The Teaching of Vimalakīrti
The Family of the Tathāgatas
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.
Vimalakīrti replied, “Even should he enact the five deadly sins, he feels no malice, violence, or hate. Even should he go into the hells, he remains free of all taint of afflictions. Even should he go into the states of the animals, he remains free of darkness and ignorance. When he goes into the states of the asuras, he remains free of pride, conceit, and arrogance. When he goes into the realm of the lord of death, he accumulates the stores of merit and wisdom. When he goes into the states of motionlessness and immateriality, he does not dissolve therein.
“He may follow the ways of desire, yet he stays free of attachment to the enjoyments of desire. He may follow the ways of hatred, yet he feels no anger toward any living being. He may follow the ways of folly, yet he is ever conscious with the wisdom of firm understanding.
“He may follow the ways of avarice, yet he gives away all internal and external things without regard even for his own life. He may follow the ways of immorality, yet, seeing the horror of even the slightest transgressions, he lives by the ascetic practices and austerities. He may follow the ways of wickedness and anger, [F.214.b] yet he remains utterly free of malice and lives by love. He may follow the ways of laziness, yet his efforts are uninterrupted as he strives in the cultivation of roots of virtue. He may follow the ways of sensuous distraction, yet, naturally concentrated, his contemplation is not dissipated. He may follow the ways of false wisdom, yet, having reached the transcendence of wisdom, he is expert in all mundane and transcendental sciences.
“He may show the ways of sophistry and contention, yet he is always conscious of ultimate meanings and has perfected the use of liberative arts. He may show the ways of pride, yet he serves as a bridge and a ladder for all people. He may show the ways of the passions, yet he is utterly dispassionate and naturally pure. He may follow the ways of the māras, yet he does not really accept their authority in regard to his knowledge of the qualities of the Buddha. He may follow the ways of the disciples, yet he lets living beings hear the teaching they have not heard before.165 He may follow the ways of the solitary sages, yet he is inspired with great compassion in order to develop all living beings.
“He may follow the ways of the poor, yet he holds in his hand a jewel of inexhaustible wealth.166 He may follow the ways of cripples, yet he is beautiful and well adorned with the auspicious signs and marks. He may follow the ways of those of lowly birth, yet, through his accumulation of the stores of merit and wisdom, he is born in the family of the tathāgatas. He may follow the ways of the weak, the ugly, and the wretched, yet he is beautiful to look upon, and his body is like that of Nārāyaṇa.
“He may manifest to living beings the ways of the sick and the unhappy, yet he has entirely conquered and transcended the fear of death.
“He may follow the ways of the rich, [F.215.a] yet he is without acquisitiveness and often reflects upon the notion of impermanence. He may show himself engaged in dancing with harem girls, yet he cleaves to solitude, having crossed the swamp of desire.
“He follows the ways of the outsiders without ever becoming an outsider. He follows the ways of all the world, yet he reverses all states of existence. He follows the way of liberation without ever abandoning the progress of the world.
Mañjuśrī replied, “Noble sir, the family of the tathāgatas consists of all basic egoism; of ignorance and the thirst for existence; of lust, hate, and folly; of the four misapprehensions; of the five obscurations; of the six sense-media; of the seven abodes of consciousness; of the eight perverse paths; of the nine causes of irritation; and of the paths of the ten sins. Such is the family of the tathāgatas. In short, noble sir, the sixty-two kinds of convictions constitute the family of the tathāgatas!”
Mañjuśrī: Noble sir, one who stays in the fixed determination of the vision of the uncreated is not capable of conceiving the spirit of unexcelled perfect enlightenment. However, one who lives among created things, in the mines of passions, without seeing any truth, is indeed capable of conceiving the spirit of unexcelled perfect enlightenment.
Noble sir, flowers like the blue lotus, the red lotus, the white lotus, the water lily, [F.215.b] and the moon lily do not grow on the dry ground in the wilderness, but do grow in the swamps and mud banks. Just so, the buddha-qualities do not grow in living beings certainly destined for the uncreated but do grow in those living beings who are like swamps and mud banks of passions. Likewise, as seeds do not grow in the sky but do grow in the earth, so the buddha-qualities do not grow in those determined for the absolute but do grow in those who conceive the spirit of enlightenment, after having produced a Sumeru-like mountain of egoistic views.
Noble sir, through these considerations one can understand that all passions constitute the family of the tathāgatas. Just as, noble sir, without going out into the great ocean, it is impossible to find precious, priceless pearls, so likewise, without going into the ocean of passions, it is impossible to obtain the mind of omniscience.
Then, the elder Mahākāśyapa applauded the crown prince Mañjuśrī: “Good! Good, Mañjuśrī! This is indeed well spoken! This is right! The passions do indeed constitute the family of the tathāgatas. How can such as we, the disciples, conceive the spirit of enlightenment, or become fully enlightened in regard to the qualities of the Buddha? Only those guilty of the five deadly sins can conceive the spirit of enlightenment and can attain buddhahood, which is the full accomplishment of the qualities of the Buddha!
“Just as the five desire objects have no impression or effect on those bereft of faculties, in the same way all the qualities of the Buddha have no impression or effect on the disciples, who have abandoned all adherences. Thus, the disciples can never appreciate those qualities.168
“Therefore, Mañjuśrī, the ordinary individual is grateful to the Tathāgata, but the disciples are not grateful. Why? [F.216.a] Ordinary individuals, upon learning of the virtues of the Buddha, conceive the spirit of unexcelled perfect enlightenment, in order to ensure the uninterrupted continuity of the heritage of the Three Jewels; but the disciples, although they may hear of the qualities, powers, and fearlessnesses of the Buddha until the end of their days, are not capable of conceiving the spirit of unexcelled perfect enlightenment.”
Thereupon, the bodhisattva Sarvarūpasaṃdarśana, who was present in that assembly, addressed the Licchavi Vimalakīrti: “Householder, where are your father and mother, your children, your wife, your servants, your maids, your laborers, and your attendants? Where are your friends, your relatives, and your kinsmen? Where are your servants, your horses, your elephants, your chariots, your bodyguards, and your bearers?”
|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.