Jul 31, 2022
Martin Goodson

The Dharma Door of Non-duality

The Vimalakīrti Sūtra

Bodhisatva’s gather from all four corners of the universe to explain how to reach the ‘door of non-duality’ and how to step through it.

In addition to the crowds of people who continued to arrive in large numbers, bodhisattvas great and small, from the billion worlds of the galaxy, also appeared. All of them had attained the Great-Wisdom-Gone-Beyond; Vimalakirti wanted to hear from them, as he believed the whole assembly could benefit from their insight.

“How splendid! We have such august visitors to our gathering. It would be a shame if you were to have come and not given us some of your teachings. It seems, in the six realms of our daily lives, one thing is always being set against another. People are looking for gain and are afraid of loss. They make plans and concoct ambitions for one thing or another, and all this disturbs the serenity of the world. Pray tell us, as the bodhisattva has entered the door of non-duality, how is it achieved?”

 A strange ripple of lights radiated amongst the throng of bodhisattvas like the bioluminescence of deep-sea creatures. Each of them was adorned with beautiful clothes and cascading jewellery, which glinted and sparkled with every graceful movement. Unlike the arhats,  whose robes were made from cast-off rags, the bodhisattvas were highly ornate, showing their spiritual riches as a mark of attainment.

They were all endowed with youthful complexions and sincerity. Their eyes shone, and their facial features were refined. To the onlooker they would appear male, and then turn and appear to be female. Just as the mind seemed to recognise what it saw, they would move, and small changes would occur to cause doubt to creep in.

Finally, one of them stepped forward. The bodhisattva introduced himself as Srigandha, and declared: “‘me’ and ‘you’ are two. If there is no presumption of a self, there will be no trace of covetousness. This absence of presumption is the door to non-duality.”

“Hmm, not bad,” added a voice from behind Srigahdha. Up rose an elegant figure with a crown like a seven-storey pagoda.

“And who are you, good friend?” enquired Vimalakirti.

The bodhisattva replied: “My name is Srikuta, and I declare that purity and defilement are also two. It is a conceited self that runs from one and clings to the other. When all conceit is laid down, then one enters the door of non-duality.”

A murmur of approval ran through the room amongst the bodhisattvas; they all seemed quite eager to add to the mix.

“My name is Sunitra,” said a small voice from the other side of the room. Up stood the speaker. She looked very young indeed, but appearance can be deceptive. “Sameness and difference are two. Not taking mental descriptions as essential and literal is not to mistake them for reality. This, too, is the door to non-duality.”

Vimalakirti raised his eyebrows, and his smile showed his approval.

On it went. Hands went up all over the place, but no one jostled or spoke out of turn. Each speaker stood and gave a pair of opposites: attention/distraction; grasping/letting go; good/evil; sacred/mundane… The list went on and on. Each speaker pointed out the non-essentiality of each pair, and thus the door to non-duality.

Once they had all finished, one of them turned to Manjushri. “Sir, what do you say? How does one enter the door of non-duality?”

“You have all spoken well, Manjusrhi replied, “but all your expositions, teachings and explanations are themselves duality. Did Lord Buddha not maintain a noble silence often? He did so because whilst teachings are necessary to bring those who cannot see to the Dharma, they all miss the mark because they are themselves not real.”

Manjushri turned to Vimalakirti. “Good sir, we have now all expounded on the door of non-duality. Please give us the benefit of your own insight, and teach us.”

Vimalakirti sat immobile, perfectly poised, solid, like a hair on a razor’s edge, and said nothing at all. The air was electric with that noble silence.

“How wonderful!” Your teaching surpasses all teachings; your compassion is boundless.” Manjushri applauded, and was followed hastily by all the bodhisattvas praising the eloquence of Vimalakirti’s teaching on non-duality.

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