The Vimalakirti Sutra: The Place of Practice

The Vimalakirti Sutra

Translated by Burton Watson in 1997 from the Chinese version by Kumarajiva (T.475) (Wisdom Library)

 

Chapter 4 – The Place of Practice

The Buddha then said to the bodhisattva Shining Adornment, a young boy, “You must go visit Vimalakirti and ask about his illness.”

But Shining Adornment replied to the Buddha:

“World-Honored One, I am not worthy to visit him and inquire about his illness. Why? Because I remember once in the past when I was leaving the great city of Vaishali. Vimalakirti was just then entering the city, and I accordingly bowed to him and said, ‘Layman, where are you coming from?’

“He replied, ‘I am coming from the place of practice.’

“‘The place of practice—where is that?’ I asked.

“He replied, ‘An upright mind is the place of practice, for it is free of delusion or false imaginings (parikalpita).* Determination or resolution (adhitthana) is the place of practice, for it can judge matters properly. A deeply searching mind is the place of practice, for it multiplies benefits. The mind that aspires to bodhi (also perfection of the vow; pranidhana paramita) is the place of practice, for it is without error or misconception. [*Burton Watson writes: “The term chih-hsin, ‘upright mind,’ may also be translated ‘straightforward mind’ or ‘direct mind.'” In this context I think it means ‘to have Right View’ as opposed to a ‘crooked mind,’ which is confused or deluded.]

“‘Almsgiving (dana) is the place of practice, because it hopes for no reward. Observance of the precepts (sila) is the place of practice, because it brings fulfillment of vows. Forbearance (ksanti) is the place of practice, because it enables one to view all living beings with a mind free of obstruction. Energy (virya/viriya) is the place of practice, because it forestalls laziness and regression. Meditation (dhyana) is the place of practice, because it makes the mind tame and gentle. Wisdom (prajña) is the place of practice, because it sees all things as they are.

“‘Loving kindness (metta) is the place of practice, for it views all living beings equally. Compassion (karuna) is the place of practice, for it bears up under weariness and pain. Joy is the place of practice, for it revels in Dharma delight. Detachment/equanimity (upekkha) is the place of practice, for it rejects both hatred and love.

“‘Transcendental powers (bala paramita) are the place of practice, because thereby one masters the six powers. Renunciation (nekkhamma) is the place of practice, because it knows how to renounce and cast aside. Perfection of expedient means (upaya paramita) is the place of practice, because they can teach and convert living beings. The four methods of winning people are the place of practice, because they can win living beings over. Perfection of knowledge (jñana paramita) is the place of practice, because one carries out what one has learned. A disciplined mind is the place of practice, because one can thereby contemplate all phenomena correctly. The thirty-seven elements of the Way are the place of practice, because through them, one rejects what is conditioned. Truthfulness (sacca) is the place of practice, because it does not deceive the world.

“‘Causes and conditions are the place of practice, for none of the links in the chain of causation, from ignorance to old age and death, ever come to an end. Earthly desires are the place of practice, for through them we know the nature of Suchness. Living beings are the place of practice, for through them we know that there is no ego. All phenomena are the place of practice, for through them we know the emptiness of all phenomena.

“‘Conquering devils is the place of practice, because one is unswayed, unflinching. The threefold world is the place of practice, because there is no path for one there. The lion’s roar is the place of practice, because it has nothing it fears. The ten powers, the four kinds of fearlessness, the eighteen unshared properties are the place of practice, because they are free of all fault. The three understandings are the place of practice, because they are without the least obstruction. Understanding all phenomena in one instant of thought is the place of practice, because one thereby becomes master of all wisdom.

“‘My good man, if bodhisattvas apply themselves to the paramitas and teach and convert living beings, then you should understand that everything they do, every lifting of a foot, every placing of a foot, will in effect be coming from the place of practice, abiding in the Buddha’s Dharma.'”

 

 

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