Nirvana Sutra

Appreciation of the "Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra"

Readers' Comments and Experiences

     This is a page where readers who feel some kind of positive connection with the Mahaparinirvana Sutra or its teachings -  or who have had an experience which relates in a positive way to the sutra's doctrines - can freely submit those ideas and/or experiences, and I shall try to post those messages here. I promise to withhold your identity and respect your anonymity, if that is what you desire. Please write to me (Tony) at: 

 svabhava77@yahoo.co.uk

Thank you!

1) We begin with a moving message (received on 27 May 2006) from a spiritual seeker who many decades back had a genuine mystical experience which confirms what the Nirvana Sutra teaches on the sense of security and absence of all fear which characterise connection with the Buddha-Self. Here are the correspondent's words:

 

"Dr. Tony Page,
 
Arrived at your translation of the "Nirvana Sutra" on www.nirvanasutra.org.uk, and read these words: ""It is not fearful anxiety, nor is it security, but separated from all fearful anxiety, it is security."
These words took me back to a dormitory in a preparatory school in Surrey in 1937, one month or so before my 8th birthday. It was the middle of the night, completely dark, and there was fearful anxiety, great distress; caused by the dictatorship of another young boy who had taken control of the dormitory with his friends: nobody was allowed to speak, or go to the toilet, or do anything, without the permission of the small dictator. So, during the nights of my first three weeks at that school, until sleep intervened, I was lying absolutely still in my bed. Away from home for the first time, a great suffering in addition to the fear of the little dictator.
Suddenly, all the terrible anxiety had gone; replaced by blissful tranquility; darkness replaced by extraordinary light; sensation of body absent: "The Self is pure, the pure is bliss." (Miscellaneous Quotations from the Nirvana Sutra).
There was real security !
Afterwards, it came to mind that that was my real home.
 
I first learned of the Nirvana Sutra, very recently,  from Wikipedia. Eventually, after entering "Tathagata-garbha" into the AOL search program, stumbled into your translation of the Nirvana Sutra.
Initially, there had been Christmas Humphreys' Buddhism, the Buddhist Bible by an American, and, later,  the Chinese Ch'an Masters; plus the guidance of a Javanese Sufi Master during the 60's and early 70's  (he had Ch'an Buddhist and Sufi "disciples")
It has been wonderful to relate extracts of the Nirvana Sutra to that experience in 1937.
There have been other happenings of that nature throughout this life. But reading those extracts of your translation of the Nirvana Sutra has clarified the first one. 
 
"The Dharma which the Buddhas have taught is most excellent and superlative. Because of this Dharma, even ordinary beings are able to attain the result in the present."
 
Please take good care of yourself. - M.S."
 
 
Comment: This is a wonderfully touching yet reassuring account of how entry into the Self allows us to transcend the physical body and the fear and anxiety to which excessive identification with our physical being can tie us. The quotes which the writer includes in the above message relate to "Dharma" (Buddhic Truth), as presented in the Nirvana Sutra. We should also valuably notice the imagery of darkness defeated and light all-manifest. The presence of a great peace is also significant. Such experiences are wholly in harmony with the revelations of the Nirvana Sutra -  and I am grateful to the correspondent for taking the time to share this inspirational and uplifting experience with us.
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2) Here is a beautiful letter (received on 6 July 2006) from Thomas in Australia, who expresses how the Mahaparinirvana Sutra has given him a sense of Buddhism become whole and complete. Thomas writes:
 
"In Gratitude
 
  Dear Dr Page,
  I literally stumbled onto your website without even prior knowledge of its
  existence.
  I had been reading and trying to practice Buddhism based on different 
  teachings
  by various Buddhist groups. Alas, I always felt that there was something
  missing. Personally it felt like a hole in the heart of my spiritual 
  practice.
  Simply by reading the name of the sutra "Maha Parinirvana" brought with it
  a sense of peace and stillness. I knew simply by reading the title that I
  had come home after such a long absence. I also felt that all the sutras
  prior to the Maha Nirvana would all become more clear. I explained to 
  someone
  that all the sutras were as rivers which emptied into the great ocean of
  Parinirvana. Since then I have been reciting a personal prayer (mantra) 
  "Namu
  Maha Parinirvana Svaha". It comforts me and reassures me in spite of the
  chaos, conflict and confusion in life. It connects me with a power both 
  within
  and without, which sustains me.

 With sincere gratitude,
Thomas Sequoia, Sydney, Australia."
 
Comment: thank you so much, Thomas, for this wonderful messsage. It is very likely that you have had contact with the arya Mahaparinirvana Sutra in a past life -  or at least with very similar teachings: that is why you immediately felt an infusion of peace into your soul and a sense of returning home. These are very good and positive signs. Also, the chanting or speaking (or inwardly intoning) of the name "Mahaparinirvana" is said by the Buddha to bring happiness to those who practise it. You have intuitively hit upon a valuable meditative practice, which can (I believe) bring you closer to the realm of the Buddha and Nirvana. Both are ONE, and both are within you, as well as all around you -  as you say. Love of this sutra and delight in its very name will surely create a magnificent foundation for future spiritual advancement  - into many future incarnations (which can be used to help others through such teachings and practices). Thank you for your adoration of the great Mahaparinirvana Sutra and for realising that this noble scripture constitutes much of the "heart and soul" of Authentic Dharma. Every happiness to you in your entry into this Buddha-dhatu (Buddha-sphere). From Tony.

 

3) A very fine piece of argumentation follows, against the nihilistically inclined Madhyamaka approach to Buddhism, in which everything is reduced ultimately to nothingness or conditioned process and morality has no essential place. This e-mail was received on 14 August 2006 and was entitled, "The Madhyamaka Miasma":

 

"Hi Tony:

I think I mentioned to you that I was involved in discussions with a Tibetan
practitioner, a budding scholar who knows Tibetan, regarding Madhyamaka.  We
agreed to wade through Chandrakirti's Madhyamaka Avatara.  We finally had to
cut short our planned discussion.  We were just so far apart. At times it
seemed that we disagreed on every single line.  We agreed it was better to
remain friends than pursue this.  (The heart is wiser than the mind.)

What struck me about our discussions was that my friend wouldn't really
admit that the Madhyamaka works, e.g. Nagarjuna and Chandrakirti, really say
what they are saying.  He always had this kind of softening gloss which
turned them into something much less harsh.  I felt that he was engaging in
amazing somersaults, convoluted distortions of the actual intentions.  His
view was that he was speaking from the Tibetan tradition and they wouldn't
make these kinds of thing up.

But what I learned from this exchange is that few people are really able to
read Madhyamaka works plainly and actually admit the desolate conclusions
that these works offer.  Instead, they sort of dance around and conclude
that they couldn't really mean what they say.

Here's an example: at one point Chadrakirti critiques basic Buddhist Ethics
by saying that good acts and bad acts equally obscure emptiness.  I pointed
out that this is directly contrary to the Buddha's teaching on ethics, runs
counter to the Fourth Noble truth, and furthermore denies the efficacy of
cause and effect.  I elaborate with analogies, that such a view would be
like saying that getting drunk and practicing one's scales are equally
conducive to musicianship; or that overeating and exercize are equally
conducive to athletic performance.  What I was trying to impart was that the
Buddha's teachings on ethics are grounded in causation and are not simply arbitrary. But since Madhyamaka denies cause and effect, that brings up
another region of difficulty.

In any case, my friend responded by saying that all things have the same
nature and that this is what Chandrakirti was pointing to.  I responded by
saying that this is to confuse nature and function.  It is true that all
things have the same nature, but that does not mean that one would equally
want to eat a plate of pasta and a plate of broken glass.  Pasta and glass
have the same nature (ontological status), but they do not have the same
function.  To ignore function, as Chandrakrit does, is to ignore an aspect
of existence which the Buddha was keenly aware of.

Needless to say, we could not get past our disagreements.

In any case, it was a good exercise of my mind and clarified many points for
me.  Madhyamka is such a deadend.  It is truly the negation of any
possibility of realization.

Remember I told you about a student of mine who is going over your
Nirvana
Sutra
sections; well, he's told a number of other people.  They really love
it!!  I encourage them, of course.

There is a Heart at the void of the world and no matter how much the
nihilists try to deny it, the slightest contact with it assures people of
its compassionate and responsive presence.  May all beings awaken to the
Heart at the void of the world.

Best wishes,

E. F. from California."

 

Comment: Thank you very much for this very important message. You are absolutely right: it is precisely this risk of reducing all things - goodness and malevolence, wholesome actions and devilish actions, the Tathagatagarbha and transient worldy things -  to the same meaningless mush that sutras such as the Mahaparinirvana Sutra and the other Tathagatagarbha sutras are greatly at pains to warn against and eliminate. Kindly and altruistic action, if performed chiefly out of friendliness and compassion towards others, is vital if we are to see our True Self. Such action does not obscure, but reveals. Because Kindliness and Compassion are of the very nature of the True Self. But if there is no ultimate, immutable Essence of Goodness and Love at the heart of the world, and if, moreover, people are mere illusions with nothing of indestructibility and eternity about them (the Madhyamaka position), then there is no logical moral reason why one should not go out and murder a few people who get in the way of one's desires, rape a few men and women whom one lusts after, injure and slaughter masses of animals to no good end (vivisectors and abattoir workers do this routinely on a daily basis, of course!), smash up Tibet (who cares? It's only a temporary assembly of ever-changing parts and skandhas - so just accept that change is the Law -  and let's impose murderous regimes on the Tibetan people if it gives pleasure to the ones with the power -  none of it really matters - it's all going to change again one day anyway ...). Yes! Taking out, as you say, the very Heart from Reality -  the deathless and loving Buddha, who is our true nature and our destined self-aware identity - turns the whole spiritual quest into a sick farce; indeed, it turns "spirituality" into a form of pseudo-spiritual materialism. So your instincts strike me as very sound. It is the blissful and loving Being of Buddha (Buddha-kaya) which gives everything meaning and purpose, as that is the Goal, the home, the sanctuary within ourselves towards which our spiritual practice as Buddhists should be leading us. And that goal is not just, selfishly, for ourselves -  but for all humans, animals, devas, ghosts, hell-sufferers and even belligerent demons (does one not recognise them operating on a huge scale in the world today?). The purpose of Tathagatagarbha Buddhism is to use appropriate means to bring all beings to a realisation of the immortal, compassionate Essence which they embody and which they share, immutably, with all other persons and creatures. Once that Essence is correctly understood (the sutras indicate), Emptiness is experienced to mean the total spaciousness and freedom of being unconfined by physical and mental limitations, unobstructed by negativity, being "embodied" in all-embracing Loving-kindness and Knowledge. We cannot "touch" those ultimate attributes of the Buddha -  they seem "empty" - and yet they are the highest Reality. I think it is that Truth, E. F., to which you are pointing. And yes: friendship is the right way -  rather than vicious internecine mutual savaging in "debate". Of course, friendliness does not mean that we do not strive to communicate what we perceive as (and what the Buddha states is) Authentic Dharma. It is then up to the listener/ recipient to accept or reject the Buddha's words. That should not shake our own conviction of the rightness of what the Buddha teaches. But if we lose basic benevolence, even towards icchantikas, we lose potential vision of our Soul. Many thanks again for an especially eloquent and instructive, well-argued e-mail. Every best wish to you. From Tony.

 

4) A truly heartfelt and insightful message now from Thomas in Australia. This message was received on 17 August 2006:

 

Hello Tony,

            I have recently been emailing with John Paraskevopoulos (Shin Buddhist) whom I believe will be meeting up with you in the very near future. I had emailed him with a request to convey my sincere regards and respect to you. In the last few months I have been looking for a Dharma practise, which I can use as a platform to express faith and devotion. By encountering the Arya Mahaparinirvana it has led me towards the Shin Pureland practice. Whilst sitting on the bus  going to work I read the Pureland Sutras and at work during lunch or a short break I read the Mahaparinirvana. When I visualise the Mahaparinirvana I see a vast ocean, which has no bounds. I stand on its shores (created for my benefit) and I know that Shakyamuni stands beside me, reassuring me. Having come from fours years of pseudo-Buddhist practice with a group that denounce Shakyamuni as provisional and expedient and who furthermore regard Amida Buddha as useless if not corrupt, I have had to struggle to remove these taints of distorted dharmas and establish new dharma roots within my life. My gratitude to Shakyamuni Buddha and to you (which can never be exhausted!)  for bringing this great teaching into the world.

What I have learnt from my negative experiences with some Buddhist groups is not to rely on a teaching or point of view simply because a person is regarded as a spiritual master or saint.

What I have also learnt is that no sutra can be disconnected and isolated from the other sutras of Shakyamuni; to do so is incorrect.

All of Shakyamuni's teachings are inter-connected like the bodies of human beings. With veins, muscles, bones all serving a purpose and all essential within their own capacity and function. Coming from a group who assumed that the Lotus Sutra was supreme and all other sutras should be disregarded. It was wonderful to learn that Shakyamuni considered the Mahaparinirvana as the pinnacle of pinnacles. I don't think many people know this.

The Mahaparinirvana is vast and I am like a dust mite attempting to climb Mount Everest. What I have also learnt is that comprehending any or all of the sutras is not sufficient if I have not cultivated compassion and wisdom. St Paul in the Christian gospels states this clearly when he wrote "If a man should gain the whole world but has no love in his heart, he has gained nothing".

Shakyamuni states in the Pureland Sutras that striving to be reborn in the Pureland of Amida will allow one to study all the dharmas unhindered by my own negative karma. As hard as I strive using self-power, it seems that for every step I take forward, it is followed by three steps back!

I am on the edge of that vast unhindered ocean with a foot raised and ready to enter into that Pureland of  Other Power.

 

Namu Arya Mahaparinirvana Svaha

Namu Amida Buddha Svaha

Namu Shakyamuni Svaha

Namu Sangha-Tony Page Svaha.

 

Respectfully,

Thomas, Australia

 

 

Comment: Thomas, you are absolutely correct! All of the Buddha's sutras are highly valuable and should be viewed as presentations of Truth from varying angles. Major scriptures such as the Mahaparinirvana Sutra, the Tathagatagarbha Sutra, the Avatamsaka Sutra, the Surangama Sutra, and the Lotus Sutra are especially precious, as they contain highly advanced teachings which encompass virtually all of the Buddha's Dharma in toto (whereas some of the smaller sutras are perhaps a little more focussed on one issue). But it is true that "all Dharma is of one flavour", and if one truly tastes and experiences the flavour of one sutra to the fullest extent, one will know something of the flavour of all the Buddha's sutras. As you so beautifully say, they are all organically linked -  like the limbs and life-force of one great organism. But for "Nirvana Sutra Buddhists", the Mahaparinirvana Sutra is the head, the sutric summit of all Dharmic Truth. It embraces and gives the final explanation for much of the teaching of the other texts.

 

     You are right again, in my view, Thomas: we should not yield our own carefully considered judgements and intuitions to any alleged Masters or saints, if those latter seem to distort what the Buddha in the sutras insists upon. A person might be a highly respected Buddhist scholar or monk, and yet he or she can still come out with statements that the Buddha in the Tathagatagarbha sutras would disown and reject as "upside-down". An example of this would be if some such respected monk or scholar were to say that even the Buddha is gripped by the processes of impermanence and does not endure immutably forever. For Tathagatagarbha Buddhism, such a claim is the ultimate "heresy"!

 

     Yes, "Self"-power is ultimately one-with "Other-power". We need the two. They are not really separate. Ultimately, our devotion to the Buddha (Amitabha, Shakyamuni, or whichever Buddha -  the Essence is all One) means that we are connecting to the Buddha Force or Buddha Spirit (the Buddha-dhatu) within our own being. By submitting in love and veneration to the Buddha we are actually allowing the deepest depths of our own being to guide us closer towards Nirvana. So "Other-power" is really "Self-power", and "Self-power" is really "Other-power", depending on how one looks at it. The ego cannot get us very far at all -  so we call upon "Other"-power to help us; and that "Other" is our "True Self", which is the Tathagata in the purest depths of our mind. It is wonderful how the two overlap, isn't it?

 

     Thank you for your kind comments regarding myself. But I don't really deserve them. Believe me, I am very much an imperfect seeker, with strong sensual kleshas still; but I am sincerely trying to advance in the right direction and to help others a little along the journey, if I can ...

 

    Please continue to give your worship and veneration to Amitabha and Shakyamuni, and let the words of the great sutras be your inspiration. Even one profound sentence or mantra from them can last you a lifetime and be your "spiritual friend".

 

     Kindest thoughts to you in the Authentic Dharma. And thank you again for your most worthwhile comments. From Tony.

 

**********************************************************

 

And now a very valuable message from an insightful Buddhist practitioner in Pittsburgh, USA (received 19 November 2007), who has successfully fused the teachings of Nagarjuna with those of the great Mahaparinirvana Sutra:

 

 

"Dear Dr. Page,

Thank you so much for your insightful reply. I have pressed on with my reading of MPNS, continued zazen and reflected on Nagarjuna. I believe I have realized something of importance which I share with you.

Nagarjuna’s Teaching:

The dharma taught by the Buddhas
Hinges on two truths:
Partial truths of the world
And truths which are sublime.
Without knowing how they differ,
You cannot know the deep;
Without relying on conventions,
You cannot disclose the sublime;
Without intuiting the sublime,
You cannot experience freedom.

My understanding:

Emptiness (convention) requires Non-emptiness (sublime)—the Two truths, since the doctrine of emptiness demands that all things originate interdependently. If emptiness stands independently apart (not interdependently) then emptiness is not empty but instead emptiness itself becomes non-empty (absolute). The statement could be made in reverse: Non-emptiness requires emptiness. This is the same as saying the sublime can only be known by traveling a conventional path. The self is thus empty but the SELF is non-empty. The self (the ego concept...thoughts about SELF) is a reflection (as in a mirror) of SELF (non-concept—Buddha-dhatu). When the ego self (non-real) falls away, SELF (reality—Buddha) appears. What seems like two realities is actually ONE reality since conceptual self is an unreal illusion. In a curious way the ego is the path to enlightenment. Unless we first become aware of illusion it is impossible to become aware of what is real (they are partners). When the monkey tries to grasp the reflection of the moon in the water the moon is not caught. Freedom is catching the moon, not the reflection.

Wondrous awareness! 
Bodhi svâhâ.

Gassho

John
 
P.S. I have just ordered a second copy of MPNS for our sangha. It is vitally important and I am deeply grateful to you. MPNS has brought life to my practice.
 
P.P.S. A Poem:
 
You

Thinkers think thoughts.
Thoughts produce thinkers.
Thoughts are about things.
Things are not thoughts.
Thoughts are not things.

Both thoughts and thinker are unreal.
Things are not unreal.
Abstractions are thoughts about what’s real.
You are not an abstraction.
You are a real thing.

Thoughts about you are not real.
What is real is not a thought.
You are real and not a thought.
When you think, abstractions appear.
When you stop thinking, you appear.

Hello."

 

Comment: Thank you enormously for your highly instructive insights, John. Yes, to see the Buddha-Self we first need to see through the illusionality of the false "ego-self" (the fake self that is built up of the shifting and transitory skandhas of ordinary body and mind and obscuring thoughts and negative habit-patterns). Ultimately, all that is truly Real is the Buddha. And that Buddha - blissful, indestructible, unfettered by concepts, all-knowing and supremely pure - is inseparable from the depths of our being. It simply (and yet is not so simple in practice!) requires uncovering and seeing. The Empty is then complemented and fulfilled by the plenitude of the Buddha-dhatu - the only True Self (atman), that of the Buddha, that there is and ever can be. Thank you again, John, for your excellent understanding. I really hope that it will help others - just as it has helped me. All my very warmest wishes to you in the True Dharma - Tony.