The Vimalakirti Sutra tells of an enlightened lay practitioner who debates a host of Buddhist disciples and bodhisattvas. Bodhisattvas are those Buddhist practicioners who are able to reach nirvana but delay doing so in order to save other suffering beings.

Vimalakirti, the lay practicioner, is a Licchavi, one of the ruling clans of ancient India in a region near the India/Nepal border.

There are three key points made in this highly readable and entertaining translation by Robert Thurman:

  • In examples showing Vimalakirti’s deep understanding, only the Buddha himself is seen to be his equal. Accordingly, enlightenment does not depend on ordination as a monastic or monk.
  • In the encounter between the Goddess and the male disciple Shariputra, there is a demonstration whereby the two exchange gender. The conclusion is that enlightenment can be achieved regardless of gender.
  • Non-duality is an important teaching within Mahayana Buddhism. Here, it is positioned as the ability to perceive without reference to subject and/or object, self and/or other.

Fantastic deeds, like transforming tiny rooms into immense halls, add color and readability to this Sutra.

There’s also much humor laced into the dialogues. For example, when the many learned ones offer excuses to avoid meeting Vimalakirti. Their past encounters with him highlighted their shortcomings in true understanding.

Here’s the Robert Thurman Vimalakirti Sutra PDF.