The Vimalakirti-nirdesha Sutra, though almost certainly not spoken by Shakyamuni Buddha himself, is nontheless held in the highest esteem by all schools of the Mahayana. It belongs to the category of sutras which are, in all probability, fictional creations of Mahayana scholars, and not expounded by the Buddha. Despite this, the Vimalakirti Scripture is still given the title of a sutra. For the doctrine it expounds is in perfect conformity with the highest teachings of the Buddha, and, more than any other sutra, the Vimalakirti Sutra shows the perfection of the bodhisattva ideal for laymen and women. Robert A.F. Thurman's translation of this masterpiece is close to perfect. Working from a Tantric perspective (being himself a Vajrayana Buddhist), Thurman details, in his notes and introduction, the clear relation between Buddhist Tantrism and the Vimalakirti sutra, which can lead one to the conclusion that its composition was largely influenced by the esoteric teachings of the Tantras. Yet, the teachings of the Vimalakirti Sutra are in no way exclusive to students of the Vajrayana, or of Tibetan Buddhism in general. This scripture has historically been of tremendous influence on Chinese Buddhism, and is the subject of some of the greatest works of Chinese Buddhist Art. It is also held in the highest esteem by Zen Buddhism for its emphasis on the practice of the layman amongst the cares of the world. Indeed, it is one of the few canonical scriptures that are of particular value to Zen. The scripture tells the story of the layman Vimalakirti (almost certainly a fictional character), a bodhisattva of the highest order, on par with such figures as Manjushri, who, in order to develop living beings, lives as a layman in the crowded metropolis of Vaishali, participating in business and government and teaching the dharma in accordance with conditions. On this occasion, Vimalakirti manifests himself as being sick, in order to develop beings who come to inquire after his health. The Buddha, desiring to know how Vimalakirti is doing, requests several students and bodhisattvas to go and visit him, all of whom decline, however, saying that their skill in the dharma cannot be matched with Vimalakirti. Finally, Manjushri, the bodhisattva of wisdom, goes to the house of Vimalakirti along with a retinue of several hundred disciples. The vast majority of the scripture is composed of the dialogues that occur between Vimalakirti and Manjushri, as well as with the disciples and bodhisattvas. Finally, the entire retinue (Vimalakirti included) return to the Buddha, who delivers a final section to the discourse. Many famous incidents in Buddhist lore occur in this sutra: the exchange between Shariputra and the Goddess, the chapter concerning the Dharma Gate of Nonduality, Vimalakirti's explanation of the cause of his sickness, etc. To any Buddhist practitioner, particularly those of Vajrayana Buddhism and Zen, this sutra is of the utmost importance. The only two major translations available in English are those of Thurman and Burton Watson. Thurman's translation, however, is the better of the two, rendering in clear, poetic English the difficult doctrines of the Mahayana. His notes provide excellent insight into the historical relations of the Sutra, and its importance to Tibetan Buddhism, as well as to Chinese Buddhism. Highly, highly recommended.