The Teaching of Vimalakīrti
The Dharma-Door of Nonduality
- Chönyi Tsultrim
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.
The bodhisattva Dharmavikurvaṇa declared, “Noble sir, production and destruction are two, but what is not produced and does not occur cannot be destroyed. Thus the attainment of the tolerance of the birthlessness of things is the entrance into nonduality.”
The bodhisattva [F.218.a] Śrīkūṭa declared, “ ‘Defilement’ and ‘purification’ are two. When there is thorough knowledge of defilement, there will be no conceit about purification. The path leading to the complete conquest of all conceit is the entrance into nonduality.”
The bodhisattva Sunakṣatra declared, “ ‘Distraction’ and ‘attention’ are two. When there is no distraction, there will be no attention, no mentation, and no mental intensity. Thus, the absence of mental intensity is the entrance into nonduality.”
The bodhisattva Subāhu declared, “ ‘Bodhisattva spirit’ and ‘disciple spirit’ are two. When both are seen to resemble an illusory spirit, there is no bodhisattva spirit, nor any disciple spirit. Thus, the sameness of natures of spirits is the entrance into nonduality.”
The bodhisattva Animiṣa declared, “ ‘Grasping’ and ‘nongrasping’ are two. What is not grasped is not perceived, and what is not perceived is neither presumed nor repudiated.178 Thus, the inaction and non-involvement of all things is the entrance into nonduality.”
The bodhisattva Sunetra declared, “ ‘Uniqueness’ and ‘characterlessness’ are two. Not to presume or construct something is neither to establish its uniqueness nor to establish its characterlessness. To penetrate the equality of these two is to enter nonduality.”179
The bodhisattva Puṣya declared, “ ‘Good’ and ‘evil’ are two. Seeking neither good nor evil, the understanding of the nonduality of the significant and the meaningless is the entrance into nonduality.”
The bodhisattva Siṃha declared, “ ‘Sinfulness’ and ‘sinlessness’ are two. By means of the diamond-like wisdom that pierces to the quick, not to be bound or liberated is the entrance into nonduality.” [F.218.b]
The bodhisattva Siṃhamati declared, “To say, ‘this is impure’ and ‘that is immaculate’ makes for duality. One who, attaining equanimity, forms no conception of impurity or immaculateness, yet is not utterly without conception, has equanimity without any attainment of equanimity—he enters the absence of conceptual knots. Thus, he enters into nonduality.”
The bodhisattva Sukhādhimukta declared, “To say, ‘this is happiness’ and ‘that is misery’ is dualism. One who is free of all calculations, through the extreme purity of gnosis—his mind is aloof, like empty space; and thus he enters into nonduality.”180
The bodhisattva Nārāyaṇa declared, “To say, ‘this is mundane’ and ‘that is transcendental’ is dualism. This world has the nature of voidness, so there is neither transcendence nor involvement, neither progress nor standstill. Thus, neither to transcend nor to be involved, neither to go nor to stop— this is the entrance into nonduality.”
The bodhisattva Dāntamati declared, “ ‘Life’ and ‘liberation’ are dualistic. Having seen the nature of life, one neither belongs to it nor is one utterly liberated from it. Such understanding is the entrance into nonduality.”
The bodhisattva Pratyakṣadarśa declared, “ ‘Destructible’ and ‘indestructible’ are dualistic. What is destroyed is ultimately destroyed. What is ultimately destroyed does not become destroyed; hence, it is called ‘indestructible.’ What is indestructible is instantaneous, and what is instantaneous is indestructible. The experience of such is called ‘the entrance into the principle of nonduality.’ ”181
The bodhisattva Samantagupta declared, “ ‘Self’ and ‘selflessness’ are dualistic. Since the existence of self cannot be perceived, what is there to be made ‘selfless’? Thus, the nondual vision of their nature is the entrance into nonduality.”
The bodhisattva Vidyuddeva declared, “ ‘Knowledge’ and ‘ignorance’ are dualistic. [F.219.a] The natures of ignorance and knowledge are the same, for ignorance is undefined, incalculable, and beyond the sphere of thought. The realization of this is the entrance into nonduality.”
The bodhisattva Priyadarśana declared, “Matter itself is void. Voidness does not result from the destruction of matter, but the nature of matter is itself voidness. Therefore, to speak of voidness on the one hand, and of matter, or of sensation, or of intellect, or of motivation, or of consciousness on the other, is entirely dualistic. Consciousness itself is voidness. Voidness does not result from the destruction of consciousness, but the nature of consciousness is itself voidness. Such understanding of the five compulsive aggregates and the knowledge of them as such by means of gnosis is the entrance into nonduality.”
The bodhisattva Prabhāketu declared, “To say that the four main elements are one thing and the etheric space-element another is dualistic. The four main elements are themselves the nature of space. The past itself is also the nature of space. The future itself is also the nature of space. Likewise, the present itself is also the nature of space. The gnosis that penetrates the elements in such a way is the entrance into nonduality.”182
The bodhisattva Sumati declared, “ ‘Eye’ and ‘form’ are dualistic. To understand the eye correctly, and not to have attachment, aversion, or confusion with regard to form—that is called ‘peace.’ Similarly, ‘ear’ and ‘sound,’ ‘nose’ and ‘smell,’ ‘tongue’ and ‘taste,’ ‘body’ and ‘touch,’ and ‘mind’ and ‘phenomena’—all are dualistic. But to know the mind, and to be neither attached, averse, nor confused with regard to phenomena—that is called ‘peace.’ To live in such peace is to enter into nonduality.”
The bodhisattva Akṣayamati declared, “The dedication of generosity for the sake of attaining omniscience is dualistic. The nature of generosity is itself omniscience, and the nature of omniscience itself is total dedication. Likewise, it is dualistic to dedicate morality, tolerance, effort, meditation, and wisdom [F.219.b] for the sake of omniscience. Omniscience is the nature of wisdom, and total dedication is the nature of omniscience. Thus, the entrance into this principle of uniqueness is the entrance into nonduality.”
The bodhisattva Gambhīrabuddhi declared, “It is dualistic to say that voidness is one thing, signlessness another, and wishlessness still another. What is void has no sign. What has no sign has no wish. Where there is no wish there is no process of thought, mind, or consciousness. To see the doors of all liberations in the door of one liberation is the entrance into nonduality.”
The bodhisattva Sāntendriya declared, “It is dualistic to say ‘Buddha,’ ‘Dharma,’ and ‘Saṅgha.’ The Dharma is itself the nature of the Buddha, the Saṅgha is itself the nature of the Dharma, and all of them are uncompounded. The uncompounded is infinite space, and the processes of all things are equivalent to infinite space. Adjustment to this is the entrance into nonduality.”
The bodhisattva Apratihatacakṣu declared, “It is dualistic to refer to ‘aggregates’ and to the ‘cessation of aggregates.’ Aggregates themselves are cessation. Why? The egoistic views of aggregates, being unproduced themselves, do not exist ultimately. Hence such views do not really conceptualize ‘these are aggregates’ or ‘these aggregates cease.’ Ultimately, they have no such discriminative constructions and no such conceptualizations. Therefore, such views have themselves the nature of cessation. Nonoccurrence and nondestruction are the entrance into nonduality.”
The bodhisattva Suvinīta declared, “Physical, verbal, and mental vows do not exist dualistically. Why? These things have the nature of inactivity. The nature of inactivity of the body is the same as the nature of inactivity of speech, whose nature of inactivity is the same as the nature of inactivity of the mind. It is necessary to know and to understand this fact of the ultimate inactivity of all things, [F.220.a] for this knowledge is the entrance into nonduality.”
The bodhisattva Puṇyakṣetra declared, “It is dualistic to consider actions meritorious, sinful, or unmoving. The non-undertaking of meritorious, sinful, and unmoving actions is not dualistic. The intrinsic nature of all such actions is voidness, wherein ultimately there is neither merit, nor sin, nor non-movement, nor action itself. The nonaccomplishment of such actions is the entrance into nonduality.”
The bodhisattva Padmavyūha declared, “Dualism is produced from obsession with self, but true understanding of self does not result in dualism. Who thus abides in nonduality is without ideation, and that absence of ideation is the entrance into nonduality.”
The bodhisattva Candrottara declared, “ ‘Darkness’ and ‘light’ are dualistic, but the absence of both darkness and light is nonduality. Why? At the time of absorption in cessation, there is neither darkness nor light, and likewise with the natures of all things. The entrance into this equanimity is the entrance into nonduality.”
The bodhisattva Ratnamudrāhasta declared, “It is dualistic to detest the world and to rejoice in liberation, and neither detesting the world nor rejoicing in liberation is nonduality. Why? Liberation can be found where there is bondage, [F.220.b] but where there is ultimately no bondage where is there need for liberation? The mendicant who is neither bound nor liberated does not experience any like or any dislike and thus he enters nonduality.”
The bodhisattva Maṇikūṭarāja declared, “It is dualistic to speak of ‘good paths’ and ‘bad paths’. One who is on the path is not concerned with good or bad paths. Living in such unconcern, he entertains no concepts of ‘path’ or ‘nonpath.’ Understanding the nature of concepts, his mind does not engage in duality. Such is the entrance into nonduality.”
The bodhisattva Satyananda declared, “It is dualistic to speak of ‘true’ and ‘false.’ When one sees truly, one does not ever see any truth,183 so how could one see falsehood? Why? One does not see with the physical eye, one sees with the eye of wisdom. And with the wisdom-eye one sees only insofar as there is neither sight nor nonsight. There, where there is neither sight nor nonsight, is the entrance into nonduality.”
Mañjuśrī replied, “Good sirs, you have all spoken well. Nevertheless, all your explanations are themselves dualistic. To know no one teaching, to express nothing, to say nothing, to explain nothing, to announce nothing, to indicate nothing, and to designate nothing—that is the entrance into nonduality.”
Then, the crown prince Mañjuśrī said to the Licchavi Vimalakīrti, “We have all given our own teachings, noble sir. Now, may you elucidate the teaching of the entrance into the principle of nonduality!”
Thereupon, the Licchavi Vimalakīrti kept his silence, saying nothing at all.184 The crown prince Mañjuśrī applauded the Licchavi Vimalakīrti: “Excellent! Excellent, noble sir! [F.221.a] This is indeed the entrance into the nonduality of the bodhisattvas. Here there is no use for syllables, sounds, and ideas.”
|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.