Category Archives: The Vimalakirti Sutra

Mañjuśrī Teaches Prajñāpāramitā

Perhaps more than any other Celestial Bodhisattva, Mañjuśrī best captures the epitome of Wisdom. Mañjuśrī is undoubtedly synonymous with and the very embodiment of the Perfection of Wisdom (Prajñāpāramitā). He is the ever-present guide and interlocutor in countless sutras; perhaps best well-known for his role in the Vimalakirti Sutra where he is the only fearless Bodhisattva present who dare go and visit the apparently ailing-lay bodhisattva, the mysterious and Noble Vimalakirti, and whose subsequent dialog with him becomes the very cornerstone of that sutra. He is also a prominent feature in the Lotus Sutra where he becomes privy to what the Buddha is about to reveal, even before the majestic Maitreya. Less well known is his pivotal role in a sutra from the Mahāratnakūṭa corpus, Mañjuśrī’s Discourse of the Pāramitā of Wisdom. Yet, this little gem packs a powerful punch in the spirit of the Diamond Sutra, and could actually be considered its sister text. It expounds a very High-Gnosis, not based on the relative truth of the mundane, but instead the Ultimate Truth of the Unborn and Absolute. Before venturing-forth in this new series, it is appropriate to begin with an exposé on the nature of its shining star—Mañjuśrī, the Maha-Bodhisattva of Transcendent Wisdom, whose name Man-ju (charming, beautiful and pleasant), and Shri (meaning a shining glory) encapsulates the very essence of the Prajñāpāramitā literature. read more

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Bodhisattvahood, Part 1

These 40 days of spiritually sojourning with Vimalakirti have left an indelible imprint on my psyche. I have literally awoken daily with Vimalakirti, walked with Vimalakirti , meditated with Vimalakirti, absorbed Vimalakirti’s teaching and have received the auspicious gift of being afforded the grace to catch a tiny glimpse of just what constitutes Bodhisattvahood. The Holy Teaching of Vimalakirti has been classified as the “Crowning-Jewel” of the Mahayana; as indicated earlier, the Mahayana was originally referred to as the Bodhisattva-yana—and this auspicious Sutra certainly highlights why that was so. The Vimalakirti Sutra is a wonderful blend of the Prajñāpāramitā, Mādhyamikas and Avatamsaka traditions. One can indeed see the influences of these in their respective chapters—like when embracing the six paramitas (Prajñāpāramitā), the total re-evaluation of all values wherein the Bodhisattva is both sinner and saint and neither (Mādhyamikas) and the absolute mind-blowing stanzas that relay Vimalakirti’s miraculous powers (in sundry universes and planes of realities) and manomayakāyaic-transformations (Avatamsaka). While my heart shall always be devoted to the Lanka first and foremost, the Vimalakirti Sutra as well shall forever hold a place of undivided reverence. read more

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The Propagation of the Dharma

14. The Propagation of the Dharma

(Burton Watson) Then the Buddha addressed the bodhisattva Maitreya, saying, “Maitreya, I now take this Law of anuttara-samyak-sambodhi, gathered over countless millions of asamkhya kalpas, and entrust it to you. In the latter age after the Buddha has passed into extinction, you must employ your supernatural powers to propagate sutras such as this, spreading them throughout the continent of Jambudvipa and never allowing them to be wiped out. Why? Because in the ages to come there will be good men and good women, as well as heavenly beings, dragons, spirits, gandharvas, rakshasas, and others, who will set their minds on attaining anuttara-samyak-sambodhi and will delight in the great Law If they are unable to hear sutras such as this, they will lose the opportunity to gain excellent benefits. But if beings such as these hear these sutras, they will surely believe and delight greatly in them and set their minds on a rare achievement. Therefore you must respectfully accept these and, considering how living beings can best gain benefits from them, expound them far and wide.

The great Spiritual-Propagator of the Buddhadharma in this dharma-ending age (we are currently in the midst of that last dharma-cycle) has been designated to the Maha-Bodhisattva Maitreya (the Buddha-heir apparent of this saha-realm)—who, though presently in the Tushita-heavens periodically descends (wonderfully portrayed in Tozen’s Dharmakaya Sutra) to confer “annuttara-samyak-sambodhi” upon worthy recipients. Breaking it down somewhat, annuttara=superiorly incomparable; samyak=perfect; sambodhi=supreme-enlightened one who penetrates the depths of Buddha-gnosis. This honor is not just conferred upon humans, as we learned through our study of the Lankavatara Sutra wherein Ravana, the Overlord of the Yakshas, also received this Honorary Salutation. read more

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Mark against Evil

For this study of the Vimalakirti Sutra I have been referring to four different translations. My primary source has been Robert Thurman’s text; the root base of his text is akin to another, truly marvelous, translation by the renowned Belgian scholar and Indologist, Étienne Lamotte; Lamotte’s translation was difficult to come by. It was long out of print and the surviving available hard-copies were too astronomical in price. Fortunately, I was able (finally, just two weeks ago) to get a recently released softbound copy from the Pali-Text Society (being more than willing to become a member to do so). Lamotte’s version is fantastic in the depth of its scholarly impetus and encyclopedic footnote material. The other translations utilized are by Charles Luk and Burton Watson. Thruman’s text has been magnificent, although he incorporates the remaining chapters into one (naming it epilogue), basically to guarantee the apparent original 12 chapter text, in league with Lamotte. Both Luk and Watson have broken it up into two—and for salient reasons I am following their lead, since the last chapter is basically ascribed to Maitreya, which is as it should be. read more

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Out on a Limb: Part 2

12.Vision of the Universe Abhirati and the Tathagata Aksobhya, cont’d

The venerable Sariputra then asked the Buddha, “Lord, in which buddha-field did the noble Vimalakirti die, before reincarnating in this buddha-field?” The Buddha said, “Sariputra, ask this good man directly where he died to reincarnate here.” Then the venerable Sariputra asked the Licchavi Vimalakirti, “Noble sir, where did you die to reincarnate here?” Vimalakirti declared, “Is there anything among the things that you see, elder, that dies or is reborn?” Sariputra: There is nothing that dies or is reborn. Vimalakirti: Likewise, reverend Sariputra, as all things neither die nor are reborn, why do you ask, “Where did you die to reincarnate here?” Reverend Sariputra, if one were to ask a man or woman created by a magician where he or she had died to reincarnate there, what do you think he or she would answer? Sariputra: Noble sir, a magical creation does not die, nor is it reborn. Vimalakirti: Reverend Sariputra, did not the Tathagata declare that all things have the nature of a magical creation? Sariputra: Yes, noble sir, that is indeed so. Vimalakirti: Reverend Sariputra, “death” is an end of performance, and “rebirth” is the continuation of performance. But, although a bodhisattva dies, he does not put an end to the performance of the roots of virtue, and although he is reborn, he does not adhere to the continuation of sin. read more

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Out on a Limb: Part 1

12.Vision of the Universe Abhirati and the Tathagata Aksobhya

Thereupon, the Buddha said to the Licchavi Vimalakirti, “Noble son, when you would see the Tathagata, how do you view him?” Thus addressed, the Licchavi Vimalakirti said to the Buddha, “Lord, when I would see the Tathagata, I view him by not seeing any Tathagata. Why? I see him as not born from the past, not passing on to the future, and not abiding in the present time. Why? He is the essence which is the reality of matter, but he is not matter. He is the essence which is the reality of sensation, but he is not sensation. He is the essence which is the reality of intellect, but he is not intellect. He is the essence which is the reality of motivation, yet he is not motivation. He is the essence which is the reality of consciousness, yet he is not consciousness. Like the element of space, he does not abide in any of the four elements. Transcending the scope of eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, and mind, he is not produced in the six sense-media. He is not involved in the three worlds, is free of the three defilements, is associated with the triple liberation, is endowed with the three knowledges, and has truly attained the unattainable.
“The Tathagata has reached the extreme of detachment in regard to all things, yet he is not a reality-limit. He abides in ultimate reality, yet there is no relationship between it and him. He is not produced from causes, nor does he depend on conditions. He is not without any characteristic, nor has he any characteristic. He has no single nature nor any diversity of natures. He is not a conception, not a mental construction, nor is he a nonconception. He is neither the other shore, nor this shore, nor that between. He is neither here, nor there, nor anywhere else. He is neither this nor that. He cannot be discovered by consciousness, nor is he inherent in consciousness. He is neither darkness nor light. He is neither name nor sign. He is neither weak nor strong. He lives in no country or direction. He is neither good nor evil. He is neither compounded nor uncompounded. He cannot be explained as having any meaning whatsoever. “The Tathagata is neither generosity nor avarice, neither morality nor immorality, neither tolerance nor malice, neither effort nor sloth, neither concentration nor distraction, neither wisdom nor foolishness. He is inexpressible. He is neither truth nor falsehood; neither escape from the world nor failure to escape from the world; neither cause of involvement in the world nor not a cause of involvement in the world; he is the cessation of all theory and all practice. He is neither a field of merit nor not a field of merit; he is neither worthy of offerings nor unworthy of offerings. He is not an object, and cannot be contacted. He is not a whole, nor a conglomeration. He surpasses all calculations. He is utterly unequaled, yet equal to the ultimate reality of things. He is matchless, especially in effort. He surpasses all measure. He does not go, does not stay, does not pass beyond. He is neither seen, heard, distinguished, nor known. He is without any complexity, having attained the equanimity of omniscient gnosis. Equal toward all things, he does not discriminate between them. He is without reproach, without excess, without corruption, without conception, and without intellectualization. He is without activity, without birth, without occurrence, without origin, without production, and without nonproduction. He is without fear and without subconsciousness; without sorrow, without joy, and without strain. No verbal teaching can express him. “Such is the body of the Tathagata and thus should he be seen. Who sees thus, truly sees. Who sees otherwise, sees falsely.”
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The Beatitudes

11.Lesson of the Destructible and the Indestructible

Meanwhile, back at the main assembly, a strange golden-like hue descends and encompasses everything. Ananda is awestruck and inquires from the Blessed One what this could mean. The Buddha says that this auspicious sign is a portent that Vimalakriti, Mañjuśrī and the great multitude of Bodhi-beings from Sarvagandhasugandhā will be arriving soon. Sure enough, Vimalakriti—in a miraculous fashion like the Buddha before him (with his Big-Toe) reduces the vast company of Bodhi-beings with their vast thrones into the palm of his hand and, in an instant, transports them from Sarvagandhasugandhā to the present assembly. Like Aladdin rubbing his magic lamp, those Bodhi-beings appear and begin to emit their divine spiritual-fragrance. Ananda inquires, what is that strange smell? The Buddha says that is that mystical-spice emanating from the pores of the Bodhi-beings; then, Śāriputra, like a little kid says, “Yes, see…it’s emanating from our pores, too!” Ananda then aska Vimalakriti “how long will this –perfume smell last?” Vimalakriti says, “Not until it’s thoroughly digested.” This is highly symbolic of the spiritual path that a Bodhisattva is called to follow—the ten-fold path of Bodhisattvahood—it will all finally be digested when the Bodhisattva conceives anuttara samyak sambodhi…hence perfected in Inseparable-Bodhi. The Blessed One then expounds that there are an infinitesimal number of Dharma-doors that open into many diversified Buddha-fields—all propounding the Buddhadharma; in this fashion, the Buddhadharma can be expounded upon for a trillion eons and still not exhaust the teachings of the Tathagatas. Feeling deeply humbled with this realization, Ananda considers himself from this day-forth truly unwise! The Buddha says that this is a cop-out! “Sure, Ananda, you’re the foremost of the disciples—your powers of observation and memorization are second-to-none, yet in all your splendid and erudite disciplehood, the least “Bodhisattva” is greater than you.” “Why? Ananda, these marvels displayed in a single morning by the Licchavi Vimalakirti could not be performed by the disciples and solitary sages who have attained miraculous powers, were they to devote all their powers of incarnation and transformation during one hundred thousand millions of aeons.” read more

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Mystical Spice

10.The Feast Brought by the Emanated Incarnation

At the opening of this chapter we once again find Śāriputra still with that dull-witted, conventional outlook on life; before he was concerned with the lack of chairs for the assembly, now he’s concerned that they don’t have any food. Vimalkirti responds with, “Are you so overly-concerned with your belly—just watch, and I’ll show you food the like of which you’ll never hunger again”! read more

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The Sound of Silence

9.The Dharma-Door of Nonduality

We now come to the most famous passage in the whole sutra: Vimalakriti’s Noble Silence. It deserves special consideration. We find all of the Bodhisattvas expounding ad nauseam (all dribbling nonsense) their take on the nature of Non-duality. When all of the grandiose extrapolations have ceased, we find Mañjuśrī succinctly downplaying their theories as being in themselves “dualistic”. Then he addresses Vimalakriti for his take on the matter, and of course Vimalakriti responds with a deafening silence. read more

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Like a Bridge Over Troubled Water

8. The Family of the Tathagatas

Then, the crown prince Manjusri said to the Licchavi Vimalakirti, “Noble sir, how does the bodhisattva follow the way to attain the qualities of the Buddha?” Vimalakirti replied, “Manjusri, when the bodhisattva follows the wrong way, he follows the way to attain the qualities of the Buddha.”
Manjusri continued, “How does the bodhisattva follow the wrong way?”
Vimalakirti 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 passions. 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 to 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, 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 techniques. 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 Maras, 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. 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. 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 Tathagatas. 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 Narayana. “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, 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 dumb and the incoherent, yet, having acquired the power of incantations, he is adorned with a varied eloquence. “He follows the ways of the heterodox without ever becoming heterodox. 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. “Manjusri, thus does the bodhisattva follow the wrong ways, thereby following the way to the qualities of the Buddha.” Then, the Licchavi Vimalakirti said to the crown prince Manjusri, “Manjusri, what is the ‘family of the Tathagatas’?”
Manjusri replied, “Noble sir, the family of the Tathagatas 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 media of sense, of the seven abodes of consciousness, of the eight false paths, of the nine causes of irritation, of the paths of ten sins. Such is the family of the Tathagatas. In short, noble sir, the sixty-two kinds of convictions constitute the family of the Tathagatas!” Vimalakirti: Manjusri, with what in mind do you say so?
Manjusri: 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, 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 Tathagatas. For example, noble sir, without going out into the great ocean, it is impossible to find precious, priceless pearls. Likewise, without going into the ocean of passions, it is impossible to obtain the mind of omniscience.
Then, the elder Mahakasyapa applauded the crown prince Manjusri: “Good! Good Manjusri! This is indeed well spoken! This is right! The passions do indeed constitute the family of the Tathagatas. 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, for example, the five desire objects have no impression or effect on those bereft of faculties, even so 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.
“Therefore, Manjusri, the ordinary individual is grateful to the Tathagata, but the disciples are not grateful. Why? The ordinary individuals, upon learning of the virtues of the Buddha, conceive the spirit of unexcelled perfect enlightenment, in order to insure 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.”
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