Vimalakirti Nirdesa Sutra
A Detailed Exposition by Living Buddha Lian Sheng, Grandmaster Sheng-Yen Lu
Translated into English by the True Buddha School Vimala Sutra Translation Team
Discourse 61, 11 February 2023 - Chapter One—Buddhaverse (Continued)
“The Great Healer King delivers the aged, the sick, and the dead.
Homage to the dharma ocean with boundless virtues.
Unmoved by honor or slander like Mount Meru,
You equally love the virtuous and the unvirtuous,
With the mind and conduct of equality like the cosmic space.
Who could hear such a human jewel without offering respect?”
Let’s now talk about the Vimalakirti Sutra. The Bodhisattva was praising Sakyamuni Buddha:
“The Great Healer King delivers the aged, the sick, and the dead.
Homage to the dharma ocean with boundless virtues.”
Sakyamuni Buddha is the Great Healer King. What kind of illnesses does he heal? Living in this world, we have so much suffering. That’s why in the past, when Sakyamuni Buddha spoke on dharma, the first statement he said was, “Human life is suffering.” We all know the suffering of being old. Aging and illnesses are interlinked. Young people don’t know the suffering of illnesses and haven’t experienced much pain, so they use up their time enjoying their youthfulness. Nowadays, even young people get strokes, heart attacks, brain hemorrhages, or blockages in their blood vessels. A blockage in the blood vessels is called a stroke. In the past, only older people had strokes.
It is important to help alleviate the sufferings of the old, the sick, and the dead as human life is full of suffering. Not only that, giving birth is also suffering, especially in ancient times where medical science had not advanced. Many women died at childbirth and newborns also suffered during difficult births.
There is suffering at “birth,” but there is more suffering in old age. All kinds of illnesses cause suffering. Having a feeding tube inserted into your stomach is suffering. There’s still no cure for cancer except chemotherapy. Cancer is also the biggest mara of all illnesses. Being ill means suffering. Dying, too, is suffering. In Tantric Buddhism, we know that at the dying moment, we suffer greatly because our body goes through the disintegration of the four elements—earth, water, fire, and wind. The elements dissipate one by one at death, and that is the suffering of death.
When Sakyamuni Buddha delivers sentient beings, he is delivering sentient beings from all kinds of suffering. He is a Great Healer King, likened to a doctor. With eighty-four thousand kinds of illnesses, he provides eighty-four thousand dharmas to remedy them. So we praise Sakyamuni Buddha as the Great Healer King.
“Homage to the dharma ocean with boundless virtues.”
Buddhadharma is like an ocean. [We often use the metaphor of] eighty-four thousand dharmas, which is like an ocean of dharma. And so is the wisdom of the buddhas, it is also likened to an ocean, or even greater, it is like the entire cosmic space.
What is buddhadharma? Everything is buddhadharma. We can also say that buddhadharma is like the cosmic space because everything is buddhadharma. Don’t think that earning money isn't buddhadharma. How can making a living be buddhadharma? Of course it is. How you spend your money and how you make your money are all buddhadharma. Wealth consists of earned wealth [money you earned], gifted wealth [lotteries, prizes, inheritance, gifts], and dharma wealth. Wealth is also buddhadharma. Giving is buddhadharma, and giving includes giving wealth, giving dharma, and giving fearlessly. The Four Immeasurables (Four Boundless Minds): loving-kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity [impartiality] are all wealth.
Fame, name, recognition, reputation, titles, status are also buddhadharma. Likewise, beauty, sensuality, and sex are also buddhadharma. In Sutric Buddhism, they block all these; in order to do so, they go into retreat deep in the mountains, so they don’t need to get in touch with them. They don’t use money but they still need alms.
We say that bhiksus and bhiksunis beg for buddhadharma above and for food and clothes below. So they still need food and clothes. Although those are necessities, buddhadharma is more important. If you only beg for food and clothes but don’t beg for buddhadharma, then you are not a real bhiksu/bhiksuni; you are just a beggar, even if you are ordained. Therefore, to be called a bhiksu or bhiksuni, you need to beg for buddhadharma, practice it and make use of it to cultivate the way. If you just receive alms but don’t do anything, you will fall into the three lower realms. This is the principle.
You need to study buddhadharma to have boundless virtues and merits. Sakyamuni Buddha has boundless virtues and merits because he has buddhadharma—which is likened to the cosmic space. He offers eighty-four thousand dharma gates to remedy the eighty-four thousand kinds of illnesses of sentient beings.
In Tantric Buddhism, everything is buddhadharma, while in Sutric Buddhism, they avoid money, sensual pleasure, name, and more. Has there been an ordained individual who became a president? An ordained person who subsequently enters the political arena can also deliver sentient beings. It is allowed in Tantric Buddhism.
Tantric Buddhism has wealth deity practices which are related to money and the dual body practice which is related to sex. Furthermore, after an ordained individual becomes famous and enters the political scene, they can deliver even more sentient beings. Emperor Wu of the Liang Dynasty, Xiao Yan, was a monk too. Back then, they had a custom in China to foretell a child’s future by placing various items [that represent different careers] before the baby and letting it choose. What the baby grabs symbolizes their future. The emperor grabbed three things. The first was a book, meaning he would do well scholastically and have literary talent—such as good comprehension of The Four Books and Five Classics of Confucianism. Second, he grabbed a sword, which meant he would excel in both civil and military affairs as well as the martial arts. It was proven that he did very well in this area; he served in the army and was once a general guarding the frontier—instead of merely understanding the classics. Third, he grabbed chanting beads. And thus, he later did become a monk too.
When he was emperor, he went to Tongtai Temple (now known as Jiming Temple) next door whenever he was displeased with his imperial duties and became a monk. His Minister of Civil and Military Affairs then persuaded him to become emperor again. He repeated this incident four times, back and forth between being an emperor and a monk. As a baby, he grabbed a book, a sword, and the chanting beads. So he became a scholar and a general [ruler] and a monk. He was one of the Eight Companions of the Prince of Jingling, one of the very knowledgeable.
Buddhadharma encompasses everything. So there was an emperor who became a monk and a monk who became an emperor. Emperor Wu of Liang was one of them. The dharma ocean is really boundless with immeasurable merit. Sakyamuni Buddha’s merit is boundless; for him everything is buddhadharma. Sutric Buddhism doesn’t encourage people to touch money, beauty, or fame. However, in Tantric Buddhism you can deliver sentient beings using wealth, fame, name, sexual pleasures, and beauty. They are the methods used in Tantric Buddhism! That's why the whole cosmic space is dharma ocean and the merits and virtues are boundless.
“Unmoved by honor or slander like Mount Meru,”
To Sakyamuni Buddha, there is no honor or slander. He is unmoved by them, like Mount Meru. This is what we call being unmoved by the Eight Winds [praise, ridicule, slander, honor, gain, loss, sorrow, and joy]. Honor and slander are just two of the eight winds. Why is he unmoved? Because he has obtained the fruition of unborn endurance. When you reach the fruition of unborn endurance, you are unmoved. That’s the eighth ground of bodhisattvahood called the Immovable Ground. I have mentioned this before.
It is only when you have reached the eighth ground of bodhisattvahood will you not regress or abandon your spiritual cultivation. Bodhisattvas at the initial stage of generating bodhicitta can still have the possibility of abandoning their spiritual cultivation, let alone mundane beings like us. Grandmaster gives accurate divination a hundred times and on the occasion that it is inaccurate—even if it is only once—people abandon their faith. Many people are like this: “I believe in buddhadharma so the buddhas should protect me. If the buddhas don’t protect me, then I won’t believe anymore, and I will abandon my spiritual cultivation.” It doesn’t come that easily; how could they protect you with such weak faith? If someone slanders you, you immediately no longer have faith and abandon your spiritual cultivation. If someone praises you, you become arrogant and proud, and that is the same as abandoning your spiritual cultivation.
Whether people are slandering or honoring you, you should remain unmoved and unshakeable, like Mount Meru. Nowadays, it's very rare to have anything unmoved— even the whole earth can move. In the past, we said that houses or properties are immovable. How can that be immoveable? Look what happened in Turkey. Did those properties move? They’re gone. How can that be called immoveable? Everything moved during the recent earthquake in Turkey. More than a hundred years ago, there was also a major earthquake in Seattle. So everything can move.
This is a metaphor—immoveable like Mount Meru. Sakyamuni Buddha is unmoved by any slander or praise, just like Mount Meru. He is unmovable, unshakeable and will never abandon spiritual cultivation. As a spiritual cultivator, we should be like that. We should continue cultivating until we reach the eighth ground of bodhisattvahood, the Immovable Ground. As such, we will be immovable. Be it slanders or praises or anything else, everything is fine; your heart-mind will forever be immovable and you will never regress [from spiritual cultivation].
“You equally love the virtuous and the unvirtuous,”
This is the immeasurable loving-kindness of the four immeasurables. As human beings, we discriminate and judge who is good and who is bad, who is jealous, envious, vicious, evil, and so on. But Sakyamuni Buddha equally loves the virtuous and the unvirtuous, he treats all sentient beings equally in his deliverance. Whether they are good or bad, he delivers them all. This means he gives impartially with the mind of equality.
I have said that nobody is all good or all bad. Bad people also have some kindness in them. I’ve told this story before: A large group of bandits were about to rob a village. At the edge of the village there was a well. Next to it, a small child was crawling around and was about to fall in. A bandit saw him and said, “Wait! Let me save this child first.” The bandit had kindness in his heart too. He saw the child was in danger and saved him before he went to rob the village. So even bandits generate good thoughts too.
The mafia group Yamaguchi-gumi in Japan was first in providing disaster relief during the Great Hanshin earthquake, the one that occurred between Osaka and Kobe. So we cannot say they are all bad because they can also have good thoughts.
Thus, in Sakyamuni Buddha’s deliverance of sentient beings, he did not discriminate; he did not save only good people and reject bad people. There was no such thing! He delivered them all compassionately, giving happiness to all. This is what it means by “to impartially love the virtuous and unvirtuous.” There is only equality in his compassionate heart-mind to deliver all sentient beings. He did not differentiate between the good and the bad. That’s the same with Grandmaster now. I have said that I will never sue anyone. You only sue other people because you have hatred in you. If you have no hatred, how can you sue somebody else? As spiritual cultivators, how can we hate anyone? That’s not acceptable! As spiritual cultivators, we should not have any animosity. So we cannot sue, because when you sue, the people you sue would suffer, and so would you!
Lawsuits in America can last five, ten, or even twenty years—a very long time. Perhaps the judge does not feel well that day so the hearing needs to be rescheduled. And the case drags on. You do everything to win your case. And this can be very stressful for both parties. That's why, I vow to never sue anybody. A Master told me, “Grandmaster, you are wrong! If you don’t sue people, what if people sue you instead?” Then go ahead! But I will not sue them. Filing a lawsuit causes suffering to others. People only sue when they have resentment, anger, or hatred. Sakyamuni Buddha impartially loves and has compassion for the good and the bad.
“With the mind and conduct of equality like the cosmic space.”
The above is basically about equality—in the mind and conduct. Sakyamuni Buddha uses the mind of equality to deliver sentient beings. His mind is like the cosmic space that embraces everything and everyone, regardless of what kind of person they are. That is having the mind and conduct of equality like the cosmic space.
“Who could hear such a human jewel without offering respect?”
Sakyamuni Buddha is the Buddha Jewel, Dharma Jewel, and also the Sangha Jewel—which should be respected. And all the same, we must respect everyone. By respecting others, others will respect you. Respect every single person no matter what kind of person they are—good or bad. Impartially offer them happiness, alleviate their sufferings, do them with joy, and treat them equally with equanimity. These are the Four Immeasurables (Four Boundless Minds)! Loving-kindness is to give happiness to others; Compassion is to alleviate their suffering; Joy is to do them with joy; Equanimity is to treat all sentient beings equally without discrimination. There is no such thing as only helping the good and not the evil. You must deliver them all.
Sentient beings think that they are sentient beings, whereas in reality, they are not—there is no difference among the mind, buddhas, and sentient beings. They are all equal because all sentient beings embody buddhanature. Thus, you must be respectful toward everyone and have the mind and conduct of equality, like the cosmic space. This is the meaning of the sentence above.
We have spoken on so many things today. That’s it for today!
Om mani padme hum.
Next discourse on the Vimalakirti Sutra: Discourse 62, 12 February 2023 - Chapter One—Buddhaverse (Continued)
Previous discourse on the Vimalakirti Sutra: Discourse 60, 28 January 2023 - Chapter One—Buddhaverse (Continued)
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