Vimalakirti Sutra

30 Oct 2021 02:15 - 13 Jan 2024 08:51
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    • From The Holy Teaching of Vimalakirti, tr. Robert Thurman
    • I'm not a Buddhist or a scholar of Buddhism but nonetheless I wandered into an online class on this text led by teachers MC Owens and Michael Taft, and it made a deep impression on me. The following passage in particular, which addresses the question of how to reconcile the Buddhist emphasis on both emptiness or nonexistence and compassion – if all is emptiness, who is supposed to have compassion for what, and why?
    • I've put some of my favorite passages below. Favorite may not be the right word; they are passages that have the power to hit me like a drug; they have a degree of forceful clarity and resonance that I can't help but respond to.

    • On purpose

      • The Dharma is not a secure refuge. He who enjoys a secure refuge is not interested in the Dharma but is interested in a secure refuge. The Dharma is without sign. He whose consciousness pursues signs is not interested in the Dharma but is interested in signs. The Dharma is not a society. He who seeks to associate with the Dharma is not interested in the Dharma but is interested in association. The Dharma is not a sight, a sound, a category, or an idea. He who is involved in sights, sounds, categories, and ideas is not interested in the Dharma but is interested in sights, sounds, categories, and ideas. ... Thereupon, reverend Sariputra, if you are interested in the Dharma, you should take no interest in anything.
    • On nonduality

      • The bodhisattva Srigandha declared, “ I and ‘mine’ are two. If there is no presumption of a self, there will be no possessiveness. Thus, the absence of pre­sumption is the entrance into nonduality.”
      • The bodhisattva Suddhadhimukti declared, “To say, ‘This is happiness’ and ‘That is misery’ is dualism. One who is free of all calculations, through the ex­treme purity of gnosis—his mind is aloof, like empty space; and thus he enters into nonduality.”
      • The bodhisattva Nariyana declared, “To say, ‘This is mundane’ and ‘That is transcendental’ is dualism. This world has the nature of voidness, so there is neither transcendence nor involvement, neither progress nor standstill. Thus, neither to transcend nor to be involved, neither to go nor to stop— this is the entrance into nonduality.”
      • The bodhisattva Satyarata declared, “It is dualistic to speak of ‘true’ and ‘false.’ When one sees truly, one does not ever see any truth, so how could one see falsehood? Why? One does not see with the physical eye, one sees with the eye of wisdom. And with the wisdom-eye one sees only insofar as there is neither sight nor nonsight. There, where there is neither sight nor nonsight, is the entrance into nonduality.”
      • There are around 50 of these passages, all having a similar structure. Not just listing dualisms but what is required to overcome them (yes that itself is dualistic).
    • On compassion

      • One obvious question that comes up when encountering Buddhism is, if the self is nonexistent, an illusion, than who or what gets enlightened and who or what gives and gets compassion?
      • This answers directly.
      • Thereupon, Manjusri, the crown prince, addressed the Licchavi Vimalaldrti: “Good sir, how should a bodhisattva regard all living beings?”
      • Vimalakirti replied, “Manjusri, a bodhisattva should regard all living beings as a wise man regards the reflection of the moon in water or as magicians regard men created by magic. He should regard them as being like a face in a mirror; like the water of a mirage; like the sound of an echo; like a mass of clouds in the sky; like the previous moment of a ball of foam; like the appearance and disappearance of a bubble of water; like the core of a plantain tree; like a flash of lightning; like the fifth great element; like the seventh sense-medium; like the appearance of matter in an immaterial realm; like a sprout from a rotten seed; like a tortoise-hair coat; like the fun of games for one who wishes to die; like the egoistic views of a stream-winner; like a third rebirth of a once-returner; like the descent of a nonreturner into a womb; like the existence of desire, hatred, and folly in a saint; like thoughts of avarice, immorality, wickedness, and hostility in a bodhisattva who has attained tolerance; like the instincts of passions in a Tathagata; like the perception of color in one blind from birth; like the inhalation and exhalation of an ascetic absorbed in the meditation of cessation; like the track of a bird in the sky; like the erection of a eunuch; like the pregnancy of a barren woman; like the unproduced passions of an emanated incarnation of the Tathagata; like dream-visions seen after waking; like the passions of one who is free of conceptualizations; like fire burning without fuel; like the reincarnation of one who has attained ultimate liberation.
      • “Precisely thus, Manjusri, does a bodhisattva who realizes ultimate selflessness consider all beings.”
      • Manjusri then asked further, “Noble sir, if a bodhisattva considers all living beings in such a way, how does he generate the great love toward them?”
      • Vimalakirti replied, “Manjusri, when a bodhisattva considers all living beings in this way, he thinks: ‘Just as I have realized the Dharma, so should I teach it to living beings.’ Thereby, he generates the love that is truly a refuge for all living beings; the love that is peaceful because free of grasping ; the love that is not feverish, because free of passions; the love that accords with reality because it is equanimous in all three times; the love that is without conflict because free of the violence of the passions; the love that is nondual because it is involved neither with the external.nor with the internal; the love that is imperturbable because totally ultimate.
      • “Thereby he generates the love that is firm, its high resolve unbreakable, like a diamond; the love that is pure, purified in its intrinsic nature; the love that is even, its aspirations being equal; the saint’s love that has eliminated its enemy
        Just have to call out this particular phrase, which for me has a sort of dizzying existential edge to it.
        ; the bodhisattva’s love that continuously develops living beings; the Tathágata’s love that understands reality; the Buddha’s love that causes living beings to awaken from their sleep; the love that is spontaneous because it is fully enlightened spontaneously; the love that is enlightenment because it is unity of experience; the love that has no presumption because it has eliminated attachment and aversion; the love that is great compassion because it infuses the Mahayana with radiance; the love that is never exhausted because it acknowledges voidness and selflessness; the love that is giving because it bestows the gift of Dharma free of the tight fist of a bad teacher; the love that is morality because it improves immoral living beings; the love that is tolerance because it protects both self and others; the love that is effort because it takes responsibility for all living beings; the love that is contemplation because it refrains from indulgence in tastes; the love that is wisdom because it causes attainment at the proper time; the love that is liberative technique because it shows the way everywhere; the love that is without formality because it is pure in motivation; the love that is without deviation because it acts from decisive motivation; the love that is high resolve because it is without passions; the love that is without deceit because it is not artificial; the love that is happiness because it introduces living beings to the happiness of the Buddha. Such, Mañjusrí, is the great love of a bodhisattva.”
    • Tolerance of the ultimate birthlessness of all things

      • Vimalakírti lays great emphasis on the theme of inconceivability, that is, the ultimate incomprehensibility of all things, relative or absolute. He thus spells out the furthest implication of the application of voidness: that the finite, ego- centered mind cannot even conceive of the ultimate nature of things and, hence, as far as such minds are concerned, their ultimate reality is itself inconceivability. This accords with the degree of attainment of the bodhisattva, so frequently reached by Vimalakirti’s audiences, called “the tolerance of the ultimate birthlessness of all things” (anutpattikadharmaksanti). It is extremely significant that the term “tolerance” (ksanti) is used here, rather than “conviction,” “under­ standing,” or “realization” ; it emphasizes the fact that where the ultimate is concerned, the mind is unable to grasp anything in the pattern of dualistic knowl­edge, for there is no finite object in this case and only relative objects can be grasped with relative certainty in the mundane sense.
        • – Thurman's Introduction, p5
      • I don't quite understand "birthlessness". Tolerance is indeed an interesting choice of terms, there is a sense in which all wisdom and development involves learning to tolerate (or accept? Seems to mean almost the same thing?) our inability to know the ultimate. But anupalabdhidharmaksanti is "tolerance of incomprehensibility" (intro p4), this is something else.
      • I am confused because I thought a main point of Buddhism was to tolerate the opposite of birthlessness – to understand that all things are conditioned and finite (so they have births, and deaths, they are not eternal. But this is saying that dharmas are not produced (and not destroyed) so their existence is not time-bound – that is, they are eternal? OK I think I'm running into one of those places where different versions of Buddhism say opposite things and I'm confused about which one is applicable.