The Teaching of Vimalakīrti
Purification of the Buddhafield
Degé Kangyur vol. 60 (mdo sde, ma), folios 175.a–239.a
While the Buddha is teaching outside the city of Vaiśālī, a notable householder in the city—the great bodhisattva Vimalakīrti—apparently falls sick. The Buddha asks his disciple and bodhisattva disciples to call on Vimalakīrti, but each of them relates previous encounters that have rendered them reluctant to face his penetrating scrutiny of their attitudes and activities. Only Mañjuśrī has the courage to pay him a visit, and in the conversations that ensue between Vimalakīrti, Mañjuśrī, and several other interlocutors, Vimalakīrti sets out an uncompromising and profound view of the Buddha’s teaching and the bodhisattva path, illustrated by various miraculous displays. Its masterful narrative structure, dramatic and sometimes humorous dialogue, and highly evolved presentation of teachings have made this sūtra one of the favorites of Mahāyāna literature.
Translated by Robert A. F. Thurman and first published, under the title The Holy Teaching of Vimalakīrti: A Mahāyāna Scripture, by the Pennsylvania State University Press, University Park and London, in 1976.
This electronic edition for 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha, with an abridged introduction and notes, and lightly edited under the supervision of Professor Thurman, is published by his kind permission as the copyright holder.
From the Preface to the original edition:
I sincerely thank my friend and benefactor, Dr. C. T. Shen, both for his sponsorship of the work and for his most helpful collaboration in the work of comparing the Tibetan and Chinese versions. We were sometimes joined in our round-table discussions by Drs. C. S. George, Tao-Tien Yi, F. S. K. Koo, and T. C. Tsao, whose helpful suggestions I gratefully acknowledge. My thanks also go to Ms. Yeshe Tsomo and Ms. Leah Zahler for their invaluable editorial assistance, and to Ms. Carole Schwager and the staff of The Pennsylvania State University Press.
Preface to this electronic edition:
I earnestly thank Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche for his great efforts in creating the 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha project, to present in English the many great works of the Buddha’s teachings freely to the world.
I also thank John Canti, of 84000, for his careful, creative, and very learned translating and editorial work on this electronic edition, without which this improved translation would not have materialized. I thank Mr. Patrick Alexander, of the Penn State University Press, who was the one who informed me that the copyright to my original translation done for the Institute for Advanced Studies of World Religions had reverted to me upon the termination of that Institute, to which I had previously conveyed my rights.
I intend to publish in print form a further update of that original version at a future time. Since there have been a number of free-floating electronic forms of this text on the internet for some years now, I am happy that the sūtra in its current revision is now available in the 84000 Reading Room, among the many other translations on that site.
Thus did I hear on a single occasion. The Lord Buddha was in residence in the garden of Āmrapālī, in the city of Vaiśālī, attended by a great gathering. Of bhikṣus there were eight thousand, all arhats. They were free from impurities and afflictions, and all had attained self-mastery. Their minds were entirely liberated by perfect knowledge. They were calm and dignified, like royal elephants. They had accomplished their work, done what they had to do, cast off their burdens, attained their goals, and totally destroyed the bonds of existence. Their true knowledge had made their minds entirely free. They all had attained the utmost perfection of every form of control over their minds.14
Of bodhisattvas there were thirty-two thousand, great spiritual heroes who were universally acclaimed. They were dedicated through the penetrating activity of their great superknowledges and were sustained by the grace of the Buddha. Guardians of the city of Dharma, they upheld the true doctrine,15 and their great teachings resounded like the lion’s roar throughout the ten directions. Without having to be asked, they were the natural spiritual benefactors of all living beings. They maintained unbroken the succession of the Three Jewels, conquering devils and foes and overwhelming all critics.
Their mindfulness, intelligence, realization, meditation, retention, and eloquence all were perfected. They were free of all obscurations and emotional involvements, living in liberation without impediment. They were totally dedicated through the transcendences of generosity; subdued, unwavering, [F.175.b] and sincere morality; tolerance; effort; meditation; wisdom; skill in liberative art; commitment; power; and gnosis.16 They had attained the intuitive tolerance of the ultimate incomprehensibility and unborn nature17 of all things. They turned the irreversible wheel of the Dharma. They were stamped with the insignia of signlessness.
They were expert in knowing the spiritual faculties of all living beings. They were brave with the confidence that overawes all assemblies. They had gathered the great stores of merit and of wisdom, and their bodies, beautiful without ornaments, were adorned with all the auspicious signs and marks. They were exalted in fame and glory, like the lofty summit of Mount Sumeru. Their high resolve as hard as diamond, unbreakable in their faith in the Buddha, Dharma, and Saṅgha, they showered forth the rain of ambrosia that is released by the light rays of the jewel of the Dharma, which shines everywhere.
Their voices were perfect in diction and resonance, and versatile in speaking all languages. They had penetrated the profound principle of relativity and had destroyed the persistence of the instinctual mental habits underlying all convictions concerning finitude and infinitude.18 They spoke fearlessly, like lions, sounding the thunder of the magnificent teaching. Unequaled, they surpassed all measure. They were the best captains for the voyage of discovery of the treasures of the Dharma, the stores of merit and wisdom.
They were expert in the way of the Dharma, which is straight, peaceful, subtle, gentle, hard to see, and difficult to realize. They were endowed with the wisdom that is able to understand the thoughts of living beings, as well as their comings and goings. They had been consecrated with the anointment of the peerless gnosis of the Buddha. With their high resolve, they approached the ten powers, the four fearlessnesses, and the eighteen special qualities of the Buddha.
They had crossed the terrifying abyss of the bad migrations, [F.176.a] and yet they assumed reincarnation voluntarily in all migrations for the sake of disciplining living beings. Great Kings of medicine, understanding all the sicknesses of passions, they could apply the medicine of the Dharma appropriately.
They were inexhaustible mines of limitless virtues, and they glorified innumerable buddhafields with the splendor of these virtues. They conferred great benefit when seen, heard, or even approached. Were one to extol them for innumerable hundreds of thousands of myriads of eons, one still could not exhaust their mighty flood of virtues.
These bodhisattvas were named: Samadarśin, Samaviṣamadarśin, Samādhivikurvaṇarāja, Dharmeśvara, Dharmaketu, Prabhāketu, Prabhāvyūha, Ratnavyūha, Mahāvyūha, Pratibhānakūṭa, Ratnakūṭa, Ratnapāṇi, Ratnamudrāhasta, Nityotkṣiptahasta, Nityotpalakṛtahasta, Nityotkaṇṭhita, Nityaprahasitapramuditendriya, Prāmodyarāja, Devarāja, Praṇidhiprayātaprāpta, Pratisaṃvitpraṇādaprāpta, Gaganagañja, Ratnolkādhārin, Ratnavīra, Ratnananda, Ratnaśrī, Indrajāla, Jālinīprabha, Anārambaṇadhyāyin, Prajñākūta, Ratnajaha, Mārapramardin, Vidyuddeva, Vikurvaṇarāja, Lakṣaṇakūṭasamatikrānta, Siṃhaghoṣābhigarjitaśvara, Śailaśikharasaṃghaṭṭanarāja, Gandhahastin, Gajagandhahastin, Satatodyukta, Anikṣiptadhura, Sumati, Sujāta, [F.176.b] Padmaśrīgarbha, Padmavyūha, Avalokiteśvara, Mahāsthāmaprāpta, Brahmajāla, Ratnayaṣṭin, Mārajit, Kṣetralaṃkṛta, Maṇiratnacchattra, Suvarnacūḍa, Maṇicūḍa, Maitreya, Mañjuśrīkumārabhūta, and so forth, with the remainder of the thirty-two thousand.19
There were also gathered there ten thousand Brahmās, at their head Brahmā Śikhin, who had come from the Aśoka universe with its four sectors to see, venerate, and serve the Buddha and to hear the Dharma from his own mouth. There were twelve thousand Śakras from various four-sector universes. And there were other powerful gods: Brahmās, Śakras, Lokapālas, devas, nāgas, yakṣas, gandharvas, asuras, garuḍas, kinnaras, and mahoragas. Finally, there was the fourfold community, consisting of bhikṣus, bhikṣuṇīs, laymen, and laywomen.
The Lord Buddha, thus surrounded and venerated by these multitudes of many hundreds of thousands of living beings, sat upon a majestic lion-throne and began to teach the Dharma. Dominating all the multitudes, just as Sumeru, the king of mountains, looms high over the oceans, the Lord Buddha shone, radiated, and glittered as he sat upon his magnificent lion-throne.
Thereupon, the Licchavi bodhisattva Ratnākara,20 with five hundred Licchavi youths, each holding a precious parasol made of seven different kinds of jewels,21 came forth from the city of Vaiśālī and presented himself at the grove of Āmrapālī. Each approached the Buddha, bowed at his feet, circumambulated him clockwise seven times, laid down his precious parasol [F.177.a] in offering, and withdrew to one side.
As soon as all these precious parasols had been laid down, suddenly, by the miraculous power of the Lord, they were transformed into a single precious canopy so great that it formed a covering for this entire billion-world galaxy.22 The surface of the entire billion-world galaxy was reflected in the interior of the great precious canopy, where the total content of this galaxy could be seen: limitless mansions of suns, moons, and stellar bodies; the realms of the devas, nāgas, yakṣas, gandharvas, asuras, garuḍas, kinnaras, and mahoragas, as well as the realms of the four Mahārājas; the king of mountains, Mount Sumeru; Mount Himavat, Mount Mucilinda, Mount Mahāmucilinda, Mount Gandhamādana, Mount Ratnaparvata, Mount Kālaparvata, Mount Cakravāḍa, and Mount Mahācakravāḍa;23 all the great oceans, rivers, bays, torrents, streams, brooks, and springs; and finally, all the villages, suburbs, cities, capitals, provinces, and wildernesses. All this could be clearly seen by everyone. And the voices of all the buddhas of the ten directions could be heard proclaiming their teachings of the Dharma in all the worlds, the sounds reverberating in the space beneath the great precious canopy.
At this vision of the magnificent miracle effected by the supernatural power of the Lord Buddha, the entire host was ecstatic, enraptured, astonished, delighted, satisfied, [F.177.b] and filled with awe and pleasure. They all bowed down to the Tathāgata, withdrew to one side with palms pressed together, and gazed upon him with fixed attention. The young Licchavi Ratnākara knelt with his right knee on the ground, raised his hands, palms pressed together in salute of the Buddha, and praised him with the following hymn:
Then, the young Licchavi Ratnākara, having celebrated the Buddha with these verses, further addressed him, “Lord, [F.178.b] these five hundred young Licchavis are truly on their way to unexcelled, perfect enlightenment, and they have asked what is the bodhisattvas’ purification of the buddhafield.35 Please, Lord, explain to them the bodhisattvas’ purification of the buddhafield!”
Upon this request, the Buddha gave his approval to the young Licchavi Ratnākara. “Good, good, young man! Your question to the Tathāgata about the purification of the buddhafield is indeed good. Therefore, young man, listen well and remember! I will explain to you the purification of the buddhafield of the bodhisattvas.”
The Buddha said, “Noble son, a buddhafield of bodhisattvas is a field of living beings. Why so? A bodhisattva embraces a buddhafield to the same extent that he causes the development of living beings. He embraces a buddhafield to the same extent that living beings become disciplined. He embraces a buddhafield to the same extent that, through entrance into a buddhafield, living beings are introduced to the buddha-gnosis. He embraces a buddhafield to the same extent that, through entrance into that buddhafield, living beings increase their noble spiritual faculties. Why so? Noble son, a buddhafield of bodhisattvas springs from the aims of living beings.
“For example, Ratnākara, should one wish to build in empty space, one might go ahead in spite of the fact that it is not possible to build or to adorn anything in empty space. [F.179.a] In just the same way, should a bodhisattva, who knows full well that all things are like empty space, wish to build a buddhafield in order to develop living beings, he might go ahead, in spite of the fact that it is not possible to build or to adorn a buddhafield in empty space.36
“Noble son, a bodhisattva’s buddhafield is a field of high resolve. When he attains enlightenment, living beings who have harvested the two stores and have planted the roots of virtue will be born in his buddhafield.
“A bodhisattva’s buddhafield is the magnificence of the conception of the spirit of enlightenment. When he attains enlightenment, living beings who are actually participating in the Mahāyāna will be born in his buddhafield.37
“A bodhisattva’s buddhafield is a field of tolerance. When he attains enlightenment, living beings with the transcendences of tolerance, discipline, and the superior trance—hence beautiful with the thirty-two auspicious signs—will be born in his buddhafield.
“A bodhisattva’s buddhafield consists of the thirty-seven aids to enlightenment. Living beings who devote their efforts to the four foci of mindfulness, the four right efforts, the four bases of magical power, the five spiritual faculties, the five strengths, the seven factors of enlightenment, and the eight branches of the holy path will be born in his buddhafield.
“A bodhisattva’s buddhafield is the doctrine that eradicates the eight adversities. When he attains enlightenment, the three bad migrations will cease, and there will be no such thing as the eight adversities in his buddhafield.
“A bodhisattva’s buddhafield consists of his personal observance of the basic precepts and his restraint in blaming others for their transgressions. When he attains enlightenment, even the word ‘crime’ will never be mentioned in his buddhafield.
“A bodhisattva’s buddhafield is the purity of the path of the ten virtues. [F.180.a] When he attains enlightenment, living beings who are secure in long life, great in wealth, chaste in conduct, enhanced by true speech, soft-spoken, free of divisive intrigues and adroit in reconciling factions, enlightening in their conversations,38 free of envy, free of malice, and endowed with perfect views will be born in his buddhafield.
“His virtuous application is tantamount to his high resolve; his high resolve is tantamount to his determination; his determination is tantamount to his practice; his practice is tantamount to his total dedication; his total dedication is tantamount to his liberative art; his liberative art is tantamount to his development of living beings; and his development of living beings39 is tantamount to the purity of his buddhafield.
“The purity of his buddhafield reflects the purity of living beings; the purity of the living beings reflects the purity of his gnosis; the purity of his gnosis reflects the purity of his doctrine; the purity of his doctrine reflects the purity of his transcendental practice; and the purity of his transcendental practice reflects the purity of his own mind.”
Thereupon, magically influenced by the Buddha, the venerable Śāriputra40 had this thought: “If the buddhafield is pure only to the extent that the mind of the bodhisattva is pure, [F.180.b] then, when Śākyamuni Buddha was engaged in the career of the bodhisattva, his mind must have been impure. Otherwise, how could this buddhafield appear to be so impure?”
The Buddha declared, “In the same way, Śāriputra, the fact that some living beings do not behold the splendid display of virtues of the buddhafield of the Tathāgata is due to their own ignorance. It is not the fault of the Tathāgata. Śāriputra, the buddhafield of the Tathāgata is pure, but you do not see it.”
Then, the Brahmā Śikhin said to the venerable Śāriputra, “Reverend Śāriputra, do not say that the buddhafield of the Tathāgata is impure. Reverend Śāriputra, the buddhafield of the Tathāgata is pure. I see the splendid expanse of the buddhafield of the Lord Śākyamuni as equal to the splendor of, for example, the abodes of the highest deities.”
Then the venerable Śāriputra said to the Brahmā Śikhin, “As for me, O Brahmā, I see this great earth, with its highs and lows, its thorns, its precipices, its peaks, and its abysses, as if it were entirely filled with ordure.”
Brahmā Śikhin replied, “The fact that you see such a buddhafield as this as if it were so impure, reverend Śāriputra, is a sure sign that there are highs and lows in your mind and that your positive thought in regard to the buddha-gnosis is not pure either. Reverend Śāriputra, those whose minds are impartial toward all living beings and whose positive thoughts toward the buddha-gnosis are pure see this buddhafield as perfectly pure.” [F.181.a]
Thereupon the Lord touched the ground of this billion-world galactic universe with his big toe, and suddenly it was transformed into a huge mass of precious jewels, a magnificent array of many hundreds of thousands of clusters of precious gems, until it resembled the universe of the Tathāgata Ratnavyūha, called Anantaguṇaratnavyūha. Everyone in the entire assembly was filled with wonder, each perceiving himself seated on a throne of jeweled lotuses.
The Buddha said, “Śāriputra, this buddhafield is always thus pure, but the Tathāgata makes it appear to be spoiled by many faults, in order to bring about the maturity of inferior living beings. For example, Śāriputra, the gods of the Trayastriṃśa heaven all take their food from a single precious vessel, yet the nectar that nourishes each one differs according to the differences of the merits each has accumulated. Just so, Śāriputra, living beings born in the same buddhafield see the splendor of the virtues of the buddhafields of the buddhas according to their own degrees of purity.”
When this splendor of the beauty of the virtues of the buddhafield shone forth, eighty-four thousand beings conceived the spirit of unexcelled perfect enlightenment, and the five hundred Licchavi youths who had accompanied the young Licchavi Ratnākara all attained the conformative tolerance of ultimate birthlessness.
Then, the Lord withdrew his miraculous power and at once the buddhafield was restored to its usual appearance. Then, both men and gods who subscribed to the Disciple Vehicle thought, “Alas! [F.181.b] All constructed things are impermanent.”
Thereby, thirty-two thousand living beings purified their immaculate, undistorted Dharma-eye in regard to all things. The eight thousand bhikṣus were liberated from their mental defilements, attaining the state of nongrasping. And the eighty-four thousand living beings who were devoted to the grandeur of the buddhafield, having understood that all things are by nature but magical creations, all conceived in their own minds the spirit of unexcelled, totally perfect enlightenment.41
|K||Kumārajīva’s Ch. translation|
|X||Xuanzang’s Ch. translation|
’phags pa dri ma med par grags pas bstan pa zhes bya ba theg pa chen po’i mdo (Āryavimalakīrtinirdeśanāmamahāyānasūtra). Toh. 176, Degé Kangyur, vol. 60 (mdo sde, ma), folios 175b–239a.
’phags pa dri ma med par grags pas bstan pa zhes bya ba theg pa chen po’i mdo (Āryavimalakīrtinirdeśanāmamahāyānasūtra). [Comparative Edition of the Kangyur], krung go’i bod rig pa zhib ’jug ste gnas kyi bka’ bstan dpe sdur khang (The Tibetan Tripitaka Collation Bureau of the China Tibetology Research Center). 108 volumes. Beijing: krung go’i bod rig pa dpe skrun khang (China Tibetology Publishing House), 2006–2009, vol. 60, pp. 476–635.
Study Group on Buddhist Sanskrit Literature. 梵文維摩經 : ポタラ宮所蔵写本に基づく校訂. Vimalakīrtinirdeśa, A Sanskrit Edition Based upon the Manuscript Newly Found at the Potala Palace. Tokyo: Institute for Comprehensive Studies of Buddhism, Taishō Daigaku Shuppankai, 2006.
Lamotte, Étienne. L’Enseignement de Vimalakīrti (Vimalakīrtinirdeśa). Louvain: Université de Louvain, Institut Orientaliste, 1962. [Translated from Tib. and Xuanzang’s Chinese].
Luk, Charles (tr.). The Vimalakīrti Nirdeśa Sūtra. Berkeley and London: Shambhala, 1972. [Translated from Kumārajīva’s Chinese].
McRae, John R. (tr.). The Vimalakīrti Sūtra. Berkeley: Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, 2004. [Translated from Kumārajīva’s Chinese].
Saṃdhinirmocanasūtra. Sanskrit text: see Lamotte 1935. Tibetan text: ’phags pa dgongs pa nges par ’grel pa zhes bya ba theg pa chen po’i mdo, Toh 106, Degé Kangyur vol. 49 (mdo sde, tsha), folios 1b–55b. English translation: see Buddhavacana Translation Group.https://read.84000.co/translation/toh106.html
Saddharmapuṇḍarīka. Sanskrit text: see Vaidya 1960, Wogihara et al. 1934-1935. Tibetan text: dpal dam chos pad ma dkar po zhes bya ba theg pa chen po’i mdo, Toh 113, Degé Kangyur, vol. 51 (mdo sed, ja), folios 1b–180b. English translations: see Kern 1884; Roberts, 2018.
Guhyasamājatantra. Sanskrit text: see Bagchi 1965. Tibetan text: de bzhin gshegs pa thams cad kyi sku gsung thugs kyi gsang chen gsang ba ’dus pa zhes bya ba brtag pa’i rgyal po chen po, Toh 442, Degé Kangyur vol. 81 (rgyud ’bum, ca), folios 89b–148a.
yul ’khor skyong gis zhus pa (Rāṣṭrapālaparipṛcchā). Toh 62, Degé Kangyur vol. 42 (dkon brtsegs, nga), folios 227.a–257.a. English translation in Vienna Buddhist Translation Studies Group (2021).
Candrakīrti. Prasannapadānāmamūlamadhyamakavṛtti. Sanskrit text: see La Vallée Poussin 1903-1912. Tibetan text: dbu ma rtsa ba’i ’grel pa tshig gsal ba, Toh 3860, Degé Tengyur vol. 102 (dbu ma, ’a), folios 1b–200a.
Nāgārjuna. Prajñanāmamūlamādhyamakakārikā. Sanskrit text and translation: see Inada 1970. Tibetan text: dbu ma rtsa ba’i tshig le’ur byas pa shes rab, Toh 3824, Degé Tengyur vol. 96 (dbu ma, tsa), folios 1b–19a.
Śāntideva. Śikṣāsamuccaya. Sanskrit text: see Vaidya, 1961. Tibetan text: bslab pa kun las btus pa, Toh 3940, Degé Tengyur vol. 111 (dbu ma, khi), folios 3a–194b. English translation: see Goodman 2016.
Bagchi, S. (ed.). Guhyasamājatantra. Buddhist Sanskrit Texts, No. 9. Darbhanga: Mithila Institute of Postgraduate Studies and Research in Sanskrit Learning, 1965.
Buddhavacana Translation Group. The Sūtra Unravelling the Intent (Saṃdhinirmocanasūtra, Toh 106). 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha.https://read.84000.co/translation/toh106.html
Dayal, Har. The Bodhisattva Doctrine in Buddhist Sanskrit Literature. 1932. Reprint, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1970.
Goodman, Charles. The Training Anthology of Śāntideva: A Translation of the Śikṣā-samuccaya. New York: Oxford University Press, 2016.
Inada, K. Nāgārjuna. Buffalo, N.Y., 1970.
Kern, H. (ed.). Saddharma-Puṇḍarīka, or Lotus of the True Law. Sacred Books of the East, Vol. XXI. Oxford: Clarendon, 1884.
Lamotte, Étienne (tr.). Saṃdhinirmocanasūtra: L’Explication des mystères. [Tib. text and French translation]. Louvain: Université de Louvain; and Paris: Adrien Maisonneuve, 1935.
La Vallée Poussin, L. de (ed.). Mūlamadhyamakakārikās (Mādhyamikasūtras) de Nāgārjuna avec la Prasannapadā, commentaire de Candrakīrti . Bibliotheca Buddhica IV. St. Petersburg: Académie Impériale des sciences, 1903-1913.
Roberts, Peter (tr.). The White Lotus of the Good Dharma (Saddharmapuṇḍarīkasūtra, Toh 113). 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha, 2018 (read.84000.co).
Sakaki (ed.). Mahāvyutpatti, Skt.-Tib. lexicon. Kyoto, 1916-1925.
Vaidya, P. L. (ed.) Saddharmapuṇḍarīkasūtra. Darbhanga: The Mithila Institute of Post-Graduate Studies and Research in Sanskrit Learning, 1960.
———(ed.). Śikṣāsamuccaya of Śāntideva. Buddhist Sanskrit Texts, No. 11. Darbhanga: Mithila Institute of Postgraduate Studies and Research in Sanskrit Learning, 1961.
Vienna Buddhist Translation Studies Group, trans. The Questions of Rāṣṭrapāla (Rāṣṭrapālaparipṛcchāsūtra, Toh 62). 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha, 2021.
Wogihara, Unrai and Tsuchida, Chikao. Saddharmapuṇḍarīka-sūtram: Romanized and Revised Text of the Bibliotheca Buddhica publication by consulting a Sanskrit Ms. & Tibetan and Chinese translations. Tōkyō: Seigo-Kenkyūkai, 1934–1935.