menu

The Householder Vimalakirti Opens the Nondual Gate

The Householder Vimalakirti Opens the Nondual Gate October 3, 2021

 

 

 

 

The Dharma Gate of Nonduality

Chapter Nine of

THE VIMALAKIRTI SUTRA

Translated by John R McRae

From the Chinese (Taisho Volume 14, Number 475)

The Vimalakirti Sutra was composed in Sanskrit possibly sometime in the first century of our common era, certainly by the third century. It records the expositions of the householder Vimalakirti from his sickbed, whose insight is so deep that even Manjusri, the manifestation of profound wisdom bows to listen.

It is hard to underscore the importance of the Vimalakirti Sutra, especially within East Asian Buddhism, and among the Zen schools. In the West, with a trendline of flattening the hierarchies of the Buddhist sangha, a primary text with a householder at the center suggests this text will only become more central as time goes on.

The Ninth chapter is a presentation of the matter of nonduality. Within the world’s traditions some form of nonduality appears at the heart of the mystical encounter. Here we see a presentation of that insight within the Mahayana, the Great Way school of Buddhism.

And, for me, most importantly, a presentation of the great insight that informs the Zen schools.

This version is from Kumarajiva’s Chinese text by Professor John R McRae.

The Dharma Gate of Nonduality

  1. At that time Vimalakīrti said to the congregation of bodhisattvas, “Sirs, how does the bodhisattva enter the Dharma gate of nonduality? Each of you explain this as you wish.”

Within the assembly was a bodhisattva named Autonomous Dharma, who said, “Sirs, generation and extinction (i.e., samsara) constitute a duality. Since the dharmas were fundamentally not generated, now they are without extinction. To attain this [understanding is to achieve] forbearance of the nonarising of dharmas. This is to enter the Dharma gate of nonduality.”

  1. Maintenance of Virtue Bodhisattva said, “The self and the self’s attributes constitute a duality. It is because of the existence of the self that the self’s attributes occur. If the self does not exist, then there are no attributes of self. This is to enter the Dharma gate of nonduality.”
  2. Unblinking Bodhisattva said, “Experience and nonexperience constitute a duality. If dharmas are not experienced, they cannot be attained (i.e., are imperceptible). Because of unattainability, there is no grasping, no forsaking, no production, and no activity. This is to enter the Dharma gate of nonduality.”
  3. Crown of Virtue Bodhisattva said, “Defilement and purity constitute a duality. If one sees the real nature of defilement, then there is no characteristic of purity, and one accords with the extinction of characteristics. This is to enter the Dharma gate of nonduality.”
  4. Excellent Constellation Bodhisattva said, “Motion and mindfulness constitute a duality. If there is motionlessness, there is no-mindfulness. If there is no-mindfulness, there is no discrimination. To penetrate this is to enter the Dharma gate of nonduality.”
  5. Excellent Eye Bodhisattva said, “The single characteristic and the non-characteristic constitute a duality. If one understands that the single characteristic is the non-characteristic, and does not grasp the non-characteristic but enters into universal sameness, this is to enter the Dharma gate of nonduality.”
  6. Wonderful Arm Bodhisattva said, “The aspirations of bodhisattvas and the aspirations of śrāvakas constitute a duality. If one contemplates that the characteristics of mind (i.e., mental aspirations) are empty, like phantasmagorical transformations, there is no aspiration of bodhisattvas and no aspiration of śrāvakas. This is to enter the Dharma gate of nonduality.”
  7. Puṣya Bodhisattva said, “What is good and what is not good constitute a duality. If one does not generate the good and what is not good, entering into and penetrating the limit of the non-characteristics, this is to enter the Dharma gate of nonduality.”
  8. Lion Bodhisattva said, “Transgression and blessing constitute a duality. If one penetrates the nature of transgression, then it is not different from blessings. Using the vajra wisdom to definitively comprehend this characteristic, and to be neither in bondage nor emancipated, is to enter the Dharma gate of nonduality.”
  9. Lion Mind Bodhisattva said, “To have flaws and to be flawless constitute a duality. If one can attain the equivalence of the dharmas, then one will not generate the conception of flaws and flawlessness. Being unattached to characteristics, but also not abiding in the absence of characteristics, is to enter the Dharma gate of nonduality.”
  10. Pure Emancipation Bodhisattva said, “The constructed and the unconstructed constitute a duality. If one transcends all categories, then the mind is like space. If one’s wisdom is pure and without hindrance, this is to enter the Dharma gate of nonduality.”
  11. Nārāyaṇa Bodhisattva said, “The mundane and supramundane constitute a duality. The emptiness that is the nature of the mundane is the supramundane. Within these to neither enter nor exit, neither overflow nor disperse, is to enter the Dharma gate of nonduality.”
  12. Excellent Mind Bodhisattva said, “Samsara and nirvana constitute a duality. If one sees the nature of samsara, there is no samsara. To be without bondage and without emancipation, neither generating nor extinguished— to understand in this way is to enter the Dharma gate of nonduality.”
  13. Manifest Perception Bodhisattva said, “Exhaustible and inexhaustible constitute a duality. Whether the dharmas are ultimately exhaustible or inexhaustible, they are all [marked by] the characteristic of inexhaustibility. The characteristic of inexhaustibility is emptiness. Emptiness is without the characteristics of exhaustible and inexhaustible. To enter thus is to enter the Dharma gate of nonduality.”
  14. Universal Maintenance Bodhisattva said, “Self and no-self constitute a duality. Since even the self is unattainable, how could no-self be attainable? Those who see the real nature of the self will never again generate duality. This is to enter the Dharma gate of nonduality.”
  15. Thunder God Bodhisattva said, “Wisdom and ignorance constitute a duality. The real nature of ignorance is wisdom. Furthermore, wisdom can- not grasp and transcend all the categories [of reality]. To be universally same and nondual with respect to this is to enter the Dharma gate of nonduality.”
  16. Joyful Vision Bodhisattva said, “Form and the emptiness of form constitute a duality. Form is emptiness—it is not that form extinguishes emptiness but that the nature of form is of itself empty. Likewise are feeling, conception, process, and consciousness. Consciousness and emptiness are two. Consciousness is emptiness—it is not that consciousness extinguishes emptiness but that the nature of consciousness is of itself empty. To [abide] within and penetrate this is to enter the Dharma gate of nonduality.”
  17. Characteristic of Wisdom Bodhisattva said, “The differentiation of the four types [of elements] (i.e., earth, water, fire, and air) and the differentiation of the type of space constitute a duality. The nature of the four types [of elements] is the nature of emptiness. Given that the former and latter [types of elements] are empty, the intermediate is also empty. To understand the natures of the types [of elements] in this way is to enter the Dharma gate of nonduality.”
  18. Wonderful Mind Bodhisattva said, “The eye and forms constitute a duality. If one understands that the nature of the eye is neither licentious, nor angry, nor stupid with regard to forms, this is called serene extinction. Like- wise, the ear and sounds, the nose and smells, the tongue and tastes, the body and tangibles, and the mind and dharmas constitute dualities. If one understands that the nature of the mind is neither licentious, nor angry, nor stupid with regard to dharmas, this is called serene extinction. To abide peacefully within this is to enter the Dharma gate of nonduality.”
  19. Inexhaustible Mind Bodhisattva said, “Charity and the rededication [of the merit of charity] to omniscience constitute a duality. The nature of charity is the nature of the rededication to omniscience. Likewise, morality, forbearance, exertion, meditation, and wisdom constitute dualities with the rededication to omniscience. The nature of wisdom is the nature of the re- dedication to omniscience. To enter the single characteristic with respect to this is to enter the Dharma gate of nonduality.”
  20. Profound Wisdom Bodhisattva said, “[The three emancipations of] emptiness, signlessness, and wishlessness constitute dualities. The empty is the signless, and the signless is the wishless. If [one achieves] the empty, the signless, and the wishless, then there is no mind, thought, or consciousness. In this single gate of emancipation are the three gates of emancipation. This is to enter the Dharma gate of nonduality.”
  21. Serene Capacity Bodhisattva said, “Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha constitute dualities. The Buddha is the Dharma, and the Dharma is the Sangha. These Three Jewels all [have] the characteristic of the unconditioned and are equivalent to space, and all dharmas are also likewise. To be able to practice accordingly is to enter the Dharma gate of nonduality.”
  22. Unhindered Mind Bodhisattva said, “The body and the extinction of the body constitute a duality. The body is identical to the extinction of the body. Why? Those who see the real characteristic of the body do not generate seeing the body and seeing the extinction of the body. Body and the extinction of the body are without duality and cannot be differentiated (lit., “with- out discrimination”). To neither be surprised or afraid with respect to this is to enter the Dharma gate of nonduality.”
  23. Superior Excellence Bodhisattva said, “The good [actions] of body, speech, and mind constitute dualities. These three [types of] action all have the characteristic of the nonconstructed. The body’s characteristic of the nonconstructed is the same as speech’s characteristic of the nonconstructed. Speech’s characteristic of the nonconstructed is the same as the mind’s characteristic of the nonconstructed. The characteristic of the nonconstructed of these three [types of] action is the same as the characteristic of the nonconstructed of all dharmas. To be able to be in accord with this wisdom of the nonconstructed is to enter the Dharma gate of nonduality.”
  24. Field of Blessings Bodhisattva said, “Meritorious action, transgressive action, and immobility constitute dualities. The real nature of these three [types of] action is emptiness. Emptiness is without meritorious action, transgressive action, and immobility. Not to generate these three [types of] action is to enter the Dharma gate of nonduality.”
  25. Flower Ornament Bodhisattva said, “The generation of dualities from the self constitutes a duality. To see the real characteristic of the self is to not generate dualistic dharmas. If one does not abide in dualistic dharmas, then there is no consciousness. To be without consciousness is to enter the Dharma gate of nonduality.”
  26. Store of Virtue Bodhisattva said, “The characteristics of the attainable (i.e., the perceptible) constitute dualities. If there is unattainability, then there is no grasping and forsaking. If there is no grasping and no forsaking, this is to enter the Dharma gate of nonduality.”
  27. Superior Moon Bodhisattva said, “Darkness and illumination constitute a duality. If there is no darkness and no illumination, then there is no duality. Why? If one enters into the concentration of extinction, there is no darkness and no illumination. The characteristics of all the dharmas are also like this. To enter this with universal sameness is to enter the Dharma gate of nonduality.”
  28. Jewel Seal Hand Bodhisattva said, “To delight in nirvana and not to delight in the world constitute a duality. If one does not delight in nirvana and does not have aversion for the world, then there is no duality. Why? If there is bondage, then there is emancipation. If there is fundamentally no bondage, who would seek emancipation? Without bondage or emancipation, then there is no delighting or aversion. This is to enter the Dharma gate of nonduality.”
  29. Crown of Pearls King Bodhisattva said, “The correct path and the heterodox paths constitute a duality. Those who abide in the correct path do not discriminate between the heterodox and the correct. To transcend this duality is to enter the Dharma gate of nonduality.”
  30. Delights in the Real Bodhisattva said, “The real and the unreal constitute a duality. To really see is not to see reality, and how much more so the not-real? Why? That which the physical eye cannot see can be seen by the wisdom eye, but this wisdom eye is without seeing and without not-seeing. This is to enter the Dharma gate of nonduality.”
  31. After the various bodhisattvas had thus each made their explanations, [Vimalakīrti] asked Mañjuśrī, “How does the bodhisattva enter the Dharma gate of nonduality?”

Mañjuśrī said, “As I understand it, it is to be without words and without explanation with regard to all the dharmas—without manifestation, without consciousness, and transcending all questions and answers. This is to enter the Dharma gate of nonduality.”

  1. Mañjuśrī then asked Vimalakīrti, “We have each made our own explanations. Sir, you should explain how the bodhisattva enters the Dharma gate of nonduality.”

At this point Vimalakīrti was silent, saying nothing.

Mañjuśrī exclaimed, “Excellent, excellent! Not to even have words or speech is the true entrance into the Dharma gate of nonduality.”

When this “Discourse on Entering the Dharma Gate of Nonduality” was explained, five thousand bodhisattvas within the congregation all entered the Dharma gate of nonduality and attained forbearance of the nonarising of dharmas.

(About the image: Portrait of Vimalakirti, 15th century, (1886). Sesshiu School. From a painting on silk attributed to Shiugrtsu. Vimalakirti is believed to have been the first enlightened lay Buddhist. He is thought to have lived around the time of Gautama Buddha (6th-5th centuury BC). He is the subject of the Vimalakirti sutra. A print from The Pictorial Arts of Japan, by William Anderson, Sampson Low, Marston, Searle, & Rivington, London, 1886. Artist Wilhelm Greve. (Photo by Print Collector/Getty Images) )

 


Browse Our Archives