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 the layman genius. Only the bodhisattva of great wisdom Manjushri sums up the courage to go. This sets the scene for a great dharma combat between the Dharma Prince and Vimalakirti in the home of the latter. Their dialogues are full of deep insights, but also puns and humour. The sutra covers difficult topics such as “emptiness” or non-duality, At the same time is also an entertaining read which makes it stand out among the more serene Mahayana sutras such as the Lotus Sutra which we have covered until now.

I will base this workshop on the translation by Burton Watson, published by Columbia University Press in 1997. There is also a fine audio book available of the very same text.


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