Vimalakirti Sutra

by Burton Watson | 1997 | 43,710 words

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

Chapter 12 - Seeing Akshobhya Buddha

At that time the World-Honored One said to Vimalakirti, "You wanted to see the Thus Come One. Now how do you regard the Thus Come One?"

Vimalakirti said, "As I would regard my own true form or reality-in that same way do I regard the Thus Come One. I regard the Thus Come One as not existing from past times, not departing in the future, not abiding here at present.

"I do not regard him as form, I do not regard him as resembling form, I do not regard him as having the nature of form. I do not regard him as perception, conception, volition, or consciousness. I do not regard him as resembling consciousness. I do not regard him as having the nature of consciousness.l

"He does not rise out of the four great elements but is the same as the empty sky. He is without accumulation of the six sense-media, he has transcended eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, and mind, and does not exist in the threefold world. He has separated himself from the three defilements [of greed, anger, and stupidity], passed through the three gates to emancipation, and acquired the three understandings, which are the equivalent of ignorance.

"He is not identical in form with others, not different in form, not of his own form, not of some other form, not lacking form, not acquiring form. He is not on this shore, not on the other shore, not in midstream, and yet he converts living beings.


He is seen to be in tranquil extinction, but does not remain in extinction for long. He is not this, he is not that, he does not show himself in this, he does not show himself in that. One can-not know him through wisdom, one cannot be conscious of him through consciousness. He is without darkness, without brightness, without name, without form, without strength, without weakness. He is not pure, not defiled, not in any direction, not removed from direction, not conditioned, not unconditioned, without purport, without explanation. He is not charitable, not stingy, does not observe the precepts, does not violate them, is not forbearing, not irate, does not press forward, does not slack, is not calm in mind, is not distracted, is not wise, is not stupid, is not sincere, is not deceitful, does nct arrive, does not depart, does not go out, does not enter in. He is cut off from all that can be said in words.

"He is not a field that produces merit, not a field that does not produce merit, he is not worthy of alms, he is not unworthy of alms. He is not to be acquired, not to be put aside, does not possess form, is not without form. He is identical with the ultimate reality, one with the Dharma-nature.

"He cannot be labeled, cannot be measured, for he is beyond all labeling and measuring. He is not big, not little, not to be seen, not to be heard, not to be awakened to, not to be known. He is removed from all ties and bonds, equal to all wisdoms, identical with living beings, free of distinctions with regard to things. He is utterly without loss, without contamination, with-out anxiety, without action, without rousing, without birth, without extinction, without fear, without sorrow, without joy, without weariness, without attachment, without a past existence, without a future existence, without a present existence. No words or explanations whatsoever can distinguish and depict him.

"World-Honored One, the body of the Thus Come One is like this and this is the way I regard him. To regard in this manner is called correct regarding. To regard in any other is called erroneous regarding."

At that time Shariputra asked Vimalakirti, "Where did you die before you were reborn here?"

Vimalakirti said, "In the Law that you learned, is there any such thing as dying or being born?"

Shariputra replied, "No, there is no dying or being born." "If all things are without the nature of dying or being born, then why do you ask where I died before I was reborn here? What is your opinion? Do phantom men and women conjured up by a magician know anything of dying or being born?"

"No, there is no dying or being born for them."

"And have you not heard the Buddha say that all things are in the nature of conjured beings?"

"Yes," replied Shariputra.

"If all things are in the nature of conjured beings, then why do you ask where I died before I was reborn here? Shariputra, dyĆ­ng is in its nature simply the destruction of something that is empty and fraudulent, and being born is in its nature the continuation of something that is empty and fraudulent. But the bodhisattva, though he dies, does not wipe out his good roots, and though he is born, he does not prolong those things that are evil."

At that time the Buddha said to Shariputra, "There is a country called Wonderful Joy with a Buddha named Immovable (Akshobhya). Vimalakirti here died in that country and was reborn in this one."

Shariputra said, "I have never heard of such a thing, World-Honored One! That this man could bring himself to abandon a land of purity and willingly come to this place with all its wrath and injury!"

Vimalakirti said to Shariputra, "What is your opinion? When the light of the sun shines forth, does it mix with the darkness?" "No," replied Shariputra. "When the light of the sun shines forth, all darkness at once ceases to exist."

Vimalakirti said, "And the sun-why does it visit this continent of Jambudvipa?"

"Because it wishes to use its brightness to drive the darkness away" replied Shariputra.

Vimalakirti said, "The bodhisattva is like this. Though he is born in an impure Buddha land, he does this so he can convert living beings. He does not mix with or share its stupidity and darkness. He merely wipes out the darkness of earthly desires that besets living beings."

At that time the members of the great assembly were filled with longing, desiring to see the Wonderful Joy world and the Thus Come One Immovable and his host of bodhisattvas and voice-hearers. The Buddha knew what all the members of the assembly were thinking, and he said to Vimalakirti, "Good man, you must make the land Wonderful Joy and the Thus Come One Immovable and his host of bodhisattvas and voice-hearers visible to the members of this assembly. They all long to see them!"

Then Vimalakirti thought to himself, "Now, without rising from my seat, I shall take this country Wonderful Joy, with its Iron Encircling Mountains and rivers, its valleys, waterways, great seas, fountains, its Sumeru and the other mountains, along with its sun, moon, stars, the palaces of the heavenly beings, dragons, spirits, Brahmas and Indras, as well as its host of bodhisattvas and voice-hearers, its cities, villages, men and women, old and young, along with the Thus Come One Immovable and the bodhi trees and wonderful lotus blossoms that are able to carry out the Buddha's work in the ten directions, the jeweled straircases that extend from the continent of Jambudvipa all the way up to the Trayastrimsha heaven, the jeweled stairways by which the heavenly beings may descend and all pay reverence to the Thus Come One Immovable and listen to and receive his sutra teachings, and the inhabitants of Jambudvipa may also ascend these stairways to the Trayastrimsha heaven and visit its heavenly beings, for the world Wonderful Joy is replete with immeasurable merits such as these, extending upward to the Akanishtha heaven and downward to its watery base-and all this I shall lift from its place and take in my right hand, as though removing it from a potter's wheel, and bring it here to this world, like some flower garland I am holding, and show it to all these beings!"

Having had this thought, he entered samadhi and, manifesting his transcendental powers, lifted the Wonderful Joy world out of its place with his right hand and set it down on the ground [in this world].

The host of bodhisattvas and voice-hearers and the various heavenly and human beings in that world who had acquired transcendental knowledge all cried out together, saying, "Look, World-Honored One! Someone is making off with us! Save and protect us, we beg of you!" But the Buddha Immovable said, "This is not my doing. This is the work of Vimalakirti's super-natural powers." And the rest of the beings in that world who had not yet acquired transcendental knowledge did not even realize or know where they had gotten to. But although the Wonderful Joy world had been placed on the ground in this world, it had not increased or decreased in size, and this world likewise had in no way become cramped or narrow, but was no different from what it had always been.

Then Shakyamuni Buddha addressed his great assembly, saying, "Do you see the Wonderful Joy world, the Thus Come One Immovable, and the splendid adornments of his land, the purity of the practices carried out by his bodhisattvas, the impeccable cleanness of his major disciples?"

All replied, "Yes, we have seen them."

The Buddha said, "If bodhisattvas wish to acquire a Buddha land as pure and spotless as this, they should study the way practiced by the Thus Come One Immovable."

When this Wonderful Joy country appeared in the saha world, fourteen nayutas of persons set their minds on attaining anuttara-samyak-sambodhi, all desiring to be born in the Buddha land Wonderful Joy. Shakyamuni thereupon gave them a prophecy, saying, "You will be born in that land."

Then the Wonderful Joy world, having finished bestowing enrichment and benefit upon this country, returned to its original place. All the members of the assembly saw it do so.

The Buddha addressed Shariputra, saying, "Did you see this Wonderful Joy world and the Buddha Immovable?"

"Yes, I saw them, World-Honored One. And I beg you to enable all living beings to acquire a clean and pure land like that of the Buddha Immovable, and to gain transcendental powers like those of Vimalakirti.

"World-Honored One, I and the others have happily acquired excellent benefits, being able to see this person and to approach and make offerings to him. And other living beings, either now while the Buddha is here or after he has passed away, if they hear this sutra, will acquire excellent benefits as well. And how much more so if, having heard it, they believe and understand it, accept and uphold it, read and recite it, expound it to others, and practice it as the Law directs. One who holds this sutra in hand has thereby acquired the storehouse of the jewels of the Law. If one reads and recites it, understands and expounds it, and practices it as the Law directs, the Buddhas will guard and keep in mind that person. And if there are those who give alms to such a person, let it be known that this is giving alms to the Buddha. If there are those who copy and preserve these sutra scrolls, let it be known that the Thus Come One will visit their rooms. And if there are those who, hearing this sutra, can respond with appropriate joy, those persons will forthwith acquire comprehensive wisdom. If there are those who believe and understand this sutra, even just one four line verse of it, and can expound it to others, let it be known that such persons will forthwith receive a prophecy of the attainment of anuttara-samyak-sambodhi."

Footnotes and references:


Vimalakirti spells out the full process of negation only for the first and last of the five components, form and consciousness, but it is assumed that the same negations apply to the other three, perception, conception, and volition.

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