VIMALAKIRTI NIRDESA SUTRA
Robert A. F. Thurman
copyright 1976, The Pennsylvania State University
Chapter 05 :
The Consolation of the Invalid
Then, the Buddha said to the crown prince, Manjusri, "Manjusri, go
to the Licchavi Vimalakirti to inquire about his illness."
Manjusri replied, "Lord, it is difficult to attend upon the
Licchavi Vimalakirti. He is gifted with marvelous eloquence concerning the law of the
profound. He is extremely skilled in full expressions and in the reconciliation of
dichotomies. His eloquence is inexorable, and no one can resist his imperturbable
intellect. He accomplishes all the activities of the bodhisattvas. He penetrates all the
secret mysteries of the bodhisattvas and the Buddhas. He is skilled in civilizing all the
abodes of devils. He plays with the great superknowledges. He is consummate in wisdom and
liberative technique. He has attained the supreme excellence of the indivisible, nondual
sphere of the ultimate realm. He is skilled in teaching the Dharma with its infinite
the uniform ultimate. He is skilled in granting means of attainment in
accordance with the spiritual faculties of all living beings. He has thoroughly integrated
his realization with skill in liberative technique. He has attained decisiveness with
regard to all questions. Thus, although he cannot be withstood by someone of my feeble
defenses, still, sustained by the grace of the Buddha, I will go to him and will converse
with him as well as I can."
Thereupon, in that assembly, the bodhisattvas, the great disciples, the
Sakras, the Brahmas, the Lokapalas, and the gods and goddesses, all had this thought:
"Surely the conversations of the young prince Manjusri and that good man will result
in a profound teaching of the Dharma."
Thus, eight thousand bodhisattvas, five hundred disciples, a great
number of Sakras, Brahmas, Lokapalas, and many hundreds of thousands of gods and
goddesses, all followed the crown prince Manjusri to listen to the Dharma. And the crown
prince Manjusri, surrounded and followed by these bodhisattvas, disciples, Sakras,
Brahmas, Lokapalas, gods, and goddesses, entered the great city of Vaisali.
Meanwhile, the Licchavi Vimalakirti thought to himself, "Manjusri,
the crown prince, is coming here with numerous attendants. Now, may this house be
transformed into emptiness!"
Then, magically his house became empty. Even the doorkeeper
disappeared. And, except for the invalid's couch upon which Vimalakirti himself was lying,
no bed or couch or seat could be seen anywhere.
Then, the Licchavi Vimalakirti saw the crown prince Manjusri and
addressed him thus: "Manjusri! Welcome, Manjusri! You are very welcome! There you
are, without any coming. You appear, without any seeing. You are heard, without any
Manjusri declared, "Householder, it is as you say. Who comes,
finally comes not. Who goes, finally goes not.
Why? Who comes is not known to come. Who goes is not known to go. Who
appears is finally not to be seen.
"Good sir, is your condition tolerable? Is it livable? Are your
physical elements not disturbed? Is your sickness diminishing? Is it not increasing? The
Buddha asks about you - if you have slight trouble, slight discomfort, slight sickness, if
your distress is light, if you are cared for, strong, at ease, without self-reproach, and
if you are living in touch with the supreme happiness.
"Householder, whence came this sickness of yours? How long will it
continue? How does it stand? How can it be alleviated?"
Vimalakirti replied, "Manjusri, my sickness comes from ignorance
and the thirst for existence and it will last as long as do the sicknesses of all living
beings. Were all living beings to be free from sickness, I also would not be sick. Why?
Manjusri, for the bodhisattva, the world consists only of living beings, and sickness is
inherent in living in the world. Were all living beings free of sickness, the bodhisattva
also would be free of sickness. For example, Manjusri, when the only son of a merchant is
sick, both his parents become sick on account of the sickness of their son. And the
parents will suffer as long as that only son does not recover from his sickness. Just so,
Manjusri, the bodhisattva loves all living beings as if each were his only child. He
becomes sick when they are sick and is cured when they are cured. You
ask me, Manjusri, whence comes my sickness; the sicknesses of the bodhisattvas arise from
Manjusri: Householder, why is your house empty? Why have you no
Vimalakirti: Manjusri, all buddha-fields are also empty.
Manjusri: What makes them empty?
Vimalakirti: They are empty because of emptiness.
Manjusri: What is "empty" about emptiness?
Vimalakirti: Constructions are empty, because of emptiness.
Manjusri: Can emptiness be conceptually constructed?
Vimalakirti: Even that concept is itself empty, and emptiness cannot
Manjusri: Householder, where should emptiness be sought?
Vimalakirti: Manjusri, emptiness should be sought among the sixty-two
Manjusri: Where should the sixty-two convictions be sought?
Vimalakirti: They should be sought in the liberation of the Tathagatas.
Manjusri: Where should the liberation of the Tathagatas be sought?
Vimalakirti: It should be sought in the prime mental activity of all
living beings. Manjusri, you ask me why I am without servants, but all Maras and opponents
are my servants. Why? The Maras advocate this life of birth and death and the bodhisattva
does not avoid
life. The heterodox opponents advocate convictions, and the bodhisattva
is not troubled by convictions. Therefore, all Maras and opponents are my servants.
Manjusri: Householder, of what sort is your sickness?
Vimalakirti: It is immaterial and invisible.
Manjusri: Is it physical or mental?
Vimalakirti: It is not physical, since the body is insubstantial in
itself. It is not mental, since the nature of the mind is like illusion.
Manjusri: Householder, which of the four main elements is disturbed -
earth, water, fire, or air?
Vimalakirti: Manjusri, I am sick only because the elements of living
beings are disturbed by sicknesses.
Manjusri: Householder, how should a bodhisattva console another
bodhisattva who is sick?
Vimalakirti: He should tell him that the body is impermanent, but
should not exhort him to renunciation or disgust. He should tell him that the body is
miserable, but should not encourage him to find solace in liberation;
that the body is selfless, but that living beings should be developed;
that the body is peaceful, but not to seek any ultimate calm. He should urge him to
confess his evil deeds, but not for the sake of absolution. He should
encourage his empathy for all living beings on account of his own
sickness, his remembrance of suffering experienced from beginningless time, and his
consciousness of working for the welfare of living beings. He should encourage him not to
be distressed, but to manifest the roots of virtue, to maintain the primal purity and the
lack of craving, and thus to always strive to become the king of healers, who can cure all
sicknesses. Thus should a bodhisattva console a sick bodhisattva, in such a way as to make
Manjusri asked, "Noble sir, how should a sick bodhisattva control
his own mind?"
Vimalakirti replied, "Manjusri, a sick bodhisattva should control
his own mind with the following
consideration: Sickness arises from total involvement in the process of
misunderstanding from beginningless time. It arises from the passions that result from
unreal mental constructions, and hence ultimately nothing is perceived which can be said
to be sick. Why? The body is the issue of the four main elements, and in these elements
there is no owner and no agent. There is no self in this body, and except for arbitrary
insistence on self, ultimately no "I" which can be said to be sick can be
apprehended. Therefore, thinking "I" should not adhere to any self, and
"I" should rest in the knowledge of the root of illness,' he should abandon the
conception of himself as a personality and produce the conception of himself as a thing,
thinking, 'This body is an aggregate of many things; when it is born, only things are
born; when it ceases, only things cease; these things
have no awareness or feeling of each other; when they are born, they do
not think, "I am born." When they cease, they do not think, "I
"Furthermore, he should understand thoroughly the conception of
himself as a thing by cultivating the following consideration: 'Just as in the case of the
conception of "self," so the conception of "thing" is also a
misunderstanding, and this misunderstanding is also a grave sickness; I should free myself
from this sickness and should strive to abandon it.'
"What is the elimination of this sickness? It is the elimination
of egoism and possessiveness. What is the elimination of egoism and possessiveness? It is
the freedom from dualism. What is freedom
from dualism? It is the absence of involvement with either the external
or the internal. What is absence of involvement with either external or internal? It is
nondeviation, nonfluctuation, and nondistraction from equanimity. What is equanimity? It
is the equality of everything from self to liberation. Why? Because both self and
liberation are void. How can both be void? As verbal designations, they both are void, and
neither is established in reality. Therefore, one who sees such equality makes no
difference between sickness and voidness; his sickness is itself voidness, and that
sickness as voidness is itself void.
"The sick bodhisattva should recognize that sensation is
ultimately nonsensation, but he should not realize the cessation of sensation. Although
both pleasure and pain are abandoned when the buddha-qualities are fully accomplished,
there is then no sacrifice of the great compassion for all living beings living in the bad
migrations. Thus, recognizing in his own suffering the infinite sufferings of these living
beings, the bodhisattva correctly contemplates these living beings and resolves to cure
all sicknesses. As for these living beings, there is nothing to be applied, and there is
nothing to be removed; one has only to teach them the Dharma for them to realize the basis
from which sicknesses arise. What is this basis? It is object-perception.
Insofar as apparent objects are perceived, they are the basis of
sickness. What things are perceived as objects?
The three realms of existence are perceived as objects. What is the
thorough understanding of the basic, apparent object? It is its nonperception, as no
objects exist ultimately. What is nonperception? The internal subject and the external
object are not perceived dualistically. Therefore, it is called nonperception.
"Manjusri, thus should a sick bodhisattva control his own mind in
order to overcome old age, sickness, death, and birth. Such, Manjusri, is the sickness of
the bodhisattva. If he takes it otherwise, all his efforts will be in vain. For example,
one is called 'hero' when one conquers the miseries of aging, sickness, and death.
"The sick bodhisattva should tell himself: 'Just as my sickness is
unreal and nonexistent, so the sicknesses of all living beings are unreal and
nonexistent.' Through such considerations, he arouses the great compassion toward all
living beings without falling into any sentimental compassion. The great compassion that
strives to eliminate the accidental passions does not conceive of any life in living
beings. Why? Because great compassion
that falls into sentimentally purposive views only exhausts the
bodhisattva in his reincarnations. But the great compassion which is free of involvement
with sentimentally purposive views does not exhaust the bodhisattva in all his
reincarnations. He does not reincarnate through involvement with such views but
reincarnates with his mind free of involvement. Hence, even his reincarnation is like a
liberation. Being reincarnated as if being liberated, he has the power and ability to
teach the Dharma which liberates living beings from their bondage. As
the Lord declares: 'It is not possible for one who is himself bound to
deliver others from their bondage. But one who is himself liberated is able to liberate
others from their bondage.' Therefore, the bodhisattva should participate in liberation
and should not participate in bondage.
"What is bondage? And what is liberation? To indulge in liberation
from the world without employing liberative technique is bondage for the bodhisattva. To
engage in life in the world with full employment of liberative technique is liberation for
the bodhisattva. To experience the taste of contemplation, meditation, and concentration
without skill in liberative technique is bondage. To experience the taste of contemplation
and meditation with skill in liberative technique is liberation. Wisdom not integrated
with liberative technique is bondage, but wisdom integrated with liberative technique is
liberation. Liberative technique not integrated with wisdom is bondage, but liberative
technique integrated with wisdom is liberation.
"How is wisdom not integrated with liberative technique a bondage?
Wisdom not integrated with liberative technique consists of concentration on voidness,
signlessness, and wishlessness, and yet, being motivated by sentimental compassion,
failure to concentrate on cultivation of the auspicious signs and marks, on the adornment
of the buddha-field, and on the work of development of living beings it is bondage.
"How is wisdom integrated with liberative technique a liberation?
Wisdom integrated with liberative technique consists of being motivated by the great
compassion and thus of concentration on cultivation of the auspicious signs and marks, on
the adornment of the buddha-field, and on the work of development of living beings, all
the while concentrating on deep investigation of voidness, signlessness, and wishlessness
- and it is liberation.
"What is the bondage of liberative technique not integrated with
wisdom? The bondage of liberative technique not integrated with wisdom consists of the
bodhisattva's planting of the roots of virtue without dedicating them for the sake of
enlightenment, while living in the grip of dogmatic convictions, passions, attachments,
resentments, and their subconscious instincts.
"What is the liberation of liberative technique integrated with
wisdom? The liberation of liberative technique integrated with wisdom consists of the
bodhisattva's dedication of his roots of virtue for the sake of enlightenment, without
taking any pride therein, while forgoing all convictions, passions, attachments,
resentments, and their subconscious instincts.
"Manjusri, thus should the sick bodhisattva consider things. His
wisdom is the consideration of body, mind, and sickness as impermanent, miserable, empty,
and selfless. His liberative technique consists of not exhausting
himself by trying to avoid all physical sickness, and in applying
himself to accomplish the benefit of living beings, without interrupting the cycle of
reincarnations. Furthermore, his wisdom lies in understanding that the body, mind, and
sickness are neither new nor old, both simultaneously and sequentially. And his liberative
technique lies in not seeking cessation of body, mind, or sicknesses.
"That, Manjusri, is the way a sick bodhisattva should concentrate
his mind; he should live neither in control of his mind, nor in indulgence of his mind.
Why? To live by indulging the mind is proper for fools and to live in control of the mind
is proper for the disciples. Therefore, the bodhisattva should live neither in control nor
in indulgence of his mind. Not living in either of the two extremes is the domain of the
"Not the domain of the ordinary individual and not the domain of
the saint, such is the domain of the bodhisattva.
The domain of the world yet not the domain of the passions, such is the
domain of the bodhisattva. Where one understands liberation, yet does not enter final and
complete liberation, there is the domain of the bodhisattva.
Where the four Maras manifest, yet where all the works of Maras are
transcended, there is the domain of the bodhisattva. Where one seeks the gnosis of
omniscience, yet does not attain this gnosis at the wrong time, there is the domain of the
bodhisattva. Where one knows the Four Holy Truths, yet does not realize those truths at
the wrong time, there is the domain of the bodhisattva. A domain of introspective insight,
wherein one does not arrest voluntary reincarnation in the world, such is the domain of
the bodhisattva. A domain where one realizes
birthlessness, yet does not become destined for the ultimate, such is
the domain of the bodhisattva. Where one sees relativity without entertaining any
convictions, there is the domain of the bodhisattva. Where one associates with all beings,
yet keeps free of all afflictive instincts, there is the domain of the bodhisattva. A
domain of solitude with no place for the exhaustion of body and mind, such is the domain
of the bodhisattva. The domain of the triple world, yet indivisible from the ultimate
realm, such is the domain of the bodhisattva. The domain of voidness, yet where one
cultivates all types of virtues, such is the domain of the bodhisattva. The
domain of signlessness, where one keeps in sight the deliverance of all
living beings, such is the domain of the bodhisattva. The domain of wishlessness, where
one voluntarily manifests lives in the world, such is the domain of the bodhisattva.
"A domain essentially without undertaking, yet where all the roots
of virtue are undertaken without interruption, such is the domain of the bodhisattva. The
domain of the six transcendences, where one attains the transcendence of the thoughts and
actions of all living beings, such is the domain of the bodhisattva. The domain
of the six superknowledges, wherein defilements are not exhausted, such
is the domain of the bodhisattva. The domain of living by the holy Dharma, without even
perceiving any evil paths, such is the domain of the bodhisattva. The domain of the four
immeasurables, where one does not accept rebirth in the heaven of Brahma, such is the
domain of the bodhisattva. The domain of the six remembrances, unaffected by any sort of
defilement, such is the domain of the bodhisattva. The domain of contemplation,
meditation, and concentration, where one does not reincarnate in the formless realms by
force of these meditations and concentrations, such is the domain of the bodhisattva. The
domain of the four right efforts, where the duality of good and evil is not
apprehended, such is the domain of the bodhisattva. The domain of the
four bases of magical powers, where they are effortlessly mastered, such is the domain of
the bodhisattva. The domain of the five spiritual faculties, where one knows the degrees
of the spiritual faculties of living beings, such is the domain of the bodhisattva. The
domain of living with the five powers, where one delights in the ten powers of the
Tathagata, such is the domain of the bodhisattva. The domain of perfection of the seven
factors of enlightenment, where one is skilled in the knowledge of fine intellectual
distinctions, such is the domain of the bodhisattva. The domain of the holy
eightfold path, where one delights in the unlimited path of the Buddha,
such is the domain of the bodhisattva. The domain of the cultivation of the aptitude for
mental quiescence and transcendental analysis, where one does not fall into extreme
quietism, such is the domain of the bodhisattva. The domain of the realization of the
unborn nature of all things, yet of the perfection of the body, the auspicious signs and
marks, and the ornaments of the Buddha, such is the domain of the bodhisattva. The domain
of manifesting the attitudes of the disciples and the solitary sages without sacrificing
the qualities of the Buddha, such is the domain of the bodhisattva. The domain
of conformity to all things utterly pure in nature while manifesting
behavior that suits the inclinations of all living beings, such is the domain of the
bodhisattva. A domain where one realizes that all the buddha-fields are indestructible and
uncreatable, having the nature of infinite space, yet where one manifests the
establishment of the qualities of the buddha-fields in all their variety and magnitude,
such is the domain of the bodhisattva. The domain where one turns the wheel of the holy
Dharma and manifests the magnificence of ultimate liberation, yet never forsakes the
career of the bodhisattva, such is the domain of the bodhisattva!"
When Vimalakirti had spoken this discourse, eight thousand of the gods
in the company of the crown prince Manjusri conceived the spirit of unexcelled, perfect
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