Nirvana Sutra

Appreciation of the "Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra"

Instruction On Non-decrease, Non-increase Sutra: Anunatva Apurnatva Nirdesa Sutra (For better fonts than below, go to: https://web.archive.org/web/20070304095806/http://www.empty-universe.com/tathagatagarbha/anunatvaapurnatvanirdesa.htm)

 

Translator's Introduction

This short text, the AnŻnatva-ApŻrnatva-Nirdeķa or "The Instructions on Non-decreasing and Non-increasing" survives only in its Chinese translation by the sixth century scholar-monk Bodhiruci and a number of quotations (about one third of the whole sutra) in Sanskrit preserved in the Ratna-gotra-vibh‚ga (The Uttara-tantra). This translation, the first into any Western language, is based on these materials, giving priority to the Sanskrit where it survives. It is offered to those interested as it stands, with the proviso that it is a draft translation and could perhaps be improved. Along with the ŕrÓ-m‚l‚-devÓ-sŻtra, it is thought to be among the earliest surviving scriptures dealing with the Tath‚gata-garbha teachings. Due to its succinct brevity, there is much in this short work that needs "unpacking" Ė- something I do not have time to provide at present. However, the main theme of the text is the identity of the Dharmadh‚tu (= Dharmak‚ya), the sattva-dh‚tu and the Tath‚gata-garbha. According to the Tath‚gata-garbha doctrine, it is this identity, based on the underlying reality of the Dharmadh‚tu, that guarantees the eventual enlightenment of all beings. In this connection, it should be noted that the exegesis of this idea in the course of the text employs the term "sattva" in "sattva-dh‚tu" punningly in several senses. These are "sattva" as "sat-tva," the true nature or essence of reality, "sattva" as "a living being" and "sat-tva" read as "sakta" as "attached/clinging to." This latter connotation is possibly based on a Prakrit form "satta" (as in P‚li) which can be Sanskritized either as "sattva" or "sakta." You are positively encouraged to quote or distribute this text (in an unaltered form) as you wish Ė- providing you mention my name as translator.

Stephen Hodge
April 2003

© Stephen Hodge 2003

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Thus I have heard. At one time the Bhagavat was staying on Mount GrdhrakŻta at R‚jagrha in the company of a community (sangha) of one thousand two hundred and fifty monks. There were also countless, inconceivable numbers of Bodhisattva-mah‚sattvas.

On that occasion, ŕ‚riputra was in the midst of the assembly and, rising from his seat, he went towards the Bhagavat. When he reached the place where the Bhagavat was, he bowed down with his head at the Bhagavat's feet in salutation. Then he went and sat to one side. With his hands joined in devotion, he spoke to the Bhagavat.

"Bhagavat, from time without beginning all beings have wandered, coming and going, through the six states of existence in the three realms of sams‚ra. They have repeatedly transmigrated through the four modes of birth and have experienced unbounded sufferings undergoing births and deaths. Bhagavat, does this mass of beings, this ocean of beings, undergo increase and decrease or does it not undergo increase and decrease ? I do not understand the significance of this profound matter. How should I answer if anybody asks me about it ?"

The Bhagavat answered ŕ‚riputra thus, "It is excellent, ŕ‚riputra, excellent that you ask me about the significance of this profound matter in order that all beings will achieve relief from their efforts (yoga-ksema), out of pity for all beings, for the benefit of all beings, for the welfare and comfort of all beings including gods and humans.

"ŕ‚riputra, if you had not asked the Tath‚gata, Arhat, Samyak-sambuddha about this matter, many errors would occur. Why is that ? Because all beings, including the gods and humans, in the present and future ages, would experience the disadvantage of suffering misery for a long time and lose all welfare and comfort for ever.

"ŕ‚riputra, there is a major false opinion ? the assertion that the realm of beings (sattva-dh‚tu) fills up and that the realm of beings decreases. ŕ‚riputra, beings who embrace this opinion are like the congenitally blind and cannot see the true nature of things. Hence they are involved in improper behaviour for a very long time, following a false path. For this reason, they fall in this lifetime into the miserable states of existence.

"Moreover, ŕ‚riputra, there is a precipitous gorge -- rigidly adhering to the perverse claim that the realm of beings increases and rigidly adhering to the perverse claim that the realm of beings decrease. ŕ‚riputra, because of rigidly adhering to this perverse opinion, beings are involved in improper behaviour for a very long time, following a false path. For this reason, they fall in future lifetimes into the miserable states of existence.

"ŕ‚riputra, because all foolish ordinary beings (b‚la-prthak-jana) do not know the oneness of the Dharmadh‚tu as it truly is in reality, because they do not see the oneness of the Dharmadh‚tu as it truly is in reality, they give rise to a mistaken opinion in their minds ? that the realm of beings increases and the realm of beings decreases.

"ŕ‚riputra, while I, the Tath‚gata, reside in the world, my disciples do not give rise to such thoughts, but when five hundred years has elapsed after my departure there will be many foolish beings lacking in insight and knowledge. Even amongst [followers of] the Buddha Dharma, there will be those who resemble monks in their appearance, with their heads shaven and wearing the three monastic robes, and yet internally they will lack the qualities of a monk. These fellows will claim to be monks even though they are not really monks, they will claim to be disciples of the Buddha even though they not really disciples of the Buddha, saying 'We are monks, we are the real disciples of the Buddha'.

"Such people will give rise to the false opinions of imposition (sam‚ropa) and detraction (apav‚da). Why ? Because these beings lack the eye of awareness since they rely upon the Tath‚gata's provisional sŻtras, because they do not perceive emptiness as it truly is in reality, because they do not know the [significance of] the initial generation of the aspiration [to enlightenment] experienced by the Tath‚gata as it truly is in reality, because they do not know [the Tath‚gata's] accumulation of immeasurable virtues for enlightenment as it truly is in reality, because they do not know the immeasurable qualities attained by the Tath‚gata as they truly are in reality, because they do not know the immeasurable power of the Tath‚gata as it truly is in reality, because they do not know the immeasurable domain (visaya) of the Tath‚gata as it truly is in reality, because they do not believe in the Tath‚gata's immeasurable spheres of activity (goc‚ra) as it truly is in reality, because they do not know the Tath‚gata's mastery of inconceivable, immeasurable qualities as it truly is in reality, because they do not know the Tath‚gata's inconceivable, immeasurable expedient means as they truly are in reality, because they are not able to distinguish the immeasurable facets of the Tath‚gata's domain (visaya), because they are unable to comprehend the Tath‚gata's inconceivable great compassion, and because they do not know the Tath‚gata's great Nirv‚na as it truly is in reality.

"ŕ‚riputra, because these foolish ordinary people lack the insight born of study (ķruta-m‚ya-praj?‚), they give rise to the false opinions (drsti) of annihilation or cessation when they hear of the Tath‚gata's Nirv‚na. Because of these ideas of annihilation and cessation, they claim that the realm of beings decreases and thus generate this major false opinion which leads to extremely grave misdeeds.

"Furthermore, ŕ‚riputra, these people give rise to a further three false opinions due to that false opinion of detraction. These three false opinions and their false opinion of detraction are mutually inseparable like the cords of a net. What are the three false opinions ? The first is the idea of nihilism (uccheda-v‚da), that concerning utter annihilation, the second is the idea of cessation, that Nirv‚na is thus, and the third is the idea that there is no Nirv‚na, that Nirv‚na is utter vacuity.

"ŕ‚riputra, people are thus bound, thus seized, thus touched by these three opinions. Because of the power of these three opinions, they in turn give rise to another two false opinions. These two false opinions are inseparable from those two opinions like the cords of a net. What are these two opinions ? The first is the opinion concerning abstention and the second is the opinion that Nirv‚na is utterly non-existent. ŕ‚riputra, in dependence upon the opinion concerning abstention, a further two opinions arise. These two opinions are inseparable from the opinion concerning abstention like the cords of a net. What are these two opinions ? The first is the opinion that is attached to moral precepts (ķÓla-vrata-par‚marķa-drsti) and the second is the opinion that gives rise to the cognitive distortion that treats the impure as the pure.

"ŕ‚riputra, in dependence upon the opinion that that Nirv‚na is utterly non-existent, a further six opinions arise. These six opinions are inseparable from the opinion that Nirv‚na is non-existent like the cords of a net. What are these six opinions ? The first is the opinion that the world has no beginning, the second is the opinion that the world has no ending, the third is the opinion that beings are created as manifestations, the fourth is that there is neither suffering nor happiness, the fifth is that beings have no obligations (?), and the six is that there are no noble truths.

"Furthermore, ŕ‚riputra, these people give rise to a further two opinions due to this false opinion of attribution. These two false opinions and that false opinion of attribution are mutually inseparable like the cords of a net. What are these two opinions ? The first is that Nirv‚na has a starting point and the second is that Nirv‚na comes into existence spontaneously without causes and conditions. ŕ‚riputra, these two opinions cause beings to be devoid of any aspirations and strenuous effort directed at the wholesome factors (kuķala-dharma). ŕ‚riputra, because they give rise to these two opinions, there is no chance of these people making any aspirations or efforts directed at the wholesome factors even though the seven Buddhas have appeared in the world in succession n order to teach the Dharma. ŕ‚riputra, these two opinions ? the opinion that Nirv‚na has a starting point and the opinion that Nirv‚na comes into existence spontaneously without causes and conditions ? are ignorance (avidy‚), the root of afflictions (kleķa).

"ŕ‚riputra, these two opinions (sam‚ropa & apav‚da) are the root of extreme evil, the way of great defects. All opinions arise in dependence upon these two opinions. All these opinions are inseparable from those two opinions like the cords of a net. 'All opinions' signifies the multitude of different opinions whether concerning the internal or the external, whether coarse, subtle or middling that involve the opinions of attribution and detraction. ŕ‚riputra, these two opinions are grounded upon a single basis (dh‚tu), are identical to a single basis, conjoined with a single basis. Because all foolish ordinary people do not know that single basis as it truly is in reality, because they do not see that single basis as it truly is in reality, they give rise to thoughts [involving] an extremely pernicious major [false] opinions ? that is to say, the realm of beings increases and that the realm of beings decreases."

Then the venerable ŕ‚riputra said to the Bhagavat, "Bhagavat, what is this one basis of which you speak ? Why do all foolish ordinary people give rise to thoughts [involving] an extremely pernicious major [false] opinions ? that is to say, the realm of beings increases and that the realm of beings decreases ? because they do not know that single basis as it truly is in reality, because they do not see that single basis as it truly is in reality ? I do not yet understand this extremely profound matter, so I entreat the Bhagavat to help me understand it so that I may be liberated!"

Then the Bhagavat answered the venerable ŕ‚riputra thus, "ŕ‚riputra, this matter [appertains] to the Tath‚gata's perceptual domain, the Tath‚gata's sphere of activity. No ŕr‚vakas or Pratyekabuddhas, ŕ‚riputra, are able to know, to see or to investigate this matter with their insight. How much less able are foolish ordinary people to do so, except when they directly realize it by faith! Ultimate truth, ŕ‚riputra, may be directly realized by faith. Ultimate truth (param‚rtha), ŕ‚riputra, is a synonym for the realm of beings (sattva-dh‚tu). The realm of beings, ŕ‚riputra, is a synonym for the Tath‚gata-garbha. The Tath‚gata-garbha, ŕ‚riputra, is a synonym for the Dharmak‚ya. ŕ‚riputra, this Dharmak‚ya taught by the Tath‚gata is indivisible in nature from the virtues (dharma) of the Tath‚gata which far exceed the grains of sand in the Ganges in number, inseparable in its qualities from awareness (avinirmukta-jnana-guna).

"ŕ‚riputra, just as the light, heat and colour of a lamp in the world are indivisible in nature, inseparable qualities or again just as the brilliance, colour and shape of a jewel, in the same way, ŕ‚riputra, this Dharmak‚ya taught by the Tath‚gata is indivisible in nature from the virtues (dharma) of the Tath‚gata which far exceed the grains of sand in the Ganges in number, inseparable in its qualities from awareness (avinirmukta-jnana-guna).

"ŕ‚riputra, this Dharmak‚ya neither arises nor ceases in nature, it is not delimited in the past nor is it delimited in the future, because it is devoid of the two extremes. ŕ‚riputra, it is not delimited in the past because it is devoid of a point of arising and it is not delimited in the future because it is devoid of a point of cessation. ŕ‚riputra, this Dharmak‚ya is permanent because it is unchanging in nature and because it is inexhaustible in nature. ŕ‚riputra, this Dharmak‚ya is stable, because it is the stable refuge and because it is identical to the bounds of the future. ŕ‚riputra, this Dharmak‚ya is peace because it is non-dual (advaya) in nature, because it is devoid of conceptualization (avikalpa) in nature. ŕ‚riputra, this Dharmak‚ya is eternal because it is indestructible in nature, because it is unfabricated in nature.

"ŕ‚riputra, this very Dharmak‚ya is called the realm of beings (sattva-dh‚tu) when it concealed by a sheath of boundless afflictions, wandering repeatedly through births and deaths in beginningless sams‚ra, buffeted by the waves of sams‚ra. ŕ‚riputra, this very Dharmak‚ya is called a Bodhisattva when it is disillusioned with the sufferings of the stream of sams‚ra and is detached from all the experiential objects of desire and engages in the practice aimed at enlightenment through the mass of eighty-four thousand doctrines (dharma) which are subsumed by the ten Perfections. ŕ‚riputra, this very Dharmak‚ya is called the Tath‚gata, Arhat, Samyak-sambuddha when it has become free from the sheath of all the afflictions, has passed beyond all sufferings, has eliminated the stains of all the subsidiary afflictions, purified, utterly purified, and, abiding in the supremely pure reality (dharmat‚) and reaching the level which may illumine all beings, has attained the peerless, heroic strength with regards all knowable things and has realized mastering power over all phenomena without any obscuration and any obstruction in nature. Therefore, ŕ‚riputra, the realm of beings and the Dharmak‚ya are not different. The realm of beings is the Dharmak‚ya and the Dharmak‚ya is the realm of beings. Their significance is identical, only distinguished by different names.

"Furthermore, ŕ‚riputra, as I have previously explained, the realm of beings has three qualities which are all real, not different nor separate from Thusness. What are the three qualities ? First, the Tath‚gata-garbha is intrinsically conjoined with pure qualities from time without beginning, secondly the Tath‚gata-garbha is intrinsically not conjoined with impure qualities from time without beginning, and thirdly the Tath‚gata-garbha is unchanging sameness throughout the future.

"ŕ‚riputra, you should know that the fact that the Tath‚gata-garbha is intrinsically conjoined with pure qualities from time without beginning signifies that it is veridical and not delusive, a pure reality that is without separation and exclusion from awareness (jnana), an inconceivable "entity" (dharma) that is the Dharmadh‚tu. It is primordially conjoined with this purity by nature. ŕ‚riputra, grounded upon this pure and veridical Dharmadh‚tu, I teach the intrinsic purity of the mind, this inconceivable doctrine, for the sake of beings.

"ŕ‚riputra, you should know that the fact that the Tath‚gata-garbha is intrinsically not conjoined with the impure qualities, the afflictions which envelop it, from time without beginning signifies that those impure qualities, the afflictions which envelop it, which are primordially separated from and not conjoined with it, are just to be eliminated by the awareness of the Tath‚gata's enlightenment. ŕ‚riputra, grounded upon the inconceivable Dharmadh‚tu which is not conjoined with these enveloping afflictions, I teach the intrinsic purity of the mind to which the adventitious afflictions are attached (sakta), this inconceivable doctrine, for the sake of beings.

"ŕ‚riputra, you should know that the fact that the Tath‚gata-garbha is unchanging sameness throughout the future signifies that it is the root of all [wholesome and unwholesome] qualities, that it possesses all [Tath‚gata] qualities, that it is endowed with all qualities, that it is not separate or divorced from all veridical qualities in the midst of mundane qualities, that it sustains all qualities, and that it includes all qualities. Grounded upon this permanent, stable, pure and unchanging refuge that is free from arising and cessation, the inconceivable pure Dharmadh‚tu, I term it "be-ing" (sat-tva). Why is that ? What I call 'be-ing' is just a different name for this permanent, stable, pure and unchanging refuge that is free from arising and cessation, the inconceivable pure Dharmadh‚tu. For this reason, grounded upon this entity (dharma), I speak of 'be-ing'.

"ŕ‚riputra, all three of these qualities (dharma) are veridical, not separate nor divisible from reality. The two kinds of extremely pernicious, unwholesome false opinions do not ultimately arise with regards to these veridical qualities that are not separate not divisible from reality. Why ? Because of perceiving things as they truly are in reality. ŕ‚riputra, all Buddha Tath‚gatas are totally free from these two false opinions ? the opinion which [falsely] attributes and the opinion which [falsely] detracts ? which are censured (garhya-sth‚nÓya) by the Buddha Tath‚gatas.

"ŕ‚riputra, should any monk, nun, up‚saka or up‚sik‚ give rise to one or other of these opinions, the Buddha Tath‚gatas are not their teacher (ķ‚str). Such people are not my disciples (ķr‚vaka). ŕ‚riputra, I say that by giving rise to those two opinions, these people are filled with darkness ? they go from darkness to a greater darkness, from gloom to a greater gloom, their darkness becoming ever greater. I call them 'icchantikas'. Therefore, ŕ‚riputra, you should train yourself, abiding in the true path which is separated from those two opinions."

When the Buddha finished expounding this sŻtra, the elder ŕ‚riputra, as well as the great assembly of monks, nuns, up‚sakas, up‚sik‚s, bodhisattva-mah‚sattvas together with the gods, n‚gas, yaksas, gandharvas, asuras, garudas, kinnaras, mahoragas, humans and non-humans, were all greatly joyful, receiving with faith and venerating the AnŻnatva-apŻrnatva SŻtra expounded by the Buddha.


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Translated by Stephen Hodge. © Stephen Hodge 2003.