The Vimalakirti Sutra
Back in May 9, 2017, Khenpo Sodargye announced that if circumstances permitted, he would like to give a teaching on the Vimalakirti Sutra in the following year. Then on March 27, 2018, Khenpo Sodargye formally started this teaching and has been explaining this sutra twice a week.
Khenpo believes that in this modern age, people do need to study this sutra for three reasons. 1) For lay practitioners, the Vimalakirti Sutra provides powerful instructions for transforming suffering and afflictions on the spiritual path. 2) The Vimalakirti Sutra is a rare sutra which combines the profound teachings of both Sutrayana and Tantrayana. 3) The Vimalakirti Sutra is a great pith-instruction text which demonstrates super power as a direct antidote to negative emotions.
On this webpage, we kindly offer you the key messages of Khenpo’s teachings in both written and video format. These lecture notes are summarized by Khenpo’s translation team and will be updated on a regular basis.
Chapter 1 - Buddha Land
All phenomena are fundamentally pure and that a pure mind leads to a pure land. This can be briefly explained by the doctrine of the Chittamatra School: Everything is created by the mind, so as long as the mind is pure, the external world will become pure too. However, the profound meaning of this message can be expounded more astutely and subtly by following the Vajrayana teaching. The word “pure”here refers to a state that is none other than the union of emptiness and clarity, utterly free from any defilement of mental afflictions and suffering. To arrive at such a state is the practice of purifying one’s mind.
Lecture Notes for Chapter 1
Chapter 2 - Skillful Means
Lay practitioners have to juggle family and social responsibilities with spiritual practice. Hence, the chance for them to attain enlightenment is generally perceived as being quite slim. This is actually a misguided opinion. Traditionally to practice the Dharma, the path of renouncing worldly life and entering the monastic order is preferred and highly praised. Still, it must be made clear that the Dharma can also be practiced within the context of a lay lifestyle. If lay practitioners excel, they may outshine the monastics considerably. Here lies the key message of this chapter. First, lay practitioners like Vimalakirti can become highly accomplished; second, monastic practitioners should never look down upon lay practitioners. Remember, many lay individuals have achieved high levels of realization surpassing those of ordained shravakas, and thus they are the worthy objects of respect.
Lecture Notes for Chapter 2
Chapter 3 - Disciples
When Vimalakirti fell ill, the Buddha tried to send an envoy to inquire after his health, but the Buddha’s request was politely declined one after the other by his top ten disciples. In the same fashion, the rest of the five hundred disciples, upon being requested by the Buddha, told the Buddha one by one their own encounter with Vimalakirti and the reason why they were reluctant to visit this special patient. In the text, only stories of the ten disciples are narrated in detail and the rest are all skipped. It is quite necessary to do so, like in the process of studying tantrayana, we first need to focus on some essential and representative teachings for our study and practice, and the whole tantric teachings are just too vast for us to comprehend in this short life.
Lecture Notes for Chapter 3
Chapter 4 - Bodhisattvas
In the fourth chapter of Bodhisattvas, the Buddha asked his bodhisattva disciples to visit Vimalakirti and inquire about his illness, but even the bodhisattvas felt intimidated by this request. Given what is described in the previous chapter that the Shravakas are no match to Vimalakirti’s unfathomable state of wisdom, the main theme of this chapter is that the Bodhisattvas also fall far behind in this regard.
Lecture Notes for Chapter 4
Chapter 5 - Manjusri's Condolence Visit
Now the time comes for the Buddha to ask Manjushri to go. This is a highly anticipated moment, and it would have been immensely fascinating to watch what sparks would fly when the two illustrious minds of Vimalakirti and Manjushri collide.
Lecture Notes for Chapter 5
Chapter 6 - Inconceivable
Why is this chapter called “Inconceivable?” It is because its main theme touches upon the extremely subtle domain in Buddhism—the absolute truth—that is unimaginable and inexpressible to the ordinary mind. Both its mode of exposition and the way of reasoning are quite difficult to fathom. For instance, it describes scenes where a limited space can accommodate an unlimited scope of things that in no way can exist in our ordinary reality.
Lecture Notes for Chapter 6
Chapter 7 - Viewing Sentient Beings
Chapter 8 - The Path of Buddhahood
Chapter 9 - The Dharma Gate of Nonduality
Chapter 10 - The Buddha Accumulation of Fragrances
Chapter 11 - Practices of the Bodhisattva
Chapter 12 - Vision of Aksobhya Buddha
Chapter 13 - Dharma Offering
Chapter 14 - Bestowal
The Vimalakirti Sutra is a combination of both vivid stories and profound theoretical teachings that can counteract mental afflictions in our mind. If one can understand this sutra in great detail, one will definitely gain much benefit for taming the mind.