VIMALAKIRTI NIRDESA SUTRA
Robert A. F. Thurman
copyright 1976, The Pennsylvania State University
Chapter 04 :
The Reluctance of the Bodhisattvas
Then, the Buddha said to the bodhisattva Maitreya, "Maitreya, go
to the Licchavi Vimalakirti to inquire about his illness."
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 Tusita heaven, the god Samtusita and his retinue, about
the stage of nonregression of the great bodhisattvas. At that time, the Licchavi
Vimalakirti 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, "Bhikshus, in a single
moment, you are born, you age, you die, you transmigrate, and you are reborn."
"'Then might the prophecy concern birthlessness? But birthlessness
applies to the stage of destiny for the ultimate, in which there is neither prophecy nor
attainment of perfect enlightenment.
"'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. 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 or of diversity. Maitreya, whenever you attain
Buddhahood, which is the perfection of enlightenment, at the same time all living beings
will also attain ultimate liberation. Why? The Tathagatas do not enter ultimate liberation
until all living beings have entered ultimate liberation. For, since
all living beings are utterly liberated, the Tathagatas see them as having the nature of
"'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.
"'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 limit of reality.
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, and inclinations of all living beings. Enlightenment is
not a door for the six media of sense. Enlightenment is unadulterated, since it is free of
the passions 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 unmoving. 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 hallucinations. And the mind is
immaterial, invisible, baseless, and unconscious.'
"Lord, when Vimalakirti had discoursed thus, two hundred of the
deities in that assembly attained the tolerance of birthlessness. As for me, Lord, I was
rendered speechless. Therefore, I am reluctant to go to that good man to inquire about his
The Buddha then said to the young Licchavi Prabhavyuha,
"Prabhavyuha, go to the Licchavi Vimalakirti to inquire about his illness."
Prabhavyuha 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 Vaisali, I met the Licchavi Vimalakirti 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 technique, 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. It is
the seat of eradication of all passions, 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, 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 Vimalakirti 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."
The Buddha then said to the bodhisattva Jagatimdhara,
"Jagatimdhara, go to the Licchavi Vimalakirti to inquire about his illness."
Jagatimdhara replied, "My 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, the wicked Mara, disguised as Indra 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
Sakra, the king of the gods, said to him, 'Welcome, O Kausika! 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.'
"Mara then said to me, 'Good sir, accept from me these twelve
thousand divine maidens and make them your servants.'
"I replied, 'O Kausika, do not offer me, who am religious and a
son of the Sakya, things which are not appropriate. It is not proper for me to have these
"No sooner had I said these words than the Licchavi Vimalakirti
came there and said to me, 'Noble son, do not think that this is Indra! This is not Indra
but the evil Mara, who has come to ridicule you.'
"Then the Licchavi Vimalakirti said to Mara, 'Evil Mara, since
these heavenly maidens are not suitable for this religious devotee, a son of the Sakya,
give them to me.'
"Then Mara was terrified and distressed, thinking that the
Licchavi Vimalakirti 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
Vimalakirti, and only then will you be able to return to your own abode.'
"Then Mara was even more frightened and, much against his will,
gave the heavenly maidens.
"The Licchavi Vimalakirti, having received the goddesses, said to
them, 'Now that you have been given to me by Mara, you should all conceive the spirit of
unexcelled, perfect enlightenment.'
"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 find joy in pleasures of
the Dharma, and should take no pleasure in desires.'
"They then asked him, 'What is "joy in the pleasures of the
"He declared, 'It is the joy of unbreakable faith in the Buddha,
of wishing to hear the Dharma, of serving the Sangha 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. 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 passions in wisdom. It is the joy of extending
enlightenment, of conquering the Maras, of destroying the passions, and of purifying the
buddha-field. 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 nonintimidation when
hearing the profound teaching. It is the joy of exploration of the three doors of
liberation, 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
techniques and of the conscious cultivation of the aids to enlightenment. Thus, the
bodhisattva admires and finds joy in the delights of the Dharma.'
"Thereupon, Mara said to the goddesses, 'Now come along and let us
"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 Mara said to the Licchavi Vimalakirti, '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.'
"Vimalakirti replied, 'They are given, Mara. Go home with your
retinue. May you fulfill the religious aspirations of all living beings!'
"Then the goddesses, saluting Vimalakirti, said to him,
'Householder, how should we live in the abode of the Maras?'
"Vimalakirti 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 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 Mara, inspire innumerable gods and goddesses with the
spirit of enlightenment. In such a way, you will repay the kindness of the Tathagata, and
you will become the benefactors of all living beings.'
"Then, those goddesses bowed at the feet of the Licchavi
Vimalakirti and departed in the company of Mara.
Thus, Lord, I saw the supremacy of the magical power, wisdom, and
eloquence of the Licchavi Vimalakirti, and therefore I am reluctant to go to that good man
to inquire about his illness."
The Buddha then said to the merchant's son, Sudatta, "Noble son,
go to the Licchavi Vimalakirti 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, I was bestowing gifts upon religious devotees,
Brahmans, the poor, the wretched, the unfortunate, beggars, and all the needy. On the
seventh and final day of this great sacrifice, the Licchavi Vimalakirti
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?'
"I then asked him, 'How does one give a Dharma-sacrifice?'
"He replied, 'A Dharma-sacrifice is that which develops living
beings without beginning or end, giving gifts to them all simultaneously. What is that? It
consists of the great love which is consummated in enlightenment; of the great compassion
which is consummated in the concentration of the holy Dharma on the liberation of all
living beings; of the great joy which is consummated in the awareness of the supreme
happiness of all living beings; and of the great equanimity which is 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; of mindfulness, consummated by the six
remembrances; of positive thought, consummated through the truly enjoyable Dharma; of
purity of livelihood, consummated by correct spiritual practice; of the respect of saints,
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 passions; 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 passions.
"'The Dharma-sacrifice consists of the store of merit which is
consummated by the auspicious signs and marks, the ornaments of the buddha-fields, 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 passions, 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
Brahmans among the crowd of Brahmans present conceived the spirit of unexcelled, perfect
enlightenment. 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. 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, Vimalakirti 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 Tathagata Dusprasaha.
And he performed a miracle such that all present beheld the universe called Marici and the
Tathagata Dusprasaha. On the head of the Tathagata Dusprasaha, 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,
Vimalakirti said, 'The giver who makes gifts to
the lowliest poor of the city, considering them as worthy of offering
as the Tathagata himself, the giver who gives without any discrimination, impartially,
with no expectation of reward, and with great love - this giver, I say, totally fulfills
"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."
In the same way, all the bodhisattvas, great spiritual heroes, told the
stories of their conversations with Vimalakirti and declared their reluctance to go to
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