Nirvana Sutra

Appreciation of the "Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra"

The "Nirvana Sutra" Continued

Chapter Fifteen: On the Parable of the Moon

“The Buddha said to Kasyapa: "As an example: there is a man here who, as he sees that the moon is not yet out, says that the moon has departed, and entertains the thought that the moon has sunk down. But this moon, by its nature, does not sink down. When it appears on the other side of the world, the people of the other side say that the moon is out. Why? Since Mount Sumeru obstructs [vision], the moon cannot reveal itself. The moon is always out. It has, by nature, no coming out or sinking down. The same is the case with the Tathagata, the Alms-deserving, the All-Enlightened One. He manifests himself in the 3,000 great-thousand worlds; or he gives the semblance of having parents in Jambudvipa or of entering Nirvana in Jambudvipa. The Tathagata, by nature, does not enter Nirvana. But all beings say that he truly enters Parinirvana. The case is analogous to the sinking of the moon. O good man! The Tathagata, by nature, does not possess the nature of birth and death. To succour beings, he manifests [his] birth and death.

"O good man! On the other side of this full moon, we have the half-moon; on this side, we have the half-moon and on the other side, the full moon is seen. The people of Jambudvipa, when they see the first moon, say that it is the first day, and have in mind the idea of a new month. Seeing the full moon, they say that it is the 15th day of the month and entertain the notion of the full moon. But this moon has, truth to tell, no waxing or waning [with it]. Only due to Mount Sumeru does it show a semblance of waxing and waning. O good man! The same is the case with the Tathagata. In Jambudvipa, he manifests birth and enters Nirvana. His first coming out [appearance in the world] is the first of the month. Everybody says that this boy is first born. He strides seven paces. This is like the moon on the second day. Or he shows himself studying. This is like the moon on the third day. He displays renunciation. This is like the moon of the eighth day. He emits the all-wonderful light of Wisdom and subdues an innumerable number of beings and the army of Mara. This may be likened to the full moon of the 15th day. Or he manifests the 32 signs of perfection and the 80 minor marks of excellence. He thus adorns himself and manifests Nirvana. He is like the eclipse of the moon. Thus, what beings see is not the same. Some see a half-moon, others a full moon, and still others an eclipse. But this moon, by its nature, knows of no waxing or eclipsing. It is always the full moon. The body of the Tathagata is like this. For this reason, we say eternal and unchanging.

"Also, next, O good man! For example, by the full moon, everything comes out [appears]. In all places as in towns, hamlets, mountains, swamps, under-water, wells or ponds, and in water utensils, the moon manifests itself. Beings may be travelling 100 or 100 thousand yojanas, and the moon always accompanies them. Common mortals and the ignorant think loosely and say: "I see all such in the castle town, in the house, and here in the swampy ground. Is it the true moon, or not the true one?" Each person thinks about the size of the moon and says: "It is like the mouth of a kettle." Or a person says: "It is like a wheel." Or some may say: "It is like 45 yojanas [in size]." All see the light of the moon. Some see it as round as a golden basin. The nature of this moon is one in itself, but different beings see it in different forms. O good man! The same is the case regarding the Tathagata. He appears in the world. Man and god might think: "The Tathagata is now before us and lives." The deaf and dumb see the Tathagata as one deaf or dumb. Diverse are the languages which beings speak. Eack thinks that the Tathagata speaks as he or she speaks, or thinks: "At my house, the Tathagata received offerings." Or a person might see the size of the Tathagata as being very large and immeasurable; or someone might see him as very small; or a person might mistake him for a sravaka, or a pratyekabuddha; or various tithikas might think and say: "The Tathagata is now in my line of thought [following my line of thought] and is practising the Way"; or a person might think: "The Tathagata has appeared for me alone." The true nature of the Tathagata is like that of the moon. That is to say that it is the Dharma-Body, the Body of birthlessness, or that of expediency. He responds to the call of the world, being innumerable in [his] manifestations. The original karma manifests itself in accordance with the differing localities. This is as in the case of the moon. For this reason, the Tathagata is eternal and unchanging.

"Also, next, O good man! Rahula-asura-raja covers the moon with his hands. The people of the world all then say that this is an eclipse of the moon. But Rahula-asura-raja cannot cause any eclipse to the moon. He merely obstructs the light of the moon. The moon is round. There is no part that drops away. Only as a result of the obstruction is the full play of light checked. Once the hands are withdrawn, the people of the world say that the moon has regained its power. All say that this moon suffers a lot. But even 100 thousand asura kings cannot cause it suffering. The case is like this. The same is the case with the Tathagata. Beings give rise to evil thoughts about the Tathagata, cause blood to flow, commit the five deadly sins, and act [as] icchantikas. Things are shown in such a way. For the sake of the beings to come, such things are displayed as acting against the Sangha, transgressing Dharma, and causing hindrances. Maras as innumerable as 100 thousand billion cannot hope to cause blood to flow from the body of the Buddha. Why not? Because the body of the Tathagata is not possessed of flesh, blood, sinews, marrow or bones. The Tathagata truly has no worry of disintegration. Beings say: "Dharma and Sangha have broken [disintegrated, dissolved] and the Tathagata is dead." But the Tathagata, by nature, is all true and there is no change or dissolution [with him]. Following the way of the world, he manifests himself thus.

"Also, next, O good man! Two people have a fight with a sword and staff, cause bodily injury and draw blood, and death results. But if they had no thought [intention] of killing, the karmic consequence will be light, not heavy. The same is the case [here]. Even in relation to the Tathagata, if a person has no intention of killing [him], the same applies to this action. It is light and is not heavy. The same is the case with the Tathagata. To guide beings in the days to come, he displays karmic consequences.

"Also, next O good man! This is like the doctor who makes effort and imparts basic medical knowledge to his son, saying that this is the root medicine, this is for taste, that is for colour [etc.], so as to enable his son to become familiarised with the various properties [of medicines]. The son pays heed to what his father says, makes effort, learns and comes to understand all the [different] types of medicine. The time comes when his father dies. The son yearns, cries, and says: "Father taught me, saying that this is root medicine, this is of the stem, this the flower, and this for colour." It is the same with the Tathagata. In order to guide us, he gives beings restrictions. So one should try to act in accordance [with those restrictions] and not contrary [to them]. For those people of the five deadly sins, for those slandering Wonderful Dharma, for the icchantika, and for those who may do such [deeds] in days to come, he manifests such. All this is for the days after the Buddha's death, for the bhiksus to know that these are important points in the sutras, these are the heavy and light aspects of the precepts, these the passages of the Abhidharma which are weighty and not weighty. This is to enable them [ i.e. beings] to be like the doctor's son.

"Also, next, O good man! Humans see, once every six months, a lunar eclipse. And in the heavens above, just for a time, we see the lunar eclipse. Why? Because the days are longer there in the heavens and shorter in the human world. O good man! It is the same with the Tathagata. Both gods and humans say: "The Tathagata's life is short." This is as with the beings of the heavens who see the eclipse of the moon often for a short time. The Tathagata, likewise, for a short time manifests 100 thousand million billion Nirvanas, crushing out the Maras of illusion, of the skandhas, and of death. Hence, 100 thousand million billion heavenly Maras all know that the Tathagata enters Nirvana. Also, he displays 100 thousand innumerable karmas. All this comes from the fact that he follows the various natures of the world. Thus does it go with his manifestations. They are innumerable, boundless and inconceivable. For this reason, the Tathagata is eternal and unchanging.

"Also, next, O good man! Beings take delight, for example, in seeing the bright moon. That is why we call the moon "that which is pleasing to see". If beings possess greed, malevolence and ignorance, there can be no pleasure in [such] seeing. The same with the Tathagata. The Tathagata's nature is pure, good, clean and undefiled. This is what is most pleasing to behold. Beings who are in harmony with Dharma will not shun [such] seeing; those with evil minds are not pleased by [such] seeing. Hence we say that the Tathagata is like the bright moon.

"Also, next, O good man! Regarding sunrise, there are three differences of time, which are: spring, summer, and winter. In winter, the days are short; spring is in-between, and summer is the longest. The same with the Tathagata. In the 3,000 great-thousand worlds, to all those short-lived [beings] and sravakas, he manifests a short life. Those seeing it all say: "The Tathagata's life is short." This is comparable to a winter's day. To Bodhisattvas he manifests a medium-length life. It may last for a kalpa or less. This is similar to a spring day. Only the Buddha can know the life of the Buddha. This, for example, is like a summer's day. O good man! The Tathagata's delicate and undisclosed teaching of Mahayana vaipulya is given to the world like a great downpour of Dharma. If any person in the days to come upholds, reveals, understands [such teachings] and benefits beings, know that such a person is a true Bodhisattva. This is the sweet rain of heaven that falls in the summer. If sravakas and pratyekabuddhas hear the hidden teaching of the Buddha-Tathagata, this is like encountering great cold on a winter's day. If a Bodhisattva hears the hidden teaching, i.e. that the Tathagata is eternal and unchanging, this is like the burgeoning that comes about in spring. And the Tathagata's nature is neither long nor short; he only manifests himself for the sake of the world. This is the true nature of all Buddhas.

"Also, next, O good man! For example, stars are not seen in the daytime. But everybody says: "The stars die out in the daytime." But actually they do not die. The reason that they are not seen arises from the fact that the sun is shining brightly. The same with the Tathagata. The sravakas and pratyekabuddhas cannot see. This is as in the case of the stars that cannot be seen in the daytime.

"Also, next, O good man! For example, in the gloom of the night, sun and moon are not seen. The ignorant say: "The sun and the moon have died." But, in truth, the sun and moon are not lost. The case is like this. At the time when the Tathagata's Wonderful Dharma dies out, the Three Treasures are also not seen. This is the analogous situation. It is not that they have eternally gone. Hence, one should know indeed that the Tathagata is eternal and that he does not change. Why not? Because the true nature of the Three Treasures does not get tainted by any illusions.

"Also, next, O good man! For example, in the dark half of the month, a comet may appear at night, shining brightly like a flame. And soon it will die away. Beings see this and [say that it] foreshadows ill-fortune. The case is analogous to all pratyekabuddhas, too. Coming out in the Buddha-less days, beings see and say: "The Tathagata has truly died." And they entertain thoughts of apprehension and sorrow. But, truth to tell, the Tathagata has not died. It is as with the sun and moon, which know of no extinction.

"Also, next, O good man! For example, when the sun rises, all the mist disperses. The situation is the same regarding this Great Nirvana Sutra. If one should once give ear to it, all ill and the karma of Avichi Hell will die out. Nobody can fathom what obtains in this Great Nirvana, which expounds the hidden store of the nature of the Tathagata. For this reason, good men and women entertain the thought that the Tathagata is Eternal, that he does not change, that Dharma does not cease to be, and that the Sangha Treasure does not die out. Hence, we should employ means, make effort, and learn this sutra. Such a person, in the course of time, will attain unsurpassed Enlightenment. That is why this sutra is said to contain innumerable virtues, and is also called one that knows no end of Enlightenment. Because of this endlessness, we can say Mahaparinirvana. The light of Good shines as in the sun's days. As it is boundless, we say Great Nirvana.