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The Buddhas major disciples chicken out: Vimalakirti Sutra - chapter 3

After having lectured and converted many thousands of lay people in his sick room, Vimalakirti complains that he does not receive any visitors from the assembly of the Buddha. The Buddha, becoming aware of this, asks each of his 500 disciples to visit Vimalakirti and inquire about his illness. They all refuse. The chapter talks about in particular about the ten foremost followers of the Buddha. When asked to visit Vimalakirti, each of them comes up with a story how the lay prodigy has reprimanded them in the past. Shariputra is lectured about his preference of silent retreats over the activities of daily life. Maudgalyayana is criticised for not properly understanding the Dharma he himself teaches to laymen. Mahakashyapa is told off for making a difference between rich and poor when begging for alms. Subhuti, upon entering Vimalakirti's home begging for food, is first subjected to a deceiving and twisted argument that concludes he should hate all human beings, smear the Buddha'…

Rich laymen and Buddhist genius: Vimalakirti Sutra - chapter 2

In the second chapter we finally get to meet Vimalakirti. The first thing we learn is that Vimalakirti is a very advanced bodhisattva. He has taken the great vow to save all beings many lives ago and has diligently practised the paramitas and other virtues since then. He has served under numberless Buddhas in the past. He has learned everything there is to be known about emptiness, has acquired magical powers and has an advanced capacity to understand what people need. The sutra falls just short of calling him a Buddha, but he has the "dignity and authority" of one and is admired by Buddhas, gods and disciples alike. (The Vimalkirti Sutra, 1997, p. 32)

This superhuman being has decided to be born, not as a famous monk or god, but as a rich citizen in the northern Indian town of Vaishali. This is a very important point: advanced bodhisattvas can take any shape or form to help other beings. The sutra derives most of its humour from the fact that here is an accomplished lay per…

Pure minds - pure Buddha Lands: Vimalakirti Sutra - chapter 1

Old Street study group - 4 Feb 2020

Like many other Mahayana sutras, the Vimalakirti Sutra also opens with a description of the impossible huge assembly of Buddha Shakyamuni. The Thatagata - another name of the Buddha - is in residence in a park near the north Indian town of Vaishali. With him there are eight thousand of his leading monks and nuns. There are also thirty-two thousand bodhisattvas, and tens of thousands of gods, dragons, demons, monsters and other fantastical creatures and also lay people. A procession of 500 laypeople, led by a rich townsmen called Jewelled Accumulation, joins the assembly. They carry 500 parasols which they offer to the Buddha. Shakyamuni collates all parasols together so that they form one giant sunshade. Using this as a screen - note that this piece was written thousands of years before cinemas or the internet -, he shows the whole universe to his astonished assembly - mountains, rivers, oceans, stars, constellations and countless worlds where Buddh…

The Buddhist study group at Old Street will discuss the Vimalakirti Sutra starting in February

The Buddhist study group that takes place every Tuesday evening at Old Street following the evening zazen (see London Zen Group) will cover the famous Vimalakirti Sutra over the next couple of weeks. This text was written probably around 100 AD in India. The Sanskrit original has been translated into Chinese many times. The most famous and influential translation is by Kumarajiva, a Central Asia scholar monk, in 406 AD. This translation became very influential in all of East Asia due to its outstanding literary qualities.

The main character of the sutra is Vimalakirti, a wealthy layman from the town of Vaishali whose eloquence and knowledge of the dharma exceeds that of everybody else bar the Buddha himself. Vimalakirti does not miss an opportunity to correct and lecture even the most senior disciples and the most venerable bodhisattvas from the Buddha’s assembly. When he appears to have fallen ill, nobody from the Buddha’s entourage wants to visit him as they fear to be exposed by th…