Vimalakirti Sutra

by Burton Watson | 1997 | 43,710 words

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


The glossary contains definitions of all important personal and place names in the translation, as well as major Sanskrit terms and numerical categories. Sanskrit words are given with full diacritical marks when that form differs from the one in which the word appears in the translation. Skt = Sanskrit; Ch = Chinese; J = Japanese.

Akanishtha (Akanistha) heaven. The highest heaven in the world of form. Beings in this heaven possess a pure body free from all suffering and illness.

Akshobhya (Aksobhya). A Buddha mentioned in chapters 7 and Iz. His name, which means "immovable," is rendered in Chinese as Wu-tung. He dwells in the eastern region and is especially important in Esoteric Buddhism.

Amita. The Sanskrit Amita, "infinite," stands for Amitábha, "infinite light," or Amitáyus, "infinite life." The name of a Buddha mentioned in chapter 7. He resides in a pure land in the west and is the central figure in the Pure Land teachings of Chinese and Japanese Buddhism.

Amra (flmra) Gardens. Also known as the flmrapáli or flmbapáli Gardens. Gardens on the outskirts of Vaishali, presented to the Buddha and his followers by a courtesan of the city named flmrapáli. The word ámra means mango.

Ananda (Ananda). Cousin of Shakyamuni and one of his ten major disciples. He accompanied Shakyamuni for many years as his personal attendant and heard more of his teachings than any other disciple. He is accordingly known as foremost in hearing the Buddha's teachings. At the First Council held after Shakyamuní s death to put in order his teachings, Ananda is said to have recited the sutras from memory. The words "This is what I heard" that appear at the beginning of most sutras refer to this recitation.

Aniruddha. Cousin of Shakyamuni and one of his ten major disciples, known as foremost in divine insight.

anuttara-samyak-sambodhi (anuttara-samyak-sambodhi). Supreme perfect enlightenment, the enlightenment of a Buddha.

arhat. A "worthy" one who has attained the highest stage of Hinayana enlightenment, the highest of four kinds of voice-hearers. Such a person has gained freedom from transmigration in the six paths of existence. Mahayana Buddhism urges one to reject the goal of arhat and instead strive for the highest level of enlightenment, that of Buddhahood.

asamkhya (asamkhya). An ancient Indian numerical unit indicating an uncountably large number.

asura. A class of contentious demons in India mythology who fight continually with the god Indra. In Buddhism the asuras constitute one of the eight kinds of nonhuman beings who protect Buddhism.

auspicious marks. Remarkable physical characteristics possessed by Buddhas and other beings of great spiritual excellence. See also thirty-two features. Bodhi. Enlightenment or Buddhahood.

bodhi tree. The pipal tree of Buddhagayá under which Shakyamuni attained enlightenment.

Bodhisattva. A being who aspires to attain Buddhahood and carries out various altruistic practices in order to achieve that goal. Compassion is the outstanding characteristic of the bodhisattva, who postpones his or her own entry into nirvana in order to assist others to gain enlightenment. The bodhisattva figure is particularly important in Mahayana Buddhism.

Brahma king. A king of the Brahma heaven, a deity who has attained supremacy in a particular universe. In Mahayana sutras such as the Vimalakirti the Brahma kings are vast in number.

Brahma path. Another name for the four immeasurable qualities, q.v. -hain of causation. See twelve-linked chain of causation.

Dharani (dhárani). A spell or formula said to protect one who recites it and benefit the person by virtue of its mystic power. The word literally means "to preserve and uphold" the Buddha's teachings in one's mind, hence it is associated with the power of memory.

Dharmaldharma (Ch fa, J hó). The Sanskrit word dharma has a wide range of meanings. When it appears in the translation or in the explanatory material here, it has one of three meanings: (i) The Buddhist doctrine or teachings; often translated as the Law (z) The reality or truth revealed in the Buddhist teachings, the absolute. When used in either of these two meanings, the word has been capitalized and appears as Dharma. (3) The countless things or phenomena that make up existence. When used in this meaning it is written with a small "d": dharma.

Dharma body. See three bodies.

Dharma-nature. The underlying nature of all things, the absolute.

eight difficulties. Eight conditions under which it is difficult to see a Buddha or hear the Law. They are: (I) when one is in hell, (z) when one is a beast, (3) when one is a hungry spirit, (4) when one is in a heaven of long life, (5) when one is in the continent north of Mt. Sumeru, (6) when one is deaf, blind, and mute, (7) when one is complacent in worldly wisdom, and (8) when one lives in a time or place where there is no Buddha.

eight emancipations. They are: emancipation from the view that the body is pure, from the view that the outside world is pure, from illusions, from the view that matter exists, from the view that consciousness has limits, from the view that a thing has its own property from the view that thought exists or that thought does not exist, and from the view that mentality exists in any sense.

eight errors. The opposite of the eight items of the eightfold path, q.v. eighteen sense-realms. The six sense-media (definition I), plus their six objects and the element of consciousness added to each of the six objects.

eighteen unshared properties. Properties possessed by a Buddha and not shared by others. They are: freedom from illusions, eloquence, absence of attachments, impartiality constant concentration of mind, knowledge of all things, untiring intention to lead beings to salvation, incessant endeavor consistency of teachings with those of other Buddhas, perfect wisdom, pes,fect emancipation, perfect insight, consistency of deeds with wisdom, consistency of words with wisdom, consistency of mind with wisdom, knowledge of the past, knowledge of the future, and knowledge of the present.

Eightfold holy path. Right views, right thinking, right speech, right action, right way of life, right endeavor right mindfulness, and right meditation. Part of the thirty-seven elements of the Way.

Eighty characteristics. Extraordinary features that only Buddhas and bodhisattvas possess. There are various explanations of the eighty characteristics; some of the characteristics duplicate the thirty-two features.

expedient means. (Skt upáya, Ch fang-pien, J hóben) Skillful expedient methods devised by Buddhas and bodhisattvas to relieve others from suffering and lead them to enlightenment.

Five cardinal sins. Killing one's father killing one's mother killing an arhat, causing injury to a Buddha, and disrupting the harmony of the order. five components. Also called five skandas or five aggregates; components that in association make up most living beings. Form, perception, conception, volition, and consciousness.

five desires. The desires that arise from the contact of the five sense organs-eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and body-with their respective objects. Sometimes the five desires are defined as the desires for wealth, sex, food and drink, fame, and sleep.

five eyes. Five different faculties of vision: (z) the physical eye, (z) the divine eye, (3) the wisdom eye, (4) the Dharma eye, and (5) the Buddha eye. five impurities. Sometimes called the five defilements; they are: (z) the impurity of the age, such as war or other disruptions of the social or natural environment; (z) impurity of desire, the tendency to be ruled by emotions such as greed and anger; (3) impurity of living beings, the physical and spiritual decline of human beings; (4) impurity of view deriving from mistaken views or values; and (5) impurity of life span, the distortion of life itself, which leads to a disordered and shortened life span.

five obscurations. Five mental impediments that hinder meditation: greed, anger depression and languor agitation and regret, and doubt.

five powers. Five powers gained through the five roots of goodness. Part of the thirty-seven elements of the Way.

five realms of existence. The five lower paths or realms of existence, those of hell dwellers, hungry spirits, beasts, asuras, and human beings.

five roots of goodness. Faith, effort, mindfulness, concentration, and wisdom. Part of the thirty-seven elements of the Way

four bases of supernatural power. Intense concentration of will, intense concentration of mind, intense concentration of effort, intense concentration of analysis. Part of the thirty-seven elements of the Way.

Four Heavenly Kings. Known in Sanskrit as lokapalás or World-Protectors, they serve Indra as his generals and guard the four continents that surround Mt. Sumeru. In Buddhism they serve as protectors of the Dharma.

four immeasurable qualities. Immeasurable pity immeasurable compassion, immeasurable joy in helping all beings to become free of suffering, and immeasurable indifference in rising above all emotions and distinctions. Possession of these qualities insures one of birth in the Brahma heaven.

four kinds of devils. The demons of earthly desires, of the five components, of death, and of the heavenly realm.

four kinds of fearlessness. Four aspects of the Buddhá s fearlessness in preaching. The Buddha is fearless in declaring that he is enlightened to the truth of all phenomena; fearless in proclaiming he has extinguished all desires and illusions; fearless in teaching that desires and karma can be obstacles to enlightenment; and fearless in teaching that one can overcome all sufferings by practicing Buddhism.

four meditations. Four stages of meditation that enable one to be favored by bliss in the world of form.

four methods of winning people. Four methods employed by bodhisattvas to attract others to their teachings. They are to give alms and expound the Law; to speak in a kindly manner; to work to benefit others; and to share their hardships and cooperate with them.

four noble truths. A fundamental doctrine of early Buddhism, it teaches that (i) all existence is marked by suffering; (z) suffering is caused by craving; (3) by doing awáy with craving one can gain release from suffering; (4) there is a method for achieving this goal. The method is that known as the eightfold path, which enjoins one to cultivate right views, right thinking, right speech, right action, right way of life, right endeavor right mindfulness, and right meditation.

Four stages of mindfulness. A Hinayana procedure for quieting the mind by contemplating the body as impure, sensation as always leading to suffering, the mind as impermanent, and things as being dependent in nature. Part of the thirty-seven elements of the Way.

Four topsyturvy views. Mistaking the impermanent for the permanent, the selfless for the self-possessing, the impure for the pure, and the miserable for the happy.

Four types of correct effort. Efforts to put an end to existing sin or evil, to prevent evil from arising, to bring good into existence, and to encourage existing good. Part of the thirty-seven elements of the Way.

Gandharva. A heavenly musician, one of the eight kinds of nonhuman beings who protect Buddhism.

Garuda (garuda). In Indian mythology a giant bird that is said to feed on dragons. One of the eight kinds of nonhuman beings who protect Buddhism. :reat Uehicle. See Mahayana.

Hfinayana (Hinayána, Ch hsiao-ch'eng, J shójó). The term Hinayana or "Lesser Vehicle" is used by followers of the Mahayana teachings to designate the other major branch of Buddhism. Hinayana teaches that, since Buddhahood is almost impossible to attain, one should aim for a "lesser" goal, that of arhat. It is the form of Buddhism that prevails today in Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos, where it is known as Theraváda or the Teaching of the Elders.

Indra. Originally the god of thunder in Indian mythology, he was later incorporated into Buddhism as a disciple of the Buddha and protector of the Dharma and its followers. Also called Shakra (Šakra). As in the case of Brahma, the Indras are depicted as vast in number.

Jambudvipa (Jambudvipa). The continent lying to the south of Mt. Sumeru, the "continent of the jambu trees," one of the four continents that make up a world. It is populated by people with bad karma; hence, Buddhism spreads there in order to bring them to salvation.

calpa. An extremely long period of time.

cimnara (kimnara). A type of being who excels in singing and dancing and has a horse's head and a man's body. One of the eight kinds of nonhuman beings who protect Buddhism.

Krakucchanda. First of the thousand Buddhas that the sutras predict will appear in our present kalpa, the Worthy Kalpa.

kshatriya (ksatriya). The warrior or ruler class in ancient India.

Kumarajiva (Kumárajiva, 344~413 C.E.). Central Asian scholar-monk who, with the aid of Chinese assistants, translated many Buddhist works into Chinese.

Lesser Uehicle. See Hinayana.

Mahakashyapa (Mahákášyapa). One of Skakyamuní s ten major disciples, known as foremost in ascetic practice. After Shakyamuní s death, he became head of the order.

Mahakatyayana (Mahákátyáyana). One of Shakyamuní s ten major disciples, known as foremost in debate.

Mahayana (Maháyána, Ch ta-ch'eng, J daijó). One of the two main branches of Buddhism. It calls itself Mahayana or the "Great Vehicle" because its teachings enable all beings to attain Buddhahood. It lays particular emphasis upon the bodhisattva, who vows to attain Buddhahood for himself and to assist all others to do so. The Mahayana teachings arose around the first century B.C.E. and first century C.E. in India and spread to China, Tibet, Korea, Japan, and Vietnam.

mahoraga. A being with the head of a snake, one of the eight kinds of nonhuman beings who protect Buddhism.

Maitreya. A bodhisattva who figures prominently in the Vimalakirti Sutra. It is said that he will succeed Shakyamuni as the Buddha of the future and that he will appear in this world 5,67o million years after Shakyamuni's death. Meanwhile, according to tradition, he dwelJs in the Tushita heaven.

Manjushri (Maňjušri). A bodhisattva who figures prominently in the Vimalakirti Sutra. He is symbolic of the perfection of wisdom. In Buddhist art he is customariJy depicted riding on a lion.

Maudgalyayana (Maudgalyáyana). One of Shakyamuni's ten major disciples, known as foremost iri transcendental powers.

Mount Sumeru. See Sumeru.

Narayana (Náráyana). Another name for the god Vishnu in Indian mythology. Incorporated into Buddhism as a protective deity he is represented in Buddhist scriptures as possessing great physical strength.

nine sources of anxiety. Nine mental distractions caused by thinking that someone has done injury to oneself, or to someone dear to oneself, or has served one's enemies, and imagining these three types of injuries as taking place in the three eras of past, present, and future.

nirvana (nirvána). The word, which means "blown out," indicates the state in which one has escaped from the cycle of birth and death. In Mahayana Buddhism, it is taken to mean awakening to the true nature of phenomena, or the perfection of Buddha wisdom.

Papiyas (Pápiyas). Another name for the Devil or Mára, a personification of evil. paramita. See six paramitas.

place of practice. A place where one carries out religious practice and gains enlightenment, often referring specifically to the place where Shakyamuni gained enlightenment.

pratyekabuddha. A "self-enlightened" being, one who has won an understanding of the truth through his or her own efforts but makes no effort to enlighten others.

Purna Maitrayaniputra (Púrna Maitráyaniputra). Also known simply as Purna. One of Shakyamuní s ten major disciples, known as foremost in preaching the Law

Rahula (Ráhula). The son of Shakyamuni and later one of his ten major disciples, known as foremost in inconspicuous practices.

rakshasa (ráksasa). A type of evil demon who sometimes appears in Buddhist scriptures as a protector of Buddhism.

Ruchi (Ruci). Last of the thousand Buddhas that the sutras predict will appear in our present kalpa, the Worthy Kalpa.

saha (sahá) world. Our present world, which is full of suffering to be endured. The Sanskrit word saha means "endurance."

samadhi (samádhi). A state of intense concentration of mind, which produces a sense of inner serenity.

samsara (samsára). The ordinary world of suffering and ryclical birth and death. sense-media. See six sense-media.

seven abodes of consciousness. Seven categories of living beings, namely: beings who differ physically and intellectually; beings who differ physically but are similar intellectually; beings who are similar physically but differ intellectually; beings who are similar physically and intellectually; and three types of immaterial beings. These beings consist of humans, gods of the various realms of form, and beings in the realm of formlessness.

seven assets. Faith, observation of the precepts, almsgiving, wide knowledge, wisdom, an inward sense of shame, and a sense of shame before others. seven factors of enlightenment. Discerning true from false, effort, joy buoyanry mindlessness, concentration, and indifference. Part of the thirty-seven elements of the Way

seven yurities. Purity in observance of the precepts, in mind, in views, in resolution of doubts, in discernment of paths, in knowledge and insight, and in nirvana.

seven treasures. Seven precious substances mentioned in Buddhist scriptures. The list varies from text to text, but is usually given as gold, silver lapis lazuli, seashell, agate, pearl, and carnelian.

Shakra or Shakra Devanam (Šakra Devánám). Another name for Indra, q.v. Shariputra (Šáriputra). One of Shakyamuni's ten major disciples, known as foremost in wisdom.

Shikin (Šikhin). Name of a Brahma king.

six heretical teachers. Six influential thinkers in India during Shakyamuní s time who openly broke with the old Vedic tradition and challenged Brahman authority in the Indian social order. They are referred to as "heretical" because their doctrines differed from those of Buddhism. They are Purána Kášyapa, Máskárin Gošáliputra, Samjáyin Vairariputra, Kakuda Kátyáyana, Ajita Kešakambala, and Nirgrantha Jňátiputra.

six objects for remembrance. The Buddha, the Law the order the precepts, almsgiving, and deities.

six paramitas (paramitás). Six practices required of Mahayana bodhisattvas in order to attain Buddhahood. The Sanskrit word paramita means "perfection" or "having reached the other shore," that is, having crossed over from the shore of delusion to that of enlightenment. The six practices are: (i) almsgiving, which includes material almsgiving, almsgiving of the Law and almsgiving of fearlessness; (z) keeping the precepts; (3) forbearance or bearing up patiently under opposition and hardship; (q.) assiduousness or diligence in practice; (5) meditation; and (6) wisdom. The Sanskrit names for the six paramitas are dána, sila, ksánti, virya, dhyána, and prajňá. Sometimes four more are added: (7) skill in expedient means, (8) vows, (g) power and (zo) knowledge, to make ten paramitas.

six sense-media. (i) The six sense organs: eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body and mind. (z) The six sense organs along with their respective objects or things that enter them: form, sound, scent, taste, object, and consciousness.

six transcendental powers. Powers that Buddhas, bodhisattvas, and arhats are said to possess. They are: the power of being anywhere at will; the power of seeing anything anywhere; the power of hearing any sound any-where; the power of knowing the thoughts of all other minds; the power of knowing past lives; and the power of eradicating illusions.

six types of harmonious respect. Being harmonious with and respectful of others in action, word, mind, observance of the precepts, doctrine, and religious practice.

sixty-two erroneous views. A term denoting all views other than the correct one of selflessness.

Subhuti (Subhúti). One of Shakyamuni's ten major disciples, depicted in the Wisdom sutras as foremost in understanding the doctrine of emptiness or nondualism.

suchness, sometimes called thusness. The ultimate reality underlying all things, the absolute.

Sumeru. A huge mountain that stands at the center of the world. The god Shakra or Indra resides on the top, while the Four Heavenly Kings live halfway down the four sides. At its base are four continents, the most important of which is that lying to the south called Jambudvipa, where Buddhism spreads.

Tathagata. See Thus Come One.

ten evil actions. See ten good actions.

ten good actions. Refraining from committing the ten evil actions, which are: killing, stealing, illicit sexual conduct, lying, harsh words, defaming, duplicity greed, anger and the holding of mistaken views.

ten powers. The powers of a Buddha, namely the power of knowing what is true and what is not; the power of knowing the karmic causality at work in the lives of all beings past, present, and future; the power of knowing all stages of concentration, emancipation, and meditation; the power of knowing the life-condition of all people; the power of judging all peo-ple's understanding; the power of discerning the superiority or inferiority of all people's capacity; the power of knowing the effects of all people's actions; the power of remembering past lifetimes; the power of knowing when each person will be born and die and in what realm that person will be reborn; and the power of eradicating all illusions.

thirty-seven elements of the Way. Thirty-seven practices leading to enlightenment, namely four states of mindfulness, four types of correct effort, four bases of supernatural power five roots of goodness, five powers, seven factors of enlightenment, and the eightfold holy path.

thirty-two features. Remarkable physical characteristics possessed by great beings such as Buddhas and wheel-turning kings. They are: flat soles; markings of the wheel of the Law on the soles; long slender fingers; broad flat heels; webbed feet and hands; extremely flexible limbs; protuberant insteps; slender legs like those of a deer; hands that extend past the knees even when standing; concealed genitals; body height equal to armspan; body hair that turns upward; one hair growing from each pore; golden skin; light radiating from the body; thin pliant skin; well-developed muscles in hands, feet, shoulders, and nape of neck; well-developed muscles below armpits; dignified torso like that of a lion; large straight body; substantial shoulders; forty teeth; even teeth; four white fangs; full cheeks like those of a lion; unexcelled sense of taste; long broad tongue; voice that can reach to the Brahma heaven; eyes the color of blue lotus blossoms; long eyelashes like those of a cow; protuberant knot of flesh like a topknot on crown of head; tuft of white hair between the eye-brows, curling to the right.

thousand-millionfold world. A major world system in ancient Indian cosmology. A world consists of a Mt. Sumeru, its surrounding seas and mountains, heavenly bodies, etc., extending upward to the first meditation heaven in the world of form and downward to the circle of wind that forms the basis of a world. One thousand such worlds make up a minor world system, one thousand minor world systems constitute an intermediate world system, and one thousand intermediate world systems form a major world system. Therefore, one major world system comprises one billion worlds. There were thought to be countless major world systems in the universe.

three bodies. An important doctrine in many Mahayana texts, but one that is only touched on in the Vimalakirti Sutra. According to it, the Buddha is viewed as manifesting three aspects or "bodies": (i) the Dharma body (Skt dharma-káya), the Buddha as the embodiment of the ultimate and unchanging Law or truth; (z) the bliss body or reward body (Skt samb-hoga-káya), the form the Buddha obtained as the reward for completing bodhisattva practice and gaining full enlightenment; and (3).the manifested body (Skt nirmána-káya), the physical form in which the Buddha appears in this world in order to save living beings.

three evils or three evil paths. The three evil realms of existence, namely, hell, the realm of hungry spirits, and that of beasts.

Three gates to emancipation. Emptiness, formlessness, and nonaction or wishlessness.

three thousand worlds. Another name for a thousand-millionfold world. Three Treasures. The three things that all Buddhist believers are enjoined to serve and revere, namely the Buddha, the Law or Dharma, and the Samgha or order.

three understandings. Three of the six transcendental powers: the power of seeing anything anywhere, the power of knowing past lives, and the power of eradicating illusions.

three vehicles. The path or career of the shravaka or voice-hearer; of the pratyekabuddha; and of the bodhisattva or Buddha.

threefold world. The world of desire, the world of form, and the world of formlessness. The realms inhabited by unenlightened beings who transmigrate within the six paths. Beings in the world of desire are ruled by various desires. Those in the world of form have material form but no desires. Those in the world of formlessness are free from both desire and form.

Thus Come One (Skt tathágata, Ch ju-lai, J nyorai). One of the ten epithets for a Buddha; a commonly used term for a Buddha.

Trayastrimsha (Tráyastrimša) heaven. Heaven of the Thirty-Three Gods, second of the six heavens of the world of desire. It is located on a plateau at the top of Mt. Sumeru, where thirty-three gods, including Indra, live. Beings in this heaven have a life span of one thousand years, each day of which is equal to a hundred years in the saha world.

Tushita (Tusita) heaven. Heaven of Satisfaaion, the fourth of the six heavens in the world of desire. It is said that bodhisattvas are reborn there just before their last rebirth in the world when they will attain Buddhahood. The future Buddha, Maitreya, is at present dwelling in the Tushita heaven.

twelve sense-media. See six sense-media, definition (z).

twelve-linked chain of causation. Also called the doctrine of dependent origination, an important part of the teaching of early Buddhism. It illustrates step by step the causal relationship between ignorance and suffering, i.e., ignorance leads to (karmic) action, action to consciousness, consciousness to name and form, name and form to the six sense organs, the six sense organs to contact, contact to sensation, sensation to desire, desire to attachment, attachment to existence, existence to birth (rebirth), and birth to the sufferings of old age and death.

Upali (Upáli). One of Shakyamuni's ten major disciples, known as foremost in observing the precepts.

voice-hearer (Skt šrávaka). One who listens to the teaching of Shakyamuni Buddha. The term originally applied to Shakyamuni's immediate disciples but later came to mean those who follow the teachings of Hinayana Buddhism.

Uaishali (Uaišáli). Large city in northeastern India in the time of Shakyamuni Buddha. Corresponds to the present-day city of Basarh in Bihar. wheel-turning king or wheel-turning sage king. An ideal ruler in Indian

mythology. In Buddhism the wheel-turning kings are kings who rule by virtue rather than force.

yaksha (yaksa). A type of demon, one of the eight kinds of nonhuman beings who protect Buddhism.

yojana. A unit of measureínent in ancient India, equal to the distance that the royal army could march in a day.

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