2 of 13

Practice in the midst of the world

Vimalakirti practiced as a layman amid the delusions of the world, without getting ensnared by them. In the sutra, he is introduced in the most lofty terms as having mastered the perfection of wisdom along with tolerance, eloquence, incantational powers, and subtle knowledge. Moreover, he was expert in liberative techniques and skill, understanding the thoughts and actions of beings and expressing the teaching to all as appropriate.

Endowed with great material wealth and appearing to live as befitted his class at the time, Vimalakirti used his riches to help the poor. He lived simply as a religious devotee, abstaining from sensual indulgence. He entered many different realms inhabited by varied social classes, from gambling dens and taverns to upper-class financial exchanges, engaging in trade although uninterested in his own personal profit. He discussed and understood worldly philosophies and sciences, but always was in accord with Buddha's teaching. Vimalakirti entered brothels to talk about the folly of sexual misconduct and educate the young women; he entered bars to lead drunkards to right mindfulness.

Vimalakirti associated with ordinary people because he appreciated worldly excellence, but he also was honored by deities for revealing the limitations of their divinity. Vimalakirti served as a government official in order to protect beings, always acting in harmony with the law, while using his position to reverse the attachments of rulers to their power. He appeared as the most skillful in each of his many endeavors, while constantly awakening and benefiting the beings he encountered.

Generally, Vimalakirti in all his activities embodies the Mahayana view of being in the world but not of it, as he fulfills liberative work without being trapped or fettered by worldly desires or attachments.

A central point of the Vimalakirti Sutra is that the bodhisattva can only awaken in the context of intimate contact and involvement with the follies and passions of the world and its beings. Vimalakirti asserts that bodhisattvas can develop only through fully entering, before transcending, the turbulent seas of passions and delusions.

The bodhisattva follows the modes of craving without any attachment to enjoyment of desires, follows the activities of hatred without feeling any anger, follows the manner of the rich without acquisitiveness and with frequent recollection of impermanence, manifests the effects of sickness while having conquered all fear of death, and displays the behaviors of passion while remaining utterly dispassionate and pure.