Vimalakirti Sutra

by Burton Watson | 1997 | 43,710 words

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

Chapter 13 - The Offering Of The Law

At that time Shakra Devanam (Indra) spoke up from the great assembly, addressing the Buddha in these words, "World-Honored One, though I have heard hundreds and thousands of sutras from the Buddha and Manjushri, I have never heard one with such astounding freedom of action, transcendental powers, and unfailing grasp of the true reality. According to my understanding of what the Buddha has just said, if there are living beings who hear this sutra on the Law, believe and understand it, accept and uphold it, read and recite it, then they will surely and without doubt acquire that Law And how much more so if they practice it as the Law directs. Such persons will shut off all evil paths of existence and open the gates to all good ones. They will be constantly guarded and kept in mind by the Buddhas, will refute the non-Buddhist teachings, overcome the devil and his animosity, cultivate and practice bodhi, and rest secure in the place of practice, following in the way trod by the Thus Come One.

"World-Honored One, if there are persons who accept and uphold, read and recite this sutra and practice it as the Law directs, then I and my followers will offer alms to them and serve them. And if there is a place among the villages or towns, the mountain forests or the broad plain where this sutra exists; then I and my followers will go there together to listen to and accept the Law; and those who do not yet believe in it I will lead to belief, and to those who already believe I will be a guardian."

The Buddha said, "Excellent, excellent, heavenly lord! It is just as you have said. And I will assist you in your joyful task. This sutra expounds in comprehensive manner the anuttara-samyak-sambodhi of the Buddhas of the past, future, and present, which is beyond comprehension. Therefore, heavenly lord, if good men and good women accept, uphold, read, recite, and make offerings to this sutra, they are making offering to the Buddhas of past, future, and present.

"Heavenly lord, suppose this thousand-millionfold world were as full of Thus Come Ones as it is of sugarcane, bamboo, reeds, rice and hemp plants, or forest trees. If there were good men or good women who for the space of a kalpa, or less than a kalpa, were to revere and honor, praise and make offerings to them and provide for their well-being; and if after those Buddhas had passed away, these persons built towers adorned with the seven treasures to house the relics from each Buddha body, towers so broad they covered the four continents and so high they reached to the Brahma heaven, their central pole richly decorated; and if these persons made offerings of all kinds of flowers, incense, necklaces, flags, pennants, and music, all of the most refined and wonderful kind, and did this for the space of a kalpa, or less than a kalpa-heavenly lord, what is your opinion? Would these persons have thereby planted the seeds of many blessings?"

Shakra Devanam replied, "Of many blessings indeed, World-Honored One! If I were to spend a hundred thousand million kalpas, I could never finish describing all their blessings and merits."

The Buddha said to the heavenly lord, "You should understand that if there are good men and good women who, on hearing this sutra on the emancipation Beyond Comprehension, believe, understand, accept, uphold, read, recite, and practice it, their blessings will be even greater than those of such persons. Why? Because the bodhi of the Buddhas is all born from this sutra. The marks of bodhi are beyond limit or measure, and for that reason their blessings are immeasurable."

The Buddha then said to the heavenly lord, "A countless asamkhya number of kalpas in the past, there appeared in the world a Buddha named Medicine King, Thus Come One, worthy of offerings, of right and universal knowledge, perfect clarity and conduct, well gone, understanding the world, unexcelled worthy, trainer of people, teacher of heavenly and human beings, Buddha, World-Honored One.l His world was called Great Adornment and his kalpa was called Adornment. This Buddha had a life span of twenty small kalpas. His voice-hearer monks numbered thirty-six million nayutas and his bodhisattva monks twelve million.

"Heavenly lord, at that time there was a wheel-turning sage king named Jeweled Parasol who possessed all the seven treasures and ruled over the four continents of the world. This king had a thousand sons, upright, valiant, capable of overpowering their enemies. At that time Jeweled Parasol came with his followers to make offerings to the Thus Come One Medicine King, providing him with all he needed for his well-being. He did this for five whole kalpas, and when the five kalpas were over, he said to his sons, 'You too should make offerings to the Buddha with the same deeply searching mind as I have shown.' The thousand sons, obeying their father's command, proceeded to make offerings to the Thus Come One Medicine King for another five full kalpas, providing him with everything needed for his wellbeing.

"One of the king's sons named Moon Parasol sat all alone, thinking to himself, 'Isn't there some offering that is better than these?'

"Then, through the Buddha's supernatural power, a heavenly being appeared in the sky and said, 'Good man, the offering of the Law is the finest of all offerings!'

"The son asked, 'What is the offering of the Law?'

"The heavenly being replied, 'You should go and ask the Thus Come One Medicine King. He will explain to you in detail the offering of the Law'


"At once the prince Moon Parasol went to call on the Thus Come One Medicine King. After bowing his head in obeisance at the Buddha's feet, he retired to one side and addressed the Buddha, saying, 'World-Honored One, among all offerings, the offering of the Law is the finest. But what is the offering of the Law?'

"The Buddha said, 'Good man, the offering of the Law means the profound sutras preached by the Buddhas. The people of this world all find them hard to believe and hard to accept, for they are wonderfully subtle and hard to make out, clean and pure and without stain. They cannot be grasped through the making of distinctions or through thought. They are contained in the storehouse of the bodhisattva and are sealed with the dharani seal,[2] and where this seal is affixed, one reaches the level of no regression. They bring about observance of the six paramitas, the skillful discrimination of meanings, and compliance with the teachings of bodhi, and through the finest of all sutras one enters the realm of great pity and compassion. The sutras put an end to all devilish affairs and all erroneous views, conform to the teaching on causality and those on no ego, no individual, no living beings, no life span, emptiness, no form, no action, and no arousing. They enable living beings to sit in the place of practice and to turn the wheel of the Law

"'Heavenly beings, dragons, spirits, gandharvas, and the others join in praising them. They can enable living beings to enter the storehouse of the Buddha Law; they embrace the comprehensive wisdom of the worthies and sages and expound the way practiced by the bodhisattvas. Relying on the principle of the true nature of all phenomena, they clearly set forth the doctrines of impermanence; suffering, emptiness, no ego, and tranquil extinction. They can save all living beings who violate the prohibitions, and in all dévils, non-Buddhist believers, and those given to greed and attachment they can inspiré fear. Buddhas, worthies, and sages join in extolling them. They turn away from the sufferings of birth and death and show instead the joy of nirvana. They are preached by the Buddhas of the ten directions and the three existences of past, present, and future.

"'If one hears sutras such as these, believes, understands, accepts, upholds, reads, and recites them, and by employing the power of expedient means makes distinctions and expounds them for the sake of living beings, rendering their meaning perfectly clear, one is thereby guarding and protecting the Law, and this is called the offering of the Law.

"'Again, the sutras enable one to practice the teachings as the Law directs, to accord with the twelve-linked chain of causation, to set aside erroneous views and accept the truth of birthlessness, to realize once and for all that there is no ego, no existence of living beings, no deviating from or disputing with the law of cause and effect, thus removing all thought of personal possession.

"'They teach one to rely on meaning, not on words; to rely on wisdom, not on consciousness; to rely on sutras that are complete in meaning, not on those that are incomplete in meaning; to rely on the Law, not on the person; to go along with the true form of things, realizing that there is no entering in and no destination. They teach that, since ignorance in the end does not exist, so too action in the end does not exist, and so on through the other links in the twelve-linked chain of causation down to the fact that, since birth in the end does not exist, so too old age and death in the end do not exist. And when one learns to see in this manner, the twelve-linked chain of causation will cease to have any form that comes to an end, and one will no longer entertain the view that it does. This is called the finest of all offerings of the Law'"

The Buddha [Shakyamuni] then said to the heavenly lord, "When Prince Moon Parasol heard Medicine King Buddha expound the Law in this manner, he acquired a compliant tolerance of the truth of birthlessness. At once he took off his jeweled robes and the ornaments that adorned his body and offered them to the Buddha, saying, 'World-Honored One, after the Thus Come One has passed into extinction, I will carry out offerings of the Law and guard the correct Law. I beg you, through your might and supernatural powers, to take pity on me and strengthen me so that I can conquer the devil and his enmity and practice the bodhisattva way'

"The Buddha knew the thoughts that were in his deeply searching mind and bestowed on him a prophecy, saying, 'In that latter age you will guard and protect the citadel of the Law.'

"Heavenly lord, at that time Prince Moon Parasol, observing the purity of the Law and hearing this prophecy bestowed by the Buddha, was moved by faith to leave the household life and take up the practice of the good Law. He had not devoted him-self to diligent practice for long when he was able to acquire the five transcendental powers, carry out the bodhisattva way, and gain dharani power and unflagging eloquence. After the Buddha had passed into extinction, he exercised the transcendental powers he had acquired, the power to retain all he had heard, and the eloquence for fully ten small kalpas, continuing to turn the wheel of the Law turned by the Thus Come One Medicine King and spreading the teachings abroad. This monk Moon Parasol, by guarding and protecting the Law and putting forth diligent effort, was able in the space of his lifetime to convert hundreds, thousands, millions of persons, insuring that they would never regress in their pursuit of anuttara-samyak-sambodhi; to cause fourteen nayutas of others to develop a profound aspiration for the way of the voice-hearer or the pratyekabuddha; and to enable countless living beings to be born in the heavenly realm.

"Heavenly lord, the person who was king Jeweled Parasol at the time I have been speaking of-what do you think? He has now become a Buddha named Jewel Flame Thus Come One. And the king's one thousand sons will become the thousand Buddhas who will appear in our present age, the Worthy Kalpa.[3] Krakucchanda was the first to attain Buddhahood, and the last will be the Thus Come One named Ruchi. The monk Moon Parasol is none other than myself.

"Thus, heavenly lord, you should understand this important point. The offering of the Law is the finest of all offerings. It is first in rank and without equal. Therefore, heavenly lord, you should use this offering of the Law as your offering to the Buddha."

Footnotes and references:


The phrases following the name of the Buddha constitute the conventional ten epithets or honorable titles for a Buddha.


The seal of memory that insures full retention of the teachings.


Various sutras predict that a thousand Buddhas will appear in our present kalpa or eon, which is accordingly termed the Worthy Kalpa. Shakyamuni is the fourth to appear, and Maitreya will be the fifth.

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