Vimalakīrti Sutra ［維摩経］ ( Vimalakīrti-nirdesha; Chin Wei-mo-ching; Yuima-kyō): A Mahayana sutra about the wealthy layman Vimalakīrti in Vaishālī, translated into Chinese in 406 by Kumarajīva. The full title of Kumārajīva’s version is the Sutra on the Expositions of Vimalakīrti. The Sanskrit original is not extant. There are a Tibetan translation and two other Chinese translations: one produced by Chih-ch’ien somewhere between 222 and 229 and the other by Hsüan-tsang in 650. Among the three Chinese translations, Kumārajīva’s has been the most popular, and the title “Vimalakīrti Sutra” generally indicates this version.
Vimalakīrti, the protagonist of the sutra, is a wealthy and prominent citizen of the city of Vaishālī at the time of Shakyamuni. In the sutra, he represents the ideal lay believer. He is sick in bed and wonders why the compassionate Buddha fails to show some concern for him. Shakyamuni, aware of his thought, desires to send someone to inquire after his illness. One after the other, he designates each of his ten major disciples, including Shāriputra and Maudgalyāyana, and each of the bodhisattvas, including Maitreya, but each pleads unworthiness, relating a story of how at one time or another he was bested in understanding by Vimalakīrti. At length Bodhisattva Manjushrī agrees to go.
Vimalakīrti, questioned by Manjushrī about the nature of his illness, replies that, because all living beings are ill, he is ill; if all living beings are relieved of sickness, then his sickness will likewise be relieved. He further explains that, because bodhisattvas regard all living beings as their children, it is natural that they will be ill so long as living beings are ill. The sutra thus sets forth the ideal of the Mahayana bodhisattva, which is to draw no distinction between self and others. The dialogue between Vimalakīrti and Bodhisattva Manjushrī continues, and the doctrines of Hinayana are sharply criticized based on the teaching of non-substantiality, which this sutra refers to as non-duality.
Asked point-blank to define non-duality, Vimalakīrti replies with silence, showing that the true nature of things is beyond the limiting concepts imposed by words. Several commentaries on the Vimalakīrti Sutra exist, among them The Annotations on the Profound Meaning of the Vimalakīrti Sutra by T’ien-t’ai (538–579) and The Annotations on the Meaning of the Vimalakīrti Sutra attributed to Prince Shōtoku (574–622) of Japan.