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The Inconceivable Emancipation - Themes from the Vimalakirti Nirdesha

The Inconceivable Emancipation - Themes from the Vimalakirti Nirdesha

Thursday 22 June 2023

For eight Sangha Nights Shakyapada, Amalasara and Mark (with a guest appearance from Vijaysri on 24th May) will be exploring the magnificent 'Vimalakirti Nirdesa' which is a very unusual and a very entertaining Mahayana text, believed to be nearly 2000 years old - yet still fresh and humourous to our contemporary minds. It is also packed with profound wisdom.

These talks are based on Sangharakshita's lectures from 1979 available on Free Buddhist Audio here 


Vimalakirti is a layman who feigns illness so that many people, from the king to the commoners, would come to see him learn the Dharma and realize enlightenment. To all he demonstrates his deep enlightenment and understanding. Only the Buddha himself is his equal. 

Away from Vimalakirti's house the Buddha tells his disciples, as well as transcendent bodhisattvas and deities, to go and see Vimalakirti as well. But they are reluctant and make excuses, because in the past they had all been intimidated by Vimalakirti's superior understanding. Even Manjusri, the bodhisattva of wisdom, feels humbled by Vimalakirti. But he agrees to go to visit the layman. Then a great host of disciples, buddhas, bodhisattvas, gods, and goddesses go along to witness this challenging conversation between Vimalakirti and Manjusri.

Vimalakirti's sick room expands to take in the countless beings who had come to see him, indicating they had entered the boundless realm of inconceivable liberation. And Vimalakirti draws the Buddha's reluctant disciples and other visitors into a dialogue in which he challenges their understanding of the Dharma and gives them a teaching.

Meanwhile, the Buddha is teaching in a garden which expands to accommodate the layman Vimalakirti and his host of visitors. The Buddha adds his own words of instruction and the sutra concludes with a vision of the Buddha Akshobhya and the Universe Abhirati and an epilogue that includes a version of the Four Reliances.


19th April - The Magic of a Mahayana Sutra - an Introduction to the Vimalakirti Nirdesa and the aim of the spiritual life.

26th April - Building the Buddha Land - What is the Buddha Land? How and by whom is it built, and what all of this has to do with us?

3rd May - On Being All Things to All Men - introducing Vimalakirti who is a master of the Bodhisattva's 'Skilful Means'and uses these for the benefit of all beings.

10th May - A pause as we welcome Danapriya who will lead an evening on the theme of 'What we dwell on we become'.

17th May - The Transcendental Critique of Religion - The disciples visit Vimalakirti and each has a startling experience of profound teaching.

24th May - History Versus Myth in Man’s Quest for Meaning - A momentous meeting between Vimalakirti and Manjushri, the Bodhisattva of Wisdom. Tonight with our special guest Vijayasri

31st May - The Way of Non-Duality - How do the Bodhisattvas enter the Dharma door of non-duality? and Vimalakirti's 'thunder-like silence'.

7th June - The Mystery of Human Communication - Providing an extraordinary meal for his guests by means of his magical powers, Vimalakirti demonstrates that the Dharma can be communicated in all sorts of ways, not just by words.

14th June - The Four Great Reliances - The Dharma, and not on any person; the meaning, not the expression; the discourses of explicit, not implicit meaning; Transcendental Awareness, not discriminative consciousness.