Nirvana Sutra

Appreciation of the "Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra"

The "Nirvana Sutra" Continued (Z17)

The king said: "All you great ones! What has stirred you up, so that you now become mad and unsettled like great waves of water, or like circles of flame, or like monkeys who throw themselves across the trees? This is a shame. If the wise hear of this, they will pity you. If the ignorant hear of this, they will laugh at you. What you say is not appropriate for any world-fleeing person. If you are suffering from the illness of wind or from the yellow-water pox, I have medicine for all of this. I shall cure you. If it comes from any illness of a devil, my family man [family doctor], Jivaka [a famous doctor in the royal household of Ajatasatru], will thoroughly do away with it. All of you now intend to srape Mount Sumeru with your hands and nails, or to try to chew and gnaw on a diamond.

"O all of you great ones! This is like an ignorant person wanting to awaken a sleeping lion-king at a time when the lion is feeling hungry; or like trying to touch the mouth of a viper with one's finger; or like playing with the embers that lie under the ashes. This is the situation with you now. This is like a wild fox wishing to imitate a lion's roar, or a mosquito competing in speed with a garuda [swift, mythical bird]. It is like a hare desiring to cross the sea and plumb its depths. You, too, are now like this. If you are dreaming of a victory over Gautama, such a dream is one that is fanatical [fantastical]. It is not worth believing in. O you great ones! You now think thus. This is like a flying moth that throws itself into a fire ball. Take my word! Do not say any more! You say that I am fair and am like a pair of scales. But do not let anything like this reach the ears of other persons."

Then the tirthikas said: "O great King! The sorcery of Gautama will be such that, when it appears before you, it will make the mind of the great King not doubt the words of these holy ones. O great King! Please do not despise the great ones. O great King! Who gave the knowledge of the waxing and waning of the moon, the saltiness of the water of the great sea, and of Mount Malaya? Is all this not the work of the Brahmins? O great King! Did you not hear that the rishi, Gautama, performed a miracle, so that for 12 long years he transformed himself into the carnal body of the Sakya, and made the body of the Sakya like that of a ram and made 1,000 valvas  which were made to remain in the body of the Sakya? O great King! Have you not heard that the sishi, Jatukarna, drank in one day the waters of the four seas, so that the earth all became dry? O great King! Have you not heard that the rishi, Vasu, became a Mahesvara and had three eyes? O great King! Have you not heard that the rishi, Aradakalama, changed Garapu Castle into earth? O great King! The Brahmins have such men of great power. You can easily check the facts. O great King! Why do you so belittle them?"

The king said: "All of you! If you do not believe what I tell you, the Tathagata, the Right-Enlightened one, is now in the forest of sal trees. You may go and question or reprove him as you will. The Tathagata too will see you and for your sake will explain things in detail and answer your questions."

Then King Ajatasatru went to the Buddha, together with the tirthikas and with his own retinue. He prostrated himself on the ground, and walked around the Buddha three times. Having paid his homage, he drew back and took his seat on one side and said to the Buddha: "These tirthikas desire to put questions to you in their own way. Will you be so good as to answer them?"

The Buddha said: "O great King! Wait! I know when I must."

Then, amongst those who were present, there was a Brahmin, Jataishuna by name. He said: "O Gautama! Do you state that Nirvana is that which is eternal?" 

"It is thus, it is thus, O great Brahmin!"

The Brahmin said: "You say that Nirvana is eternal. But this is not the case. Why not? What obtains in the world is that from a seed comes about the fruit. This continues, and there is no disruption. This is as with a pot, which comes about from the earth and from thread cloth. You, Gautama, always say: "When one practises the image of the non-eternal, one arrives at Nirvana." You also say, Gautama: "When one makes away with desire and greed, this is Nirvana. When one does away with the greed of the body [“rupa”] and non-body, this is Nirvana. When one has made away with the defilement of ignorance, this is Nirvana." All that goes from desire up to the defilement of ignorance is non-eternal. If the cause is non-eternal, the Nirvana that comes about [from it] must also be non-eternal. You, Gautama, also say: "Through cause comes about birth in heaven; through cause one gains hell, and through cause emancipation. Thus, all things come about from causes." If Emancipation results from a cause, how can one call it eternal?

"Also you, Gautama, say: "Form [“rupa”] comes about from causal relations. Hence, non-eternal. So is it also with feeling, perception, volition, and consciousness." If Emancipation is form, know that what there is [here] is non-eternal. So does it also stand with feeling, perception, volition, and consciousness. If there is any Emancipation away from the five skandhas, that Emancipation is Void. If it is Void, we cannot say that things come from causal relations. Why not? Because eternity is one and pervades everywhere. You, Gautama, also say that what comes about from causation is suffering. If it is suffering, how can we say that Emancipation is Bliss?

"O Gautama! And you say that the non-eternal is suffering and that suffering is non-Self. If non-eternal, suffering, and non-Self, what there is is the non-pure. What does not come from cause must be non-eternal, suffering, non-Self, and non-pure. How can we say that Nirvana is the Eternal, Bliss, the Self, and the Pure? O Gautama! If one states: eternal and non-eternal, suffering and bliss, the Self and the non-Self, pure and non-pure - are these not two terms? I once heard from the aged and wise that: "If any Buddha appears in the world, he does not speak any double words." You Gautama now speak of two words and say: "And the Buddha is my own carnal self." What do you mean by this?"

The Buddha said: "O Brahmin! I shall now ask you about what you say. Answer just as you think!"

The Brahmin said: "Well said, Gautama!"

The Buddha said: "Is your nature eternal or non-eternal?"

The Brahmin said: "My nature is eternal."

"O Brahmin! Does this nature become a cause of things within and without?"

"That is so, Gautama."

The Buddha said: "O Brahmin! How does it become the cause?"

"O Gautama! From nature comes about "great"; from great, arrogance; from arrogance, 16 things, which are:  1) earth, water, fire, wind, and space;  2) the five sense-organs, which are: eye, ear, nose, tongue, and touch;  3) the five acting organs, which are: hand, foot, voice, the two sexual organs of male and female;  4) the all-equal sense-organs of mind. These 16 things come about from five things, which are: colour, sound, smell, taste, and touch. These 21 things have three root qualities, which are:  1) defiling,  2) coarse, and  3) black. The defiling is craving; the coarse is anger; and black is ignorance. O Gautama! These 25 things come about from nature."

"O Brahmin! Are these things that are great, etc., eternal or non-eternal?"

"O Gautama! The dharma nature that I speak about is eternal. All things, beginning with "great", are non-eternal."

"O Brahmin! From what you say, it seems that according to you the cause is eternal and the fruit non-eternal. Now, what wrong could there be when I say that the cause is non-eternal, but the result is eternal? O Brahmin! Are there two causes in what you speak of?"

The reply came back: "Yes! There are."

The Buddha said: "What are the two?"

The Brahmin said: "One is cause by birth and the other is the revealing cause."

The Buddha said: What is cause by birth and what the revealing cause?"

The Brahmin said: "The cause by birth may be likened to the earth from which comes about a pot; the revealing cause is like a lamp that shines upon a thing."

The Buddha said: "Of these two kinds of cause, is the nature of the cause one? If it is one, cause by birth may well turn out to be the revealing cause, and the revealing cause may turn into cause by birth. Is this not so?"

"No, O Gautama!"

The Buddha said: "I say that Nirvana is attained from the non-eternal, but it is not non-eternal. O Brahmin! When we gain it through the revealing cause, we gain the Eternal, Bliss, the Self, and the Pure. When we see it from the standpoint of cause by birth, we gain the non-eternal, non-birth, non-Self, and non-Pure. That is why the Tathagata speaks in two ways. There can be no such two words. That is why we say that the Tathagata does not have two words. You say that you once heard from wise people who are now gone that: "The Buddha appears in the world and he does not speak any two words." This is all very well. What is said by all Buddhas of the ten directions and of the Three Times does not differ. That is why we say that the Buddha does not have any two words [i.e. differing statements].

"How do they not differ? What is "is" is declared as "is"; whatever is "is-not" is stated to be "is-not". Hence, one meaning. O Brahmin! The Tathagata-World-Honoured One says two things. This is but to reveal one word. How do two words come to reveal one? It is as in the case of the two words of "eye" and "form", which call forth the one word of "living consciousness". So does it obtain with mind and dharma."

The Brahmin said: "O Gautama! You well grasp the meanings of such words. I do not yet gain the meaning that two words are one."

Then the World-Honoured One spoke of the Four Truths. "O Brahmin! We speak of the "Truth of Suffering", which is two and also one. This applies all the way down to the Truth of the Way, which again is two and also one."

The Brahmin said: "O World-Honoured One! I now see."

The Buddha said: "In what way do you see?"

"O World-Honoured One! We say "Truth of Suffering". All common mortals see two things. But with the holy persons, what there is is one. So is it with the Truth of the Way, too."

The Buddha said: "Well said! You see well."

The Brahmin said: "O World-Honoured One! I have now heard Dharma and gained the right view. I shall now take refuge in the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. I pray that you will admit me into your Order."

Then the World-Honoured One said to Kaundinya: "You now shave this Jadaishuna and admit him into the Order."

Then Kaundinya, by order of the Buddha, shaved [Jadaishuna]. When this was done, there were two fallings: one of hair, and the other of defilement. And at that instant, he attained arhatship.

Also, there was a Brahmacarin called Vasistha, who said: "O Gautama! Is the Nirvana you speak of eternal?"

"It is so, O Brahmacarin!"

Vasistha said: "O Gautama! When there is no defilement, do you not call this Nirvana?"

"It is thus, O Brahmacarin!"

Vasistha said: "There are four instances where we say "not-is". These are:  1) a thing which has not yet come about. This is a not-is. This is as in the case of a pot when it has not yet come out of the mud. And we say that there is no pot;  2) whatever has gone is called "not-is". This is as in the case of a broken pot. At such a time, we say that there is no pot;  3) whatever does not exist in things that are different in nature, when we say is-not, as in the case of a cow, in which there is nothing of a horse, and in that of a horse, in which there is no cow;  4) when nothing exists in any circumstances whatsoever, as in the case of the hair of a tortoise or the horns of a hare. O good man! If Nirvana is that which is when defilement is done away with, Nirvana is a "not-is". If so, how can we say that there are the Eternal, Bliss, the Self, and the Pure?"

The Buddha said: "O good man! Nirvana as such is not like a pot that did not exist when as yet in the mud. Also, it is not like the "not-is" of extinction, or the not-is of a pot that is broken. Also, it is not the not-is if the absolute not-is, as in the case of the hair of a tortoise or the horns of a hare; nor is it the not-is of that which is different by nature.

"O good man! You can say that there is no horse in a cow. But you cannot say: "There is no cow." There is no cow in a horse, but you cannot say: "There is no horse." So does it also obtain with Nirvana. There is no Nirvana in defilement, and no defilement in Nirvana. So, we say that different things do not mutually possess each other."

Vasistha said: "O Gautama! If you say that Nirvana is what does not exist in what is other, this will entail your saying that the Eternal, Bliss, Self, and the Pure do not exist in the noneness  of a different thing.  O Gautama! How can you say that there are the Eternal, Bliss, the Self, and the Pure?"

The Buddha said: "There are three nonenesses in what you say. The case of the cow and the horse is what was not before, but what is. This is what was not before. What was, but what is not [any longer], is what comes about when a thing breaks up. The non-is by way of difference is as you say. O good man! We do not find these three kinds of not-is in Nirvana. Therefore, Nirvana is the Eternal, Bliss, Self, and the Pure. This is as as with one who is ill, [where there is either]:  1) fever,  2) illness from wind, or  3) cold. These can well be cured by the three kinds of medicine. A person suffering from fever can be well cured by butter; one suffering from wind can be cured by oil; and a person who is suffering from a cold can indeed be cured by honey. These three kinds of medicine can indeed cure the three kinds of evil illnesses. O good man! In wind, there is no oil, and in oil no wind; or in honey, there is no cold, and in the cold there is no honey. Therefore, a cure indeed results. It is the same with all beings, too. They have three illnesses, which are:  1) greed,  2) ill-will, and  3) ignorance. Three kinds of medicine will cure these three illnesses. Meditation upon impurity will act as a medicine against desire; that on loving-kindness will act as medicine against ill-will; that on the knowledge of causal relations will act against ignorance.

"O good man! In order to make away with desire, one meditates on non-desire; to make away with ill-will, the meditation upon non-ill-will is performed; to make away with ignorance, one meditates on non-ignorance. In the three illnesses we do not have the three kinds of medicine, and in the three kinds of medicine we do not have the three kinds of illness. O good man! As there are not the three kinds of medicine in the three kinds of illness, this is the non-eternal, non-Self, non-bliss, and non-pure. In the three kinds of medicine there are not the three types of illness. Hence, the Eternal, Bliss, the Self, and the Pure."

Vasistha said: "O World-Honoured One! You, the Tathagata, explain to me about the eternal and the non-eternal. What is the eternal, and what is the non-eternal?"

The Buddha said: "O good man! Form is non-eternal, and emancipation from form is the Eternal. And consciousness is non-eternal, and emancipation from consciousness is the Eternal. O good man! If there is any good man or woman who can well see that form down to consciousness are non-eternal, know that such a person can well attain what is Eternal."

Vasistha said: "O World-Honoured One! I have now truly come to know the Eternal and the non-eternal."

The Buddha said: "O good man! How do you know the Eternal and the non-eternal?"

Vasistha said: "I now know that self and form are non-eternal and that Emancipation is Eternal. So is it with [the skandhas] down to consciousness."

"O good man! You now well repay to this carnal body what you owe." To Kaundinya, he said: "This Vasistha has now attained the fruition of arhatship. Give him the three clothes [robes] and a bowl."

Then Kaundinya gave the clothes as instructed by the Buddha. Then, on receiving the robes and bowl, Vasistha said: "O Kaundinya, greatly virtuous one! I have now gained upon this carnal body of mine a great karmic reward. Please, O greatly virtuous one, condescend to go to the Buddha and report in detail what has transpired with me. This evil body of mine has touched and defiled the Tathagata and now adopts his family name of Gautama. Please report on my behalf and say that I now repent of my evil self. I, also, cannot have this body of mine long in life. I shall now enter Nirvana."

Then Kaundinya went to the Buddha and said: "O World-Honoured One! The bhiksu Vasistha repents and says: "Obstinate fool that I was, I touched the body of the Tathagata and am now one of his group [following]. I cannot have this viperous body of mine staying long in the world." He now desires to make away with this body and comes to me and repents."

The Buddha said: "O Kaundinya! Vasistha has long amassed virtue at the places of innumerable Buddhas. Having now been taught by me, he is rightly abiding in the Way. Abiding rightly in the Way, he has arrived at the right fruition. You should make offerings to his carnal self."

Kaundinya, thus directed by the Buddha, went to where the person lived and made offerings. Then, Vasistha, at the time of his cremation, performed many a divine miracle. All the tirthikas saw this and said aloud: "This Vasistha has acquired sorcery at the place of Sramana Gautama."