Nirvana Sutra

Appreciation of the "Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra"

"Nirvana Sutra" Continued (Z33)


"O Gautama! All sramanas and Brahmins say: "Everybody encounters karmic results; they are sad or happy; and all arise out of what they did before. Hence, if one upholds the moral precepts, makes effort, and undergoes bodily and mental pain, this will crush out the original karma. When the primary karma ends, all suffering ends. Suffering ending, Nirvana results." What do you think of this?"

"O good man! If there are any such sramanas or Brahmins, I shall feel pity and go to them. On arriving, I shall ask: "Do you speak thus?" If they say: "We do speak this. Why? O Gautama! We see all the people who do all kinds of evil and who [yet] are rich, and act as they will. And people who are very poor, although doing good. Or people who do not seek, and who [yet] somehow gain things. Or there are people who have compasion and do not kill, and yet they die at an untimely hour. Or people who enjoy killing, who gain a long life. Or there are those who perform pure actions, who make effort and uphold sila, and who gain - or do not gain - Emancipation. That is why we say that all people suffer from sorrow or are blessed with happiness due to the primary karma which they have engendered in the past."

"O Subhadra! I shall now ask: "Do you see or not the karma of the past? If there is this karma, is it many or few? Does the penance that one undergoes not crush out the suffering in any way? Do we know or not whether this karma has died our or not? Does all end when this karma ends?" Should the person say: "I really do not know", I shall take up a parable. "Suppose, for example, that a man is struck by a poisoned arrow. The people of the house call for a doctor, so as to have the poisoned arrow extracted. Once the arrow has been removed, the [man's] body is at peace. Ten years on, the person still recalls the event very clearly. "This doctor extracted the poisoned arrow for me, treated me with medicine, and I now enjoy peace." You do not know the past karma. How can you know whether the penance you now perform crushes out the karma done in the past?" Or he may well say: "O Gautama! Now, you yourself have karmic results from the past. Why should you reprove me in regard to my past karma? In Gautama's own sutras, this thing is spoken of. You say: "If one sees a rich and noble person, and a person who enjoys freedom, one can indeed know that such a person has made good offerings in past lives]. Do you not say that they are the karmas of the past?" I shall reply: "Any such knowing is a comparative knowing and is not one that is true. In the Buddhist teaching of my house, there is the case of knowing the result from the cause or the cause from the result. In our Buddhist teaching, we speak of the karma of a past life and of this present life. With you it is not like that. What there is [with you] is past karma, but not karma of the present. Your [doctrine] does not handle karma by expediency. With us it is not like that. We see karma through the eyes of expedient means. With you, if you reach the end of karma, suffering comes to an end. But with us, that is not so. When defilement goes, the suffering of karma ends. That is why I criticise the karma of the past about which you speak." If the person says: "O Gautama! Truth to tell, I do not know about this -  I got this from my teacher. My teacher says so; I am not to be reproved." Then I shall say: "Who is your teacher?" If he says: "He is Purana", I shall then say: "Why did you not ask each of your teachers whether they know the karma of the past? If your teacher says that he does not know, why should you take his word [i.e. believe what he teaches regarding karma]? If he says that he knows, you should ask whether the causal relations of the lowest grade of suffering call forth the causal relations of the top grade of suffering, or whether or not the causal relations of suffering of the middle grade harvest the suffering of the lowest or top-grade suffering. Or ask if the causal relations of the top grade gain one the suffering of the middle and low grades. If no, you may well ask: "How can you, the teacher, say that the result of bliss or suffering only rests in the past and not in the present? Also you could well ask whether or not the suffering of the present exists in the past? If it is in the past, it must be the case that the karma of the past is now ended. If it is ended, how is it possible for a person to harvest it in this present life? If it is the case that there is no past, but what there is is merely the present, how can one say that the being's suffering and bliss arise from past karma? If you know that penance in the present life can truly crush out the karma of the past life, how can one crush out the penance [suffering] of the present life? If it is not crushed out, suffering must be eternal. If suffering is eternal, how can one say that one attains Emancipation from suffering? If what one does crushes out suffering, then the past is already gone. How can there be any suffering? O you! Does penance cause the karma of bliss to harvest the fruit of suffering? Also, can the karma of suffering cause one to harvest the fruit of bliss? Does the karma of non-suffering and non-bliss become the fruition of non-receiving? Is it possible that whatever result one has to harvest now, becomes one to be harvested in the life to come or not? Is it possible or not that what one is to harvest in the next life can be harvested in this life? Is it possible or not to cause these two karmic returns to be of no-return? Is it possible or not? Is it possible or not to make a karmic return that is definite into one that is indefinite? Is it possible to make an indefinite return one that is definite? "If he says: "O Gautama! It is not possible", I shall again say: "O you! If it is not possible, why should you suffer penance? You should well know that there are cases where past karma forms the causal relations of the present. That is why I say that karma arises out of defilement and that by karma one meets with the recompense. O you! Know that all beings have karma of the past and the cause of the present. Though beings have the past karma of life, they have to depend upon the causal relations of food in the present life. O you! One may say that beings suffer from sorrow and are blessed with bliss, all definitely grounded in the primary karmic causes from the past life. But the situation is not thus. Why not? O you! For example, it is as when a person does away with the enemy of the King, as a result of which he gains treasure and is blessed with bliss in the present life. Such a person generates the cause of bliss in this present life and reaps the recompense of bliss in this present life. For example, this is analogous to the man who kills the King's son and through this loses his life. Such a person engenders the cause of suffering now and harvests the karmic return in this present life. O you! All beings, now in this present life, encounter suffering and bliss from the four great elements, the seasons, the land, and people. That is why I say that all beings do not necessarily harvest suffering and bliss primarily from their past karma. O you! If a person can arrive at Emancipation through the power of the causal relations of cutting off karma, we could say that all sages cannot attain it. Why not? Because the primary karma of beings has no beginning and no end. That is why I say that when one practises the Holy Way, this Way truly makes away with the karma that has no head or tail. O you! If one gained the Path through penance [austerities], all animals would have to attain it. That is why one first subdues the mind and not the body. Hence I say in my sutra that one must cut down the forest but not the tree. Why? From the forest, one gains fear, but not from the tree. If one wishes to adjust the body, one must first adjust the mind. The mind is the forest, and the body is the tree. So may we compare things."