Nirvana Sutra

Appreciation of the "Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra"

Response to Critics

The purpose of this page is to respond to the various criticisms that have been levelled against this website, its webmaster and / or against the Mahaparinirvana Sutra. Most of these criticisms can be found on the Internet. They surface from time to time and need to be addressed.

1. This Nirvana Sutra website is an example of 'clinging to self'.

This is a misunderstanding of the purpose of the website. In the situation which prevails today - although the situation was even worse two or more decades ago - where most commentators on Buddhism nihilistically say 'there is no Self' (something which the Buddha in the Pali suttas never once said), it becomes necessary to redress the balance. This may give the appearance of harping too much on the question of the Self. But that is demanded by the dire distortion of Buddhism which faces us today. If one wants to correct an extremely widespread error, it is necessary to focus on that error and explain what the correct teaching is. That is what is attempted here, in connection with the Buddha's final Mahayana sutra.

It is essential that Buddhists and other spiritual seekers understand that even in the Pali suttas the Buddha at no time said that "Tathagata is non-Self" or that "Nirvana is non-Self" (whereas he said that just about everything else was non-Self). The implicit message is clear to any who have ears with which to hear, and eyes with which to perceive: the Buddha and Nirvana are not non-Self. In the Mahayana, the Buddha makes this early implicit message of a hidden Selfhood completely explicit and clear: there is in fact SELF, and that is the Buddha. That Buddha (in the form of the Buddha-dhatu or Buddha Principle) is in all beings. But this SELF (the Buddha calls it the Great Self - hence the upper-case letters) must never be confused with our ordinary mind, with all its gyrating thoughts, desires and negativities. That is the "worldly self" or ego, the reality of which the Buddha in the Mahaparinirvana Sutra labels 'a lie'.

So: this website is not the sign of a person or persons wedded to the ego. Rather, it is the manifestation of a wish to promulgate a corrective teaching that has remained maliciously concealed from much of the Buddhist public for centuries - a teaching which puts the non-Self doctrine into proper and balanced perspective. To know about such teachings on the Buddha-Self and yet not communicate them to those who are sincerely thirsting for a balanced Mahayana Dharma would be a dereliction of duty indeed.

 

2. Dr. Tony Page wrote the Mahaparinirvana Sutra himself. It is a forgery.

This is really one of the most extraordinary and laughable claims about the Nirvana Sutra that can be found anywhere on the Internet. No. Dr. Tony Page did not write this sutra. If he had that capacity, he would be a Buddha himself! Dr. Page has merely copy-edited the English translation by Kosho Yamamoto (with the permission of the Yamamoto estate and their publisher), in addition to commissioning a full English translation of the Tibetan Mahaparinirvana Sutra by the Buddhist expert, Stephen Hodge. If anyone doubts the accuracy of the basic teachings presented here on this website, they can consult the extant Chinese and Tibetan versions of the sutra and they will find there all of the basic doctrines of which Dr. Page writes. Dr. Page did not fabricate or distort the Nirvana Sutra in any way. Rather, he seeks to communicate its teachings as accurately as possible and make them freely available to the sincere student of Buddhist spirituality.

 

3. The website tries to earn money and make a profit out of the English translation of the Mahaparinirvana Sutra.

This is wholly untrue. Dr. Tony Page offers the English translation of the sutra and its teachings completely free on the website. He does not even attempt to sell his own books on Buddhism through the website. Profiteering is far from the raison d'etre of this website. Reading of this charge of financial exploitation of the sutra, Candido Viegas, a Dharma student from Portugal, gave this outraged response in August 2009:

'Dear Dr. Tony Page,

I've been absent for quite some time


When I returned and visited your site I was surprised and horrified, especially with the criticism that:

3. The website tries to earn money and make a profit out of the Mahaparinirvana Sutra..

About three years ago I asked Dr. Tony Page to allow me to do the translation of the Mahaparinirvana Sutra into the Portuguese language.

Dr Tony Page, without any lucrative motive whatsoever, authorized me to do the translation.

Unfortunately lack of time has meant that I have not yet finished the translation, but at www.amentemente.no. Sapo.pt the introduction and the first four chapters of the Sutra are there.

Dr. Tony Page was for me an attitude of authentic Bodhisattva.

Best wishes,

Candido Viegas,  Portugal'

 

4. Dr. Tony Page is not a scholar.

Again, completely false. Dr. Page holds a Doctorate of Philosophy in Literature from Oxford University and is a full-time lecturer, researcher and peer-review-published author at a major Oriental university. During the course of his research at the University of Oxford, he explored Buddhist philosophy in great detail. His book, Buddhism and Animals, has featured on the list of recommended books for Buddhist study at the University of Toronto, and he has been invited to international symposia on the tathagatagarbha doctrine and asked to lecture on the Mahaparinirvana Sutra and Buddhism more than once at the University of London (SOAS). Moreover, the Oxford scholar and Tibetan Buddhist lama, Dr. Shenpen Hookham, has publicly called Dr. Page "a creditable Buddhist scholar" in her Preface to Buddhism and Animals and has spoken of his keen scholarship in connection with his German translation of the Tibetan Nirvana Sutra. Equally significantly, Professor Paul Williams - an international authority on Mahayana Buddhism - wrote a Foreword in support of Dr. Page's book, Buddhism and Animals, and in the 2009 edition of Williams' own acclaimed book, Mahayana Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations, Professor Williams promotes the present 'Nirvana Sutra' website as a reference resource for those interested in the Mahaparinirvana Sutra. Furthermore, Tony Page worked in close collaboration with the highly respected Nirvana Sutra expert, Stephen Hodge, on the ideas contained in the Nirvana Sutra for many years. The claim that Dr. Tony Page is not a scholar stems from those who would seek to character-assassinate Dr. Page and discredit and destroy the message of the Nirvana Sutra which Dr. Page is trying accurately to communicate to those with sufficiently open hearts and minds to receive it.

5. Dr. Page is only pushing a distorted personal interpretation of the Nirvana Sutra, rather than presenting its ideas objectively.

This is the opposite of the truth. What is attempted on the present website is straight-forward reporting of the key ideas of the sutra, without distortion or fabrication. Further, through quoting new and accurate translations by Stephen Hodge from the scripture, a truly reliable basis is provided for understanding just what this huge sutra is trying to teach us. It is because so much of what has been written about the Mahaparinirvana Sutra is inaccurate (often due to the ignorance of the writers of the totality of the text itself) that the present website has been set up in good faith to try to give an objective picture of what the Buddha actually reveals and insists upon in this scripture.

6. Dr. Page is going down the wrong road in accepting and promulgating the idea of a True Self in the Mahaparinirvana Sutra.

He is in fact going down the right road, in harmony with the doctrines of the sutra. The idea that the Self is the Buddha (or the Buddha-dhatu / Tathagatagarbha) is stated more than once in the scripture - indeed frequently. When on one occasion it is seemingly denied that the Buddha Nature is self, this is with reference to the ego (the 'do-er' self, as conceived of by certain Brahmanist ascetics whom the Buddha encounters), rather than the Buddha-Self. The Buddha as the True Self is nowhere - in any version of the Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra - denied or rejected. And the core essence of the Buddha and all beings is stated to be none other than the Buddha-dhatu, which in turn is affirmed as the Buddha himself.

 

7. The Buddha only speaks positively of SELF (atman) in this sutra to attract Brahmanist ascetics into Buddhism.

This is one of the more popular myths currently doing the rounds on the Internet. While it is true that the Buddha speaks affirmatively of the Self on one occasion to a group of wandering (Brahmanist) ascetics, for the vast bulk of the sutra the Buddha addresses himself not to Brahmanists but to his monks and to high-ranking Bodhisattvas. Such students and practitioners of the Dharma are already well versed in the 'non-Self' teachings, so there is no need to 'lure them in' to the Dharma by 'sugar-coating' his doctrines and pretending that there really is SELF when there is not. The situation is quite the reverse of that imagined and baseless scenario. The fact is (and no scholar has ever - or can ever - refute this) that the Buddha at no point in the entire 1,000 pages of the Mahaparinirvana Sutra retracted his reiterated assertion that SELF is actually the TATHAGATA.