Nirvana Sutra

Appreciation of the "Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra"

Selected Extracts 1f


(Continued from Selected Extracts 1e)


“Moreover, noble son, it is like, for example, the new-born child of some woman which is small and sickly. A doctor skilfully mixes a good medicine with ghee and sugar and administers it to the child. He advises the mother that she should not give any milk to the child, to allow the child to digest the medicine, after which she can give milk. He also mixes some bitter herbs and smears them on her breasts. When the child wanted to suckle milk, he tasted the bitter flavour and turned away [from her breast]. After the mother knew that the medicine had been digested, she washed her breasts and let the child drink milk from them. In the same way, noble son, the Tathagata first taught people to cultivate the notion that all phenomena are devoid of a Self, in order to encourage and train them. When they have cultivated non-Self, they eliminate the false view of the Self. Having eliminated the false view of the Self, they enter Nirvana. I have taught non-Self in order to eradicate the mundane/ conventional self. Subsequently, I teach the Tathagata-dhatu with skilful words of implicit intent. This is called the True Self, which is divorced from the mundane …


     “It is, for example, like this: a certain king had a great wrestler, who has fixed to the top of his head a precious jewel which can purge all infections. He had a bout with someone from a rival country which caused the jewel he was wearing to be forced into his body. Blood, flesh and skin covered it over and the jewel seemed to have disappeared. Though the wrestler searched for it, he could not find it and thought that he had lost it. Now, there was a skilful doctor, who had come to treat the injury. Consequently, the wrestler said to the doctor, ‘I had a jewel, but I seem to have lost it. I have searched in various places for it, but I don’t know where it is. You should know that a precious jewel is an impermanent thing, just like froth on water – quick to arise and quick to perish, elusive like a phantom.’ In that manner, he thought he had lost his jewel forever. The doctor replied, ‘The jewel is not lost – don’t think that you have lost it! When you were fighting, the jewel entered into your body. It is not visible because it is concealed by your blood, flesh and skin.’ The wrestler did not believe the doctor and said to him, ‘Whereabouts is the jewel in my blood and flesh? You are just speaking empty words!’ Then the skilled doctor extracted the jewel. Having got his jewel, the wrestler then believed the good doctor and was amazed at his knowledge.


     “All beings are also like this. Each one of them has the Tathagata-dhatu, but, through having recourse to evil acquaintances, they give rise to attachment, hatred and delusion and fall into the three miserable states and so forth, adopting various kinds of bodies throughout the 25 modes of existence. The precious jewel that is the Tathagata-dhatu is buried within the wound of the kleshas of attachment, hatred and delusion, so that they are unaware of its presence there. Engaging in the notion that there is no Self as regards the mundane/ conventional self, they do not understand the skilful words of implicit intent of the Tathagata, who is like the good doctor. They have the notion that there is no Self and are unable to know the True Self. Regarding this, the Tathagata again utilises skilful means: he causes them to extinguish the raging fires of the countless kleshas, revealing and elucidating the Tathagata-dhatu to them.


     “Moreover, noble son, it is, for example, like this: there is a very sweet medicinal herb in the Himalayas called ‘superior taste’, which remains hidden and invisible as long as there is no chakravartin [supreme and righteous emperor] in the world. Sick people went to the location of the medicine and, digging into the ground, they buried pipes to draw off the medicinal sap. They obtained sap with a sweet taste, a bitter taste, a pungent taste, a sour taste, a salty taste, or an astringent taste. Though the sick people got these various tastes, they were unable to get the medicine with the true superior taste, because they did not dig the ground deeply enough and because their merits were slight. Because of the power of a chakravartin’s merit, he is able to obtain the medicine with the true superior taste when he appears in the world. Similarly, noble son, the Tathagata-dhatu is hidden by a multitude of different tastes, the countless kleshas [arising from] delusion. Hence, beings are unable to obtain the superior taste of the Tathagata-dhatu, and, engaging in various kinds of actions, they come to be born in different places.


     “The Tathagata-dhatu cannot be killed. Those who die are said to be short-lived, while the Tathagata-dhatu is said to be true life. It cannot be cut off or destroyed, right up to the attainment of Buddhahood. The Tathagata-dhatu can neither be harmed nor killed, but only nurtures/ sustains the person, while those who can be harmed or killed, like those sick people, engage in a mass of perverse actions and encounter various kinds of fruitional recompense as ksatriyas, Brahmins and so forth, being born and dying in the 25 modes of existence, because they cannot obtain the true Tathagata-dhatu.


     “Furthermore, noble son, it is like a person who digs the earth searching for diamonds. Holding a sharp pickaxe in his hands, he digs into the ground and rocks, able to pulversie them all. Diamonds alone he cannot shatter. The Tathagata-garbha is like this, for it cannot be harmed by the sharp weapons of the gods and demons. It only nurtures/ sustains the person, and anything that can be harmed or damaged is not the Tathagata-dhatu. Hence, you should know that the Tathagata-dhatu cannot be harmed or killed. This means that the vaipulya [extensive] sutras, the Tathagata’s definitive teachings, are both elixir and poison.”