Vimalakirti Nirdesa Sutra

Wall painting of Layman Vimalakirti in the Huang Caves in China

Wall painting of Layman Vimalakirti in the Huang Caves in China

The famous holy layman Vimalakirti (5th-6th BCE-??) from the great city of Vaishali was the first incarnation of Dorje Chang Buddha into this world. He demonstrated amazing supernormal powers and taught Shakyamuni Buddha’s disciples the Bodhisattva Path of the Mahayana and why it was superior to the Path of the Arhat. He focused on the explication of the meaning of nonduality and expounded the doctrine of emptiness or Sunyata in depth–eventually resorting to silence. The sutra also demonstrates that monks should not per se be considered superior to the laity. The Buddha recognized that all four types of disciples–monks, nuns, lay men and lay women–could become accomplished.

This sutra by Vimalakirti was the only ancient writing other than the words of Shakyamuni Buddha that could be considered a true “sutra.” Other works, even the so called “Platform Sutra” or the “Sutra of Hui Neng” should be considered commentaries, not sutras as they were not spoken by a Buddha or based on correct doctrines expounded by a buddha.

The Vimalakirti Sutra is a brief and popular scripture and is considered one of the most profound and literarily excellent of all the Indian Mahayana sutras. It stands out for its conciseness, its vivid and humorous episodes, and its dramatic narratives as well as its profound teachings. This translation is from the Tibetan Canon, but other excellent versions from the Chinese Canon have also been translated into English, Spanish, and other Western languages.

Translated by Robert A. F. Thurman

Chapter 1. Purification of the Buddha-Field

Chapter 2. Inconceivable Skill in Liberative Technique

Chapter 3. The Disciples’ Reluctance to Visit Vimalakirti

Chapter 4. The Reluctance of the Bodhisattvas

Chapter 5. The Consolation of the Invalid

Chapter 6. The Inconceivable Liberation

Chapter 7. The Goddess

Chapter 8. The Family of the Tathágatas

Chapter 9. The Dharma-Door of Non-duality

Chapter 10. The Feast Brought by the Emanated Incarnation

Chapter 11. Lesson of the Destructible and the Indestructible

Chapter 12. Vision of the Universe Abhirati and the Tathágata Aksobhya

Epilogue–Antecedents and Transmission of the Holy Dharma