The Teaching of Vimalakīrti
The Feast Brought by the Emanated Incarnation
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 Licchavi Vimalakīrti, aware of what the venerable Śāriputra was thinking, spoke to him: “Reverend Śāriputra, the Tathāgata has taught the eight liberations. You should concentrate on those liberations, listening to the Dharma with a mind free of preoccupations with material things. Just wait a minute, reverend Śāriputra, and you will eat such food as you have never before tasted.”
Then, the Licchavi Vimalakīrti set himself in such a concentration and performed such a miraculous feat that those bodhisattvas and those great disciples were enabled to see the universe called Sarvagandhasugandhā, which is located in the direction of the zenith, beyond as many buddhafields as there are sands in forty-two Ganges rivers. There the tathāgata named Gandhottamakūṭa resides, lives, and is manifest. In that universe, the trees emit a fragrance that far surpasses all the fragrances, human and divine, of all the buddhafields of the ten directions. In that universe, even the names “disciple” and “solitary sage” do not exist, and the Tathāgata Gandhottamakūṭa teaches the Dharma to a gathering of bodhisattvas only. In that universe, all the houses, [F.221.b] the avenues, the parks, and the palaces are made of various perfumes, and the fragrance of the food eaten by those bodhisattvas pervades immeasurable universes.
At this time, the Tathāgata Gandhottamakūṭa sat down with his bodhisattvas to take his meal, and the deities called Gandhavyūhāhāra, who were all devoted to the Mahāyāna, served and attended upon that Buddha and his bodhisattvas. Everyone in the gathering at the house of Vimalakīrti was able to see distinctly this universe wherein the Tathāgata Gandhottamakūṭa and his bodhisattvas were taking their meal.
But, restrained by the supernatural power of Mañjuśrī, none of them volunteered to go.
Then, the Licchavi Vimalakīrti, without rising from his couch, magically emanated an incarnated bodhisattva, whose body was of golden color, adorned with the auspicious signs and marks, and of such an appearance that he outshone the whole assembly.
The Licchavi Vimalakīrti addressed that incarnated bodhisattva: “Noble son, go in the direction of the zenith and when you have crossed as many buddhafields as there are sands in forty-two Ganges rivers, you will reach a universe called Sarvagandhasugandhā, where you will find the Tathāgata Gandhottamakūṭa taking his meal. Go to him and, [F.222.a] having bowed down at his feet, make the following inquiry of him:
“ ‘The Licchavi Vimalakīrti bows down one hundred thousand times at your feet, O Lord, and asks after your health—if you have but little trouble, little discomfort, little unrest; if you are strong, well, without complaint, and living in touch with supreme happiness.’
“Having thus asked after his health, you should request of him: ‘Vimalakīrti asks the Lord to give me the remains of your meal, with which he will accomplish the buddha-work in the universe called Sahā. Thus, those living beings with inferior aspirations will be inspired with lofty aspirations, and the good name of the Tathāgata will be celebrated far and wide.’ ”
At that, the incarnated bodhisattva said, “Very good!” to the Licchavi Vimalakīrti and obeyed his instructions. In sight of all the bodhisattvas, he turned his face upward and was gone, and they saw him no more.186
When he reached the universe Sarvagandhasugandhā, he bowed down at the feet of the Tathāgata Gandhottamakūṭa and said, “Lord, the bodhisattva Vimalakīrti, bowing down at the feet of the Lord, greets the Lord, saying: ‘Do you have little trouble, little discomfort, and little unrest? Are you strong, well, without complaint, and living in touch with the supreme happiness?’ He then requests, having bowed down one hundred thousand times at the feet of the Lord: ‘May the Lord be gracious and give to me the remains of his meal in order to accomplish the buddha-work in the universe called Sahā. Then, those living beings who aspire to inferior ways may gain the intelligence to aspire to the great Dharma of the Buddha, [F.222.b] and the name of the Buddha will be celebrated far and wide.’ ”
At that the bodhisattvas of the buddhafield of the Tathāgata Gandhottamakūṭa were astonished and asked the Tathāgata Gandhottamakūṭa, “Lord, where is there such a great being as this? Where is the universe Sahā? What does he mean by ‘those who aspire to inferior ways’?”187
Having thus been questioned by those bodhisattvas, the Tathāgata Gandhottamakūṭa said, “Noble sons, the universe Sahā exists beyond as many buddhafields in the direction of the nadir as there are sands in forty-two Ganges rivers. There the Tathāgata Śākyamuni teaches the Dharma to living beings who aspire to inferior ways, in that buddhafield tainted with five corruptions. There the bodhisattva Vimalakīrti, who lives in the inconceivable liberation, teaches the Dharma to the bodhisattvas. He sends this incarnated bodhisattva here in order to celebrate my name, in order to show the advantages of this universe, and in order to increase the roots of virtue of those bodhisattvas.”
The Tathāgata said, “The greatness of that bodhisattva is such that he sends magical incarnations to all the buddhafields of the ten directions, and all these incarnations accomplish the buddha-work for all the living beings in all those buddhafields.”188
Then, the Tathāgata Gandhottamakūṭa poured some of his food, impregnated with all perfumes, into a fragrant vessel [F.223.a] and gave it to the incarnated bodhisattva. And the ninety million bodhisattvas of that universe volunteered to go along with him: “Lord, we also would like to go to that universe Sahā, to see, honor, and serve the Buddha Śākyamuni and to see Vimalakīrti and those bodhisattvas.”
The Tathāgata declared, “Noble sons, go ahead if you think it is the right time. But, lest those living beings become mad and intoxicated, go without your perfumes. And, lest those living beings of the Sahā world become jealous of you, change your bodies to hide your beauty. And do not conceive ideas of contempt and aversion for that universe. Why? Noble sons, a buddhafield is a field of pure space, but the lord buddhas, in order to develop living beings, do not reveal all at once the pure realm of the Buddha.”
Then the incarnated bodhisattva took the food and departed with the ninety million bodhisattvas and, by the power of the Buddha and the supernatural operation of Vimalakīrti, disappeared from that universe Sarvagandhasugandhā and stood again in the house of Vimalakīrti in a fraction of a second. The Licchavi Vimalakīrti created ninety million lion-thrones exactly like those already there, and the bodhisattvas were seated.
Then, the incarnated bodhisattva gave the vessel full of food to Vimalakīrti, and the fragrance of that food permeated the entire great city of Vaiśālī and its sweet perfume spread throughout one hundred universes. Within the city of Vaiśālī, the brahmins, householders, and even the Licchavi chieftain Candracchattra, having noticed this fragrance, were amazed [F.223.b] and filled with wonder. They were so cleansed in body and mind that they came at once to the house of Vimalakīrti, along with all eighty-four thousand of the Licchavis.
Seeing there the bodhisattvas seated on the high, wide, and beautiful lion-thrones, they were filled with admiration and great joy. They all bowed down to those great disciples and bodhisattvas and then sat down to one side. And the gods of the earth, the gods of the realm of desire, and the gods of the realm of pure matter, attracted by the perfume, also came to the house of Vimalakīrti.
Then, the Licchavi Vimalakīrti spoke to the elder Śāriputra and the great disciples: “Reverends, eat of the food of the Tathāgata! It is ambrosia perfumed by the great compassion. But do not fix your minds in narrow-minded attitudes, lest you be unable to receive its gift.”
But some of the disciples had already had the thought: “How can such a huge multitude eat such a small amount of food?”
Then the incarnated bodhisattva said to those disciples, “Do not compare, venerable ones, your own wisdom and merits with the wisdom and merits of the Tathāgata! Why? For example, the four great oceans might dry up, but this food would never be exhausted. If all living beings were to eat for an eon an amount of this food equal to Mount Sumeru in size, it still would not be depleted. Why? Issued from inexhaustible morality, concentration, and wisdom, the remains of the food of the Tathāgata contained in this vessel cannot be exhausted.”
Indeed, the entire gathering was satisfied by that food, and the food was not at all depleted. Having eaten that food, there arose in the bodies of those bodhisattvas, disciples, Śakras, Brahmās, Lokapālas, and other living beings, [F.224.a] a bliss just like the bliss of the bodhisattvas of the universe Sarvasukhapratimaṇḍita. And from all the pores of their skin arose a perfume like that of the trees that grow in the universe Sarvagandhasugandhā.
Then, the Licchavi Vimalakīrti knowingly addressed those bodhisattvas who had come from the buddhafield of the Lord Tathāgata Gandhottamakūṭa: “Noble sirs, how does the Tathāgata Gandhottamakūṭa teach his Dharma?”
They replied, “The Tathāgata does not teach the Dharma by means of sound and language. He disciplines the bodhisattvas only by means of perfumes. At the foot of each perfume-tree sits a bodhisattva, and the trees emit perfumes like this one. From the moment they smell that perfume, the bodhisattvas attain the concentration called ‘source of all bodhisattva-virtues.’ From the moment they attain that concentration, all the bodhisattvas-virtues are produced in them.”
Vimalakīrti replied, “Good sirs, these living beings here are hard to discipline. Therefore, he teaches them with discourses appropriate for the disciplining of the wild and uncivilized. How does he discipline the wild and uncivilized? What discourses are appropriate? Here they are:
“ ‘This is hell. This is the animal world. This is the world of the lord of death. These are the adversities. These are the rebirths with crippled faculties. These are physical misdeeds, and these are the retributions for physical misdeeds. These are verbal misdeeds, and these are the retributions for verbal misdeeds. [F.224.b] These are mental misdeeds, and these are the retributions for mental misdeeds. This is killing. This is stealing. This is sexual misconduct. This is lying. This is backbiting. This is harsh speech. This is frivolous speech. This is covetousness. This is malice. This is false view.189 These are their retributions. This is miserliness, and this is its effect. This is immorality. This is hatred. This is sloth. This is the fruit of sloth. This is false wisdom and this is the fruit of false wisdom. These are the transgressions of the precepts. This is the vow of personal liberation. This should be done and that should not be done. This is proper and that should be abandoned. This is an obscuration and that is without obscuration. This is sin and that rises above sin. This is the path and that is the wrong path. This is virtue and that is evil. This is blameworthy and that is blameless. This is defiled and that is immaculate. This is mundane and that is transcendental. This is compounded and that is uncompounded. This is affliction and that is purification. This is life and that is liberation.’190
“Thus, by means of these varied explanations of the Dharma, the Buddha trains the minds of those living beings who are just like wild horses. Just as wild horses or wild elephants will not be tamed unless the goad pierces them to the marrow, so living beings who are wild and hard to civilize are disciplined only by means of discourses about all kinds of miseries.”
The bodhisattvas said, “Thus is established the greatness of the Buddha Śākyamuni! It is marvelous how, concealing his miraculous power, he civilizes the wild living beings who are poor and inferior. And the bodhisattvas who settle in a buddhafield of such intense hardships must have inconceivably great compassion!”191 [F.225.a]
The Licchavi Vimalakīrti declared, “So it is, good sirs! It is as you say. The great compassion of the bodhisattvas who reincarnate here is extremely firm. In a single lifetime in this universe, they accomplish much benefit for living beings. So much benefit for living beings could not be accomplished in the universe Sarvagandhasugandhā even in one hundred thousand eons. Why? Good sirs, in this Sahā universe, there are ten virtuous practices that do not exist in any other buddhafield. What are these ten? Here they are: to win the poor by generosity; to win the immoral by morality; to win the hateful by means of tolerance; to win the lazy by means of effort; to win the mentally troubled by means of concentration; to win the falsely wise by means of true wisdom; to show those suffering from the eight adversities how to rise above them; to teach the Mahāyāna to those of narrow-minded attitudes; to win those who have not produced the roots of virtue by means of the roots of virtue; and to develop living beings without interruption through the four means of unification. Those who engage in these ten virtuous practices do not exist in any other buddhafield.”
Vimalakīrti replied, “After he transmigrates at death away from this Sahā universe, a bodhisattva must have eight qualities to reach a pure buddhafield safe and sound. What are the eight? He must resolve to himself: ‘I must benefit all living beings, without seeking even the slightest benefit for myself. I must bear all the miseries of all living beings and give all my accumulated roots of virtue [F.225.b] to all living beings. I must have no resentment toward any living being. I must rejoice in all bodhisattvas as if they were the Teacher.192 I must not neglect any teachings, whether or not I have heard them before. I must control my mind, without coveting the gains of others, and without taking pride in gains of my own. I must examine my own faults and not blame others for their faults. I must take pleasure in being consciously aware and must truly undertake all virtues.’
When the Licchavi Vimalakīrti and the crown prince Mañjuśrī had thus taught the Dharma to the multitude gathered there, one hundred thousand living beings conceived the spirit of unexcelled, perfect enlightenment, and ten thousand bodhisattvas attained the tolerance of the birthlessness of things.
|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].
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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.
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———(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.