The Dharma Door of Nonduality

From the Vimalakirti Nirdesha Sutra

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The Vimalakirti Nirdesha Sutra is unique among the classic texts of Mahayana Buddhism. Vimalakirti, an honorable businessman, husband, father, and citizen of the city of Vaisali, is remarkable in that he contradicts the conventional assumption that only ordained disciples can realize the highest degrees of spiritual attainment. As an enlightened layman, Vimalakirti legitimizes an alternative path, one outside the monastic tradition. In the passage below, Vimalakirti and the disciples of the Buddha debate the nature of non duality—one of the central themes of the Madyamika (Middle Way) School of Mahayana Buddhism. The bodhisattvas, as the disciples are called in the text, respond to his challenge to define the "entrance" into the dharma of nonduality by espousing various sophistries. Manjushri, the Bodhisattva of Wisdom, interjects, arguing that the disciples' statements do not illuminate the essential nonduality of enlightenment. When asked to state his own opinion, Vimalakirti declines to answer, and, through his profound silence, upholds the realization of the lay practitioner. Vimalakirti's name is used with "Licchavi," the name of the tribe and city-state where he lived. While the events recorded in the Vimalakirti Nirdesha Sutra are believed to have occurred during the Buddha s lifetime, in the sixth century R.CE., no accounts were recorded until the second century CE. All original Sanskrit texts have been lost. This translation, by Robert A. F. Thurman, derives from a Tibetan version dating from the ninth century C.E.


Metropolitan Museum of Art/Roger's FundTHEN, THE LICCHAVI VIMALAKlRTI asked those bodhisattvas, "Good sirs, please explain how the bodhisattvas enter the Dhanna-door of nonduality!" The bodhisattva Dharmavikurvana declared, "Noble sir, 'production' and 'destruction' are two, but what is not produced and does not occur cannot be destroyed. Thus the attainment of the tolerance of the birthlessness of things is the entrance into nonduality."

The bodhisattva Srigandha declared, "'I' and 'mine' are two. If there is no presumption of a self, there will be no possessiveness. Thus, the absence of the presumption is the entrance into nonduality."

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