When talking about Vimalakīrtinirdeśa-sūtra, most people would immediately think of “the Dharma-door of Non-duality.” However, in Chih-ch'ien and Kumārajīva’s translations, its subtitle is Acintya-vimokṣa (the Inconceivable Liberation), taking it as the “main theme” of this sutra. On the other hand, if the Dharma-door of Non-duality is so important, why was it not listed as the subtitle? What, indeed, is the import and purpose of the Inconceivable Liberation as expounded in Vimalakīrtinirdeśa-sūtra by Vimalakīrti himself? What kind of liberation is that, after all? What does it have to do with the Dharma-door of Non-duality? How was it comprehended and interpreted by patriarchs in history?
The first commentator on Vimalakīrtinirdeśa-sūtra since Kumārajīva’s translation was Seng Zhao. Since then the commentators all followed his commentaries. Based on the study of the thoughts of Chinese Mādhyamaka, this thesis discusses the commentaries of Vimalakīrtinirdeśa-sūtra by Seng Zhao, Jizang, and Zhiyi.
Seng Zhao considered “wisdom” and “expedient” as the “root” of liberation while Jizang thought it was the Dharma-door of Non-duality that held the key to liberation. Both of them took the psychic state of “Borrowing seats from the Lamp King” as the manifestation of liberation. On the other hand, Zhiyi took “the Mokṣa of the Authentic Nature” as the “body” of liberation. He also based the objective principle as the “root”, the subjective matters as the “trace”, and developed his theory of “Fivefold root and traces”. Then again, Seng Zhao and Jizang maintained that the Inconceivable Liberation was the Dharma-door of Non-duality, taking the “principle” of “non-duality” as the root of liberation, while Zhiyi’s way of liberation was “Non-abandon to abandon”, which is not to abandon verbal words and annoyances.
Apparently, these three masters had their similar and different insights into the Inconceivable Liberation. Therefore, our study here will apply the methodology of analytical thinking and import to clarify the standpoints and characteristics of these three masters. We will also trace the development and transformation of their thoughts and their connections, especially their different features and insights in terms of Nāgārjuna’s Mādhyamaka. The relationship between the Inconceivable Liberation and the Dharma-door of Non-duality, their position and importance in this sutra, shall be elaborated as well.
In history, Vimalakīrtinirdeśa-sūtra belongs to the early stage of Mahāyāna Buddhism. Its idea of liberation lies in the non-duality of afflictions and Nirvāna, the non-separation from verbal words, lust, anger and ignorance, which is the Inconceivable Liberation, as interpreted by Seng Zhao and Jizang to be the liberation after having completely realized the “Atyantaśūnyatā”(absolute emptiness). Further than that, Zhiyi even stressed the liberation obtained by one who did not abandon the worldly annoyances, yet striving to go beyond the world. Whether they are “Two-fold affirmation” or “Two-fold negation” as adopted by the three masters, both ways of commentaries reflect the Chinese Mādhyamaka and the characteristic of “Thought of Liberation” in Early Mahāyāna Buddhism.