth, and mind; acquiring his proper demeanor, practicing his good Law with profound diligence, ever more accomplished in action; using the Great Vehicle teachings to create a community of bodhisattvas; never self-indulgent in mind, never missing an opportunity for acts of goodness-one who practices these methods may be called a bodhisattva who does not exhaust the conditioned.

"What is meant by saying that the bodhisattva does not dwell in the unconditioned? It means that one studies and practices the teachings on emptiness, but does not take emptiness to be enlightenment. One studies and practices the teachings on nonform and nonaction, but does not take nonform and nonaction to be enlightenment. One studies and practices the teachings on nonarousal [of causes], but does not take nonarousal to be enlightenment. One views things as impermanent, but does not neglect to cultivate the roots of goodness. One views the world as marked by suffering, but does not hate to be born and die in it. One sees that there is no permanent ego, but is tireless in instructing others. One sees that there is such a thing as tranquil extinction, but does not dwell in extinction for long. One views the world as something to be cast off, withdrawn from, yet with body and mind one practices goodness. One sees there is no destination, yet one makes the good Law one's destination. One sees there is no birth, yet one takes on the form of birth in order to share the burdens of others. One sees that outflows [of passion] should be cut off, yet one does not cut them off. One sees that there is nothing to be practiced, yet one practices the Law in order to teach and convert living beings. One embraces the view of emptiness and nothingness, yet does not discard one's great pity. One embraces the view that the correct Law [nirvana] can be attained, yet one does not follow Lesser Vehicle doctrines in this matter. One embraces the view that all phenomena are void and false, lacking firmness, lacking personality, lacking a master, lacking form, yet while one's original vow remains unfulfilled, one does not regard merits, virtues, meditation, or wisdom as meaningless. When one practices these methods, one may be called a bodhisattva who does not dwell in the unconditioned."

At that time those bodhisattvas, having heard the explanation of this teaching, were all filled with great delight. Selecting from among the many wonderful flowers those of various colors and various fragrances, they scattered them throughout the whole thousand-millionfold world. And then, having made their offering to the Buddha and to these sutra teachings, as well as to the other bodhisattvas, they bowed their heads in obeisance at the Buddha's feet and sighed at having heard what they had never heard before, exclaiming, "Shakyamuni Buddha knows how to employ expedient means in a truly skillful manner!"

Having spoken these words, they suddenly vanished from sight and returned to their own country.

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