Nirvana Sutra

Appreciation of the "Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra"

The "Nirvana Sutra" Continued (Z13)

"O World-Honoured One! What do you mean when you say that "bright touch" is the cause?"

"O good man! The Tathagata at times speaks about brightness and says that it is Wisdom; and at time he says "faith". O good man! Through the causal relation of faith, one draws near to a good teacher of the Way. This is touch [contact]. The causal relation of befriending leads the person to give ear to Wonderful Dharma. This is "touch". When one listens to Wonderful Dharma, one's body, mouth and mind become pure. This is "touch". Through the purity of the three actions, one gains right living. This is touch. Through right living, one gains the sila that purifies the sense-organs. On account of the sila that purifies the sense-organs, one comes to seek a silent place. In quietude, one thinks of good. By good thinking, one thinks of a life that accords with Dharma. Through right living, one gains the 37 elements of Enlightenment. And one thoroughly crushes out innumerable evil defilements.

"O good man! Feeling is called "taking-in". Beings do good or evil at the stage of feeling. Hence, we say that feeling is the taking-in. O good man! Through the causal relation of feeling, all kinds of defilements come about. The 37 Bodhi elements truly crush these out. Because of this, we call feeling the taking-in. Good thinking well crushes out the defilements. Hence we speak of "augmenting". Why? We make effort and try to learn. And we arrive at these 37 elements of Enlightenment. Meditation truly destroys evil defilements. This always is grounded on exclusive mindfulness. So, to think is the master. In the world, all the four armies move at the will of the head general. It is the same with the 37 elements of Enlightenment. All follow the will of the master, which is the mind.

"When one enters dhyana [meditation], the 37 elements of Enlightenment well discriminate all phases of dharma. Hence, meditation is what leads one. We look into the 37 elements of Enlightenment and see that Wisdom is the most superior. Because of this, Wisdom is the most superior. That is why Wisdom is made [stated to be] superior. Thus, Wisdom sees defilement. Through the power of Wisdom, defilement dies.

"In the world, the four armies crush out the enemy. There may well be one or two who are valiant and strong and that do well. So is it with the 37 elements assisting towards Enlightenment. Through the power of Wisdom, defilement is done away with. Hence, Wisdom is that which is superior.

"O good man! By learning and practising the 37 elements of Enlightenment, one gains the four dhyanas, the miraculous divine powers, and peace. But this is not called "real". When defilement is done away with and Emancipation is reached, we say "real". A person may aspire to learn and practise the 37 elements of Enlightenment and be blessed with worldly bliss, supramundane bliss, the fruition of sramana practice, and Emancipation. Yet, we cannot call this the "Ultimate". When all the practices of the 37 elements of Enlightenment have been done away with, this is Nirvana. That is why I say that the Ultimate is Great Nirvana."

"Also, next, O good man! The good-loving mind is desire. Through the good-loving mind, a person associates with a good friend. Hence, "touch". This is "cause". When a person associates with a good friend, we call this love. This is a taking-in. Befriending a good teacher, that person thinks well. Hence, "to augment". Through four dharmas is the Way well augmented, namely:  1) desire,  2) remembrance,  3) meditation, and  4) Wisdom. This is:  1) master,  2) leading, and  3) superior. Through these three dharmas, the person attains three Emancipations. Cutting off craving, he attains Emancipation of mind. Doing away with ignorance, he attains Emancipation of Wisdom. This is the Real. All such dharmas result in fruition. This is Nirvana. Hence, the "Ultimate".

"Also, next, O good man! "Desire" is aspring and renouncing. Touch is the four jnapti-caturtha-karman [one of the rituals in the vinaya = monks' code of monastic living]. This is the cause. Taking-in means receiving the two kinds of precept, namely:  1) pratimoksa and  2) sila that purifies the sense-organs. This is "feeling" and also "taking-in". To augment means to learn and practise the four dhyanas. The Master refers to the fruitions of srotapanna and sakrdagamin. To lead refers to the fruition of the anagamin; "superior", to that of arhatship. The Real refers to the fruition of the pratyekabuddha; the "Ultimate" is unsurpassed Enlightenment.

"Also, next, O good man! "Desire" is consciousness. Touch is called the six [sensual] spheres. Taking-in is feeling. Augmenting is ignorance. The master is mind-and-body. To lead in is craving. The superior is cleaving. The real is existence. The ultimate is birth, old-age, illness, and death."

Bodhisattva Kasyapa said: "O World-Honoured One! What difference is there between the three items of:  1) root,  2) cause, and  3) augmentation?"

"O good man! The root referred to is that which is to take rise; the cause is that which resembles; augmentation is cutting off resemblance, and yet, calling forth resemblance. Also, next, O good man! The root is to do, the cause fruition, and augmentation is the use. O good man! The world that is to come sees the karmic results. But not yet receiving [them], we call this "cause". When received, that is augmentation. Also, next, O good man! The root is to seek; to gain is the cause, and the use is to augment. O good man! The root spoken of in this sutra is darsanamarga [the path of seeing, leading the person from mere blind trust in the Four Noble Truths to actual comprehension of them, transforming him or her into a "stream-enterer"], the cause is bhavanamarga [the path of self-development through meditation], and to augment is asaiksamarga. Also, next, O good man! The root is the right cause and the cause is the expedient cause. From this right cause comes about the karmic result which one harvests. This is to augment."

Bodhisattva Kasyapa said: "O World-Honoured One! If things are as you the Buddha state, the Ultimate is no less than Nirvana. How can one reach this Nirvana?"

"O good man! If the Bodhisattva, bhiksu, bhiksuni, upasaka, or upasika practises well the ten images, know that such a person will well attain Nirvana. What are these ten? They are the images of:  1) non-eternal,  2) suffering,  3) non-Self,  4) abhorring food,  5) the world as having nothing in it to enjoy,  6) death,  7) one's having many sins,  8) parting from [the worldly] and emancipating [oneself],  9) extinction [of defilement],  10) non-craving.

"O good man! If any Bodhisattva-mahasattva, bhiksu, bhiksuni, upasaka or upasika practise these ten images, such a person will definitely attain Nirvana. Such a person will not follow what other minds think, but will discriminate the good and the non-good for himself. This is what we call: "Truly according with the Way of a bhiksu [monk] or according with the Way of a bhiksuni [nun] ".

Bodhisattva Kasyapa said: "O World-Honoured One! How do those from Bodhisattva-mahasattva down to upasika practise the image of the non-eternal?"

"O good man! There are two kinds of Bodhisattva, namely:  1) the one who has first aspired to and  2) the one who has finished the practice of the Way. There are two kinds of image of the non-eternal, namely:  1) coarse and  2) fine. The Bodhisattva who has first aspired to Bodhi, when he meditates on the image of the non-eternal, thinks: "There are two kinds of thing which obtain in the world:  1) inner and  2) outer. What is within is non-eternal and changes. When I get born, I see that things obtain differently at such times of life as when I am small, big, in the prime of life, in old-age, and when dying, and I see that at all such times of life, things are not the same. Hence, I have to know that what is with me is non-eternal."

"Also, this thought comes to him: "When I look at beings, one is [i.e. I see one person who is] well nourished and fresh, and is perfect in physical strength and in the movements of going and coming, in stepping forward or stopping; and things all proceed unimpededy and without hindrance. Or through illness,  [another] person's physical strength is weak and his face fallen and haggered, with nothing of freedom. Or I see that a person's storehouse is full, or that another person is poverty-stricken. Or I see one who is full of all virtues, or I see one full of evil. Thus I definitely know that what is within one is non-eternal. Also, as regards the external world, too, I see things are different one from the other, as, for example, at the times of seed, bud, stem, leaf, flower, and fruit. All that stands [there] in the external world is either perfect or not perfect. And I know that all things are definitely non-eternal."

"Having thus seen that things are all non-eternal, one next meditates on what one listens to sermons. "I hear that though the devas [gods, heavenly beings] fully enjoy the best of pleasures, and though they are unimpeded in divine powers, they are subject to the five declining forebodings [intimations of their eventual personal decline from the status of being devas]. Due to this, one knows that what there is is non-eternal."

"Also, I hear that at the beginning of the kalpa [aeon, age], there were many beings. Each was garbed in the best of virtues. The light that shone from their bodies was so great that one did not need any more to depend upon the light of the sun and moon. [But] due to the power of the non-eternal, the light waned and the virtues lessened. Also, I hear that there lived, in days gone by, a Chakravartin [world emperor] who ruled over the four lands. The seven gems [which he possessed] were perfect, and his power was greatly unconstrained. And yet he could not beat the non-eternal."

"Also, he meditates that on the great earth, at one time in the past, innumerable beings were fully stationed in life and enjoyed peace, so that no furrows of the wheel sat one upon the other. Wonderful medicines were ready at hand, and people grew up. Bushes, trees and fruits were full-grown. The beings were [gradually] less blessed and this great earth had little strength. Whatever grew had to waste away. Hence, one can know that all things are non-eternal. That is what we call "coarse" and non-eternal.

"The coarse having been meditated upon, the detailed parts are next meditated upon. How do we meditate? The Bodhisattva-mahasattva meditates on all things, both within and without, down to mote existences. Whatever might come about in the future will be non-eternal. Why? Because all things are perfect in the forms of breaking [i.e. are fully subject to dissolution]. If things were not non-eternal in the future, we could not say that there are the differences of the ten kinds of physical form. What are the ten? They are at the times:  1) membrane,  2) foam,  3) pox,  4) ball of flesh,  5) limbs,  6) small infant,  7) child,  8) boyhood,  9) prime of life,  10) tottering old age. The Bodhisattva meditates: "If the membrane is not non-eternal, it cannot become foam. And if the prime of life were not non-eternal, it could never reach old age. If time were not fleeting by, moment after moment, it could never last long. All would have to grow up at one and the same time and be full in size. Hence, one must definitely know that there are the fine, non-eternal mote existences that have to go on existing thus continuously [i.e. changing from moment to moment]."

"Also, we see a person with all his sense-organs perfect, and of a bright and shining mien, [only for] all this to fade away into a weakened state.

"Also, he thinks: "There is with this person the non-eternal [i.e. that which is impermanent] going on moment after moment." Also, he meditates on the four great elements and the four deportments. Also, he meditates on the cause of suffering, hunger, and thirst, the cold and heat that exist within and without. Also, he meditates: "If these four things were not non-eternal moment after moment, we could not speak of such four sufferings." If the Bodhisattva well meditates thus, we call this the Bodhisattva's meditating minutely upon the non-eternal."