Nirvana Sutra

Appreciation of the "Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra"

The "Nirvana Sutra" Continued (Z14)

[The Buddha said:] "As with all things that exist within and without, so does it go with what obtains in the mind. Why? Because action obtains in the six spheres. When this obtains in the six spheres, there comes about the happy mind, the angry mind, the craving mind, or the greedy mind. Life goes differently one after the other, and cannot be one. For this reason, one has to know that all that is physical and non-physical is non-eternal.

"O good man! If the Bodhisattva can, in the flash of a moment, see the birth and death and non-eternality of all things, this is what we call the Bodhisattva's being perfect in the image of the non-eternal. O good man! The wise man learns and practises the image of the non-eternal, and makes away with the arrogance of the eternal, the inversion [i.e. wrong-headed view] of the eternal, and the inversion of the image.

"Next, he practises the image of suffering. Why should there be such suffering? He sees that this suffering is grounded on the non-eternal, that because of the non-eternal, there is the suffering of birth, old age, illness, and death, that because of birth, ageing, illness, and death, there is the non-eternal, that because of the non-eternal, there is internal and external suffering, and such suffering as [that from] hunger, thirst, cold, heat, whipping, beating, abusing, and endurance. He sees that all suffering is based on the non-eternal.

"Also, next, the wise man looks deeply into this fleshly body and sees that it is a vessel of the non-eternal, and that this vessel is suffering. And as the vessel is suffering, the things that are put into it are suffering.

"O good man! The wise person meditates [thus]: "Suffering is non-eternal. If suffering is non-eternal, how can the wise say that there is the Self [there]? Suffering is not the Self. The same is the case with the non-eternal [i.e. that which is impermanent is not the Self]. Thus, the five skandhas are also the non-eternal of suffering. How could all beings say that there is the Self [there]?"

"Also, next, he meditates on all things [thus]: "There is a conjoining of what is different. All things do not come about from a single conjoining. Also, one thing is not the result of the conjoining of all things. The conjoining of all things does not have a Self of its own. Also, there is no single nature and no different natures. Also, there is no nature of material form, and no unmolestedness [freedom to do as one wills; unobstructedness]. If all things possess these aspects of existence, how can the wise say that here is the Self?"

"Also, he thinks: "Of all things, there is not one thing that is done by the creator of its own [i.e. nothing creates itself]. If there is not one thing that has that which creates it, the conjoining of all things also cannot come about. All things cannot come about alone and die out alone. Through [the act of] conjoining, they die, and through conjoining, they come about.

"When things have come about, beings gain an inverted [view] and say that this is conjoining and that this comes about by conjoining. There is nothing true in the inverted [view] of beings. How could there be any [such view] that is true?" Hence, the wise meditate on the non-Self.

"And, also, the wise person clearly thinks: "For what reason do beings speak about the Self? Why is it that beings speak about the Self? If this Self exists, it must be [either] one or many. If it is one, how can there be such as Kshatriyas, Brahmins, Sudras, humans and gods, hell, hungry ghosts, animals, or big and small, or old age or the prime of life? For this reason, I know that the Self is not one. If the Self is many, how can we say that the Self of the being is one and all-pervading, knowing no bounds? Be it one or many, in either case, there is no Self."

"Having so meditated that there is no Self, the wise man next meditates on the image of abhorring food, and thinks: "If all things are non-eternal, suffering, and non-Self, how could one, for the sake of food, commit the three evil actions of body, mouth and mind, all that has been in hand goes along with [the person] and, later, the karmic results visit [him], and no one [else] indeed can share them." O good man! The wise person further meditates [thus]: "All beings, on account of food and drink, suffer from the sorrows of body and mind. If one gains various sorrows from food, why should I gain any greed or clinging? Hence, I do not covet a greedy mind for food."

"And, next, the wise person meditates [thus]: "Through food and drink, one gains one's own bodily augmentation [i.e. one perpetuates the process of one's physical embodimentation]. I now practise renunciation and receive sila and practise the Way. All of this is to abandon the carnal body. I now covet this food. How [then] will I be able to abandon this body of mine?" So meditating, even if food is accepted, this is as though he were partaking in the wilderness of the flesh of his own son, in which situation his mind is so hard-pressed that there cannot be any talk of sweetness or pleasure [here]. When food is meditated upon, we see such wrongs [i.e. such ills].

"Next, the person meditates on the touch of food: "It is like an unskinned cow that gets eaten by innumerable worms."

"Next, the person thinks of food as being comparable to a great fire-ball, and consciousness of food as being like 300 halberds. When the wise person meditates on the four foods, there cannot be any entertaining of any image of having greed and enjoying food. If the person has any greed for food, he must meditate on the impurities. Why? This is to segregate himself from the love of greed. He must discriminate the images of impurities in all food and realise that all impurities obtain thus. When he meditates thus, and when good or bad food is spread out before his eyes, he feels as though ointment were being applied to his own carbuncles, gaining no thought of craving there any more.

"O good man! If any wise person comes to meditate thus, this is accomplishing the renunciation of the image of food."

Bodhisattva Kasyapa said to the Buddha: "O World-Honoured One! The wise person meditates on food and gains the image of impurity. Can this be a true meditation or one that is false? If it is true, whatever is partaken of cannot be impure. If this is a false understanding, how can one call this a root of good?"

The Buddha said: "Such an image is both true and also a false understanding. If the greed is thoroughly crushed out, it is one that is true. When what is not a worm is seen as a worm, this is a false understanding. O good man! All defilements are false, yet, they can be real. O good man! The mind of a bhiksu starts from begging and thinks: "I shall now beg for food. I pray that I shall gain what is good and not what is coarse and bad; let it be a lot and not a small amount. I pray that I shall gain it at once, that it will not be late in coming." Such a bhiksu is not called one who possesses the image of renunciation. The good things done will diminish day and night. What is evil will by degrees increase.

"O good man! If there is any bhiksu who begs for food, he must first pray and say: "I shall satisfy all those who beg for food. This giving of food will bring in immeasurable blessings. If I gain food, I shall heal the poisoned body, and I shall learn and practise what is good and give benefit to the person who gave." After he has vowed thus, the good he practises will increase day and night, and what is bad will hide away [retreat]. O good man! If any bhiksu practises the Way thus, such a one will not meaninglessly partake of what is given.

"O good man! The wise who are perfect in the four images will practise an image and think that there is nothing to please them, and they will think to themselves: "In all the world, there is no place where birth, old age, illness, and death do not exist. And there is no place where I do not get born. If there is no place where one finds no birth, old age, illness, and death, how can I be happy with the world? In all the world, one moves onwards and there is no place where one cannot come back. Hence, the world is definitely non-eternal. If it is non-eternal, how can a wise person feel happy? Every being goes around the world and minutely suffers and has joy. One may be blessed with the body of Brahma and attain such as the life of the thoughtlessness-and-non-thoughtlessness heaven. But when life ends, one gains life once again in the three unfortunate realms. One may gain the body of the four guardians of the earth, or that of the Paranirmitavasavartin, but when one's life ends, one falls again into the three unfortunate realms. Or one may get born as a lion, a tiger, a Chinese buffalo, a jackal, a wolf, an elephant, a horse, a cow, or a donkey."

"Next, the person meditates [thus]: "The Chakravartin may well reign over the four lands and can be gorgeous and unlimited [in his power]. But when his fortune departs, he will become poor and will feel the want of food and clothing." The wise person indeed deeply meditates thus and gains an image of the world as not a place where one can be happy.

"The wise person also meditates [thus]: "All the things of the world, such as horses, clothing, food and drink, bedding, medicine, incense and flowers, jewellery, the various kinds of music, treasures and gems are sought solely to segregate oneself from sorrow. All such things are based on sorrow. How can one hope to get out of sorrow through sorrow?" O good man! When a wise man thus meditates, he no longer entertains the thought of worldly things and gains [from them] any image of pleasure. O good man! For example, a man who is suffering from a serious illness will not greedily have any feeling for music, beautiful females, flowers and incense, and jewellery. Thus the wise man meditates.

"O good man! The wise man thinks deeply about the world. He sees: "It is not a place to take refuge in, to gain Emancipation, quietude, love, and it is not the other shore, and nothing of the Eternal, Bliss, the Self, and the Pure. If I greedily pursue the world, how can I segregate myself from it? This is as with a man who, abhorring the gloom, seeks the light and, yet, turns back again to the gloom. The gloom is the world; the light is the Supramundane. If I adhere to the world, I shall increase the gloom and part from the light. Gloom is ignorance, and light the brightness of Wisdom. The cause of the brightness of Wisdom is the image where one does not feel any sense of wanting to enjoy worldly things. All greed is nothing but the bond of defilement. I shall now avidly seek the light of Wisdom, and not the world." The wise person meditates thus. This is the image where one does not seek for one's own self. O good man! The wise person has already practised the image of not seeking worldly pleasures. Next, he practises the image of death. He sees this life. He sees that it is ever bound to innumerable enmities. Every moment sees a decrease, nothing increasing. It is like a mountain, where the rushing water cannot find any place to rest, or the morning frost that cannot long remain. It ever proceeds to the market-place of the prison house, only leading one to death. It is like taking a cow or sheep to where death awaits them." Bodhisattva Kasyapa said: "O World-Honoured One! How does a wise person meditate on momentary extinction?" "O good man! For example, there are four persons all skilled in archery. They forgather at a place, and each releases an arrow into a

[particular] direction. They all think: "We all release arrows together, which will all fall." And one person thinks: "Before the four arrows fall to the ground, I shall catch them with my hand." Thus does he think. O good man! Does this person act speedily or not?"

Bodhisattva Kasyapa said: "He does this in a speedy way, O World-Honoured One!"

The Buddha said: "O good man! The devil that lives on earth moves more quickly than this person does. There is a flying devil who goes faster than the one on the ground. The four guardians of the earth move still faster than the flying devil. The sun and moon and the heavenly gods move faster than the four guardians of the earth. The gyokenshitsuten [garuda] goes faster than the sun and moon. The life span of a human goes more quickly than the kenshitsuten. O good man! In one breath and in one wink, the life of a being comes about and dies 400 times. If a wise person meditates on human life thus, this is to meditate on momentary extinction.

"The wise man meditates [thus] on the life span: "It depends on Yama [ruler of the hells, who sends old age, sickness and death]. If I can get away from Yama, I shall eternally part from the non-eternal."

"Also, next, the wise person meditates on life and views it as a great tree standing on a cliff; or he sees it as one [would] who has committed a great deadly sin, whom no one ever pities while he is being punished. Or things are compared to a lion-king who faces a great famine, or a viper that breathes in fiery air, or a thirst-ridden horse who guards and begrudges water; or to the anger of a great devil about to explode. So do things stand with the king of death in relation to beings. O good man! If a wise person meditates thus, this is to learn and practise the image of death." 

"O good man! The wise person also meditates [thus]: "I now renounce. Even if I only get life for seven days and nights, I shall make effort therein. I shall be true to the moral precepts, and I shall deliver sermons and bestow benefit upon beings." This is how the wise person learns and practises the image of death.

"And he makes seven days and nights more than enough. "Or if I gain only six, five, four, three, two days, or one day, or one hour, or one moment in which I breathe in and out, I shall make effort and practise the Way, uphold and protect the precepts, deliver sermons, teach the Way, and bestow benefit upon beings." This is how the wise person meditates on the image of death.

"When the wise person is perfect in the six images, this becomes the cause of the seven images. What are the seven? They are:  1) always practising the images,  2) feeling joy in practising? ?the images,  3) the image of non-anger,  4) the image of not being jealous,  5) the image of seeking good,  6) the image of not being proud, and  7) being unmolested [unrestricted] in samadhi.

"O good man! If a bhiksu is perfect in these seven images, such a person is a sramana or a Brahmin. This is quietude, purity, and Emancipation. This is one who is wise, and this is the right view. This is arrival at the other shore, and a great doctor, and a great merchant, and this is how we gain the secret bosom of the Tathagata.

"Also, this is being versed in the seven kinds of words of all Buddhas, and also cutting off the web of doubt regarding what exists there in the seven kinds of words of right seeing.

"O good man! If a person is perfect in the six images stated above, that person truly reproves and renounces, and extinguishes, and does not love the three worlds [of Desire, Form, and Formlessness]. This is how we speak of a wise person who is perfect in the ten images. If a bhiksu is perfect in the ten images, this means that he indeed praises the characteristics of a sramana."

Then, Bodhisattva Kasyapa applauded the Buddha in a gatha in his presence:

"The Great Doctor who pities the world is serene in both body and Wisdom.

“In the world of the non-Self, there is the True Self.

Hence, I pay homage to the Unsurpassed One.

The mind that first aspires to [Enlightenment] and the end attained are not separate.

Of these two minds, it is difficult to say which comes first.

The end not yet attained, one saves others first.

That is why I pay homage to the initial aspiration.

From the first, he is the teacher of humans and gods

And is far above sramanas and pratyekabuddhas.

Such an aspiration transcends the three worlds.

That is why he is the most superior.

He seeks to save the world and gains the end.

Unasked, the Tathagata becomes the refuge.

The Buddha follows the world like a calf,

So we call him the greatly compassionate cow.

The virtue of the Tathagata towers above all the world.

Common mortals are low and ignorant and cannot appraise him.

I now praise the compassionate heart,

Which is to thank him for the two actions of body and mouth.

The eternal and bliss of the world obtain only for one's own good.

The Tathagata never does this.

He truly cuts off the karmic results of all beings.

Hence, I give respect to actions that help one's own self and others.

The benefiting of the world follows the grade of befriending,

Calling forth different benefits.

The good works of the Tathagata know of no animosity or befriending.

The thought of the Tathagata does not proceed as with people of the world.

Hence, his heart works equally

And there are not two [i.e. no division within him].

The world speaks variously and its actions differ.

The Tathagata acts as he says and his actions do not differ.

Whatever is practised fully cuts off all [defilements].

Hence, we call him Tathagata.

Before, he is aware of the ills of defilement.

He speaks and acts as he speaks, all for the sake of beings.

It is long since he attained Emancipation in the world,

And he seeks to live amidst birth and death, all for compassion's sake.

He manifests himself in the worlds of humans and gods,

But his compassion follows him like a calf.

The Tathagata is the mother of beings.

His compassionate heart is the little calf.

Himself undergoing pains, he only thinks of the beings.

Working in Compassion, no repentance is there in him.

Overflowing is he with Compassion, and he knows no hardships.

That is why I bow to him, the one who extracts pain.

Innumerable are the works of good which the Tathagata performs,

Yet he is pure in deeds bodily, oral, and mental.

He always acts for the sake of beings, but not for his own sake.

That is why I bow to his pure actions.

The Tathagata suffers from hardships and he feels it not.

He looks upon the pains of the beings as he does the pains of his own son.

He lives in hell for the sake of beings,

But he has no thought of pain or regret.

All beings experience different pains,

All of which are those of his single Self.

Having attained the light, his heart is firm.

Thus does he practise well the unsurpassed Way.

The Buddha has a great compassionate heart of one taste,

And pities beings as though they were his children.

Beings do not know that the Tathagata truly saves.

And they slander the Tathagata, Dharma, and Sangha.

The world is full of defilement, and there are innumerable ills.

But all such fetters of defilement and sins and ills

The Tathagata broke out of at his first stage of aspiration.

Only him, the Buddha, do all Buddhas praise.

Other than the Buddha, there is none who is praised.

I now with one single Dharma praise him.

The so-called compassionate heart travels the world.

The Tathagata is a great ball of Dharma,

And his Compassion also truly saves beings.

This is true Emancipation; Emancipation is Great Nirvana."