VIMALAKIRTI NIRDESA SUTRA
Robert A. F. Thurman
copyright 1976, The Pennsylvania State University
Lesson of the Destructible and the Indestructible
Meanwhile, the area in which the Lord was teaching the Dharma in the
garden of Amrapali expanded and grew larger, and the entire assembly appeared tinged with
a golden hue. Thereupon, the venerable Ananda asked the Buddha, "Lord, this expansion
and enlargement of the garden of Amrapali and this golden hue of the assembly -
what do these auspicious signs portend?"
The Buddha declared, "Ananda, these auspicious signs portend that
the Licchavi Vimalakirti and the crown prince Manjusri, attended by a great multitude, are
coming into the presence of the Tathagata."
At that moment the Licchavi Vimalakirti said to the crown prince
Manjusri, "Manjusri, let us take these many living beings into the presence of the
Lord, so that they may see the Tathagata and bow down to him!"
Manjusri replied, "Noble sir, send them if you feel the time is
Thereupon the Licchavi Vimalakirti performed the miraculous feat of
placing the entire assembly, replete with thrones, upon his right hand and then, having
transported himself magically into the presence of the Buddha,
placing it on the ground. He bowed down at the feet of the Buddha,
circumambulated him to the right seven times with palms together, and withdrew to one
The bodhisattvas who had come from the buddha-field of the Tathagata
Sugandhakuta descended from their lion-thrones and, bowing down at the feet of the Buddha,
placed their palms together in reverence and withdrew to one side. And the other
bodhisattvas, great spiritual heroes, and the great disciples descended from their thrones
likewise and, having bowed at the feet of the Buddha, withdrew to one side. Likewise all
those Indras, Brahmas, Lokapalas, and gods bowed at the feet of the Buddha, placed their
palms together in reverence and
withdrew to one side.
Then, the Buddha, having delighted those bodhisattvas with greetings,
declared, "Noble sons, be seated upon your thrones!"
Thus commanded by the Buddha, they took their thrones.
The Buddha said to Sariputra, "Sariputra, did you see the
miraculous performances of the bodhisattvas, those best of beings?"
"I have seen them, Lord."
"What concept did you produce toward them?"
"Lord, I produced the concept of inconceivability toward them.
Their activities appeared inconceivable to me to the point that I was unable to think of
them, to judge them, or even to imagine them."
Then the venerable Ananda asked the Buddha, "Lord, what is this
perfume, the likes of which I have never smelled before?"
The Buddha answered, "Ananda, this perfume emanates from all the
pores of all these bodhisattvas."
Sariputra added, "Venerable Ananda, this same perfume emanates
from all our pores as well!"
Ananda: Where does the perfume come from?
Sariputra: The Licchavi Vimalakirti obtained some food from the
universe called Sarvagandhasugandha, the buddha-field of the Tathagata Sugandhakuta, and
this perfume emanates from the bodies of all those who partook of that food.
Then the venerable Ananda addressed the Licchavi Vimalakirti: "How
long will this perfume remain?"
Vimalakirti: Until is it digested.
Ananda: When will it be digested?
Vimalakirti: It will be digested in forty-nine days, and its perfume
will emanate for seven days more after that, but there will be no trouble of indigestion
during that time. Furthermore, reverend Ananda, if monks who have not entered ultimate
determination eat this food, it will be digested when they enter that determination. When
those who have entered ultimate determination eat this food, it will not be digested until
their minds are totally liberated. If living beings who have not conceived the spirit of
unexcelled, perfect enlightenment eat this food, it will be digested when they conceive
the spirit of unexcelled, perfect enlightenment. If those who have conceived
the spirit of perfect enlightenment eat this food, it will not be
digested until they have attained tolerance. And if those who have attained tolerance eat
this food, it will be digested when they have become bodhisattvas one lifetime away from
Buddhahood. Reverend Ananda, it is like the medicine called "delicious," which
reaches the stomach but is not digested until all poisons have been eliminated only then
is it digested. Thus, reverend Ananda, this food is not digested until all the poisons of
the passions have been eliminated only then is it digested.
Then, the venerable Ananda said to the Buddha, "Lord, it is
wonderful that this food accomplishes the work of the Buddha!"
"So it is, Ananda! It is as you say, Ananda! There are
buddha-fields that accomplish the buddha-work by means of bodhisattvas; those that do so
by means of lights; those that do so by means of the tree of enlightenment; those that do
so by means of the physical beauty and the marks of the Tathagata; those that do so by
means of religious robes; those that do so by means of good; those that do so by means of
water; those that do so by means of gardens; those that do so by means of palaces; those
that do so by means of mansions; those that do so by means of magical incarnations; those
that do so by means of empty space; and those that do so by means of lights in the sky.
Why is it so, Ananda? Because by these various means, living beings become disciplined.
Similarly, Ananda, there are buddha-fields that accomplish the buddha-work by means of
teaching living beings words, definitions, and examples, such as 'dreams,' 'images,' 'the
reflection of the moon in water,' 'echoes,' 'illusions,' and 'mirages'; and those that
accomplish the buddha-work by making words understandable. Also, Ananda, there are utterly
pure buddha-fields that accomplish the buddha-work for living beings without speech, by
silence, inexpressibility, and unteachability. Ananda, among all the activities,
enjoyments, and practices of the Buddhas, there are none that do not accomplish the
buddha-work, because all discipline living beings. Finally, Ananda, the Buddhas accomplish
the buddha-work by means of the four Maras and all the eighty-four thousand types of
passion that afflict living beings.
"Ananda, this is a Dharma-door called 'Introduction to all the
Buddha-qualities.' The bodhisattva who enters this Dharma-door experiences neither joy nor
pride when confronted by a buddha-field adorned with the splendor of all noble qualities,
and experiences neither sadness nor aversion when confronted by a buddha-field apparently
without that splendor, but in all cases produces a profound reverence for all the
Tathagatas. Indeed, it
is wonderful how all the Lord Buddhas, who understand the equality of
all things, manifest all sorts of buddha-fields in order to develop living beings!
"Ananda, just as the buddha-fields are diverse as to their
specific qualities but have no difference as to the sky that covers them, so, Ananda, the
Tathagatas are diverse as to their physical bodies but do not differ as to their unimpeded
"Ananda, all the Buddhas are the same as to the perfection of the
Buddha-qualities, that is: their forms, their colors, their radiance, their bodies, their
marks, their nobility, their morality, their concentration, their wisdom, their
liberation, the gnosis and vision of liberation, their strengths, their fearlessnesses,
their special Buddha-qualities, their great love, their great compassion, their helpful
intentions, their attitudes, their practices, their paths, the lengths of their lives,
their teachings of the Dharma, their development and liberation of living beings, and
their purification of buddha-fields. Therefore, they are all called 'Samyaksambuddhas,'
'Tathagatas,' and 'Buddhas.'
"Ananda, were your life to last an entire aeon, it would not be
easy for you to understand thoroughly the extensive meaning and precise verbal
significance of these three names. Also, Ananda, if all the living beings of this
billion-world galactic universe were like you the foremost of the learned and the foremost
of those endowed with memory and incantations - and were they to devote an entire aeon,
they would still be unable to understand completely the exact and extensive meaning of the
three words 'Samyaksambuddha,' 'Tathagata,' and 'Buddha.'
Thus, Ananda, the enlightenment of the Buddhas is immeasurable, and the
wisdom and the eloquence of the Tathagatas are inconceivable."
Then, the venerable Ananda addressed the Buddha: "Lord, from this
day forth, I shall no longer declare myself to be the foremost of the learned."
The Buddha said, "Do not be discouraged, Ananda! Why? I pronounced
you, Ananda, the foremost of the learned, with the disciples in mind, not considering the
bodhisattvas. Look, Ananda, look at the bodhisattvas.
They cannot be fathomed even by the wisest of men. Ananda, one can
fathom the depths of the ocean, but one cannot fathom the depths of the wisdom, gnosis,
memory, incantations, or eloquence of the bodhisattvas. Ananda, you should remain in
equanimity with regard to the deeds of the bodhisattvas. 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."
Then, all those bodhisattvas from the buddha-field of the Tathagata
Sugandhakuta joined their palms in reverence and, saluting the Tathagata Sakyamuni,
addressed him as follows: "Lord, when we first arrived in this buddha-field, we
conceived a negative idea, but we now abandon this wrong idea. Why? Lord, the realms of
the Buddhas and their skill in liberative technique are inconceivable. In order to develop
living beings, they manifest such and such a field to suit the desire of such and such a
living being. Lord, please give us a teaching by which we may remember you, when we have
returned to Sarvagandhasugandha."
Thus having been requested, the Buddha declared, "Noble sons,
there is a liberation of bodhisattvas called 'destructible and indestructible.' You must
train yourselves in this liberation. What is it? 'Destructible' refers to compounded
things. 'Indestructible' refers to the uncompounded. But the bodhisattva should neither
destroy the compounded nor rest in the uncompounded.
"Not to destroy compounded things consists in not losing the great
love; not giving up the great compassion; not forgetting the omniscient mind generated by
high resolve; not tiring in the positive development of living beings; not abandoning the
means of unification; giving up body and life in order to uphold the holy Dharma; never
being satisfied with the roots of virtue already accumulated; taking pleasure in skillful
dedication; having no laziness in seeking the Dharma; being without selfish reticence in
teaching the Dharma; sparing no effort in seeing and worshiping the Tathagatas; being
fearless in voluntary reincarnations; being neither proud in success nor bowed in failure;
not despising the unlearned, and respecting the learned as if they were the Teacher
himself; making reasonable those whose passions are excessive; taking pleasure in
solitude, without being attached to it; not longing for one's own happiness but longing
for the happiness of others; conceiving of trance, meditation, and equanimity as if they
were the Avici hell; conceiving of the world as a garden of liberation; considering
beggars to be spiritual teachers; considering the giving away of all possessions to be the
means of realizing Buddhahood; considering immoral beings to be saviors; considering the
transcendences to be parents; considering the aids to enlightenment to be servants; never
ceasing accumulation of the roots of
virtue; establishing the virtues of all buddha-fields in one's own
buddha-field; offering limitless pure sacrifices to fulfill the auspicious marks and
signs; adorning body, speech and mind by refraining from all sins; continuing in
reincarnations during immeasurable aeons, while purifying body, speech, and mind; avoiding
discouragement, through spiritual heroism, when learning of the immeasurable virtues of
the Buddha; wielding the sharp sword of wisdom to chastise the enemy passions; knowing
well the aggregates, the elements, and the sense-media in order to bear the burdens of all
living beings; blazing with energy to conquer the host of
demons; seeking knowledge in order to avoid pride; being content with
little desire in order to uphold the Dharma; not mixing with worldly things in order to
delight all the people; being faultless in all activities in order to conform to all
people; producing the superknowledges to actually accomplish all duties of benefit to
living beings; acquiring incantations, memory, and knowledge in order to retain all
learning; understanding the degrees of people's spiritual faculties to dispel the doubts
of all living beings; displaying invincible miraculous feats to teach the Dharma; having
irresistible speech by acquiring unimpeded eloquence; tasting
human and divine success by purifying the path of ten virtues;
establishing the path of the pure states of Brahma by cultivating the four immeasurables;
inviting the Buddhas to teach the Dharma, rejoicing in them, and applauding them, thereby
obtaining the melodious voice of a Buddha; disciplining body, speech, and mind, thus
maintaining constant spiritual progress; being without attachment to anything and thus
acquiring the behavior of a Buddha; gathering together the order of bodhisattvas to
attract beings to the Mahayana; and being consciously aware at all times not to neglect
any good quality. Noble sons, a bodhisattva who thus applies himself to the Dharma is a
bodhisattva who does not destroy the compounded realm.
"What is not resting in the uncompounded? The bodhisattva
practices voidness, but he does not realize voidness. He practices signlessness but does
not realize signlessness. He practices wishlessness but does not realize wishlessness. He
practices non-performance but does not realize non-performance. He knows impermanence but
is not complacent about his roots of virtue. He considers misery, but he reincarnates
voluntarily. He knows selflessness but does not waste himself. He considers peacefulness
but does not seek extreme peace. He cherishes solitude but does not avoid mental and
physical efforts. He considers placelessness but does not abandon the place of good
actions. He considers occurrencelessness but undertakes to bear the burdens of all living
beings. He considers immaculateness, yet he follows the process of the world. He considers
motionlessness, yet he moves in order to develop all living beings. He
considers selflessness yet does not abandon the great compassion toward all living beings.
He considers birthlessness, yet he does not fall into the ultimate determination of the
disciples. He considers vanity, futility, insubstantiality, dependency, and placelessness,
yet he establishes himself on merits that are not vain, on knowledge that is not futile,
on reflections that are substantial, on the striving for the consecration of the
independent gnosis, and on the Buddha-family in its definitive meaning.
"Thus, noble sons, a bodhisattva who aspires to such a Dharma
neither rests in the uncompounded nor destroys the compounded.
"Furthermore, noble sons, in order to accomplish the store of
merit, a bodhisattva does not rest in the uncompounded, and, in order to accomplish the
store of wisdom, he does not destroy the compounded. In order to fulfill the great love,
he does not rest in the uncompounded, and, in order to fulfill the great compassion, he
does not destroy compounded things. In order to develop living beings, he does not rest in
the uncompounded, and in order to aspire to the Buddha-qualities, he does not destroy
compounded things. To perfect the marks of Buddhahood, he does not rest in the
uncompounded, and, to perfect the gnosis of omniscience, he does not destroy compounded
things. Out of skill in liberative technique, he does not rest in the uncompounded, and,
through thorough analysis with his wisdom, he does not destroy compounded things. To
purify the buddha-field, he does not rest in the uncompounded, and, by the power of the
grace of the Buddha, he does not destroy compounded things. Because he feels the needs of
living beings, he does not rest in the uncompounded, and, in order to show truly the
meaning of the Dharma, he does not destroy compounded things. Because of his store of
roots of virtue, he does not rest in the uncompounded, and because of his instinctive
enthusiasm for these roots of virtue, he does not destroy compounded things. To fulfill
his prayers, he does not rest in the uncompounded,
and, because he has no wishes, he does not destroy compounded things.
Because his positive thought is pure, he does not rest in the uncompounded, and, because
his high resolve is pure, he does not destroy compounded things. In order to play with the
five superknowledges, he does not rest in the uncompounded, and, because of the six
superknowledges of the buddha-gnosis, he does not destroy compounded things. To fulfill
the six transcendences, he does not rest in the uncompounded, and, to fulfill the time, he
does not destroy compounded
things. To gather the treasures of the Dharma, he does not rest in the
uncompounded, and, because he does not like any narrow-minded teachings, he does not
destroy compounded things. Because he gathers all the medicines of the Dharma, he does not
rest in the uncompounded, and, to apply the medicine of the Dharma appropriately, he does
not destroy compounded things. To confirm his commitments, he does not rest in the
uncompounded, and, to mend any failure of these commitments, he does not destroy
compounded things. To concoct all the elixirs of the Dharma, he does not rest in the
uncompounded, and, to give out the nectar of this subtle Dharma, he does not destroy
compounded things. Because he knows thoroughly all the sicknesses due to
passions, he does not rest in the uncompounded, and, in order to cure
all sicknesses of all living beings, he does not destroy compounded things.
"Thus, noble sons, the bodhisattva does not destroy compounded
things and does not rest in the uncompounded, and that is the liberation of bodhisattvas
called 'destructible and indestructible.' Noble sirs, you should also strive in
Then, those bodhisattvas, having heard this teaching, were satisfied,
delighted, and reverent. They were filled with rejoicing and happiness of mind. In order
to worship the Buddha Sakyamuni and the bodhisattvas of the Saha universe, as well as this
teaching, they covered the whole earth of this billion-world universe with fragrant
powder, incense, perfumes, and flowers up to the height of the knees. Having thus regaled
the whole retinue of the Tathagata, bowed their heads at the feet of the Buddha, and
circumambulated him to the right three times, they sang a hymn of praise to him. They then
disappeared from this universe and in a split second were back in the universe
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