Over the nearly 10 years of my working together with the Buddhist scholar and expert translator, Stephen Hodge, I commissioned various translations from Stephen of diverse parts of the Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra. Stephen's translations are immensely valuable, and so I plan to include many of them here, in random order. It should be noted that Stephen is currently working on a full translation of the MPNS in its three main versions, so there may well be enhancements of his translation when those definitive renderings into English are eventually published.
Unfortunately, I do not currently possess the necessary diacritics for the Sanskrit terms (terms which Stephen gave in their perfect written Sanskrit forms), so I ask the reader to excuse this lapse. Comments added in square brackets are my own, unless otherwise stated, and the capitalisation of such words as 'Self' and 'Liberation' is mine rather than Stephen's.
The following passages, taken from various parts of the Dharmakshema MPNS, all constitute words spoken by the Buddha within the Sutra:
1). 'The wise ones are freed from the five constituents [skandhas] by way of skilful means. "Skilful means" refers to the eightfold noble path, the six perfections and the four immeasurables. They will be freed by way of such means for their bodies and minds will not be harmed by the constituents [skandhas]. Why is that? Because their bodies are like vajra [= diamond, adamantine] and their minds like space [akasha]. For that reason, their bodies and minds are very difficult to destroy.'
2) 'Moreover, noble son, none of the wholesome qualities will be acquired apart from having pondered [on matters previously mentioned]. Why is that? Even if somebody listened to the Dharma with one-pointed attention, they will never attain supreme and perfect awakening without having pondered upon it.' [Note from Stephen Hodge: I would not give the term 'ponder' (cintaa) too much weight since it is used as a synonym throughout this section with mindfulness (smrti) and focus (manasikara)].
3). 'How does a Bodhisattva know the attributes of the Tathagata? Herein, "Tathagata" can be viewed as having the attribute of "awakening", the attribute of "wholesomeness", of "permanence", "bliss", "purity", "liberation" (vimukti), "truth" (satya), "the real / actual", "the teacher of the path" [or: 'Tathagata' has the attribute of awakening and the attribute of wholesomeness, and he can be viewed as permanence, bliss, purity, liberation, truth, the real /actual, the teacher of the path.']
4). 'Noble son, there is "Nirvana" but that is not Maha-nirvana ['Great Nirvana']. Why is Nirvana not Maha-nirvana? The elimination of the afflictions [kleshas] without having seen Buddha-dhatu is called "nirvana" and not Maha-nirvana. Thus, because one has not seen the Buddha-dhatu there is no permanence, nor Self, though there is bliss and utter purity. Hence, even though the afflictions have been eliminated, it should not be called "Maha-nirvana". When one has seen the Buddha-dhatu and eliminated the afflictions, that is called "Maha-parinirvana". Because of having seen the Buddha-dhatu, it is said to be permanent, Self, blissful and utterly pure and therefore that elimination of the afflictions is said to be Maha-parinirvana.'
5). 'The Tathagata's physical and mental insight [i.e. body and jnana] [Stephen's alternate translation: the body and mind-insight of the Tathagata] is unimpeded even by measureless, countless, infinite world-systems, and so it is said to be "space". The Tathagata abides permanently (nityam), neither changing nor transmigrating. This is called the "attribute of the real / the actual." '
6). 'Non-existence [i.e. non-samsaric, changeful existence] is called "non-arising", non-arising is called "non-dying", non-dying" is called "without attributes" [alakshana / animitta - without external characteristics or signs], without attributes is called "unfettered", unfettered is called "non-attachment", non-attachment is called "untainted" (anasrava - without blemishes), untainted is called "wholesome", wholesome is called "uncompounded" (asamskrta), uncompounded is the constancy / unchangingness [nitya - eternality] of great Nirvana, the constancy of great Nirvana is the Self, the Self is pure, the pure is bliss. The unchanging, blissful, Self and pure are the Tathagata.
7). 'Tenth, he [i.e. a very high-level Bodhisattva] is endowed with perfect awareness. Awareness is to perceive permanence, bliss, Self and purity in the Tathagata and that all beings are endowed with Buddha-nature (buddha-dhatu). He sees / perceives the two attributes / aspects of phenomena (dharma): emptiness and non-emptiness, permanence and impermanence, bliss and non-bliss, Self and non-Self, purity and impurity: contrary phenomena / qualities (dharma) that can be eliminated and contrary phenomena that cannot be eliminated, contrary phenomena that arise from causal conditions, contrary phenomena that are seen through causal conditions, contrary phenomena that mature from causal conditions, contrary phenomena that do not mature from causal conditions. This is called "endowed with perfect awareness". Noble son, this is called "a bodhisattva's endowment with ten qualities" which allows him to clearly perceive the absence of attributes [lakshana / nimitta - i.e. absence of external features] of Nirvana.'
8). 'Secondly, 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 (samsarga). Because it is great peace, it is called "Great Nirvana". Thirdly, because it is omniscience (sarvajna), it is called "great bliss". That which is not omniscience is not called "great bliss". Because the Buddha Tathagatas are omniscient, it is called "great bliss". Because it is great bliss, it is called "Great Nirvana". [Note from Stephen Hodge: 1) "worldly bustle" could also be just "agitation". The best fit for the Sanskrit is probably samsarga, which refers to the bustle and business of society. 2) "Omniscience": It is not definite that the Chinese / Tibetan here can be reconstructed as sarvajna; it could also be ajna, in which case it would just be something like "total knowledge". BTW, I am not entirely happy with "omniscience" for sarvajna, because it can have the wrong connotations].
9). 'Five things are attained in reliance upon this Mahaparinirvana-Sutra: stability [dhruva - unshakeable firmness and steadiness], permanence [nitya - eternality], purity [parivisuddhi - complete pureness], excellence (parama) and distinction (anyatha) and the absence of taints [anasrava], for it brings about benefit, happiness and kindness (anumampa) for all beings.'
[Notes by Stephen Hodge: 1) I have changed 'superiority' to 'excellence', although the former is what the Chinese suggests. Actually, there is no problem with 'superiority' - Asanga talks about superior this and that all the time. 2) 'Distinction' is in the sense of 'not like the others' - literally 'otherness'.]
10). '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 - the cessation of suffering], wholesomeness (subha), truth (satya), reality (bhuta / tattva), unchangingness [nityata - eternity], bliss (sukha), Self (atman) and purity [parisuddhi - utter purity]: that is Nirvana.'
11). 'The Tathagata's Body is not causally conditioned. Because it is not causally conditioned, it is said to have a Self; if it has a Self, then it is also permanent, blissful and pure.'
12). 'If any bhiksu teaches that beings all have Buddha-nature, can acquire an adamantine body which is free from limitations, permanent, blissful, Self, and pure, unimpeded in body and mind, endowed with the eight types of sovereignty / mastery, then such a bhiksu will adorn the twin sala trees [i.e. the holy place where the Buddha lay before his physical passing and where he delivered the Nirvana Sutra to his listeners].' Simhanada [Lion's Roar] said, 'Bhagavat [Lord]! In that case, there is only the Tathagata who is that person. Why? The Tathagata's Body is adamantine [i.e. the hardest substance known to man], unimpeded, free from limitations, permanent, blissful, Self, and pure, unimpeded in body and mind, endowed with the eight types of sovereignty / mastery [such as being present in all places, and having control over all dharmas]. Bhagavat: It is only the Tathagata who can adorn the twin sala trees!'
13). ' "Abiding" is an empty entity (shunya-dharma). The Tathagata has cut off / eliminated such empty entities, therefore he has attained permanence [nityata - eternity], bliss, Self and purity.'
14). 'Moreover, "non-abiding" is without beginning and end. The nature of the Tathagata is devoid of beginning and end, so how can one speak of "abiding" [i.e. being fixed to one limited spot in space and time]? Furthermore, "non-abiding" is the boundless dharmadhatu [Realm of Truth]. The boundless dharmadhatu is the Tathagata, so how can one speak of "abiding"?'
15). 'Noble son: A Bodhisattva-mahasattva is also like that - he appears in the world and expounds the true nature of the Self. After he has expounded it, he departs, like for example the prince who takes the wondrous sword and flees to another country [the reference is to a parable which the Buddha tells regarding a prince who leaves his land, taking with him a brilliant, secret and wondrous sword - but which hardly anyone else has ever seen; it thus gets wrongly described by the ignorant in all manner of erroneous ways]. Foolish ordinary people say "Everybody has a self! Everybody has a self", like the poor man, who lodging at another's house [and in the midst of a dream], cries out, "The sword! The sword!" Sravakas and pratyekabuddhas ask people, "What attributes does the Self have?", to which they reply, "I have seen the attributes of the Self [which in fact they have not!] - it is the size of a thumb" or they say, "It is like [a grain of] rice" or "It is like [a grain of] millet", or there are some who say, "It is the Self's attribute to abide within the heart, burning like the sun." In this manner people do not know the nature of the Self, as, for example, the various ministers [of the prince, who have not seen his wondrous sword] do not know the nature of the sword. While a bodhisattva discourses thus about the quality of the Self, ordinary people do but impute various false concepts to the Self, just as when asked about the attributes of the sword the [ministers] reply that it is like the horn of a ram [which in fact it is not!]. These ordinary people generate false views on in succession, from one to the other. In order to eliminate such false views, the Tathagata reveals and discourses upon the non-existence of a Self, just as when the prince tells his various ministers that there is no such sword in his treasury [although there really is such a wondrous sword]. Noble son, the true Self that the Tathagata expounds today is called Buddha-nature (Buddha-dhatu). This manner of Buddha-nature is shown in the Buddha-Dharma with the example of the real sword. Noble son, should there be any ordinary person who is able well to expound this, then he [speaks] in accordance with the unsurpassed Buddha-Dharma. Should there be anyone who is well able to distinguish this in accordance with what has been expounded about it, then you should know that he has the nature of a bodhisattva.'
16). 'Noble son, although bodhisattvas dwelling on the tenth level [the tenth bhumi - i.e. the very higest level of spiritual development, just below that of a Buddha] do perceive Buddha-dhatu, it is not clear to them. Noble son, you might ask with what eye do bodhisattvas dwelling on the tenth level perceive Buddha-dhatu, though it is not clear to them, with what eye do the 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 full Buddhahood has been attained and one is no longer a trainee Buddha]. Though they perceive it because they dwell on the tenth level, it is not clear to them, whereas it is clear to those who do not dwell or proceed [along the preparatory levels]. What bodhisattva-mahasattvas perceive with insight [prajna] is not clear, whereas the blessed Buddhas perceive it clearly because they have eradicated (literally: severed) causes and effects. All-Knowing (sarvajna) is said to be the Buddha-dhatu, whereas tenth-level bodhisattvas are not said to be All-Knowing and so although they perceive it [i.e. the Buddha Nature], it is not clear to them.'
17). Then the Bhagavat [Lord - note that the word 'Bhagavat/ Bhagavan' is a term traditionally associated in India with God] said to the Bodhisattva-mahasattva King of All-illuminating Superior Virtues, 'It is not the case that the inherent nature [possibly prakriti] of Nirvana did not primordially exist but now exists. If the inherent nature of Nirvana did not primordially exist but does now exist, then it would not be free from taints [asrava], nor would it be permanently [nitya] present in nature. Regardless of whether there are Buddhas or not, its intrinsic nature and attributes are permanently present [emphasis added]. Because beings are enveloped by the afflictions (kleshas), they do not perceive it and they say that Nirvana does not exist. Bodhisattva-mahasattvas, who train their minds with morality, insight and meditative concentration, eradicate the afflictions and then come to perceive it. Hence, they know that Nirvana is permanently present by nature and is not something which did not exist primordially but now does exist. Therefore, they deem it to be permanent. For example, noble son, suppose there was a well containing the seven kinds of treasures in a dark room. People might know that they are there but are unable to see them, because of the darkness. Then a wise person, skilled in means, came bearing a large, bright lamp and illumined things so that everybody could see them. This person did not think to himself that originally there was no water or the seven kinds of treasure there but now there is. Nirvana too is like that: it is primordially existent and does not just come into existence in the present [emphasis added]. Because of the obscuring darkness of the afflictions, beings do not see it. The Tathagata, endowed with all-knowing awareness (sarvajna-jnana) lights the lamp of insight with his skill in means (upaya-kausalya) and causes bodhisattvas to perceive the permanence, the bliss, the Self, and the purity of Nirvana. Therefore, the wise will not say that this Nirvana did not exist primordially but now exists.
'Noble son, it is not fitting for you to say that the Nirvana which is attained is impermanent because of its adornments. Why is that? Noble son, the inherent nature of Nirvana is not born, not arisen, not real [in a samsaric, worldly sense], not false, not generated by karmic actions and not tainted or conditioned in nature; it is neither heard nor seen, it is not a descent nor is it death, it neither has diverse attributes nor does it have a sole attribute, it neither goes forth nor does it return, it is not past, present or future, it is neither one nor is it many, it is neither long nor short, it is neither round nor square, it is neither vertical nor horizontal, it neither has attributes nor does not have attributes, it is neither name nor form (nama-rupa), it is neither a cause nor a result, it is not a self nor what appertains to a self [i.e. not the worldly ego - the samsaric self]. For this reason, Nirvana is permanent and unchanging. Hence, it finally becomes visible when it has been adorned through the cultivation and accomplishment of wholesome qualities (kusala-dharma) over countless immeasurable aeons [note that it is a question of Nirvana's becoming visible to the Bodhisattva's eyes - not a question of its gradually or suddenly springing into existence].
'For example, noble son, suppose there is water endowed with the eight tastes below the ground but nobody is able to reach it. Then some wise person sets to work and digs down until he reaches it. Nirvana is like that. Or else, suppose there is a blind man who cannot see the sun or moon. A skilled doctor might cure him so that he becomes able to see them, though it is not the case that the sun and moon did not originally exist but now do. Nirvana is like that - it has existed primordially and not just come into being in the present.'
18). 'By not being contrary / inverted [in one's views], one will know [both] the letter and the meaning [of the Dharma]. If one desires to be freed /distanced from the four perverse views [catur-viparita-drsti - i.e. seeing non-Self as Self and the Self as non-Self, the impermanent as Eternal and the Eternal as impermanent, the impure as pure and the pure as impure, the suffering-filled as blissful and the blissful as suffering-filled], one should know [= understand, comprehend, be aware of] the unchanging, blissful, Self and pure in this manner.' [Equivalent passage found in my Yamamoto/Page edition of the MPNS, Vol, 1, p. 42].
19). 'Even though he [the Buddha] has said that all phenomena (dharmas) are devoid of Self, it is not that they are completely / truly devoid of Self. What is this Self? Any phenomenon (dharma) that is true (satya), real (tattva), permanent (nitya), controlling [aisvarya - autonomous, sovereign], and whose foundation / ground is unchanging (asraya-aviparinama) is termed the "Self" .' [Yamamoto/Page edition, Vol. 1, p. 46].
20). The Bhagavat said, 'Nobly-born One, I have never taught that the six inner and outer ayatanas and the six consciousnesses [i.e. the ordinary mind and its senses] are permanent, 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 permanent. Because that is permanent, it is the Self. Because there is permanence and the Self, it is termed blissful. Because it is permanent, the Self and blissful, it is termed pure. Nobly-born One, 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 permanent, the Self, the blissful and the pure.' [Yamamoto/Page edition, Vol. 11, p. 45].
21). The Bhagavat said, 'Nobly-born One, the entire world possesses great pride 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 and attain [the] permanent, blissful, the Self and the pure.' [Yamamoto/Page edition, Vol 11, p. 46].
22). 'As a result of this, on the morning of Buddhahood, he acquires the sovereign Self [aisvarya-atman]' [the reference is to any highest-level bodhisattva who, through constant giving of food, happiness (and Dharma) to others, attains the autonomous Buddha Self , which is possessed of total freedom and mastery] [Yamamoto/Page edition, Vol. 5, p. 60].
23). 'Fourthly, because of sovereignty, sovereignty is acquired. What is sovereignty? The Tathagata abides [calmly] with one-pointedness of mind without wavering. [Yet] he is able to manifest countless kinds of forms and endows each of them with a mind. On some occasions, the Tathagata might create a single phenomenon and bring about the needs of each being. Though the Tathagata's body abides in a single land, he causes all those in other lands to behold him. That manner of sovereignty is called the "great Self".' [Yamamoto/Page edition, Vol. 7, p. 29]
24). 'Sixthly, because of sovereignty, [the Buddha] acquires all dharmas, and yet there is no concept of attainment in the Tathagata's mind. Why is that? Because there is nothing to be acquired [nothing to be gained that is not already possessed deep within]. If there were something [to be acquired], then one could call it "acquiring", but because there is nothing actually to be acquired, how can it be called "acquirement"? If one were to supose that the Tathagata had the notion of acquiring, then Buddhas would not acquire Nirvana. Since there is [no notion of] acquiring, one can say that they acquire Nirvana. Because of sovereignty, he acquires all dharmas. Because he attains dharmas, it is called "the great Self".' [Yamamoto/Page edition, Vol. 7, p. 30].
25). 'Eighthly, 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 his sovereignty. Such sovereignty is termed "the great Self". That great Self is termed "great Nirvana". Moreover, Noble Son, a thing which is unbounded is called "great". Since Nirvana is also unbounded, it is termed "great".' [Yamamoto/Page edition, Vol. 7, p. 30].
26). 'The Tathagata also teaches, for the sake of all beings, that in truth there is a Self in all phenomena [dharmas)'. [Yamamoto/Page edition, Vol. 1, p. 46].
27). 'There is the true Self in the midst of the non-Self Dharma.' [Bodhisattva Kasyapa's words - spoken to, and uncontradicted by, the Buddha. Yamamoto/Page edition, Vol. 11, p. 25].
28). “When I have taught no-self, fools uphold the teaching that there is no self. The wise know that such is conventional speech (vyavahāra-vat) and they are free from doubts.
'When I have taught that the Tathagata-garbha is empty, fools consider that it is extinction [uccheda] and destructible. Those who have insight know that it is unchanging, stable and eternal. When I have taught about liberation that it exists merely as a magical display/upaya, fools maintain that Buddhas become non-existent when they have attained liberation. Those with insight know that there is the coming and departing of Buddhas and say that he comes like a lion.'
29). 'The Tathagata-garbha is called true life [jiva]' [Faxian]
'The essence of the Self is the subtle Tathagata-garbha' [Dharmakshema]
'Therein, jiva [the life-essence] is the Tathagata-garbha ...' [Tibetan]. [Yamamoto/Page edition, Vol. 3, p. 4].
30). 'The Buddha-dhatu of beings inheres / abides within the five skandhas.' [Yamamoto/ Page edition, Vol, 3, p. 5].
31). 'Buddha-nature is the true Self and like, for example, a diamond, it cannot be destroyed.' [Yamamoto/Page edition, Vol. 3, p. 5].
32). 'When in the past I turned the Wheel of the Dharma in the town of Varanasi, I taught anitya [impermanence], duhkha [suffering], sunyata [emptiness] and anatman [non-Self]. Now I turn the Wheel of the Dharma in this here town of Kushinagara [i.e. the venue of his final teachings], I teach nitya [eternality], sukha [bliss], atman [the Self] and suddha [purity].' [Yamamoto/Page edition, Vol. 4, p. 61].
33). 'Noble son, if somebody sees [i.e. only sees / thinks merely to see] that all phenomena [sarva-dharma] are impermanent, without Self, devoid of bliss and impure and if he also sees that non-all phenomena are impermanent, without Self, devoid of bliss and impure, then that person does not see Buddha-nature [Buddha-dhatu]. "All" denotes Samsara; "non-all" denotes the Three Jewels. Shravakas and Pratyekabuddhas [i.e. relatively advanced listeners to the Dharma and 'solitary Buddhas', not as great as fully Awakened Buddhas] see that all phenomena [sarva-dharma] are impermanent, without Self, devoid of bliss and impure and they also see that non-all phenomena are impermanent, without Self, devoid of bliss and impure. For that reason they do not see Buddha-nature. A Bodhisattva of the ten levels [i.e. a Bodhisattva who has reached the tenth and highest bhumi or stage of spiritual attainment, just prior to becoming a Buddha] sees that all phenomena are impermanent, without Self, devoid of bliss and impure, [and partially] sees that non-all phenomena are permanent, Self, blissful and pure. Because of that, they are able to see one tenth [of the Buddha-dhatu]. The Buddha-Bhagavats see that all phenomena are impermanent, without Self, devoid of bliss and impure and they also see that non-all phenomena are permanent, Self, blissful and pure. For this reason they see Buddha-nature as though it were a mango lying in the palm of their hand. For this reason, the surangama samadhi [i.e. the highest level of meditative absorption] is said to be the ultimate culmination.'
34). 'It [i.e. Liberation - moksha] transcends the skandhas, transcends all unwholesome phenomena, and establishes Liberation. That Liberation is the Tathagata. It is separated from mastery / independence, separated from the various selves and mundane not-selves. The true non-self [i.e. not an ego, not a skandhaic self] is the manifestation of the Buddha-dhatu. This Liberation is the Tathagata. (Faxian version).
'Moreover, Liberation is termed that which severs all conditioned phenomena [samskrta-dharma - i.e. compounded and fabricated phenomena], gives rise to all untainted [anasrava] wholesome qualities / phenomena 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 views about the Self [atma-drsti - literally, 'view of the Self, seeing the Self, vision of the Self']. Atma-drsti [i.e. seeing the Self] is termed Buddha-dhatu. Buddha-dhatu is true Liberation and true Liberation is the Tathagata.' (Dharmakshema version; Yamamoto/Page edition, Vol. 2, p. 30).
35). 'Thus, Kashyapa, you should know that the refuge of fearless Bodhisattvas is the dharmata [essential nature] of the Tathagata. Its intrinsic nature [svabhava] and my instrinsic nature are both of the same flavour.' [Then] he uttered this verse for Kashyapa [i.e. this is what Kashyapa should think and recite to himself]:
'I now take refuge in the Three Jewels,
The profound nature of the Tathagata;
My body is / has the tathagata-garbha.
The three - Buddha, Dharma and Sangha -
Such a refuge as these
Is called the supreme support / refuge.' (Faxian version)
'Kashyapa, you should now analyse the three refuges:
Just as the intrinsic nature [svabhava] of the three refuges,
so indeed is my intrinsic nature
If one is able truly to discern
that one's intrinsic nature possesses Buddha-dhatu,
then you should know that such a person
will enter into the secret matrix [i.e. the Tathagata-garbha].
That person who knows the Self [atman] and what belongs to the Self [atmiya]
has already transcended the mundane world. [Note by Dr. Tony Page: this refers to knowing the True Self - which transcends the samsaric world]
The nature of the Three Jewels - the Buddha, the Dharma [and the Sangha] -
is supreme and most worthy of respect.' [Dharmakshema version; Yamamoto/ Page edition, Vol. 3, p.6]
'Knowing thus, Kâsyapa,
those fearless Bodhisattvas,
excellent heroic people,
are released by the Mahâyâna.
They take refuge here today
in that dhâtu sphere, the unchanging nectar;
that excellent nectar dhâtu
is my dhâtu, the dhâtu of beings (sattva-dhâtu).
If you always take refuge in me,
the three refuges will become your dhâtu;
since the dhâtu inheres in my body,
you should enter into this Self (âtman).
The Buddha, Dharma and Sangha
are my dhâtu in their intrinsic nature,
the Three are the most excellent Jewels.' [Tibetan version; Yamamoto/Page edition, Vol. 3, p. 6].