Nirvana Sutra

Appreciation of the "Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra"

The "Nirvana Sutra" Continued (Z8)

"O good man! I have delivered the sermons of the 12 types of sutra of my own will, or following the will of others, or following my own will and also that of others.

"What do I mean by saying that I speak of my own free will? 500 bhiksus put a question to Sariputra: "O great one! The Buddha speaks about the cause of the body. What might this be?" Sariputra said: "O great ones! When you yourselves gain Right Emancipation, you yourselves will know. Why do you pose such a question?" A bhiksu answered: "O great one! At the time when I had not yet attained Right Emancipation, I thought that ignorance was the cause of the body. As I so thought to myself, I gained arhatship." One person said: "O great one! When I had not yet attained Right Emancipation, I thought to myself that ignorance and craving were the cause of the body. As I so thought to myself, I attained the fruition of arhatship." And some said: "Things such as action, consciousness, mind-and-body, the six spheres, touch, feeling, craving, cleaving, existence, birth, food and drink, and the five desires are the cause of the body." Then all the 500 bhiksus, each saying what he understood, went to the Buddha, touched his feet, circumambulated him three times, paid him homage, drew back to one side, and each reported what he had in his mind to the Buddha.

"Sariputra said to the Buddha: "O World-Honoured One! Of all these persons, who is the one who speaks in the right way? And who is not right?"

"The Buddha said to Sariputra: "Well said, well said! Each bhiksu says nothing but what is right."

"Sariputra said: "O World-Honoured One! What is it that is in your mind?"

"The Buddha said: "O Sariputra! I said for the sake of beings that parents are the cause of the body. The case is thus. All such sutras are what I spoke of my own free will.

"What are those which I spoke following the will of others? The rich man, Patala, came to me and said: "O Gautama! Do you know a phantom or not? One who knows phantoms is a great phantom. If not, such a person is no All-Knower."

"I said: "O rich man! How can you call one who knows a phantom a phantom?"

"The rich man said: "Well said, well said! One who knows a phantom is a phantom."

"The Buddha said: "O rich man! There was a candala in the state of King Prasenajit, in Sravasti, whose name was Baspacandala. Have you heard of him or not?"

"The rich man said: "I have known him for a long time already."

"The Buddha said: "If you have known him for a long time, might it be that you are [yourself] a candala?"

"The rich man said: "I have known him for a long time already, but this body of mine cannot be that of a candala."

"O you rich man! You now know that though you know a candala, you are not a candala. How can it be that I am a phantom because I know a phantom? O rich man! I truly know a phantom, one who acts as a phantom, the results of the phantom, and the arts of the phantom. I know killing, the killer, the karmic results of killing, and emancipation from killing. I also know twisted views of life, the people of twisted views, the karmic results of twisted views, and emancipation from twisted views. O rich man! Should you call one who is not a phantom a phantom, and one who does not hold twisted views of life one who is possessed of twisted views of life, you will gain innumerable sins."

"The rich man said: "O Gautama! If things are as you say, I shall earn great sin. I shall now give you all that I possess. Please be good enough not to have King Prasenajit informed of this."

"The Buddha said: "It cannot necessarily be that the causal relations of this sin will prevent you from losing your wealth. In consequence of this, you will fall into the three unfortunate realms."

"On hearing mention of the unfortunate realms, the rich man became frightened and said to the Buddha: "O Holy One! I have now lost my head and committed a great sin. You Holy One are the All-Knower! You must know how to get emancipated. How am I to evade the worlds of hell, hungry ghosts, and animals?"

"I then spoke to him of the Four Truths. The rich man, on hearing this, attained the fruition of srotapanna. Repentance had budded, and he begged the pardon of the Buddha: "I was ignorant. I said that the Buddha was a phantom, despite the fact that you are not. I shall, from this day forward, take refuge in the Three Treasures."

"The Buddha said: "Well said, well said, O rich man!" The case is thus. This is speaking in response to the will of others.

"How do I speak following my own will and that of others? When all the world says that the wise say "is", I too say "is". When they say that the wise say "is-not", I too say "is-not". When the wise of the world say that to amuse oneself in the five desires ends in the non-eternal, suffering, non-Self, and disruption, I, too, say so. When the wise of the world say that to amuse oneself in the five desires does not end in the Eternal, Self, and the Pure, I too say so. Things stand thus. This is what is called speaking following one's own will and also that of others.

"O good man! I said: "The Bodhisattvas of the ten levels see the Buddha-Nature somewhat." This is speaking following the will of others. Why do we say that one sees a little? The Bodhisattva of the ten stages gains the Suramgama and other samadhis and the 3,000 teachings [i.e. the teachings of the universe]. Because of this, he clearly sees that all attain unsurpassed Bodhi. All beings will definitely gain unsurpassed Bodhi. That is why I say: "The Bodhisattva of the ten stages sees the Buddha-Nature somewhat."

"O good man! I always say: "All beings possess the Buddha-Nature." This is what I speak following my own will. All beings are not segregated, do not perish, and gain unsurpassed Bodhi. This is what I say following my own will.

"All beings have the Buddha-Nature. When defilement overspreads them, they cannot see it. That is what I say that is what you say. This is what is said following my own will and the will of others.

"O good man! The Tathagata, at times, speaks of innumerable teachings as just one thing. I say in the sutras that all pure actions arise out of the good teacher of the Way. This is how it goes. The causes of all pure actions are innumerable. But if we say "good teachers of the Way", this covers everything. This is as when I say that all actions arise out of evil views of life. The causes of all evil actions are innumerable. But when we say "evil views of life", this already covers everything. Or we say that unsurpassed Enlightenment has faith as its cause. The causes of Enlightenment are innumerable, but if stated as faith, this covers everything. O good man! The Tathagata speaks innumerable teachings, but these do not depart from the five skandhas, the 18 realms, and the 12 spheres.

"O good man! The Tathagata's words are - for the sake of the being - made up of seven kinds, i.e. those based on words of:  1) cause,  2) result,  3) cause and result,  4) metaphors 5) non-accorded words,  6) following what generally applies in the world,  7) one's own free will. Why cause? This speaks of the result that is to come about in the future from the cause that now exists. This is what I say.

"O good man! Do you see anyone who takes pleasure in killing or doing evil things? Know that such a person is destined for hell.

"O good man! If there is any person who does not take pleasure in killing or doing evil, know that such a person is a heavenly being. This is what is said based on [the subject of] cause.

"What are words based on "result"? This looks back to the cause from the result that is at hand. This is as is stated in the sutra: "O good man! The poverty-stricken beings that you come across look ugly in their faces, as though they did not have freedom. Know that those persons must have infringed the precepts, had a jealous, angry or restless mind. When we see people who possess many things and wealth, whose sense-organs are perfect and whose deportment possesses authority and unmolestedness [a sense of inviolability], we may know that such persons must definitely have upheld the moral precepts, given [to others], made effort, and possessed a repenting mind, had no jealousy, nor any mind of anger." This is what we call "words based on the result."

"What are cause-and-result words? This is as when it is stated in a sutra: "O good man! The six sense-organs which beings now possess arose from the cause of touch and are the results of the past. The Tathagata also speaks of this and calls it karma. The causal relations of this karma call forth the results that one has to harvest in the time to come." These are "words based on cause-and-result".

"What is a metaphor? For example, "lion-king" refers to me. Such terms as great elephant-king, great naga-king, parijata, ball of seven treasures, great ocean, Mount Sumeru, great earth, great rain, master mariner, guide, best trainer, wrestler, cow-king, Brahmin, sramana, great castle, and tala tree are metaphorical terms.

"What are non-accorded words? I say in a sutra: "Heaven and earth come into one; the river does not get into the sea; for the sake of King Prasenajit, mountains come from [all] around." It is as when I spoke to Mrgaramata, such as: "Even the sal trees would gain the bliss of humans and heaven if they received the eight precepts." The case is thus. I may even say that the Bodhisattvas of the ten stages have a retrogressing mind, but never will I say that the Tathagata employs two kinds of words. I might even say that a srotapanna might fall into the three unfortunate realms, but I will never say that the Bodhisattva of the ten stages has a retrogressive mind. These are non-accorded words.

"What are the words that apply in the world? These are such as the Buddha uses, such as: man and woman, big and small, to go and to come, to sit and to lie, vehicle and house, pot, clothing, beings, the eternal, bliss, self, and the pure, army, forest, castle-town, phantom, transformed existence, and to become one and to disperse. These are the words that obtain in the world.

"What are words that come forth as one wills? This is as when I reproach those who violate the prohibitions and I make them guard against this. I praise those of the srotapanna stage and enable common mortals to gain a good [state of] mind. I praise Bodhisattvas and enable common mortals to aspire to Enlightenment. I speak of the sufferings of the three unfortunate realms and cause people to do good. I say that all gets burnt, addressing those who are addicted to the notion that all things are created things. So does it go with the non-Self. We say that all beings possess the Buddha-Nature. All this is to cause all beings not to be indolent. These are the words that come out of one's free will.

"O good man! The Tathagata also possess words which come out of his own free will. There are two kinds [aspects] in the Buddha-Nature of the Tathagata, namely:  1) "is", and  2) "not-is". The "is" refers to: the 32 signs of perfection, 80 minor marks of excellence, ten powers, four fearlessnesses, three remembrances, Great Loving-Kindness and Great Compassion, such innumerable samadhis as the Suramgama Samadhi, etc., such innumerable samadhis as the vajra-samadhi, etc., such innumerable samadhis as of the expedients, etc., and such innumerable samadhis as of the five knowledges. These are all "is".

"Not-is" refers to all the Tathagta's good deeds of the past, the non-good, indefinables [i.e. neither good nor bad], karmic causes, karmic results, defilements, the five skandhas, the 12 links of interdependence, etc. These are the "not-is".

"O good man! There are the "is" and the "not-is", good and non-good, defiled and non-defiled, mundane and supra-mundane world, holy and non-holy, the created and the non-created, the real and the non-real, quietude and non-quietude, disputation and non-disputation, world and non-world, illusion and non-illusion, cleaving and non-cleaving, prophecy and non-prophecy, existence and non-existence, the Three Times and not the Three Times, time and non-time, Eternal and non-Eternal, the Self and the non-Self, Bliss and non-Bliss, the Pure and the non-Pure, form-feeling-perception-volition-consciousness, and non-form-non-feeling-non-perception-non-volition-non-consciousness, the six sense-organs and non-six sense organs, the six sense-fields and the non-six sense-fields, the 12 links of interdependent arising and the non-12 links of interdependent arising. These are the "is" and "not-is" of the Tathagata's Buddha-Nature. And the same applies to the Buddha-Nature of the icchantika.

"O good man! I say: "All beings possess the Buddha-Nature." But beings do not understand the words of the Buddha that accord with his own will. As such words cannot even be understood by the Bodhisattva personifying another person. How could the two vehicles and all other Bodhisattvas understand them?

"O good man! I, at one time at Grdhrakuta, discussed worldly truths with Maitreya. None of the 500 disciples, including Sariputra, knows of these, still less of the supramundane “Paramartha-satya” [Ultimate Truth]. O good man! There are cases where the Buddha-Nature is with an icchantika and not with a person of virtue, or where it is with a person of virtue but not with an icchantika. Or it can be with both or not with both. O good man! Those of my disciples who know of these four cases should not criticise and say: "Is the Buddha-Nature definitely with an icchantika or not?" When it is stated: "Beings all possess the Buddha-Nature", this is to be called the Tathagata's words of his own will. How could beings understand this at all?

"O good man! This is comparable to a situation in which there are seven beings in the river Ganges. These are those who:  1) always get drowned,  2) come up for a time and then sink down again,  3) come up and stay there,  4) come up and look all around,  5) look all around and go [move],  6) get out and stay there again,  7) go [move about] both on land and water.

"We speak of one who always sinks. This means that the person undergoes the great evil karmic result of a big fish, so that his body is heavy and the place is deep. Hence, he always sinks.

"We speak of one who, for a time, comes up but sinks gain. This means that the person suffers from the evil karma of a big fish, so that his body is heavy and the place shallow, so that, for a time, he sees the light. By means of the light, he comes up for a time, but his body being heavy, he sinks again.

"We speak of one who, on coming up, remains there. This refers to the fish called “timi” [a kind of shark]. It lives in shallow waters and enjoys the light. Hence, we say that it comes up and remains [there].

"We speak of one who comes up and looks all around him. This is the case of a shark which looks all around and seeks food. On this account, it looks around.

"We speak of one who, having seen, goes off. This means that the fish, having seen some other things far off, soon goes off after them in order to devour them. Hence, having seen, it goes off.

"We speak of one who, having gone, stays. This means that the fish goes off, and having eaten what it wanted to have, stays there. This is why we say that it goes off and then stays there.

"We speak of one who goes on both land and water. This refers to the tortoise.

"O good man! In this all-wonderful river of Nirvana, there live seven living beings. These are the first - always-sinking - up to the seventh. Some sink and some come up.

"We speak of one who always sinks. This refers to one who hears this said: "This Great Nirvana Sutra states that the Tathagata is Eternal, does not change, and is the Eternal, Bliss, the Self, and the Pure; that he does not ultimately enter Nirvana; that all beings possess the Buddha-Nature; that the icchantika, the slanderers of the vaiulya sutras, those who have committed the five deadly sins, those guilty of the four grave offences, will all perfect the Way to Enlightenment; that the srotapanna, sakrdagamin, anagamin, arhat, and pratyekabuddha will unfailingly achieve unsurpassed Enlightenment." On hearing this, such a person does not believe, but thinks to himself: "This Nirvana Sutra is one that belongs to the tirthikas and is not a Buddhist sutra." This person then departs from the Way, and does not give ear to Wonderful Dharma. At times, he may happen to hear [Dharma], but he cannot think well. He may think, but cannot think of good. As he does not think of good, he abides in evil. Abiding in evil has six ways, which are:  1) evil,  2) non-good,  3) defiled dharma [state], 4) augmentation of "is",  5) worry in heat [i.e. becoming hellishly hot with worry], 6) receiving evil results. This is to sink.

"Why is it to sink? When a person does not have a good [state of] mind, when he always does evil, when he does not practise the Way, we call this "sinking". We say "evil" because a holy person reproaches [him], the mind feels fear, good persons hate [this], and because there is no benefiting of beings. Hence, evil.

"We say non-good because innumerable evils come about, because ignorance always binds the person, because he is always intimate with evil people, because he does not practise all the [various] kinds of good, because his mind is always inverted and always goes wrong. Hence, non-good.

"We say "defiled dharma" because it always defiles body and mouth, because it defiles pure beings, because it increases non-good actions, because it keeps the person away from good things. Hence, defiled dharma.

"We speak of augmenting "is" because what is done by the three persons mentioned above truly increases the causes for hell, hungry ghosts, and animals. Such a person does not practise Dharma for Emancipation. He does not scorn the actions of body, mouth and mind, and all others. This is to augment "is".

"We speak of "worrying heat" because this person minutely [constantly] does such four things and makes the body and mind feel worried over the two things, and there is no time for quietude. This is "heat". This ends in the karmic consequence of hell. Hence, heat. This burns all beings. Hence, heat. This burns all good things. Hence, heat. O good man! This person does not possess faith and coolness. Hence, heat.

"We speak of suffering from evil results. This person fully does all the five things stated above, and after death falls into the realms of hell, hungry preta, and animals.