Nirvana Sutra

Appreciation of the "Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra"

"Nirvana Sutra" Continued (b1)


Chapter Four: On Long Life

“The Buddha said to all the bhiksus: "If you have any doubt about the moral precepts, you are free to ask questions. I shall now explain and fully satisfy you. I have already practised the Way and clearly attained the true nature of the All-Void of all things. O Bhiksus! Only the Tathagata has practised the true nature of the All-Void of all things." He also said to the bhiksus: "If you have any doubts, ask me, all of you!" Then the bhiksus said to the Buddha: "O World-Honoured One! With the wisdom that we have, we can put no questions to the Tathagata, the Alms-deserving and All-Enlightened One. Why not? The world of the Tathagata cannot be known by us. All samadhis cannot be thought of. Whatever is said is not within the compass of our comprehension. So, with what wisdom we have, there can be no posing of questions to the Tathagata. O World-Honoured One! There is a man, for example, who is 120 years old. Suffering from a long illness, he is in bed and cannot get up. His vitality has gone, so that he cannot live long. There is a rich man there who is on his way to far-off places on business. He gives this man a hundred pounds of gold and says: "I intend to go on a journey and entrust this treasure to you. After 10 or 20 years, I shall come back, when my business is concluded. When I am home again, give this back to me." The sick old man receives it. And he has none to succeed him. After some time, the illness develops and he dies, and what was entrusted to him cannot be found. The person who entrusted the treasure to him comes back from his journey, looks around, but cannot find the man. One like this, being ignorant, cannot think and weigh the good and bad of entrusting a thing to the hands of another person. So, on coming back, he does not know where to look. Thus the treasure gets lost. O World-honoured One! It is the same with us sravakas. We hear the kind admonition of the Tathagata, but we cannot hold it long. It is as with the old man who is entrusted with treasure. We are ignorant now and do not know what to ask regarding the precepts." The Buddha said to the bhiksus: "If you question me now, it will benefit all beings. That is why I say that you should ask about any doubts you may have." Then, all the bhiksus said to the Buddha: "O World-Honoured One! Imagine, for example: there is a man here of 25, full of vitality and right and proper. He has many treasures, such as gold, silver, beryl, etc. He has his parents, wife, children, relatives, and all his family. Then a man comes and hands over a treasure to him, saying: "I have things to do and am about to go on a long journey. My business concluded, I shall be back. When I am back home, return this to me." After this, the young man guards the treasure well, as though it were his own. The [young] man falls ill and says: "All this gold was entrusted to my care. When the man gets back home, give this to him. " One who is wise knows how to act and weigh things. His business concluded, the man returns, and what he had entrusted [to the other] is all safe, with nothing lost. The same with the World-Honoured One. If the treasure is entrusted to Ananda and the bhiksus, it cannot survive long. Why not? Because all sravakas and Mahakasyapa must pass away and the situation will inevitably be like that of the old man who receives the entrusted goods of the other person. Because of this, all the unsurpassed Buddhist teachings must be entrusted to the hands of all Bodhisattvas. They discuss well and the treasure will live long and flourish for infinite thousands of ages and benefit all beings enormously. This is like the case of the man in the prime of his life who receives the entrusted goods of the other person. Because of this, all Bodhisattvas can well pose questions. What wealth we have may be likened to a mosquito or sawfly. How can we question the Tathagata on the depths of the teaching?" At this, all the sravakas sank into silence.

Then, the Buddha, praised all the bhiksus and said: "It is good, it is good that you have all attained the unleakable [undefiled, asrava-free] mind of the arhat. I also thought of this once myself. Because of these two circumstances [i.e. that the sravakas cannot and the Bodhisattvas can pose questions], I entrust the Mahayana to all the Bodhisattvas and allow this Wonderful Dharma to live long". Then the Buddha said to all the congregation: "O all good men and women! You cannot calculate the length of my life. No unhindered speech of a Bodhisattva can fully express this. You may, if you will, ask me about the precepts or how to take refuge. You may do this a second or third time."

At that time, among those congregated, there was a Bodhisattva-mahasattva of the stage of the boyhood abode [ie. on the 9th of the 10 Bodhisattva levels]. He had been born into a Brahmin family in a hamlet called Tara. His family name was Mahakasyapa. By the divine power of the Buddha, he rose from his seat, bared his right elbow [shoulder] and walked around the Buddha 100 thousand times, and placing his right knee on the ground and folding his hands, said to the Buddha: "O World-Honoured One! I would now like to ask something of the Buddha. If you will allow me, I desire to speak." The Buddha said to Kasyapa: "The Tathagata, the Alms-deserving and All-Enlightened One allows you to say anything. I shall expound for you, clarify your doubt, and gladden you." Then Bodhisattva Kasyapa again said to the Buddha: "O World-Honoured One! The Tathagata, pitying me, gives me permission. I now shall ask. But the wisdom that I have is petty, like that of a mosquito or sawfly. You, Tathagata-World-Honoured One, are exalted in personal virtue and are surrounded by a retinue as fragrant as sandalwood and as difficult to subdue and as invincible as a lion. The Tathagata's person is like a true diamond. You shine like beryl. All [about you] is true and difficult to break and is surrounded by a great sea of Wisdom. All the Bodhisattva-mahasattvas congregated here are perfect in infinite and boundless depths of virtue. They are like gandhahastins. How can I put questions before such a congregation? Only now, guarded by the Buddha's divine power and by dint of the great dignity of moral virtue of the people congregated here, shall I put some questions to you." He spoke in a gatha:

"How do we gain long life, the Adamantine and Invincible body?

How do we gain great strength?

How by this sutra do we ultimately attain the other shore?

We beseech you to open the undisclosed door and,

For the sake of beings, teach us widely.

How can we, for the sake of the masses,

Become an expansive refuge and, although not arhats, be equal to arhats?

How can we, for the sake of beings,

Foresee Papiyas' [i.e. Mara, the Devil's] disturbances?

How can one clearly distinguish

Between what the Tathagata says and what the Papiyas says?

How does the All-Best-Trainer become pleased in heart

And speak about “Paramartha-satya” [the Truth of the Supreme Reality],

Become full in right good, and speak about the four inversions?

How do you do good? O Great Rishi! Please tell us now.

How do Bodhisattvas fathom the unfathomable nature?

How do they understand the significations of the full letter and the half letter

[i.e. the word as a composite, made from joining the Sanskrit alphabets and possessing

meaning, and the alphabetical letters and phonetic symbols in the case of Sanskrit]?

How can we simultaneously practise two holy actions

Such as the sarasa and karanda  that go together?

How can one be like the sun and moon,

Like the evening star and Jupiter?

How can one, not yet aspiring, be called a Bodhisattva?

How can all beings gain fearlessness,

Like Jambunada gold, in which no flaw can ever be detected?

How can one, though living in a defiled land,

Not be defiled like the lotus flower?

How do we live amidst illusions and

Not get tainted and not attacked by diseases,

As in the case of a doctor who, curing all diseases,

Does not himself get stricken by disease?

How can one be a sea-captain,

Foundering yet [still] amidst the sea of birth and death?

How can one abandon birth and death, as the serpent does its old skin?

How can one meditate on the Three Treasures

And be like the tree in the heavens that answers well one's wishes?

How can one speak about the three Vehicles

[of sravaka, pratyekabuddha, and Bodhisattva] and the Natureless?

How can one talk of Bliss, being not yet blessed with Bliss?

How can all Bodhisattvas be indestructible ones?

How can one be the eyes and guide for a person born blind?

How can one gain a multifarious head [mind rich in knowledge]

We beseech you, O Great Rishi! Please explain [this] to us!

How can you who turn the wheel of Dharma

Expand like the moon at the beginning of the month?

How do you show yourself again and gain Nirvana at the end?

How can you, the brave, step forward

And show to man, heaven and Mara the Way?

How does one know “Dharmata” [essence of Reality]

And become blessed with Dharma?

How do all Bodhisattvas make away with all illnesses?

How do they expound to all beings the undisclosed teachings?

How do they expound the Ultimate and the non-Ultimate?

If doubts [can be] done away with, why not definitely explain?

How can one attain the highest and unsurpassed Way?

I now beseech the Tathagata, for the sake of the Bodhisattvas,

To expound the deepest and most wonderful teachings.

Everything has the nature of peace and bliss.

Expound in detail for us, please, O Great Rishi World-Honoured One!

O Great Refuge! O Two-Footed-Honoured One,

The Wonderful-One-of-All-Medicines!

I now desire to enquire all about things,

But I lack Wisdom; even all the Bodhisattvas

Who make utmost effort may not know

Such depths as of the world of all Buddhas."

Then, praising Bodhisattva Kasyapa, the Buddha said: "Well said, well said, O good man! You have not yet arrived at All-Knowledge, but I am he who has attained it. You now ask about the deepest depths of the undisclosed doctrine. Now, O good man! I, sitting under the Bodhi Tree, first attained right Enlightenment. At that time, in all Buddha-lands as numerous as the sands of countless asamkhyas of Ganges, there were Bodhisattvas. They too asked of me the meaning of this deepest doctrine. And what they said and the virtue thereof were thus, the same, not different. Asking thus, great benefits accrue to all beings." Then Bodhisattva Kasyapa said to the Buddha: "O World-Honoured One! The power of my wisdom does not extend thus far as to put such deep questions to the Tathagata. O World-Honoured One! This is like a mosquito or sawfly that cannot fly over a great sea or fly round in the high heavens. The same with me. I have no power to ask the Tathagata about this great sea of Wisdom or the meaning of the great depths of space-like extension of “Dharmata”. O World-Honoured One! This is like a king who hands over to the hands of the officer in charge of treasures a bright gem that was housed in the knot of his hair, and the officer, on receiving it, increases the guard. The same is the case with me. Having received the depths of the Tathagata's Mahayana teaching, I shall guard it all the more carefully. Why? This is but to make me attain the great depths of Wisdom."

Then the Buddha said to Kasyapa: "O good man! Listen clearly, listen clearly! I shall now tell you the cause of the Tathagata's longevity of life. The Bodhisattva, through this action, gains long life. For this reason, listen with your best attention. Having listened, speak of it to others. O good man! Having thus practised, I attained unsurpassed Bodhi. I, for all beings' sake, now speak of this. O good man! As an example: a prince transgresses against state law and is chained up in prison. The king pities him and, riding on a palanquin, goes himself to the prison because he loves the prince. The same with the Bodhisattva. If he desires to have a long life, he should guard and protect beings and view them as one would one's only son, and abide in great loving-kindness, great compassion, great joy, and great equanimity. Also, he should impart the precept of non-harming to them and teach them to practise all good things. Also, he must let all beings abide peacefully in the five moral precepts and the ten good deeds. Furthermore, he will get into such realms as hell, hungry preta, animal, and asura, and free all these beings from where they are suffering, emancipate those not yet emancipated, pass over those who have not yet gained the other shore, give Nirvana to those who have not yet attained it, and console all who live in fear. Acting thus, the Bodhisattva gains longevity of life and unmolested [unlimited] freedom in knowing. And when the end comes, he gains life in the high heavens." Then Bodhisattva Kasyapa said to the Buddha: "O World-Honoured One! You say that the Bodhisattva-mahasattva regards all beings just as one views one's only son. The thought is too deep, and I cannot fathom it. O World-Honoured One! You say that the Bodhisattva views beings with an all-equal mind and views them as he would look upon his only son. But things are not so. Why not? Amongst the Buddhists, there are those who break the moral precepts, those who commit deadly sins, and those who transgress against Wonderful Dharma. How can it be that he [the Buddha] can have the same [attitude of] mind towards them as towards his only son?" The Buddha said to Kasyapa: "It is so, it is so! I view all beings as I view my own Rahula."

Bodhisattva Kasyapa said to the Buddha: "O World-Honoured One! Once, on the 15th of the month, on the day of posadha, among the congregated who were strict and pure in the moral precepts, there was a boy who did not quite seriously observe the three actions of body, mouth and mind. He hid himself in a dark place and secretly listened to what was said. Guhyapada, receiving the divine power of the Buddha, crushed this boy into dust with a vajra [sharpened bar, a double-headed weapon, or a diamond]. O World-Honoured One! Guhyapada acted so badly that the boy's life was taken. How could you look upon all beings as you do your own Rahula?" The Buddha said to Kasyapa: "Do not speak thus! This boy was none but a transformed [illusory, projected] one, not a true one. This was but to repress breaking of the precepts and transgression against Buddha-Dharma, and to remould beings. Even the vajra and also Guhyapada were transformed existences. O Kasyapa! There are in the world those who slander Wonderful Dharma, icchantikas, those who harm others, those who abide in twisted views, those who purposely act contrary to the moral precepts. I pity all and have loving thought, just as one has towards one's only son, as in the case of Rahula. O good man! To illustrate: when the officers of the royal court break state law, the king punishes according to the rules relating to the sins committed and does not leave the officers unpunished. The Tathagata does not act thus. He makes those who violate the precepts undergo such procedures as being driven out, reprimanded, put under surveillance, impeached or banished for non-confirming of the sins committed, for non-repentance, and for non-forsaking of twisted views. The reason, O good man, why the Tathagata imposes the suppressive moral precepts on those who slander Dharma arises from the fact that he desires to show those who transgress that karmic consequences ensue for what one has done. O good man! Know that the Tathagata desires to bestow on evil beings what need not be feared. He emits one, two, or five beams, so that those who encounter this light will be rid of all evil acts. Now, the Tathagata has so many uncountable means of such power. O good man! If you desire to see Dharma which cannot be seen, I will now explain to you all about what you can see. When I have entered Nirvana, a bhiksu who is perfect in the deportment of a bhiksu and who observes Wonderful Dharma may come across one who transgresses. If this bhiksu drives away, reproaches, impeaches, or remoulds such an evil-doer, he will be blessed with weal which one cannot measure or tell of. O good man! To illustrate: there is a tyrant king who does evil things and happens to suffer very seriously from illness. The king of a neighbouring state, hearing of this, mobilises the army to overthrow the state. At this, the king, having no power to resist the attack, repents and tries to do good. And the weal of the king of this neighbouring state will be uncountable. The same with the precept-observing bhiksu. If he drives away or reproaches those who act against Dharma and makes them do good, an incalculable [amount of] weal will be his. O good man! As an illustration: in the fields and around the houses where a rich man dwells grow many poisonous tree. Seeing this, he fells all of them and there is no more of them. Or white hair appears on the head of a young man. He feels ashamed of it, cuts it off and does not allow his hair to grow long. The same is the case with a precept-upholding bhiksu. If he sees any person who breaks the precepts and transgresses against Wonderful Dharma, he should drive away, reproach or impeach such a person. If a good bhiksu, seeing one who transgresses against Dharma, does not drive away, reproach or impeach such a person, know that this bhiksu is the enemy of the Buddhist teaching. If he drives away, reproaches or impeaches such a one, he is my disciple, a true disciple."

Bodhisattva Kasyapa said again to the Buddha; "O World-Honoured One! You may say that you look upon all beings equally and treat them as you would an only son such as Rahula. This is not so. O World-honoured One! A person may try to harm you with a sword. Or there may be someone who tries to paint the Buddha's body with sandalwood paste. If it is is the case that you view both persons with the same eye, how could you cure moral offences? If it is the case that this cures moral offences, this does not make sense." The Buddha said to Kasyapa: "An illustration, O good man! The king, minister and prime minister may desire to bring up their sons who are right-set in countenance and sharp in intellect. One of those fathers takes one, two, three, four such sons and hands them over to a strict teacher and says to him: "Please teach my sons deportment, good behaviour, the arts, writing and reckoning. These my four sons will study under your guidance. Even if three of my sons die of goading, teach the last with whatever means you may think fit. I may lose the three, but I shall not be vexed." O Kasyapa! Are the father and the teacher responsible for killing?"  "No, O World-Honoured One! Why not? Because a loving mind was at the bottom [of their actions]. What there is [here] is accomplishment, but not an evil mind. Such teaching will be met with good, to a limitless extent."  "O good man! The same is the case with the Tathagata. He views those who transgress Dharma as he views his only son. The Tathagata now entrusts unsurpassed Wonderful Dharma to the hands of kings, ministers, prime ministers, bhiksus, bhiksunis, upasakas and upasikas. All of these kings and the four classes of the Buddhist Sangha will encourage those who practise the Buddhist teaching and enable them increasingly to observe the moral precepts, practise meditation and wisdom. If there are any who miscarry these three phases [aspects] of Dharma and if there are those who are indolent and who break the moral precepts, the kings, ministers, and the four classes of the Buddhist Sangha will work hard and remould such people. O good man! Should all these kings and the four classes of the Buddhist Sangha be blamed or not?"  "No, indeed, O World-Honoured One!"  "O good man! These kings and the four classes of the Buddhist Sangha are not to be blamed. How could it be that the Tathagata is to be blamed? O good man! The Tathagata well observes such impartiality, looking upon all people as one would one's only son. Such a one who practises the Way is called one who practises the all-equal mind of a Bodhisattva and one who possesses a mind that loves an only son. O good man! The Bodhisattva, practising thus, gains a long life and is now able to see what took place in the past." Bodhisattva Kasyapa said again to the Buddha: "O World-Honoured One! You say that a Bodhisattva, practising impartiality, can well view beings just as one views one's only son and that such a person gains a long life. But you should not say this. Why not? One who knows Dharma indeed speaks well of filial duty. But back home, he beats his parents with tiles and gravel, [in defiance of] the fact that one's parents are the best field of weal, where much weal comes about, such as is the most difficult of difficult to encounter. Where the person should be making offerings, he performs evil. There is a distinction between what this person knows and what he does. What the Tathagata says is also like this. The Bodhisattva practises impartiality and views beings as an only son, and he gains a long life, can look into the past, and live eternally and there cannot be any change. Now, why is it that the World-Honoured One is like a person with the shortest life in the world? Does not the Tathagata entertain hatred against all beings? O World-Honoured One! What evil acts did you perform in the past? How many evil acts did you commit, so as to gain the shortest life, which does not even extend to 100 years?" The Buddha said to Kasyapa: "O good man! Under what circumstances do you bring across your lips all such rough-hewn words against the Tathagata? The life of the Tathagata is the longest and most superior of longest lives. His eternal Dharma is the unsurpassed of all eternal things." Bodhisattva Kasyapa said again to the Buddha: "O World-Honoured One! How did you, the Tathagata, gain eternal life?" The Buddha said to Bodhisattva Kasyapa: "O good man! There are eight great rivers, which are 1) Ganges, 2) Yamuna,  3) Sarabhu,  4) Ajitavati,   5) Mahi,  6) Indus,  7) Pasu,  and 8) Sita. All these eight rivers and other small rivers drain into the great ocean. O Kasyapa! All the great rivers of life of all people, heaven, earth and sky drain into the Tathagata's sea of life. Hence, the length of life of the Tathagata is incalculable. Also, next, O Kasyapa! As an illustration: it is like the case of Lake Anavatapta, which gives rise to four rivers. The same with the Tathagata. He gives rise to all long life-spans (emphasis added). O Kasyapa! As an example: of all eternal things, that of space is the foremost. The same is the case with the Tathagata. He is the foremost of all eternal things. O Kasyapa! This is as in the case of sarpirmanda [most delicious and efficacious medicine], the first of all medicines. The same is the case with the Tathagata. He is the one possessed of the longest life." Bodhisattva Kasyapa said again to the Buddha: "If the life of the Tathagata is thus, you mast live for a kalpa or [just] less than a kalpa and be delivering sermons in the way the great rain falls."  "O Kasyapa! Do not entertain the thought of extinction regarding the Tathagata. O Kasyapa! There may be amongst the bhiksus, bhiksunis, upasakas, upasikas, or even among the tirthikas a person who possesses the five divine powers or the unmolested [unlimited] power of a rishi. He may live a kalpa or less than a kalpa; he may be able to fly through the air, and be unmolested [unconstrained] whether he is reclining or sitting. He emits fire from the left side of his body or water from his right side. His body emits smoke and flames like a fire ball. If he desires to live long, he can do as he wills. He can freely lengthen or shorten his life. With such divine power, he has such freedom of power. And how could this not be possible with the Tathagata, who possesses unmolested [unlimited] power in all things? How could it not be that he can live for half a kalpa, a kalpa,  100 kalpas, 100 thousand kalpas, or innumerable kalpas? On account of this, know that “the Tathagata is an eternal and unchanging existence”. The Tathagata's body is a transformed body and not one supported by various kinds of food. In order to pass beings to the other shore, he manifests himself amidst poisonous trees. Hence he manifests himself discarding his carnal body and entering Nirvana. Know, O Kasyapa, that the Buddha is an eternal and unchanging existence. O all of you! Practise the Way in this Paramartha-satya [Truth of the Transcendent Reality], make effort, and practise the Way with one mind; having practised the Way, expound it widely to others."