The Teaching of Vimalakīrti
The Disciples’ and the Bodhisattvas’ Reluctance to Visit Vimalakīrti
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.
Then, the Licchavi Vimalakīrti thought to himself, “I am sick, lying on my bed in pain, yet the Tathāgata, the arhat, the perfectly accomplished Buddha, does not consider me or take pity upon me, and sends no one to inquire after my illness.”
Thus addressed, the venerable Śāriputra answered the Buddha, “Lord, I am indeed reluctant55 to go to ask the Licchavi Vimalakīrti about his illness. Why? I remember one day, when I was sitting at the foot of a tree in the forest, absorbed in contemplation, the Licchavi Vimalakīrti came to the foot of that tree and said to me, ‘Reverend Śāriputra, this is not the way to absorb yourself in contemplation. You should absorb yourself in contemplation so that neither body nor mind appear anywhere in the three realms. [F.184.b] You should absorb yourself in contemplation in such a way that you can manifest all ordinary behavior without forsaking cessation. You should absorb yourself in contemplation in such a way that you can manifest the nature of an ordinary person without abandoning your cultivated spiritual nature. You should absorb yourself in contemplation so that the mind neither settles within nor moves without toward external forms. You should absorb yourself in contemplation in such a way that the thirty-seven aids to enlightenment are manifest without deviation toward any convictions. You should absorb yourself in contemplation in such a way that you are released in liberation without abandoning the passions that are the province of the world.56
“Lord, when I heard this teaching, I was unable to reply and remained silent. Therefore, I am reluctant to go to ask that good man about his sickness.”
Maudgalyāyana replied, “Lord, I am indeed reluctant to go to the Licchavi Vimalakīrti to inquire about his illness. Why? I remember one day when I was teaching the Dharma to the householders in a square in the great city of Vaiśālī, and the Licchavi Vimalakīrti came along and said to me, ‘Reverend Maudgalyāyana, that is not the way to teach the Dharma to the householders in their white clothes. The Dharma must be taught according to reality.
“ ‘Reverend Maudgalyāyana, the Dharma is without a living being, because it is free of the dust of living beings. It is selfless, because it is free of the dust of desire. [F.185.a] It is lifeless, because it is free of birth and death. It is without a person, because it dispenses with past origins and future destinies.
“ ‘The Dharma is peace and pacification, because it is free of desire. It does not become an object, because it is free of words and letters; it is inexpressible, and it transcends all movement of mind.58
“ ‘The Dharma is omnipresent, because it is like infinite space. It is without color, mark, or shape, because it is free of all process. It is without the concept of “mine,” because it is free of the habitual notion of possession. It is without ideation, because it is free of mind, thought, or consciousness. It is incomparable, because it has no antithesis. It is without presumption of conditionality, because it does not conform to causes.
“ ‘It permeates evenly all things, because all are included in the ultimate realm.59 It conforms to reality by means of the process of nonconformity. It abides at the reality-limit, for it is utterly without fluctuation. It is immovable, because it is independent of the six objects of sense. It is without coming and going, for it never stands still. It is comprised by voidness, it is remarkable through signlessness, and because of wishlessness it is free of presumption and repudiation. It is without establishment and rejection, without birth or destruction. It is without any fundamental consciousness, transcending the range of eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, and thought. It is without highness and lowness. It abides without movement or activity.60
“ ‘Reverend Mahāmaudgalyāyana, how could there be a teaching in regard to such a Dharma? Reverend Mahāmaudgalyāyana, even the expression “to teach the Dharma” is presumptuous, and those who listen to it listen to presumption. Reverend Maudgalyāyana, where there are no presumptuous words, there is no teacher of the Dharma, no one to listen, and no one to understand. It is as if an illusory person were to teach the Dharma to illusory people.
“ ‘Therefore, you should teach the Dharma by keeping your mind on this. [F.185.b] You should be adept in regard to the spiritual faculties of living beings. By means of the correct vision of the wisdom-eye, manifesting the great compassion, acknowledging the benevolent activity of the Buddha, purifying your intentions, and understanding the definitive expressions61 of the Dharma, you should teach the Dharma in order that the continuity of the Three Jewels may never be interrupted.’
“Lord, when Vimalakīrti had discoursed thus, eight hundred householders in the crowd conceived the spirit of unexcelled, perfect enlightenment, and I myself was speechless. Therefore, Lord, I am indeed reluctant to go to this good man to inquire about his illness.”
“Lord, I am indeed reluctant to go to the Licchavi Vimalakīrti to inquire about his illness. Why? I remember one day, when I was in the street of the poor begging for my food, the Licchavi Vimalakīrti came along and said to me, ‘Reverend Mahākāśyapa, to avoid the houses of the wealthy, and to favor the houses of the poor—this is partiality in benevolence.63 Reverend Mahākāśyapa, you should dwell on the fact of the equality of things, and you should seek alms with consideration for all living beings at all times. You should beg your food in awareness of the ultimate nonexistence of food. You should seek alms for the sake of eliminating the materialism of others. When you enter a town, you should keep in mind its actual voidness, yet you should proceed through it in order to develop men and women. You should enter homes as if entering the family of the Buddha. You should accept alms by not taking anything. You should see form like a man blind from birth, hear sounds as if they were echoes, [F.186.a] smell scents as if they were like wind, experience tastes without any discrimination, touch tangible objects without there being in gnosis any contact, and know things with the consciousness of an illusory creature. That which is without a state of being self and a state of being other does not burn. And what does not burn will not be extinguished.64
“ ‘Elder Mahākāśyapa, if, equipoised in the eight liberations without transcending the eight perverse paths, you can enter the sameness of reality by means of the sameness of perversity, and if you can make a gift to all living beings and an offering to all the noble ones and buddhas out of even a single measure of alms, then you yourself may eat. Thus, when you eat, after offering, you should be neither affected by afflictions nor free of afflictions, neither involved in concentration nor free of concentration, neither living in the world nor abiding in liberation. Furthermore, those who give such alms, reverend, have neither great merit nor small merit, neither gain nor loss. They should follow the way of the buddhas, not the way of the disciples. Only in this way, Elder Mahākāśyapa, is the practice of eating by alms meaningful.’
“Lord, when I heard this teaching, I was astonished and thought, ‘Reverence to all bodhisattvas! If a lay bodhisattva may be endowed with such eloquence, who is there who would not conceive the spirit of unexcelled, perfect enlightenment?’ From that time forth, I no longer recommend the vehicles of the disciples and of the solitary sages but recommend the Mahāyāna. And thus, Lord, I am reluctant to go to this good man to inquire about his illness.” [F.186.b]
Subhūti replied, “Lord, I am indeed reluctant to go to this good man to inquire about his illness. Why? My Lord, I remember one day, when I went to beg my food at the house of the Licchavi Vimalakīrti in the great city of Vaiśālī, he took my bowl and filled it with some excellent food and said to me, ‘Reverend Subhūti, take this food if you understand the sameness of all things through the sameness of material objects, and if you understand the sameness of the qualities of the Buddha through the sameness of all things. Take this food if, without abandoning desire, hatred, and folly, you can avoid association with them; if you can follow the path of the single way without ever disturbing the egoistic views; if, neither conquering ignorance and the craving for existence, nor producing knowledge and liberation, your liberation being the same as the equality of the uninterruptible sins, you are neither liberated nor bound; if you do not see the four noble truths, yet are not one who “has not seen the truth”; if you are also neither “one who has attained fruition,”66 nor “an ordinary person,” while not having eliminated the qualities of “an ordinary person”; if you are not a noble one, and not a non-noble one; and if, though you are in the presence of all things, you are free of any notion of “all things.”67
“ ‘Take this food, reverend Subhūti, if, without seeing the Buddha, hearing the Dharma, or serving the Saṅgha, you undertake the religious life under the six outsider masters—namely, Purāṇa Kāśyapa, Māskārin Gośāliputra, Saṃjāyin Vairaṭiputra, Kakuda Kātyāyana, Ajita Keśakambala, [F.187.a] and Nirgrantha Jñātiputra, and follow the ways they prescribe.
“ ‘Take this food, reverend Subhūti, if, entertaining all false views, you find neither extremes nor middle; if, bound up in the eight adversities, you do not obtain favorable conditions; if, assimilating the passions, you do not attain purification; if the dispassion68 of all living beings is your dispassion, reverend; if those who make offerings to you are not thereby purified;69 if those who offer you food, reverend, still fall into the three bad migrations; if you associate with all māras; if you entertain all passions; if the nature of passions is the nature of a reverend; if you have hostile feelings toward all living beings; if you despise all the buddhas; if you criticize all the teachings of the Buddha; if you do not rely on the saṅgha; and finally, if you never enter ultimate liberation.’
“Lord, when I heard these words of the Licchavi Vimalakīrti, I wondered what I should say and what I should do, but I was totally in the dark. Leaving the bowl, I was about to leave the house when the Licchavi Vimalakīrti said to me, ‘Reverend Subhūti, do not fear these words, and pick up your bowl. What do you think, reverend Subhūti? If it were an incarnation70 created by the Tathāgata who spoke thus to you, would you be afraid?’
“I answered, ‘No indeed, noble sir!’ He then said, ‘Reverend Subhūti, the nature of all things is like illusion, like a magical incarnation. So you should not fear them. Why? All words also have that nature, and thus the wise are not attached to words, [F.187.b] nor do they fear them. Why? All language does not ultimately exist, except as liberation. The nature of all things is liberation.’71
“When Vimalakīrti had discoursed in this way, two hundred gods obtained the pure doctrinal vision in regard to all things, without obscurity or defilement, and five hundred gods obtained the conformative tolerance. As for me, I was speechless and unable to respond to him. Therefore, Lord, I am reluctant to go to this good man to inquire about his illness.”
Pūrṇa replied, “Lord, I am indeed reluctant to go to this good man to inquire about his illness. Why? Lord, I remember one day, when I was teaching the Dharma to some young monks in the great forest, the Licchavi Vimalakīrti came there and said to me, ‘Reverend Pūrṇa, first concentrate yourself, regard the minds of these young bhikṣus, and then teach them the Dharma! Do not put rotten food into a jeweled bowl! First understand the inclinations of these monks, and do not confuse priceless sapphires with glass beads!
“ ‘Reverend Pūrṇa, without examining the spiritual faculties of living beings, do not presume upon the one-sidedness of their faculties; do not wound those who are without wounds; do not impose a narrow path upon those who aspire to a great path; do not try to pour the great ocean into the hoof-print of an ox; do not try to put Mount Sumeru into a grain of mustard; do not confuse the brilliance of the sun with the light of a glowworm; and do not expose those who admire the roar of a lion to the howl of a jackal!
“ ‘Reverend Pūrṇa, all these monks were formerly engaged in the Mahāyāna but have forgotten the spirit of enlightenment. [F.188.a] So do not instruct them in the Disciple Vehicle. The Disciple Vehicle is not ultimately valid, and you disciples are like men blind from birth, in regard to recognition of the degrees of the spiritual faculties of living beings.’
“At that moment, the Licchavi Vimalakīrti entered into such a concentration that those monks were caused to remember their various former lives, in which they had produced the roots of virtue by serving five hundred buddhas for the sake of perfect enlightenment. As soon as their own spirits of enlightenment had become clear to them, they bowed at the feet of that good man and pressed their palms together in reverence. He taught them the Dharma, and they all attained the stage of irreversibility73 from unexcelled, perfect enlightenment. It occurred to me then, ‘The disciples, who do not know the thoughts or the inclinations of others, are not able to teach the Dharma to anyone. Why? These disciples are not expert in discerning the superiority and inferiority of the spiritual faculties of living beings, and they are not always in a state of concentration like the Tathāgata, the arhat, the perfectly accomplished Buddha.’ Therefore, Lord, I am reluctant to go to that good man to inquire about his health.”
Kātyāyana replied, “Lord, I am indeed reluctant to go to that good man to inquire about his illness. Why? Lord, I remember one day when, after the Lord had given some brief instruction to the monks, I was defining the expressions of that discourse by teaching the meaning of impermanence, suffering, selflessness, [F.188.b] and peace,75 the Licchavi Vimalakīrti came there and said to me, ‘Reverend Mahākātyāyana, do not teach an ultimate reality endowed with activity, production, and destruction! Reverend Mahākātyāyana, nothing was ever destroyed, is destroyed, or will ever be destroyed. Such is the meaning of “impermanence.” The meaning of the realization of birthlessness, through the realization of the voidness of the five aggregates, is the meaning of “suffering.”76 The fact of the nonduality of self and selflessness is the meaning of “selflessness.” That which has no intrinsic substance and no other sort of substance does not burn, and what does not burn is not extinguished;77 such lack of extinction is the meaning of “peace.” ’
“When he had discoursed thus, the minds of the monks were liberated from their defilements and entered a state of nongrasping. Therefore, Lord, I am reluctant to go to that good man to inquire about his illness.”
“My Lord, I am indeed reluctant to go to that good man to inquire about his illness. Why? I remember, Lord, one day when I was taking a walk, the great Brahmā named Śubhavyūha and the ten thousand other Brahmās who accompanied him illuminated the place with their radiance and, having bowed their heads at my feet, withdrew to one side and asked me, ‘Reverend Aniruddha, you have been proclaimed by the Buddha to be the foremost among those who possess the divine eye. To what distance does the divine vision of the venerable Aniruddha extend?’ I answered, ‘Friends, I see the entire billion-world galactic universe of the Lord Śākyamuni [F.189.a] just as plainly as a man of ordinary vision sees a myrobalan nut on the palm of his hand.’ When I had said these words, the Licchavi Vimalakīrti came there and, having bowed his head at my feet, said to me, ‘Reverend Aniruddha, is your divine eye compounded in nature? Or is it uncompounded in nature? If it is compounded in nature, it is the same as the superknowledges of the outsiders. If it is uncompounded in nature, then it is not constructed and, as such, is incapable of seeing.79 Then, how do you see, O elder?’
“Vimalakīrti answered, ‘In the world, it is the buddhas who have the divine eye. They see all the buddhafields without even leaving their state of concentration and without being affected by duality.’
“Having heard these words, the ten thousand Brahmās were inspired with high resolve and conceived the spirit of unexcelled, perfect enlightenment. Having paid homage and respect both to me and to that good man, they disappeared. As for me, I remained speechless, and therefore I am reluctant to go to that good man to inquire about his illness.”
Upāli replied, “Lord, I am indeed reluctant to go to that good man to inquire about his illness. Why? Lord, I remember that one day there were two monks who had committed some infraction and were too ashamed to appear before the Lord, [F.189.b] so they came to me and said, ‘Reverend Upāli, we have both committed an infraction but are too ashamed to appear before the Buddha. Venerable Upāli, kindly remove our anxieties by absolving us of these infractions.’81
“Lord, while I was giving those two monks some religious discourse, the Licchavi Vimalakīrti came there and said to me, ‘Reverend Upāli, do not aggravate further the sins of these two monks. Without perplexing them, relieve their remorse. Reverend Upāli, sin is not to be apprehended within, or without, or between the two. Why? The Buddha has said, “Living beings are afflicted by the passions of thought, and they are purified by the purification of thought.”
“ ‘Reverend Upāli, the mind is neither within nor without, nor is it to be apprehended between the two. Sin is just the same as the mind, and all things are just the same as sin. They do not escape this same reality.
“ ‘Reverend Upāli, this nature of the mind, by virtue of which your mind, reverend, is liberated—does it ever become afflicted?’
“ ‘Never,’ I replied.
“ ‘Reverend Upāli, the minds of all living beings have that very nature. Reverend Upāli, conceptualization is total affliction, and not conceptualizing and not discriminating is their true nature. Misapprehension is total affliction, and non-misapprehension is their true nature. The presumption of self is total affliction, and selflessness is their true nature. Reverend Upāli, all things are without production, destruction, and duration, like magical illusions, clouds, and lightning; all things [F.190.a] are evanescent, not remaining even for an instant; all things are like dreams, hallucinations, and unreal visions; all things are like the reflection of the moon in water and like a mirror-image; they are born of mental construction. Those who know this are called the true upholders of the discipline,82 and those disciplined in that way are indeed well disciplined.’ ”
“Then the two monks said, ‘This householder is extremely well endowed with wisdom. The reverend Upāli, who was proclaimed by the Lord as the foremost of the upholders of the discipline, is not his equal.’
“I then said to the two monks, ‘Do not entertain the notion that he is a mere householder! Why? With the exception of the Tathāgata himself, there is no disciple or bodhisattva capable of competing with his eloquence or rivaling the brilliance of his wisdom.’
“Thereupon, the two monks, delivered from their anxieties and inspired with a high resolve, conceived the spirit of unexcelled, perfect enlightenment. Bowing down to that good man, they made the wish: ‘May all living beings attain eloquence such as this!’ Therefore, I am reluctant to go to that good man to inquire about his illness.”
Rāhula replied, “Lord, I am indeed reluctant to go to that good man to inquire about his illness. Why? Lord, I remember that one day many young Licchavi gentlemen came to the place where I was and said to me, ‘Reverend Rāhula, you are the son of the Lord, and, having renounced a kingdom of a universal monarch, you have left the world. [F.190.b] What are the virtues and benefits you saw in leaving the world?’
“As I was teaching them properly the benefits and virtues of renouncing the world, the Licchavi Vimalakīrti came there and, having greeted me, said, ‘Reverend Rāhula, you should not teach the benefits and virtues of renunciation in the way that you do. Why? Renunciation is itself the very absence of virtues and benefits. Reverend Rāhula, one may speak of benefits and virtues in regard to compounded things, but renunciation is uncompounded, and there can be no question of benefits and virtues in regard to the uncompounded. Reverend Rāhula, renunciation is not material but is free of matter. It is free of the extreme views of beginning and end.84 It is the path of liberation. It is praised by the wise, embraced by the noble ones, and causes the defeat of all māras. It liberates from the five states of existence, purifies the five eyes, cultivates the five powers, and supports the five spiritual faculties. Renunciation is totally harmless to others and is not adulterated with evil things. It disciplines the outsiders, transcending all denominations. It is the bridge over the swamp of desire, without grasping, and free of the habits of “I” and “mine.” It is without attachment and without disturbance, eliminating all commotion. It disciplines one’s own mind and protects the minds of others. It favors mental quiescence and stimulates transcendental analysis. It is irreproachable in all respects and so is called renunciation. Those who leave the mundane in this way are called “truly renunciant.” Young men, renounce the world in the light of this clear teaching! The appearance of the Buddha is extremely rare. Human life endowed with leisure and opportunity is very hard to obtain. To be a human being is very precious.’85
“Vimalakīrti answered, ‘Young men, you should cultivate yourselves intensively to conceive the spirit of unexcelled, perfect enlightenment. That in itself will be your renunciation and high ordination!’86
Ānanda replied, “Lord, I am indeed reluctant to go to that good man to inquire about his illness. Why? Lord, I remember one day when the body of the Lord manifested some indisposition and he required some milk; I took the bowl and went to the door of the mansion of a great brahmin family.89 The Licchavi Vimalakīrti came there, and, having saluted me, said, ‘Reverend Ānanda, what are you doing on the threshold of this house with your bowl in your hand so early in the morning?’
“I replied, ‘The body of the Lord manifests some indisposition, and he needs some milk. Therefore, I have come to fetch some.’
“Vimalakīrti then said to me, ‘Reverend Ānanda, do not say such a thing! Reverend Ānanda, the body of the Tathāgata is tough as a diamond, having eliminated all the instinctual traces of evil and being endowed with all goodness. How could disease or discomfort affect such a body?
“ ‘Reverend Ānanda, go in silence, and do not belittle the Lord. Do not say such things to others. It would not be good for the powerful gods or for the bodhisattvas coming from the various buddhafields to hear such words.
“ ‘Reverend Ānanda, a universal monarch, [F.191.b] who is endowed only with a small root of virtue, is free of diseases. How then could the Lord, who has an infinite root of virtue, have any disease? It is impossible.
“ ‘Reverend Ānanda, do not bring shame upon us, but go in silence, lest the outsider sectarians90 should hear your words. They would say, “For shame! The teacher of these people cannot even cure his own sicknesses. How then can he cure the sicknesses of others?” Reverend Ānanda, go then discreetly so that no one observes you.
“ ‘Reverend Ānanda, the tathāgatas have the body of the Dharma—not a body that is sustained by material food. The tathāgatas have a transcendental body that has transcended all mundane qualities. There is no injury to the body of a tathāgata, as it is rid of all defilements. The body of a tathāgata is uncompounded and free of all formative activity. Reverend Ānanda, to believe there can be illness in such a body is irrational and unseemly!’
“When I had heard these words, I wondered if I had previously misheard and misunderstood the Buddha, and I was very much ashamed. Then I heard a voice from the sky: ‘Ānanda! The householder speaks to you truly. Nevertheless, since the Buddha has appeared during the time of the five corruptions, he disciplines living beings by acting lowly and humble. Therefore, Ānanda, do not be ashamed, and go and get the milk!’91
In the same way, the rest of the five hundred disciples were reluctant to go to the Licchavi Vimalakīrti, and each told the Buddha his own adventure, recounting all his conversations with the Licchavi Vimalakīrti.93 [F.192.a]
Maitreya replied, “Lord, I am indeed reluctant to go to that good man to inquire about his illness. Why? Lord, I remember that one day I was engaged in a conversation with the gods of the Tuṣita heaven, the god Saṃtuṣita and his retinue, about the stage of nonregression of the great bodhisattvas. At that time, the Licchavi Vimalakīrti came there and addressed me as follows:
“ ‘Maitreya, the Buddha has prophesied that only one more birth stands between you and unexcelled, perfect enlightenment. What kind of birth does this prophecy concern, Maitreya? Is it past? Is it future? Or is it present? If it is a past birth, it is already finished. If it is a future birth, it will never arrive. If it is a present birth, it does not abide. For the Buddha has declared, “Bhikṣus, in a single moment, you are born, you age, you die, you transmigrate, and you are reborn.”
“ ‘Therefore, Maitreya, is your reality from birth? Or is it from cessation? Your reality as prophesied is not born and does not cease, nor will it be born nor will it cease.95 Furthermore, your reality is just the same as the reality of all living beings, the reality of all things, and the reality of all the holy ones. If your enlightenment can be prophesied in such a way, so can that of all living beings. Why? Because reality does not consist of duality [F.192.b] or of diversity. Maitreya, whenever you attain buddhahood, which is the perfection of enlightenment, at the same time all living beings will also attain buddhahood. Why? Enlightenment consists of the realizations of all living beings. Maitreya, at the moment when you attain ultimate liberation, all living beings will also attain ultimate liberation. Why? The tathāgatas do not enter ultimate liberation until all living beings have entered ultimate liberation. For, since all living beings are utterly liberated, the tathāgatas see them as having the nature of ultimate liberation.
“ ‘Therefore, Maitreya, do not fool and delude these deities! No one abides in, or regresses from, enlightenment. Maitreya, you should introduce these deities to the repudiation of all discriminative constructions concerning enlightenment.96
“ ‘Enlightenment is perfectly realized neither by the body nor by the mind. Enlightenment is the eradication of all marks. Enlightenment is free of presumptions concerning all objects. Enlightenment is free of the functioning of all intentional thoughts. Enlightenment is the annihilation of all convictions. Enlightenment is free from all discriminative constructions. Enlightenment is free from all vacillation, mentation, and agitation. Enlightenment is not involved in any commitments. Enlightenment is the arrival at detachment, through freedom from all habitual attitudes. The ground of enlightenment is the ultimate realm. Enlightenment is realization of reality. Enlightenment abides at the reality-limit. Enlightenment is without duality, since therein are no minds and no things. Enlightenment is equality, since it is equal to infinite space.
“ ‘Enlightenment is unconstructed, because it is neither born nor destroyed, neither abides nor undergoes any transformation. Enlightenment is the complete knowledge of the thoughts, deeds, [F.193.a] and inclinations of all living beings. Enlightenment is not a door for the sense-media. Enlightenment is unadulterated, since it is free of the afflictions of the instinctually driven succession of lives. Enlightenment is neither somewhere nor nowhere, abiding in no location or dimension. Enlightenment, not being contained in anything, does not stand in reality. Enlightenment is merely a name and even that name is motionless. Enlightenment, free of abstention and undertaking, is energyless. There is no agitation in enlightenment, as it is utterly pure by nature. Enlightenment is radiance, pure in essence. Enlightenment is without subjectivity and completely without object. Enlightenment, which penetrates the equality of all things, is undifferentiated. Enlightenment, which is not shown by any example, is incomparable. Enlightenment is subtle, since it is extremely difficult to realize. Enlightenment is all-pervasive, as it has the nature of infinite space. Enlightenment cannot be realized, either physically or mentally. Why? The body is like grass, trees, walls, paths, and optical illusions. And the mind is immaterial, invisible, baseless, and unconscious.’97
“Lord, when Vimalakīrti had discoursed thus, two hundred of the deities in that assembly attained the tolerance of the birthlessness of things. As for me, Lord, I was rendered speechless. Therefore, I am reluctant to go to that good man to inquire about his illness.”
Prabhāvyūha replied, “Lord, I am indeed reluctant to go to that good man to inquire about his illness. Why? Lord, I remember one day, when I was going out of the great city of Vaiśālī, I met the Licchavi Vimalakīrti [F.193.b] coming in. He greeted me, and I then addressed him: ‘Householder, where do you come from?’ He replied, ‘I come from the seat of enlightenment.’ I then inquired, ‘What is meant by “seat of enlightenment”?’ He then spoke the following words to me: ‘Noble son, the seat of enlightenment is the seat of positive thought because it is without artificiality. It is the seat of effort, because it releases energetic activities. It is the seat of high resolve, because its insight is superior. It is the seat of the great spirit of enlightenment, because it does not neglect anything.
“ ‘It is the seat of generosity, because it has no expectation of reward. It is the seat of morality, because it fulfills all commitments. It is the seat of tolerance, because it is free of anger toward any living being. It is the seat of effort, because it does not turn back. It is the seat of meditation, because it generates fitness of mind. It is the seat of wisdom, because it sees everything directly.
“ ‘It is the seat of love, because it is equal to all living beings. It is the seat of compassion, because it tolerates all injuries. It is the seat of joy, because it is joyfully devoted to the bliss of the Dharma. It is the seat of equanimity, because it abandons affection and aversion.
“ ‘It is the seat of paranormal perception, because it has the six superknowledges. It is the seat of liberation, because it does not intellectualize. It is the seat of liberative art, because it develops living beings. It is the seat of the means of unification, because it brings together living beings. It is the seat of learning, because it makes practice of the essence. It is the seat of decisiveness, because of its precise discrimination. It is the seat of the aids to enlightenment, because it eliminates the duality of the compounded and the uncompounded. It is the seat of truth, because it does not deceive anyone.
“ ‘It is the seat of interdependent origination, because it proceeds from the exhaustion of ignorance to the exhaustion of old age and death.98 [F.194.a] It is the seat of eradication of all afflictions, because it is perfectly enlightened about the nature of reality. It is the seat of all living beings, because all living beings are without intrinsic identity. It is the seat of all things, because it is perfectly enlightened with regard to voidness.
“ ‘It is the seat of the conquest of all devils, because it never flinches. It is the seat of the triple world, because it is free of involvement. It is the seat of the heroism that sounds the lion’s roar, because it is free of fear and trembling. It is the seat of the strengths, the fearlessnesses, and all the special qualities of the Buddha, because it is irreproachable in all respects. It is the seat of the three knowledges, because in it no passions remain. It is the seat of instantaneous, total understanding of all things, because it realizes fully the gnosis of omniscience.
“ ‘Noble son, when bodhisattvas are thus endowed with the transcendences, the roots of virtue, the ability to develop living beings, and the incorporation of the holy Dharma,99 whether they lift up their feet or put them down, they all come from the seat of enlightenment. They come from the qualities of the Buddha, and stand on the qualities of the Buddha.’
“Lord, when Vimalakīrti had explained this teaching, five hundred gods and men conceived the spirit of enlightenment, and I became speechless. Therefore, Lord, I am reluctant to go to that good man to inquire about his illness.”
Jagatindhara replied, “Lord, I am indeed reluctant to go to that good man to inquire about his illness. Why? Lord, I remember that one day, when I was at home, [F.194.b] the wicked Māra, disguised as Śakra and surrounded with twelve thousand heavenly maidens, approached me with the sounds of music and singing. Having saluted me by touching my feet with his head, he withdrew with his retinue to one side. I then, thinking he was Śakra, the king of the gods, said to him, ‘Welcome, O Kauśika! You should remain consciously aware in the midst of the pleasures of desire. You should often think on impermanence and strive to utilize the essential in body, life, and wealth.’
“Māra then said to me, ‘Good sir, accept from me these twelve thousand divine maidens and make them your servants.’
“No sooner had I said these words than the Licchavi Vimalakīrti came there and said to me, ‘Noble son, do not think that this is Śakra! This is not Śakra but the evil Māra, who has come to ridicule you.’
“Then Māra was terrified and distressed, thinking that the Licchavi Vimalakīrti had come to expose him. He tried to make himself invisible, but, try as he might with all his magical powers, he could not vanish from sight. Then a voice resounded in the sky, saying, ‘Evil One, give these heavenly maidens to the good man Vimalakīrti, and only then will you be able to return to your own abode.’
“The Licchavi Vimalakīrti, having received the goddesses, [F.195.a] said to them, ‘Now that you have been given to me by Māra, you should all conceive the spirit of unexcelled, perfect enlightenment.’101
“He then exhorted them with discourse suitable for their development toward enlightenment, and soon they conceived the spirit of enlightenment. He then said to them, ‘You have just conceived the spirit of enlightenment. From now on, you should devote yourselves to finding joy in the pleasures of the Dharma, and should take no pleasure in desires.’
“He declared, ‘It is the joy of unbreakable faith in the Buddha, of wishing to hear the Dharma, of serving the Saṅgha and honoring the spiritual benefactors without pride. It is the joy of renunciation of the whole world, of not being fixed in objects, of considering the five aggregates to be like murderers, of considering the elements to be like venomous serpents, and of considering the sense-media to be like an empty town.102 It is the joy of always guarding the spirit of enlightenment, of helping living beings, of sharing through generosity, of not slackening in morality, of control and tolerance in patience, of thorough cultivation of virtue by effort, of total absorption in meditation, and of absence of afflictions in wisdom. It is the joy of extending enlightenment, of conquering the māras, of destroying the afflictions, and of purifying the buddhafield. It is the joy of accumulating all virtues, in order to cultivate the auspicious marks and signs. It is the joy of the liberation of non-intimidation103 when hearing the profound teaching. It is the joy of exploration of the three doors of liberation, [F.195.b] and of the realization of liberation. It is the joy of being an ornament of the seat of enlightenment, and of not attaining liberation at the wrong time. It is the joy of serving those of equal fortune, of not hating or resenting those of superior fortune, of serving the spiritual benefactors, and of avoiding sinful friends. It is the joy of the superior gladness of faith and devotion to the Dharma. It is the joy of acquiring liberative arts and of the conscious cultivation of the aids to enlightenment. Thus, the bodhisattva admires and finds joy in the delights of the Dharma.’
“They said, ‘You gave us to this householder. Now we should enjoy the delights of the Dharma and should no longer enjoy the pleasures of desires.’
“Then Māra said to the Licchavi Vimalakīrti, ‘If it is so that the bodhisattva, the spiritual hero, has no mental attachment, and gives away all his possessions, then, householder, please give me these goddesses.’
“Vimalakīrti replied, ‘They are given, Māra. Go home with your retinue. May you fulfill the religious aspirations of all living beings!’
“Then the goddesses, saluting Vimalakīrti, said to him, ‘Householder, how should we live in the abode of the māras?’
“Vimalakīrti replied, ‘Sisters, there is a door of the Dharma called “The Inexhaustible Lamp.” Practice it! What is it? Sisters, a single lamp may light hundreds of thousands of lamps without itself being diminished. Likewise, sisters, a single bodhisattva [F.196.a] may establish many hundreds of thousands of living beings in enlightenment without his mindfulness being diminished. In fact, not only does it not diminish, it grows stronger. Likewise, the more you teach and demonstrate virtuous qualities to others, the more you grow with respect to these virtuous qualities. This is the door of the Dharma called “The Inexhaustible Lamp.” When you are living in the realm of Māra, inspire innumerable gods and goddesses with the spirit of enlightenment. In such a way, you will repay the kindness104 of the Tathāgata, and you will become the benefactors of all living beings.’
“Then, those goddesses bowed at the feet of the Licchavi Vimalakīrti and departed in the company of Māra. Thus, Lord, I saw the supremacy of the magical power, wisdom, and eloquence of the Licchavi Vimalakīrti, and therefore I am reluctant to go to that good man to inquire about his illness.”
Sudatta replied, “Lord, I am indeed reluctant to go to that good man to inquire about his illness. Why? Lord, I remember one day in my father’s house when, in order to celebrate a great sacrifice,106 I was bestowing gifts upon religious devotees, brahmins, the poor, the wretched, the unfortunate, beggars, and all the needy. On the seventh and final day of this great sacrifice, the Licchavi Vimalakīrti came there and said, ‘Merchant’s son, you should not celebrate a sacrifice in this way. You should celebrate a Dharma-sacrifice. What is the use of the sacrifice of material things?’
“He replied, ‘A Dharma-sacrifice is that which develops living beings without beginning or end, giving gifts to them all simultaneously.107 What is that? It consists of the great love which is consummated in enlightenment; of the great compassion consummated in the concentration of the holy Dharma on the liberation of all living beings;108 of the great joy consummated in the awareness of the supreme happiness of all living beings;109 and of the great equanimity consummated in concentration through knowledge.
“ ‘The Dharma-sacrifice consists of the transcendence of generosity, which is consummated in peacefulness and self-discipline; of the transcendence of morality, which is consummated in the moral development of immoral beings; of the transcendence of tolerance, consummated through the principle of selflessness; of the transcendence of effort, consummated in initiative toward enlightenment; of the transcendence of meditation, consummated in the solitude of body and mind; and of the transcendence of wisdom, consummated in the omniscient gnosis.
“ ‘The Dharma-sacrifice consists of the meditation of voidness, consummated in effectiveness in the development of all living beings; of the meditation of signlessness, consummated in the purification of all compounded things; and of the meditation of wishlessness, consummated in voluntarily assuming rebirths.
“ ‘The Dharma-sacrifice consists of heroic strength, consummated in the upholding of the holy Dharma; of the power of life, consummated in the means of unification; of the absence of pride, consummated in becoming the slave and the disciple of all living beings; of the gain of body, health, and wealth, consummated by the extraction of essence from the essenceless;110 of mindfulness, consummated by the six remembrances; of positive thought, consummated through the truly enjoyable Dharma; [F.197.a] of purity of livelihood, consummated by correct spiritual practice; of the respect of noble ones, consummated by joyful and faithful service; of soberness of mind, consummated by absence of dislike for ordinary people; of high resolve, consummated by renunciation; of skill in erudition, consummated by religious practice; of retirement in solitary retreats, consummated by understanding things free of afflictions; of introspective meditation, consummated by attainment of the buddha-gnosis; of the stage of the practice of yoga, consummated by the yoga of liberating all living beings from their afflictions.111
“ ‘The Dharma-sacrifice consists of the store of merit which is consummated by the auspicious signs and marks, the ornaments of the buddhafields, and all other means of development of living beings; of the store of knowledge which is consummated in the ability to teach the Dharma according to the thoughts and actions of all living beings; of the store of wisdom, which is consummated in the uniform gnosis free of acceptance and rejection in regard to all things; of the store of all roots of virtue, consummated in the abandonment of all afflictions, obscurations, and unvirtuous things; and of the attainment of all the aids to enlightenment, consummated in the realization of the gnosis of omniscience as well as in accomplishment of all virtue.
“ ‘That, noble son, is the Dharma-sacrifice. The bodhisattva who lives by this Dharma-sacrifice is the best of sacrificers, and, through his extreme sacrifice, is himself worthy of offerings from all people, including the gods.’
“Lord, as soon as the householder had discoursed thus, two hundred brahmins among the crowd of brahmins present conceived the spirit of unexcelled, perfect enlightenment. [F.197.b] And I, full of astonishment, having saluted this good man by touching his feet with my head, took from around my neck a necklace of pearls worth one hundred thousand pieces of gold and offered it to him.112 But he would not accept it. I then said to him, ‘Please accept, good man, this necklace of pearls, out of compassion for me, and give it to whomsoever you wish.’
“Then, Vimalakīrti took the pearls and divided them into two halves. He gave one half of them to the lowliest poor of the city, who had been disdained by those present at the sacrifice. The other half he offered to the Tathāgata Duṣprasaha. And he performed a miracle such that all present beheld the universe called Marīci and the Tathāgata Duṣprasaha. On the head of the Tathāgata Duṣprasaha, the pearl necklace took the form of a pavilion, decorated with strings of pearls, resting on four bases, with four columns, symmetrical, well constructed, and lovely to behold. Having shown such a miracle, Vimalakīrti said, ‘The giver who makes gifts to the lowliest poor of the city, considering them as worthy of offering as the Tathāgata himself, and the giver who gives without any discrimination, impartially, with no expectation of reward, and with great love—that giver, I say, totally fulfills the Dharma-sacrifice.’
“Then the poor of the city, having seen that miracle and having heard that teaching, conceived the spirit of unexcelled, perfect enlightenment. Therefore, Lord, I am reluctant to go to that good man to inquire about his illness.”
|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.