The Vimalakirti Sutra is one of the most impressive books I’ve explored. The character Vimalakirti is a rich man who has not taken the vows of any order but “had deeply planted the roots of goodness, and had grasped the truth of birthlessness.” In the story, the Buddha learns that Vimalakirti is ill and asks various bodhisattvas to go ask about his illness. In turn each of the bodhisattvas gives a reason why he is ashamed of going to see Vimalakirti –such as:
“At that time Vimalakirti approached and said to me, ‘Ah, Shariputra, you should not assume that this sort of sitting is true quiet sitting! Quiet sitting means that in this threefold world you manifest neither body nor will. This is quiet sitting. Not rising out of your samadhi of complete cessation and yet showing yourself in the ceremonies of daily life –this is quiet sitting. Not abandoning the principles of the Way and yet showing yourself in the activities of a common mortal –this is quiet sitting. Your mind not fixed on internal things and yet not engaged in externals either –this is quiet sitting. Unmoved by sundry theories, but practicing the thirty-seven elements of the Way –this is quiet sitting. Entering nirvana without having put an end to earthly desires –this is quiet sitting. If you can do this kind of sitting, you will merit the Buddha’s seal of approval.'”
. . .
Another bodhisattva tells about these words which Vimalakirti said to him:
“When you enter a village, think of it as an empty village. The forms you see there should appear as they would to a blind man, the sounds you hear should be mere echoes. The aromas you inhale should be so much thin air, the flavors you taste should be undifferentiated.”
. . .
“At that time Vimalakirti took my begging bowl, filled it with things to eat, and said, ‘Ah, Subhuti, if one can look on all foods as equal, that person can look on all things as equal, and if one looks on all things as equal, one will look on all foods as equal. If one begs alms in this manner, then one is worthy to receive food.
“Subhuti, if you can cut yourself off from lewdness, anger, and stupidity and yet be a part of these; if you can refrain from destroying the idea of a self and yet see all things as of a single nature; if without wiping out stupidity and attachment you can find your way to understanding and freedom from attachment; if you can seem to be a perpetrator of the five cardinal sins and yet gain emancipation; if you can be neither bound nor unbound, neither one who has perceived the four noble truths nor one who has not perceived them, neither one who obtains the fruits of religious practice nor one who does not obtain them, neither a common mortal nor one who has removed himself from the ways of the common mortal, neither a sage nor not a sage –if in this manner you can master all phenomenal things and yet remove yourself from the ways that mark them, then you will be worthy to receive food.”
. . .
“I explained to them how one goes about gaining pardon according to the law. But then Vimalakirti approached and said to me, ‘Ah, Upali, do not make the offense of these monks have committed worse than it is! You should go about wiping out their doubts and remorse at once and not trouble their minds further!
“‘Why do I say this? Because their offense by its nature does not exist either inside them, or outside them, or in between. As the Buddha has taught us, when the mind is pure, the living beings will be pure. As the mind is, so will be the offense or defilement. The same is true of all things, for none escape the realm of suchness.'”
. . .
“Before I had finished speaking, Vimalakirti approached and said to me, ‘This is not Indra. This is only a devil who has come to vex you.’ Then he said to the devil, ‘You may give these women to me. It is quite all right for me to accept them.’
“The devil was alarmed and fearful, thinking that Vimalakirti was perhaps going to make trouble for him. He tried to hide himself and escape, but he could not make himself invisible. Though he exhausted all his supernatural powers, he could not get away.
“Just then a voice was heard in the sky saying, ‘Papiyas, give him the women. Then you can escape.’
“The devil, terrified, looked this way and that and then handed over the women. Vimalakirti then addressed the women saying, ‘The devil has given you to me. Now it is proper that you should set your minds on attaining anuttara-samyak-sambodhi.’
“Then, adopting whatever approach was appropriate, he expounded the Law to them, awakening in them a desire for the Way. Then he said, ‘Now that you have conceived a desire for the Way, you may regale yourselves with Dharma delight and need no longer delight in the pleasures of the five desires.’
. . .
“The devil said, ‘Layman, you should give up these women. He who gives all he possesses as a gift to others is a bodhisattva.’
“Vimalakirti replied, ‘I have already given them up.You may take them away, and may you enable all living beings to fulfill their desire for the Dharma!’
“But the women said to Vimalakirti, ‘How can we remain in the palace of the devil?’
“Vimalakirti replied, ‘Sisters, there is a teaching called the Inexhaustible lamp. You must study it. This Inexhaustible Lamp is like a single lamp that lights a hundred or a thousand other lamps, till the darkness is all made bright with a brightness that never ends. In the same way, sisters, one bodhisattva guides and opens a path for a hundred or a thousand living beings, causing them to set their minds on attaining anuttara-samyak-sambodhi. And this desire for the Way will never be extinguished or go out. By following the teaching as it has been preached, one keeps adding until one has acquired all good teachings. This is what is called the Inexhaustible Lamp.
“Although you live in the palace of the devil, with this Inexhaustible Lamp you can enable countless heavenly sons and heavenly daughters to set their minds on attaining anuttara-samyak-sambodhi. Thus you will repay the debt of gratitude you owe the Buddha and at the same time bring great benefit to all living beings.'”
. . .
At last one bodhisattva, Manjushri, arrives and Vimalakirti explains his illness:
“This illness of mine is born of ignorance and feelings of attachment. Because all living beings are sick, therefore I am sick. If all living beings are relieved of sickness, then my sickness will be mended. Why? Because the bodhisattva for the sake of living beings enters the realm of birth and death he suffers sickness. If living beings can gain release from illness, then the bodhisattva will no longer be ill.”
. . .
At that time Manjushri ashed Vimalakirti, “How does the bodhisattva go about mastering the Buddha way?”
Vimalakirti said, “The bodhhisattva should follow a path that is not the way –then he can master the Buddha way.”Manjushri asked, “How does the bodhisattva follow a path that is not the way?”
Vimalakirti replied, [. . .] “He shows greed and desire in his actions, yet is removed from the stains of attachment. He shows anger in his actions, yet has no anger or aversion toward living beings. He appears to be stupid, but utilizes wisdom to regulate his mind. He appears stingy and grasping, yet relinquishes both inner and outer possessions, begrudging neither body nor life. He appears to break the commandments, but in fact resides secure in the pure precepts, and even then remains fearful of committing the smallest fault.
“He seems angry and irascible, yet is at all times compassionate and forebearing. He seems indolent and lazy, yet works diligently to acquire merit. He seems disordered in thought, yet constantly practices meditation. He seems stupid, yet has mastered both worldly and otherworldly wisdom.”
. . .
Though he knows that the Buddha lands,
along with living beings, are empty,
yet constantly he works to purify the lands,
teaching and converting the many beings.
. . .
He becomes a monk
in all the different creeds of the world
so that thereby he may free others from delusion
and save them from falling into erroneous beliefs.
. . .
The bodhisattva Virtue Guardian said, “‘I’ and ‘mine’ form a dualism. Because there is an ‘I’, there is also a ‘mine’. But if there is no ‘I’, there will be no ‘mine’. In this way one enters the gate of non-dualism.”
. . .
The bodhisattva Delight in Truth said, “the true and not true form a dualism. But one who sees truly cannot even see the true, so how can he see the untrue? Why? Because they cannot be seen by the physical eye; only the eye of wisdom can see them. But for this eye there is no seeing and no not seeing. In this way one may enter the gate of non-dualism.”
When the various bodhisattvas had finished one by one giving their explanations, they asked Manjushri, “How then does the bodhisattva enter the gate of non-dualism?”
Manjushri replied, “To my way of thinking, all dharmas are without words, without explanations, without purport, without cognition, removed from all questions and answers. In this way one may enter the gate of non-dualism.”
Then Manjushri said to Vimalakirti, “Each of us has given an explanation. Now, sir, it is your turn to speak. How does the bodhisattva enter the gate of non-dualism?”
At that time Vimalakirti remained silent and did not speak a word. Manjushri sighed and said, “Excellent, excellent! Not a word, not a syllable –this truly is to enter the gate of non-dualism!”