Nirvana Sutra

Appreciation of the "Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra"

Selected Extracts (2)

 

The Buddha on how the eternal Self is realised once prideful projections [mana] onto reality and the operation of sense-based consciousness have been brought to cessation:

 

     "Noble son, I have never taught that the six inner and outer ayatanas [sense spheres] and the six consciousnesses are eternal, blissful, the Self or pure, but I declare that the cessation of the six inner and outer ayatanas and the six consciousnesses arising from them is termed the Eternal. Because that is Eternal, it is the Self. Because there is the Eternal and the Self, it is termed Blissful. Because it is Eternal, the Self and Blissful, it is termed Pure. Noble son, ordinary people abhor suffering, and by eliminating the cause of suffering, they may freely / spontaneously distance themselves from it. This is termed 'the Self'. Therefore, I have spoken of the Eternal, the Self, the Blissful and the Pure ... Noble son, the entire world possesses great pride [mana = projecting false mental constructs] from the very beginning, which augments pride and also functions as the cause for [further] pride and proud actions. Therefore, beings now experience the results of pride and are not able to eliminate all the kleshas [mental afflictions] and attain / arrive at the Eternal, Blissful, the Self and the Pure." (Dharmakshema).

 

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The Buddha as the omnipresent Great Self or Great Nirvana:

 

     "... the Tathagata pervades all places, just like space. The nature of space cannot be seen; similarly, the Tathagata cannot really be seen, and yet he causes all to see him by [means of] his sovereignty. Such sovereignty is termed 'the Great Self'. That Great Self is termed 'Great Nirvana'. In this sense it is termed 'Great Nirvana'.

 

     "Moreover, noble son, a treasury, for example, contains many different kinds of rare things and is thus called a great treasury. The extremely profound treasury of the Buddha-Tathagatas is like that: since it contains Wondrous, without any deficiency, it is termed 'Great Nirvana'.

 

     "Moreover, noble son: a thing which is unbounded is called 'Great'. Since Nirvana is also unbounded, it is termed 'Great'. (Dharmakshema).

 

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The Buddha on the nature of Liberation:

 

     "... Liberation [moksha] is termed that which severs all conditioned phenomena [samskrta-dharmas], gives rise to all untainted [anasrava], wholesome phenomena / qualities, and eliminates the various paths / approaches, that is to say, self, non-self, not self and not non-self. It merely severs attachment, and does not sever the view of the Self / seeing of the Self / vision of the Self [atma-drsti]. The view of the Self is termed the 'Buddha-dhatu'. The Buddha-dhatu is true Liberation, and true Liberation is the Tathagata." (Dharmakshema).

 

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The Buddha tells of how the Buddha-dhatu is not confined within past, present and future (it is free from the constraints of time) and he further mentions how the qualities of the Buddha-dhatu are everlasting and immutable:

 

"As the Buddha-dhatu is eternal [nitya], it is not governed by / not constrained by the three times [of past, present and future]. When the Tathagata has gained unsurpassed Awakening, all the Buddha-dharmas that the Buddha-dhatu has are eternal [nitya] and unchanging [aviparinama]." (Dharmakshema).

 

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The Buddha on the great peace and happiness of Nirvana, and its attributes:

 

     "... because it is Great Peace [maha-santi], it is called 'Great Bliss' [maha-sukha], for the intrinsic nature of Nirvana is Great Peace. Why is that? Because it is divorced from all worldly bustle / agitation. Because it is Great Peace, it is called 'Great Nirvana'... because it is Total Knowing [sarvajna / ajna], it is called 'Great Bliss'. That which is not Total Knowing is not called 'Great Bliss'. Because the Buddha-Tathagatas are totally Knowing, it is called 'Great Bliss'. Because it is Great Bliss, it is called 'Great Nirvana'." (Dharmakshema)

 

     "What is the Real [tattva]? Knowledge of the true attributes of Nirvana, the Buddha-dhatu, the Tathagata, the Dharma, the Sangha, and the attributes of space and so forth is the Real. What is knowledge of the attributes of Nirvana? The attributes of Nirvana are eightfold. What are these eight? Cessation [nirodha], Wholesomeness / Loveliness [shubha], Truth [satya], Reality [bhuta / tattva], Eternity [nitya], Bliss [sukha], the Self [atman], and Purity [parishuddhi]: that is Nirvana." (Dharmakshema).

 

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The Buddha on what the kleshas (mental and moral afflictions) are -  those things which need to be eliminated from our character, as they obscure our vision of the Buddha-dhatu. Note that various forms of pride/arrogance/ haughtiness are listed no fewer than 8 times! These kleshas are the ego's fabrications, which constantly keep the Tathagata-dhatu from our sight:

 

     "The obscurations of the kleshas [klesha-avarana] are the kleshas of the encumbrances [paryavasthana] of the kleshas of attachment, aversion and stupidity, as well as jealousy, avarice, guile, deceit, shamelessness, indecorum, pride, excessive pride, overwhelming pride, egotistical pride, perverse pride, arrogant pride, self-deprecating pride, carelessness, haughtiness, ill-will, quarrelsomeness, wrong livelihood, dissimulation by deceit, seeking gain with gain, seeking with the immoral, seeking too much, disrespect, not acting in accordance with what has been taught, consorting with immoral friends, a lack of disillusion through attachment to profit, difficulty in gaining freedom because of being bound by the fetters, attachment to pernicious objects of desire, false views concerning the reality of the individual, false views concerning existence, false views concerning non-existence, attachment to stretching and flexing, to pleasure, to sleep, to yawning, to displeasure, to eating and to drinking, mental confusion, desultoriness, attention to the unwholesome, pernicious physical and mental behaviour, delighting in excessive talking, dull faculties, uttering lies, and envelopment by thoughts of attachment, aversion and harm. These are the obscurations of the kleshas. (Dharmakshema)

 

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The Buddha on the meaning of "real Truth":

 

     The Bodhisattva-mahasattva Manjushri said to the Buddha, "What is the meaning of this 'real Truth' that you have mentioned?"

 

     The Buddha replied, "Noble son, the real Truth is the true Dharma. Noble son, if the Dharma is not true, then it cannot be called the 'real Truth'. Noble son, the real Truth is devoid of cognitive distortions. That which is devoid of cognitive distortions is called the 'real Truth'. Noble son, the real Truth is free from falsity. If it were not free from falsity, it would not be called the 'real Truth'. Noble son, the real Truth is called the Mahayana. That which is not the Mahayana is not called the 'real Truth'. Noble son, the real Truth is what is spoken by the Buddha and not what is spoken by Mara. If it were spolen by Mara and not the Buddha, it would not be called the 'real Truth'. Noble son, the real Truth is the sole path of purity -  there is no second one. Noble son, that which is endowed with the Eternal, Bliss, the Self and the Pure is said to be the meaning of the 'real Truth'."

 

     The Bodhisattva-mahasattva Manjushri said to the Buddha, "Bhagavat, if what is true is deemed to be the 'real Truth', then the true Dharma is the Tathagata, space and the Buddha-dhatu. In that case, there is no difference between the Tathagata, space and the Buddha-dhatu."

 

     The Buddha said to Manjushri, "If there is suffering, then there is the truth and there is the real; if there is the origination of suffering, then there is the truth and there is the real; if there is its cessation, then there is the truth and there is the real; and if there is the Path, then there is the truth and there is the real. Noble son, the Tathagata is not suffering, not a truth but is the real. Space is not suffering, not a truth, but is real. The Buddha-dhatu is not suffering, not a truth, but is real.

 

     "Manjushri, 'suffering' is characterised by impermanence and it can be eliminated by its nature, hence it is not a real truth. The intrinsic nature of the Tathagata is not suffering, not impermanence and cannot be eliminated, hence it is real. Space and the Buddha-dhatu are similar to this.

 

     "Moreover, noble son, the origination of suffering is called 'suffering', 'impermanence' and can be eliminated, because it brings about the conjoining and arising of the five skandhas, hence it is not a real truth. Noble son, the Tathagata is not origination [of suffering] in nature, not a cause of the skandhas and cannot be eliminated, hence he is real. Space and the Buddha-dhatu are similar to this.

 

     "Noble son, 'cessation' is called the cessation of the kleshas, and is both permanent and impermanent. That which is attained through the two lower Ways [i.e. the shravaka-yana and the pratyekabuddha-yana] is said to be impermanent, while that which is attained by the Buddhas is said to be permanent and it is also said to be the directly realised Dharma [adhigama-dharma], hence it is a real Truth. Noble son, the intrinsice nature of the Tathagata is not said to be cessation nor the cessation of the kleshas; it is neither permanent nor impermanent; it is not direct realisation, but it abides permanently and immutably, hence it is said to be real. Space and the Buddha-dhatu are similar to this.

 

     "Noble son, the Path eliminates the kleshas, and is both permanent and impermanent. It is a phenomenon which can be cultivated, hence it is not a real Truth. The Tathagata does not constitute a Path through which the kleshas can be eliminated; he is neither permanent nor impermanent; he is not a phenomenon which can be cultivated, but abides permanently and immutably, hence he is said to be real. Space and the Buddha-dhatu are similar to this.

 

     "Moreover, noble son, the Real is the Tathagata, the Tathagata is the Real; the Real is space, space is the Real; and the Real is the Buddha-dhatu, the Buddha-dhatu is the Real. Manjushri, where there is suffering, there is a cause of suffering, a cessation of suffering and an antidote to suffering. The Tathagata is not suffering and so forth down to an antidote to suffering, hence he is real but not a 'truth'. Space and the Buddha-dhatu are similar to this. Suffering is conditioned, tainted and devoid of bliss. The Tathagata is is not conditioned and not tainted, but utterly blissful: this is the Real and not a 'truth'. (Dharmakshema).

 

 

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The Buddha tells of how even the highest-level (10th-level) Bodhisattvas can see the Buddha-dhatu but dimly. It belongs to the perceptual sphere of a perfect Buddha to see the Buddha-dhatu with full clarity. Note that even with the eye of prajna, a non-Buddha cannot see the Buddha-dhatu clearly. This perhaps accounts for why there is so much lack of comprehension of the Buddha-dhatu (even opposition to it) amongst many Buddhists: it is simply not clearly perceivable to those who are not yet Buddhas. Here are the Buddha's words:

 

     "Noble son, although Bodhisattvas dwelling on the 10th level [bhumi] do perceive the Buddha-dhatu, it is not clear to them. Noble son, you might ask: with what eye do Bodhisattvas dwelling on the 10th level perceive the Buddha-dhatu, though it is not clear to them, with what eye do the Buddha-Bhagavats [ = Blessed Buddhas] clearly perceive it? Noble son, that seen with the eye of insight [prajna-caksus] is not clear, while that seen with the Buddha-eye is clear. It is not clear while engaging in the practice of a Bodhisattva, but it is clear when no longer engaging in the practice [i.e. when one has completed one's Buddhic training and has reached full Buddhahood]. Though they perceive it because they dwell on the 10th level, it is not clear to them, whereas it is clear to those who do not dwell or proceed [along the 10 levels leading to Buddhahood]. What Bodhisattva-mahasattvas perceive with insight [prajna] is not clear, whereas the Buddha-Bhagavats perceive it clearly because they have cut off causes and effects. All-knowing [sarvajna] is said to be the Buddha-dhatu, whereas 10th-level Bodhisattvas are not said to be all-knowing, and so, although they perceive it, it is not clear to them." (Dharmakshema).

 

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