“Tranquil extinction is bodhi because of the extinguishment of all signs.”
Excerpts from A Discourse on the Vimalakīrti Nirdesa Sutra
Venerable Xiao Pingshi
Buddhist practitioners would often be told of the phrase “Tranquil extinction is bodhi” from Vimalakīrti, which means “If we practice sitting meditation every day, do not generate any thoughts or illusions, block off external noises, and sit until we hear nothing, this constitutes tranquil extinction, which denotes nirvana.” It would be quite easy to realize nirvana if this were true. We can simply sit until we enter dim awareness in the state of access concentration (S:upacāra-samādhi) and depart from the external five sense objects, or can enter the state of samāpatti of the second dhynana (S: dvitīyadhyāna). In any of these, we would have easily realized the remainderless nirvana. However, these still belong to the worldly states. Regretfully, Buddhist practitioners have been misled by this erroneous teaching.
Why is bodhi tranquil extinction? It is because the tathagatagarbha itself is devoid of all signs despite its coexistence with these marks.
We develop the marks of form when we generate a liking for the objects we see. Ordinary mortals, however, do not know that only the perceptive mind corresponds with these marks. This ignorance about the correspondence of the perceptive mind with the marks of the objects seen applies across all sound, odor, taste, touch, and mental objects. The tathagatagarbha innately lacks all signs. It has never been within the marks of the six sense objects and is always devoid of them and has never corresponded with them. Hence, the tathagatagarbha denotes the characteristic of tranquil extinction. Practitioners who do not understand this would insist on engaging in sitting meditation the whole day and would hope to attain nirvana by leaving behind the five sense objects. This is referred to as the bodhi of non-Buddhists. It is not the notion of the Buddha Bodhi, that which transcends all the characteristics of the perceptive mind and the six sense objects.
A Discourse on the Vimalakīrti Nirdesa Sutra, Vol.2 p.248,249