Nirvana Sutra

Appreciation of the "Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra"

The "Nirvana Sutra" Continued (Z18)

Then, at that time, there was among the group a Brahmacarin called Senika, who said: "O Gautama! Is there self?" The Tathagata was silent. He asked a second time, and a third time. The Buddha was silent. Senika said: "O Gautama! All beings possess self, which pervades everywhere, and the creator is one. O Gautama! Why do you sit silently and not answer?"

The Buddha said: "O Senika! Do you say that this self pervades everywhere?"

Senika answered and said: "It is not I alone who say so, but all the wise have also shown this."

The Buddha said: "O good man! If self pervades everywhere, all the beings of the five realms would have to gain the returns of actions performed at one [i.e. the same] time. If all the people of the five realms have [the same] karmic results, why do you avoid all evil actions, so as to evade hell, and do all good things, so as to gain life in heaven?"

Senika said: "O Gautama! There are two kinds of self of which I talk, namely:  1) the carnal self and  2) the eternal self. For the sake of the carnal self, we practise the Way and shun evil, so as not to gain hell, and practise all good deeds, so as to gain life in heaven."

The Buddha said: "O good man! You say that self pervades all places. It it is in the created self, you may know that such a self is non-eternal. If it is not created, how can you say that it pervades everywhere?"

"O Gautama! The self I speak of exists in what is created and yet is what is eternal. O Gautama! A person happens to cause a fire in the house. The master of the house comes out. So we cannot say: "When the house is reduced to ashes, the master of the house is also reduced to ashes." It is the same with what I say. This created body is non-eternal. But when the non-eternal is about to start out [i.e. when the body is about to die], the self goes out. So the self I speak of is all-pervading and eternal."

The Buddha said: "O good man! You say: "The self I speak of is all-pervading and eternal." But this is not so. Why not? Of what pervades, there are two kinds. These are:  1) eternal and  2) non-eternal. Again, there are two kinds, namely:  1) form and  2) non-form. Hence, when one says that all exists, this means that it is eternal and non-eternal; it is form and non-form. You may say that the master of the house is out of the house, and that there is no non-eternal to come about. But this is not so. Why? The house is no master and the master no house. That which is different is burnt and what is different is out. Thus goes the logic. The self is not anything as such. Why not? The self is form and form self. Non-form is self and self non-form. How can you say that when form suffers change, the self is out of it?

"O good man! You may say that all beings possess the same self. But this is contrary to what obtains in the secular or supramundane world. Why? What obtains in the secular world speaks of father and mother, boy and girl. If we are to say: "The self is one; the father is the son, the son the father; the mother is the girl, and the girl the mother; the enemy is the friend, and the friend the enemy; this is that and that this. Hence, all beings possess the same self" - this is counter to what obtains in the secular or the supramundane world."

Senika said: "I, too, do not say that all beings possess one self. I say that each person possesses one self."

The Buddha said: "O good man! If it is said that each person has one self, this means none other than that there are many selves. This is not so. Why not? You said before that self pervades. If self goes everywhere, the karmic root of all beings must be the same. When heaven sees, the Buddha sees; when heaven acts, the Buddha acts; when heaven hears, the Buddha hears. All things must be thus. If heaven can see and the Buddha cannot, we cannot say that self extends everywhere. If it is non-pervading, this is nothing other than the non-eternal."

Senika said: "O Gautama! The self of all beings pervades everywhere, whereas law [Dharma]: [the following discussion on self is obscure in its details, and difficult to follow - ed.] and non-law do not. By this, the Buddha can act differently and heaven also can act thus. Hence, you, Gautama, should not say: "When the Buddha sees, heaven can see, and when the Buddha can hear, heaven can hear."

The Buddha said: "O good man! Is it not the case that law and non-law are what one does?"

Senika said: "Such are the works of one's actions."

The Buddha said: "If law [dharma, that which exists] and non-law are what one does, this means the same thing. How could they be different? Why? Where the Buddha gains action in hand, heaven gains the self; where heaven gains action in hand, the Buddha gains in hand the self. Hence, when the Buddha can do, heaven can do. Law and non-law must obtain thus. O good man! So, if the law and non-law of beings is thus, there cannot be any other different karmic results. O good man! From the seed comes about the fruit. This seed never thinks: "I shall become the fruit of a Brahmin, not that of a Kshatriya, Vaishya, or Sudra." Why? The seed carried forth the fruit. It concerns [i.e. is concerned with] no caste or anything as such. It is the same with law and non-law, too. We cannot discriminatingly think: "I shall only attain the fruition of Buddhahood, not of heaven; I shall only attain the fruition of heaven, but not of Buddhahood." Why not? Because karma works fairly."

Senika said: "O Gautama! For example, there are hundreds and thousands of lamps in a room. The wicks may differ, but the light does not differ. The fact that the wicks of the lamps differ can be compared to law and non-law, and the fact that there is no difference in the light can be compared to the self of beings."

The Buddha said: "O good man! You take up the case of the light of a lamp and mean [thereby] to explain self. This does not apply well. Why not? The room is different and the lamp is different. The light of the lamp goes around the wick and it also pervades the room. If the self you speak of is thus, self must lie around law and non-law. There must be law and non-law in self. If law and non-law do not exist in self, one cannot say: "It pervades all places." If it [they] go together, how can we employ the analogy of the light of the wick? O good man! If you truly mean to say that the wick and the light are different, why is it that when the number of wicks increases, the light becomes brighter, and when the wick is spent, the light, too, dies out? Hence, we can compare law and non-law to the wick and the light, and the non-difference of light to self. Why? Because the three - law, non-law, and self - are but one."

Senika said: "O Gautama! You take up the simile of the lamp. This is unfortunate. Why? If the simile of the lamp is good, I have already employed it before. If it is unfortunate, what more need is there to refer to it again?"

"O good man! I employ analogies. But these have nothing to do with what is fortunate or unfortunate. I accord with your will, and in the analogy I say that there is light away from the wick and that there is light along with the wick. Your mind is not fair. You purposely take up the case of the wick and the lamp and compare these to law and non-law, and liken the light to self. That is why I mean to reprove [you on this point]. The wick is the light. Is there any light away from the wick? Dharma is at once [i.e. at the same time] the self; the self is at once Dharma. Non-Dharma is at once self and self at once non-Dharma. Now, you say: "Why does one take up one aspect and not take up the other?" But such a simile is unfortunate for you. That is why I crush you instead. O good man! Such an analogy does not work out [i.e. does not work well as] an analogy.  Due to the fact that it does not constitute an analogy, it works favourably on my side and not on yours. O good man! You may think: "If it is unfortunate for me, is it not also so for you?" But this is not so. Why not? In the world we see a person who kills himself with his own sword; whatever is done by one's own hand is made use of by others. The analogy you employ works likewise. Luck is on my side and ill-luck on yours."

Senika said: "O Gautama! You reproved me before for the unfairness of my mind. Now, what you say is not fair either. Why not? O Gautama! You now direct [ascribe] luck to yourself and bad luck to me. From this, I conclude and see this unfairness."

The Buddha said: "What is not fair on my side truly breaks [destroys? evens out] what is not fair on your side. Because of this, what is fair with you and what is not on my side bespeak luck. What is not fair on my side breaks what is not on your side, and you harvest what is fair. This is the fairness on my side. Why? Because this calls forth what is fair on all holy persons."

Senika said: "O Gautama! Self is always fair. How can you say that you crush out the non-fair? All beings possess self all-equally. How can you say that self is not all-equal?"

"O good man! You too say that one gains birth in hell, one gains birth in the realm of hungry pretas, one gains birth in the animal realm, and one gains birth in the worlds of humans and gods. If self already pervades the five realms, can one say that one gains life in various realms? You also say that through the harmony [i.e. coming together] of parents, a child comes about. If there is a child beforehand, how can one say that through harmonisation a child comes about? Because of this, one possesses the body of the five realms. If it is the case that these five realms already precede the carnal existence of the body, how can one say that one enacts karma? Hence, unequal.

"O good man! You may mean to say that self is that which does. But this is not so. Why not? If self is that which does [i.e. performs actions], why should one do what is pain to oneself? But we actually see beings who are suffering from pain. Thus we may know that self is not that which does. If we are to say that this pain is not what is done [made] by self and that it does not come about from a cause, this must mean that all things, too, do not come about from a cause. On what grounds can you say that it is the doing of self?

"O good man! All the sufferings and happinesses of beings come about from causes and conditions. Thus, suffering and happiness call forth apprehension and joy. When one has apprehension, there is no joy; when there is joy, there is no apprehension. It is either joy or apprehension. How can any wise person call this eternal?

"O good man! You state that self is eternal. If it is eternal, how can you say that there are the differences of the ten times [i.e.the stages of growth of the human, from embryo to old age]? With the Eternal, there can never be any kalala [embryo] time, down to the days of old age. The permanent existence of the Void cannot have a single "time". How could there be the ten times?

"O good man! Self is no time of kalala or the days of old age. How can you say that there are the differences of the ten times? O good man! If self is something that does, there must be with this self the time of the prime of life and the days of old age. Beings, too, have this prime of life and the days of old age. If self is anything of this sort, how could it be eternal? O good man! If self is that which does, how could there be the differences of sharp and dull to one [i.e. how could there be mental sharpness and dullness amongst people]? O good man! If self is something that acts, this self can certainly perform bodily, oral and mental actions. If this is the work of self, how can one say that there is no self in the mouth? How can one doubt and wonder if it is "is" or "is-not"?

"O good man! You may say that there is seeing separate from the eye. But this is not so. Why not? If there is any seeing separate from the eye, what point is there in using the eyes? The same applies to the bodily sense-organs, too. You may say that self always sees with the eyes. But the case is not thus. Why not? This is like saying: "The Sumana bloom reduces a great village to ashes." How does it burn? It burns with fire. The same is the case when you say that self sees."

Senika said: "O Gautama! It is like the case of the sickle, with which one can cut grass. The same is the case with self, which can indeed see and hear and touch through the five sense-organs."

"O good man! The sickle and the man are different things. Because of this, a person can indeed take up the sickle and do things. Away from the sense-organs, there can be no self. How can one say: "Self can [act] with all the sense-organs?" O good man! If you mean to say that a person can indeed mow when he takes up a sickle, and the same is the case with self - does this self have a hand or not? It it does, why not take it [i.e. why does not self directly pick up the sickle, without the use of physical hands]? If self has no hands, how can we say that self is one that does? O good man! That which cuts the grass is the sickle. It is not self, nor is it man. If self or man can indeed cut, why does one need to depend upon any sickle?

"O good man! The man performs two actions, namely:  1) taking the grass  and  2) using the sickle. The sickle can truly cut. The same is the case with beings. The eye indeed sees forms. This arises from harmonisation [conjoining of causes and conditions]. If something is seen through the harmonisation of causal relations, how can the wise say that there is self? This is not so. Why not? In the world, we do not see that heaven performs actions and that the Buddha receives the fruit. If you mean to say that it is not that the body does but self receives without having enacted the cause, why should you hope to attain Emancipation through causal relations? If your body were to be born with no cause, after attaining Emancipation you would gain your body without any cause. Just as with the body, so all defilements, too, would thus come about."

Senika said: "O Gautama! There are two selves. One knows and the other knows not. The self that knows not truly gains the physical body and the self that abandons one's own self. This is as with an earthen pot, which, when treated in the oven, changes its colour and when there is nothing that is to come about again any more. It is also thus with the defilements of a wise person. There is no more coming about [of them]."

The Buddha said: "O good man! You speak of "knowing". Is it the intellect that knows or self that knows? If the intellect can know, why do we say that self knows? If self knows, why do we particularly work out means for knowing? If you mean to say that self knows through the intellect, this is as in the case of the analogy of the flower, which breaks and falls. O good man! This is as in the case of a tree that has thorns, which prick by nature. We cannot say that the tree takes the thorns and pricks. It is the same with the intellect too. The intellect knows by itself. How can we say that self takes the intellect and knows? O good man! You say in your teaching that self arrives at emancipation. Is it the non-intellectual self or the intellectual self which gains [this]? If it is the non-intellectual self which gains [this], we can know that it must still possess defilement. If it is the case that the intellect gains [Emancipation], we can know that there are already the five senses and sense-organs. Why? There cannot be any intellect other than the roots. If all the root organs are perfect, how can we say that the person arrives at Emancipation? If the nature of self is pure and is separate from the five roots, how can it pervade, and exist in, the five realms? Why does a person practise all good deeds to arrive at Emancipation?

"O good man! For example, it is [like] extracting thorns from the Void. Things go the same with you. If the self is pure, how can we say that a person cuts off all defilements? If you intend to say that the person arrives at Emancipation not being based on causal relations, why is it that all animals do not arrive at it?"

Senika said: "O Gautama! If it is selfless, whoever can remember well?"

The Buddha said to Senika: "If there is self, why do we forget? O good man! If remembering is self, why do we remember unhappy things, remember what we do not wish to remember, and not remember what we mean to remember?"

Senika said: "O Gautama! If there is no self, who sees and who hears?"

The Buddha said: "One has six spheres within and six dusts [i.e. the six sense-fields] without. The inner and outer conjoin and one gains the six kinds of consciousness. Now, these six consciousnesses gain their name through causal relations.

"For example, a fire comes about from a tree, and we speak of a "tree fire". Grass catches fire, and we speak of "grass fire". Bran catches fire, and we speak of "bran fire". Cow dung catches fire, and we speak of "cow-dung fire". It is the same thing with the consciousness of beings, too.

"We gain consciousness by means of the eyes, colour, light, and desire, and we say "eye-consciousness". O good man! Such eye-consciousness does not exist in the eye, nor in the desire, etc. The four things conjoin and we get this consciousness. It is the same with the consciousness of mind. If things come into being thus, we cannot say that knowing and seeing are self, and that touching is self.

"O good man! That is why we say that self is the eye-consciousness down to mental consciousness, and that all things are phantoms. How are they like phantoms? Because of the fact that what originally was not is what now is, and what once was is now no more. O good man! For example, the mixing together of butter, barley, flour, honey, ginger, pepper, pippali [a long pepper], grapes, walnuts, pomegranate, and suishi [a kind of prune] is called "kangigan" [possibly the name of a drug]. Apart from this mixing together, there can be no kangigan. The six spheres of the inner and outer are what we call the being, self, man, or male. Other than the spheres within and without, there can be no being or man."

Senika said: "O Gautama! If selfless, why do we say: "I see", "I hear", "I have sorrow", "I feel bliss", "I have apprehension", or "I am glad"?

The Buddha said: "O good man! If we say "I see", "I hear", etc., this implies that there is a self. Why does the world say: "The sins of our deeds are not what I see or hear about?" O good man! The coming together of the four armies [i.e. the four constituent parts of an army] is termed an "army". These four are not one, but we say: "Our army is valiant, our army is superior to his." It is the same with what comes about through the conjoining together of the inner and outer spheres, too. Though they are not one, we say: "I do", "I feel", "I see", "I hear", "I have sorrow", "I feel bliss"'.