The Mahāyāna Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra is one of the major sutras of Mahāyāna Buddhism. Its main teachings centre on the eternity of the Buddha, the reality of the True Self, and the presence of the Buddha-dhatu (Buddha Nature) in all beings. Simple name: Nirvāṇa Sūtra....
‘"Also, next, O good man! Of all lights, the light of the sun and the moon is unsurpassed. No other lights are their equal. The same with the light of Great Nirvana, which is the most wonderful of all the lights of the sutras and samadhis. It is one which cannot be reached by any of the lights of any of the sutras and samadhis. Why not? Because the light of Great Nirvana thoroughly gets into the pores of the skin. Though beings may not possess Bodhichitta, it yet causes Bodhi. That is why we say “Mahaparinirvana”."
Bodhisattva Kasyapa said to the Buddha: "O World-Honoured One! You say that the light of Great Nirvana penetrates the pores of the skin of all beings and that it calls forth the Bodhi mind, if beings do not have it. This is not so. Why not? If that is so, what difference can there be between those who have performed the four grave offences, those who have committed the five deadly sins, and the icchantikas, and those who uphold the pure precepts and practise every good deed, if it is the case that the light penetrates the pores of the skin and causes Bodhi [Enlightenment] to come about? If there exists no difference, how is it that the Tathagata speaks about the significations of the four things to stand [rely?] upon [“’catvari-pratisaranani“’]? O World-Honoured One! In contradiction of the fact that, as you the Buddha say, if one once hears Great Nirvana, all defilements will be annihilated, you, the Tathagata, stated before that even if a person gives rise to Bodhichitta [resolve to gain Enlightenment] at the place of Buddhas as numerous as the sands of the Ganges, there are [yet] those who do not gain the meaning of Great Nirvana. How could a person make away with the root of defilement without gaining the meaning?"
The Buddha said: "O good man! All people, other than the icchantikas, gain the cause of Enlightenment as soon as they hear this sutra. If the voice of Dharma and the light [of Great Nirvana] penetrate the pores of their skin, they [such people] will unfailingly attain unsurpassed Enlightenment. Why so? If anybody truly makes offerings and pays homage to all the Buddhas, they will surely gain occasion to hear the Great Nirvana Sutra. Persons not endowed with good fortune will not be blessed with hearing this sutra. Why not? A person of great virtue will indeed be able to give ear to something as important as this. Common mortals and those less in grade cannot easily give ear to it. What is that which is Great? It is nothing other than the hidden store of all Buddhas, which is the Tathagata-Nature. That is why we say important."
Bodhisattva Kasyapa said to the Buddha: "O World-Honoured One! How can a person who has not yet given rise to Bodhichitta hope for the cause of Enlightenment?"
The Buddha said to Kasyapa: "If anyone who has heard this Great Nirvana Sutra says that he will never give rise to Bodhichitta and [thus] commits slander, such a person will see a rakshasa in a dream and feel afraid. And the rakshasa will say: “Hey, O good man! If no Bodhichitta comes about in you, I shall assuredly take your life.” Feeling afraid and awakening from his dream, the person will aspire to Bodhi. After death, that person will be born in the three evil realms or in the world of humans or gods, and he will think about Bodhichitta. Know that this person is a great Bodhisattva. Thus the great divine power of this Nirvana Sutra well enables a person who has not aspired to Enlightenment to attain the cause of Enlightenment. O good man! This is how a Bodhisattva aspires to Bodhi. It is not that there is no cause. Thus, the wonderful Mahayana sutras are what the Buddha spoke.
"Also, next, O good man! A great rain-cloud gathers in the sky, and the rain falls upon the earth. The water does not remain on the dead trees, rocky mountains, plateaux and hills. But as it flows down to the paddy-fields down below, all the ponds become full, benefiting innumerable people. The case is the same with this Great Nirvana Sutra. It pours down the great rain of Dharma, benefiting beings. Only the icchantika does not aspire to Enlightenment.
"Also, next, O good man! For example, a burnt seed will not call forth buds, even if the rain falls on it for a period of 100 thousand million kalpas. There can never be a situation in which this seed will bring forth buds. The same with the icchantika. No bud of Enlightenment springs forth, even if the icchantika gives ear to this all-wonderful Great Nirvana Sutra. Such can never happen. Why not? Because such a person has totally annihilated the root of good. As with the burnt seed, no root or bud of Bodhichitta will shoot forth.
"Also, next, O good man! For example, we deposit a bright gem in muddy water. But by virtue of the gem, the water of itself becomes clear. But even this, if placed in mud, cannot make the mud clear. The same with this all-wonderful Great Nirvana Sutra. If placed in the defiled water of people guilty of the five deadly sins and those who have committed the four grave offences too, it can indeed still call forth Bodhichitta. But in the mud of the icchantika, even after 100 thousand million years, the water cannot become clear and it cannot call forth Bodhichitta. Why not? Because this icchantika has totally annihilated the root of good and is not worth that much. The man could listen to this Great Nirvana Sutra for 100 thousand million years, and yet there could be no giving rise to the Bodhichitta [inside him]. Why not? Because he has no good mind.
"Also, next, O good man! For example, there is a medicinal tree, whose name is “king of medicines”. Of all medicines, this is the best. It can well be mixed with milk, cream, honey, butter, water, or juice; or it can be made into powder or pills, or one can apply it to wounds, or cauterize the body with it, or apply it to the eyes; or one can look at it or smell it. It cures all illnesses and diseases of beings. This medicine tree does not say to itself: “If beings take [my] root, they should not take the leaves; if they take the leaves, they should not take the root; if they take the wood, they should not take the bark; if they take the bark, they should not take the wood.” Although the tree does not think in this way, it nevertheless can cure all illnesses and diseases. The case is similar. O good man! The same is also the case with this Nirvana Sutra. It can thoroughly make away with all evil actions, the four grave offences and the five deadly sins, and any such evil actions in and out [of thought, word or deed?]. Any person who has not yet aspired to Bodhichitta, will indeed come to aspire to it. How so? Because this all-wonderful sutra is the King of all sutras, as the medicine tree is the king of all medicines. There may be those who have learnt this Great Nirvana Sutra or those who have not. Or they may have heard the name of this sutra and, on hearing it, may entertain respect and believe [in it]. And through this, all the great illnesses of defilement will be annulled. Only the icchantika cannot hope to attain unsurpassed Enlightenment, as in the case of the all-wonderful medicine, which, though it does indeed cure all illnesses and diseases, cannot cure those persons who are on the brink of death.
"Also, next, O good man! One may have a wound in one's hand. If one pours poison into it, this poison will get in; if there is no wound, the poison will not get in. The same with the icchantika. There is no cause for Bodhichitta. It is like one who has no wound in his hand. So there can be no entry. The so-called wound is the cause of unsurpassed Enlightenment; the poison is the unsurpassed wonderful medicine. The one who has no wound is an icchantika.
"Also, next, O good man! A diamond is something which no one indeed can break. It truly cuts all things, excepting tortoise shell and goat's horn. The same with this sutra. It indeed places all beings safely on the path to Enlightenment. Only, it cannot make the icchantika class of people gain the cause of Enlightenment.
"Also, next, O good man! One may well cut off the branch or stem of the urslane, sal or niskara [trees], but the branches will grow back, just as before; but with the tala [fan palm] tree, when a branch is cut off, no branch can grow back [in its place]. The case is analogous. If one hears this Great Nirvana Sutra, even those people of the four grave offences and the five deadly sins can still indeed cultivate the cause of Bodhichitta. With the icchantika, things cannot be thus. Even on hearing this beautiful sutra, he cannot arrive at the cause of Enlightenment. Also, next, O good man! The same is the case with khadira [acacia catechu] and tinduka [diospiros embryoteris], which when once their branches are cut off, never put forth shoots again. It is the same with the icchantika. He may hear this Great Nirvana Sutra, but no cause of Bodhichitta will ensue. Also, next, O good man! It is as in the case of the great rain that never remains in the sky. The same with this all-wonderful Great Nirvana Sutra. This sutra rains down the rain of Dharma. It does not stay upon the icchantika. The whole body of the icchantika is so minutely made as might well be compared to a diamond, which never allows other things to get in. The same is the case [here]."
Bodhisattva Kasyapa said to the Buddha: "Just as you say in your gatha:
“A person does not see or do good;
What he does is evil.
This is much to be dreaded, as in the case
Of a road that is steep and hard to pass.”
"O World-Honoured One! What is the meaning of this?" The Buddha said: "O good man! We say that we “do not see”, which means that we do not see the Buddha-Nature. “Good” refers to unsurpassed Enlightenment. We say that we “do not do”, which means to say that we do not come near a good friend [good teacher of Buddhism]. We “but see” means to say that we see things as having no causal relations. By evil is meant slandering the vaipulya Mahayana sutras. “To do” corresponds to the icchantika's saying that there cannot be any vaipulya. Because of this, there is no occasion for the icchantika's mind to turn to what is pure and good. What is “Good Dharma”? It is Nirvana. One who walks along the way to Nirvana indeed practises what is wise and good. With the icchantika, there is nothing that is wise and good. As a result, there can be no turning towards Nirvana. That one should “dread” means the dread of slandering Wonderful Dharma. Whom do we fear? It is the wise. Why? Because a person who slanders, possesses no good mind and no expedients. The way that is hardgoing alludes to all practises."
Kasyapa said further: "You, the Tathagata, say:
“How do we see what is done?
How do we get to Good Dharma,
And where is the place that knows no dread? It is
As with the flat kingly road.”
What does this mean?"
The Buddha said: "O good man! “To see what is done” is simply laying bare all evils done. When all the evils done since the beginning of birth and death have once been laid bare, one gains a place where there is nowhere further to go. As a result, what there is here is fearlessness. For example, this is as in the case of the royal road from which all robbers hide. Thus bared, evils all become annihilated, and there remains nothing behind.
"Also, next, “not to see what one does” means that the icchantika does not see all that he does. This icchantika, out of arrogance, does many an evil deed. And in doing so, he has no fear. As a result, he cannot gain Nirvana. For example, this is as in the case of a monkey that tries to grab at the moon reflected in a watery surface. O good man! Even if all innumerable beings attain unsurpassed Enlightenment at a time [at one time? eventually?], none of the Tathagatas sees the icchantika attaining Enlightenment. For this reason, we say that “what is done is not seen”. Also, whose action is not seen? It is that of the Tathagata. The Buddha, for the sake of beings, says that there is the Buddha-Nature. The icchantika, repeating lives, cannot know or see [the Buddha-Nature]. That is why we say that one does not see what the Tathagata does. Also, the icchantika thinks that the Tathagata enters Nirvana for good, saying that all is transient, just as, when the flame goes out, the oil too is spent. Why? Because this person's evil actions have not come to an end. If there is here a Bodhisattva who transfers [the merit of] all the good deeds he has done towards unsurpassed Enlightenment, those of the icchantika class commit slander and do not believe. Despite even this, all Bodhisattvas carry on giving as ever and desire to attain Enlightenment. Why? This is how things proceed with the laws [dharmas?] of all Buddhas.
“Evil is done, but the result does not
Appear at once. It appears
Like cream that comes from milk.
This is as when ash is placed over a fire
And the ignorant carelesly step on it.”
"The iccantika is the eyeless. So he does not see the path of arhatship, the path along which the arhat does not take the steep and arduous path of life-and-death. Being eyeless, he slanders the vaipulya and does not desire to practise the Way, like the arhat who tries to learn compassion. Likewise, the icchantika does not practise the vaipulya. There may be a person who says: “I do not believe in the sutras of the sravaka. I believe in Mahayana, recite the sutras and expound [them]. So I am now a Bodhisattva. All beings possess the Buddha-Nature. Because of the Buddha-Nature, beings possess within themselves the 10 powers, the 32 signs of perfection, and the 80 minor marks of excellence. What I say does not differ from what the Buddha says. You now destroy, together with me, a countless number of defilements, just as in the case where one breaks a water pot. By destroying the bond of defilement, I can now see unsurpassed Enlightenment.” The person may say this. Although he speaks in this way, he does not believe that people have within them the Tathagata-Nature. Just for the sake of profit, this person speaks in this way, following what is written. One who so talks is one evil. Such an evil person will not gain the result, as of milk becoming cream. For example, a king's emissary talks well and deftly practises expedients and has duties in foreign lands. Even if it means his life, he does not leave unsaid , to the end, what he has to say on behalf of the king. The same with the wise man, too. He does not care much about his own safety, but always talks about the hidden doctrine of Mahayana vaipulya and says that all beings possess the Buddha-Nature.
"O good man! There is an icchantika, who impersonates an arhat and lives in a quiet place, slandering the vaipulya Mahayana sutras. Everybody, on seeing him, says that he is a true arhat, a great Bodhisattva. This icchantika, an evil bhiksu, lives in a quiet place and breaks the law of [such] a quiet place. Seeing others obtaining benefit, he experiences jealousy and says: “All the vaipulya Mahayana sutras are what Marapapiyas speaks.” Or he might say: “The Tathagata is non-eternal.” He transgresses against Wonderful Dharma and causes disruption in the Sangha. Such words as these are those of Mara and not a doctrine that is good and meek. Such is what is evil. This person does evil, but the consequences of those evil actions do not manifest immediately, as cream [does not immediately] arise from milk; or when ashes are placed over a fire, the ignorant make light of it and step on it. The icchantika is such a person. Hence, we should know that the all-wonderful vaipulya sutras of Mahayana are definitely pure. This is as in the case of the mani [jewel, gem] which, when placed in muddy water, makes the water clean and transparent. It is the same with the Mahayana sutras, also.
"Further, O good man! For example, it is as in the case of a lotus bud, which, when the sun shines upon it, does not fail to open. The same is the case with beings. Should one encounter the sun of Great Nirvana, anyone unacquainted with Enlightenment will aspire to it and sow the seed of Enlightenment. That is why I say: “When the light of Great Nirvana penetrates the pores of the skin, this immediately begets the wonderful cause of Enlightenment.” The icchantika possesses the Buddha-Nature, but overspread by innumerable defilements, he cannot hope to get out [of his cocoon of defilements], analogous to the silkworm. For this reason, he cannot gain the all-wonderful cause of Enlightenment, but repeats birth and death unendingly.
"Also, next, O good man! For example, it is as with the utpala, padma, kumuda or pundarika [lotuses], which even though born in the mud, do not get tainted by the mud. With any person who studies the all-wonderful Great Nirvana Sutra, the same is the case. The person has defilement, yet is not tainted by it. Why not? Because of the power which knows the nature of the Tathagata. For example, O good man! There is a land where there is a great deal of cool wind. If it comes into contact with the body and the pores of beings' skin, it well makes away with all the worry [irritation? unpleasantness?] of suppressed dampness. The same with this Mahayana Great Nirvana Sutra. It enters the pores of beings' skin and engenders the delicate [causal] relations of Enlightenment. However, the situation is otherwise with the icchantika. Why? Because he is no vessel of Dharma.
"Also, next, O good man! For example, a good doctor knows eight kinds of medicine and cures illnesses, excepting the asadhya [illness which is incurable]. The same is the situation with all sutras, dhyanas and samadhis. These cure all the defilements of greed, ill-will and ignorance, and indeed extract the poisonous arrows, but cannot cure the four grave offences and the five deadly sins.
"O good man! Also, there is a good doctor who knows more than eight treatments, by which he thoroughly cures all beings' illnesses. Only the asadhya he is unable to cure. The same is the case with this Mahayana Great Nirvana Sutra. It truly cures the worries of beings and allows them to rest in peace in the Tathagata's all-wonderful cause [that cause which makes one become a Tathagata?], and makes those aspire to Enlightenment who have not yet aspired to Enlightenment, except for the icchantika, who is sure to die.
"Also, next, O good man! A good doctor can indeed cure the blind with wonderful medicines, and the blind can see all the forms of the sun, moon and the constellations. Only those congenitally blind, he cannot cure. The case is like this. The same with this Mahayana Great Nirvana Sutra. It well opens the eyes of sravakas and pratyekabuddhas and bestows on them the eye of Wisdom and enables them to rest in peace in the innumerably large number of Mahayana sutras. Even those who have not aspired to Enlightenment, such as those who have committed the four grave offences and the five deadly sins, may also aspire to Enlightenment, excepting the congenitally blind icchantikas.
"Also, next, O good man! For example, a good doctor knows eight types of treatment and cures all illnesses and pains of beings. Various kinds of treatment and medicine are prescribed according to the illness. In the case of vomiting and loose bowels, medicine is smeared over the body and sprinkled on the nose, or cauterization or cleansing medicine is used, or given in pills and powders. Medicine is given in all such ways. Yet the poor and ignorant do not wish to take it. Pitying them, the good doctor takes them to his own house and presses the medicine upon them. Due to the power of the medicine, the illnesses disappear. There is a female patient, whose navel cord [umbilical cord?] does not come out. After the medicine has been taken, it comes out at once and makes the child feel easy. The same with this Mahayana Great Nirvana Sutra. Wherever it may go, [if it ] be in the home of any being, all worries get extracted, such as those of the four grave offences and the five deadly sins, and those not yet aspiring to Enlightenment are made to awaken to it, except the icchantika."
Bodhisattva Kasyapa said to the Buddha: "O World-Honoured One! The four grave offences and the five deadly sins are the gravest of all ill deeds. It is like cutting [a branch off] the tala tree, as a result of which no new branch will appear. How can the mind with no aspiration for Enlightenment harbour the cause of Enlightenment?" The Buddha said: "O good man! For example, these people have dreams in which they fall into hell and suffer pain there and repent, saying: “Oh, this pain! We have invited this upon ourselves. If we can only get out of this, we shall certainly care about Enlightenment. What we have is the worst [of suffering].” On awakening from their dream, they come to see the great recompense of Wonderful Dharma awaiting them. It is like the child who gradually grows up and thinks: “This is the doctor, who knows best about prescriptions and medicines. When I was still in the womb, he gave my mother medicine. As a consequence of this, she was in peace, and by reason of these circumstantial factors, I was out of danger. Oh, how dreadul that my mother had to undergo great pain. For ten months she guarded and carried me. After my birth, she took care that I should not be too dry or too damp, and saw to my excretions; she gave me milk and fed me. For all of this, I must pay her back what I owe her, see to her feelings, be obedient to her and serve her.”.
"A person may have committed the four grave offences and the five deadly sins. But if at the moment of passing away from this world he thinks of this Mahayana Great Nirvana Sutra, this will engender the cause of Enlightenment, even if a person may be in hell, or born as an animal, hungry ghost, or be born in heaven or as a human, except the icchantika.
"Also, next, O good man! For example, a good doctor and his son know a great deal and far surpass others. They know wonderful charms and antidotes to poisons. The case may be as that of deadly snake venom, naga or adder, but their [the doctor and his son's] medicinal charms effect release. This good medicine is smeared on a leather boot, and if the boot touches the insect poison, the poison loses its virulence, except for that of the “mahanaga”. The same with the Mahayana Great Nirvana Sutra. Those beings who have committed the four grave offences or the five deadly sins all get detoxified and attain Enlightenment. This is analogous to the detoxified leather footgear. A person who has no Bodhichitta gains it and awakens to unsurpassed Enlightenment. All this comes about through the working of the divine medicine of the Mahayana Great Nirvana Sutra. All beings are deposited in peace, except the mahanaga and the icchantika.
"Also, next, O good man! A man may have invented a new poison and smeared it on a drum, which, when it is beaten in a crowd, lets the sound come by [lets out a great sound?]. No one wishes to hear it. But anyone who does hear it dies, except for him who is immune to death. The same is the case with this Mahayana Great Nirvana Sutra. Any person of any place or profession, on hearing this sound, makes away with all such [defilements] as greed, ill-will and ignorance. There may be those who do not think about it, yet, because of the great power generated by the Great Nirvana Sutra, defilement disappears and the bond breaks. Even those of the four grave offences and the five deadly sins, when they hear this sutra, engender the cause of unsurpassed Enlightenment and, by degrees, cut off the bonds of defilement, except for the icchantika, who is immune to dying.
"Also, next, O good man! For example, as twilight falls, all stop work. A person whose work is not completed always waits till sunrise. Those who practise Mahayana practise all kinds of sutras and samadhis, but they always wait till [for?] the sunrise of the Mahayana Great Nirvana Sutra. On hearing this undisclosed teaching of the Tathagata, they give rise to actions for Enlightenment, and then abide in Wonderful Dharma. This is as in the case of the rain that falls from the sky upon all things, gives moisture, benefits and increases work, so that it does away with famine, and a rich harvest results. The same is the case with the innumerable amount of undisclosed rain of the Dharma of the Tathagata. It indeed makes away with fevers. The appearance in the world of this sutra is like fruit which benefits and makes all happy, enabling beings to see the Tathagata-Nature. Of all the flowers of Dharma, 8,000 sravakas get blessed with their prophecy [to Buddhahood] and accomplish the great fruition. In autumn, harvesting is done and in winter storing, and there is nothing more to do. The same with the icchantika. With all good laws [dharmas?], there is nothing more to do.
"Also, next, O good man! There is a doctor, who hears that the son of a certain person has been taken [possessed?] by a demon. So he sends a messenger with a wonderful medicine, saying to him: “Take this medicine and give it to the person. If the person encounters various demons of evil design, the virtue of this medicine will drive such away. Should you be late in going, I shall go myself. I will not have this boy die. If the person who is ill sees the messenger and this virtue of mine, all worries will disappear and there will be peace.” The same is the case with this Mahayana Great Nirvana Sutra. If all bhiksus, bhiksunis, upasakas, upasikas, and even tirthikas hold this sutra, read, grasp and expound it to other persons, or copy or have others copy it, all such actions will become the cause of Enlightenment. Even those who have committed the four grave offences and the five deadly sins, or those who are caught by wicked demons or poison or evil, as soon as they hear this sutra, will do away with all evil. This is just as in the case of that doctor, on seeing whom all devils flee. Know that this person is a true Bodhisattva. Why? Because he has been able to hear the Great Nirvana Sutra even for a little while; also, because he thinks of the eternal nature of the Tathagata. Anyone who has it [i.e. this sutra] even for a little while gains such benefit. How could this not be all the more the case when one copies, upholds and reads it? Other than the icchantika, all [of the above] are Bodhisattvas.“
’"Also, next, O good man! It is as in the case of a deaf person, who cannot hear. The same is the case with the icchantika. Also, he may desire to hear the teaching of this wondeful sutra, yet he cannot. Why not? Because he has not sown the seed for it.
"Also, next, O good man! For example, a good doctor knows all about medicine and prescription. In addition, he has extensive knowledge of innumerable charms. This doctor, received in audience by the king, said: “O King! You have an illness that will take your life.” The king replied: “You have not seen inside me. How can you say that I have an illness that will assuredly take my life?” The doctor said further: “If you don't believe me, please take this purgative. Once the purgative has been taken, you, King, can look into it [your body] yourself.” And the king deliberately did not take the purgative. The good doctor, through charms, effected means [to show] that, in the [normally] hidden parts of the king's body, poxes and pimples came out, and also whites [?] came out, mixed up with worms and blood. Seeing this, the king became greatly frightened and praised the skill of the doctor: “Well done, well done! I did not take up [accept? implement?] what you said before. I now know that you do great things for me.” He then respected the doctor like his own parent. The same with this Mahayana Great Nirvana Sutra. From all beings, whether greedy or not greedy, this sutra extracts defilements. All these beings see this sutra even in their dreams, respect it, and make offerings to it. This is similar to the king who respects the skilful doctor. This great skilful doctor does not diagnose a person who is sure to die. The same is the case with this Mahayana Great Nirvana Sutra. The exception is the icchantika: he has no means of being cured.“
’ "Also, next, O good man! A good doctor knows eight ways of treatment and cures all illnesses. But he cannot cure a person who is on the brink of death. The same with all Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. They cure all sinful persons. Only a person on the brink of death, i.e. the icchantika, cannot be cured.
"Also, next, O good man! For example, a good doctor is versed in all sutras and arts. His knowledge is so extensive that it goes beyond the eight [types of medicine]. He teaches what he knows to his son. He makes his son become acquainted with all medicinal herbs of watery places, lands, mountains and valleys. He teaches him by degrees, expounding the eight kinds; and then, he further makes him acquainted with the supreme arts. The same is the case with the Tathagata, the Alms-deserving and All-Enlightened One. First, he resorts to an expedient and makes his children, i.e. his bhiksus, annihilate all defilements and learn to abide in the thought of the purity [impurity?] of the body and also in the thought of instability [of all dharmas]. We speak of “watery places” and “mountain valleys”. By water is meant that the suffering of the body is like watery foam, and by land the instability of the body, like that of the plantain tree. By mountain valley is meant one's practising of selflessness, living as one does fully garbed in defilement. For this reason, the body is called selfless. The Tathagata thus, step by step, teaches his disciples the nine types of sutra and makes them thoroughly understand these, and after this he teaches the hidden Dharma of the Tathagata. For the sake of his sons, he speaks about the Eternal of the Tathagata. The Tathagata thus expounds the Mahayana Great Nirvana Sutra. For the sake of both the aspirant and the non-aspirant, he makes it the cause of Enlightenment, excepting the icchantika. Thus, O good man, this Mahayana Great Nirvana Sutra is an unnameably, boundlessly, and all-wonderfully rare thing. Know that this is the unsurpassed doctor, the most honoured, the most superior King of all sutras.
"Also, next, O good man! An illustration! It is like the case of a big ship that sails from this shore to the other and from the other shore to this. The true Enlightenment of the Tathagata is also like this. Riding in the Mahayana treasure-ship of Great Nirvana, he sails and comes and goes back, saving all beings. In all places, wherever there are people qualified for being saved, he allows them to see the body of the Tathagata. Hence we call the Tathagata the unsurpassed master mariner. For example, a ship has a master mariner. If there is a master mariner, there are beings who [can] cross the great sea. Eternal is the Tathagata, who saves beings.
"Also, next, O good man! For example, there is a man who may desire to ride in the great sea in a big ship and cross that sea. If the wind is favourable, he can sail a distance of immeasurably long yojanas within a short period. If not, he has to stand and wait for a long time, never moving a whit from his former place. Or the ship may break up, and a person may have to drown in the water and die. Beings thus float on the great sea of life and death of ignorance. But if the ship of the created meets with the favourable wind of Mahaparinirvana, a person can well gain the further shore of unsurpassed Enlightenment. If not, he will have to repeat innumerable births and deaths, and, at times, the ship may break up and he will have to fall into such realms as those of hell, animals and hungry ghosts.
"Also, next, O good man! For example, there is a man who, not encountering the king of the wind, dwells for a long time upon the sea. He thinks: “I shall meet with my death here.” As he thinks this, he encounters a goodly wind and, by means of it, crosses the sea. Or he may think: “This wind is good. It is a rare thing. We can now cross the sea safely, unbothered by any hardship.” Thus, all beings, for a long time, live upon the sea of birth and death of ignorance, fight poverty and hardship, not yet encountering such a great wind of Nirvana as this, and think: “We shall surely fall into such realms as hell, animals, and hungry ghosts.” As these beings think this, they encounter the wind of the Mahayana Great Nirvana Sutra and, in the course of time, gain unsurpassed Enlightenment, and arriving at Truth, they abide in a rare thought and express praise: “It is happy! I have, since of old, not once encountered or heard of such an undisclosed store of the Tathagata.” And in this Great Nirvana Sutra they gain pure faith.
"Also, next, O good man! Do you think that death comes or not to the serpent as it sloughs off its skin?" "No, O World-Honoured One!" "O good man! The same is the case with the Tathagata. He works out an expedient and manifests himself, and discards the non-eternal, poisoned body. Do you think that the Tathagata is non-eternal and dies away?" "No is the word, O World-Honoured One! The Tathagata abandons his body in this Jambudvipa as an expedient. The case is like that of an adder that sloughs off its old skin. That is why we say that the Tathagata is eternal."
"Also, next, O good man! A goldsmith takes into his hand a piece of good gold and makes various things as he wills. The same is the case with the Tathagata. He manifests himself in the 25 existences, in various forms, and thus teaches beings and passes them across the sea of birth and death. That is why we say that the Tathagata is a boundless body. He thus manifests himself in various forms. But he is eternal; he does not change.
"Also, next, O good man! The mango and jambu trees change three times a year. At one time, the flowers come out and gloriously shine; at another, the leaves come out luxuriantly; and at yet another time, the leaves fall and all looks as though dead. O good man! What does this mean? Does this tree die?"
"No, O World-Honoured One!" "It is the same case with the Tathagata. He manifests himself in the three worlds in the three kinds [stages] of the body. At one time, he is born; at another, he grows up; at yet another, he displays death. And yet the Tathagata's body is not non-eternal.
Bodhisattva Kasyapa praised [the Buddha] and said: "Well said! Everything is as you, Holy One, say. The Tathagata is eternal; no change arises." "O good man! What the Tathagata says in undisclosed terms is profound, not easy to grasp. It is like the case of a great king who orders his ministers to bring him “saindhava”. The word, “saindhava”, has four meanings. First, it means “salt”; secondly, “utensil”; thirdly, “water”, and fourthly, “horse”. Thus, four things have the same name. A wise minister knows the content of this word. When the king is washing and if he calls for saindhava, he gives him water. When he is eating and calls for saindhava, he gives him salt. When he has finished eating and desires to drink some juice and calls for saindhava, he gives him a utensil [goblet, vessel]. When he desire to indulge in recreation, he gives him a horse. Thus, the wise minister well grasps the meaning of the great king's words. The same is the situation with this Mahayana Great Nirvana Sutra. There are four non-eternals. The wise minister of Mahayana should know [them] well. If the Buddha appears in the world and says that he is going to enter Nirvana, the wise minister should know that the Tathagata is speaking of the non-eternal for those who adhere to “is” and desires to teach the bhiksus to practise the non-eternal. Or he might say: “Wonderful Dharma is about to expire.” The wise minister should know that the Tathagata is speaking of suffering to those whose mind adheres to “bliss”, and to make the bhiksus abide in the thought of suffering. Or he might say: “I am ill now and am in pain; all bhiksus expire.” The wise minister should know that the Tatahgata is addressing those attached to self on the matter of selflessness and desires to make the bhiksus practise the thought of selflessness. Or he might also say: “The so-called Void is true emancipation.” The minister should know that the Tathagata [then] means to teach that there is no true emancipation and the 25 existences. This is for the bhiksus to practise the Void. Hence, right emancipation is the Void and, therefore, is immovable. “Immovable” means that in emancipation there is no suffering. Hence, immovable. This true emancipation is called “formlessness”. Formless means that there is no colour, voice, smell, taste or touch. Hence, no characteristics. Therefore, true emancipation is eternal and does not change. With this emancipation, there is no non-eternal, nothing hot, no worry, and no change. Hence, this emancipation is called eternal, unchanging, pure, and cool. Or he may say: “All beings possess the Buddha-Nature.” The wise minister should well know that the Tathagata is speaking of eternal Dharma and desires the bhiksus to practise the right aspect of eternal Dharma. Any bhiksu who thus practises the Way may know that he is truly my disciple. He indeed fathoms the undisclosed store of the Tathagata, just as the minister well grasps the great king's mind. O good man! Thus does the great king also have the undisclosed law. O good man! How could it be that the Tathagata would not possess any such? Hence, it is hard to know the hidden teaching of the Tathagata. Only a wise man can reach the great depths of what I teach. This is what common mortals can well believe.“
’ "Also, next, O good man! In a great drought, the palasa [butea frondosa], kanika [premna spinosa] and asoka [saraca indica] flowers do not bear fruit; also, all things of watery places and on land die or grow weak [in such a drought]. Without moisture, nothing can grow. Even medicines may look [prove?] worthless. O good man! The same is the case with the Mahayana Nirvana Sutra. After my death, people will not show respect and there will be no dignity or virtue. Why not? These people do not know the hidden store of the Tathagata. Why not? Because these people are born with little weal.
"Also, next, O good man! When the Wonderful Dharma of the Tathagata is about to disappear, there may be many bhiksus who do evil. They know nothing of the hidden store of the Tathagata; they are indolent and lazy and do not know how to read the sutras of Wonderful Dharma, how to disseminate and understand them. This is like an ignorant robber abandoning true treasure and carrying grass and plants away on his shoulder. This comes from the fact that they do not understand the undisclosed store of the Tathagata. They are lazy and make no effort in the sutras. How pitiful it is that there is great danger which this world is confronted with. This is much to be feared. How sorrowful it is that beings do not give ear to this Mahayana Great Nirvana Sutra. Only all the Bodhisattvas see the true meaning of what this sutra states and do not become worried [made anxious] by letters [words]. They obediently follow and do not transgress. And they speak for the sake of beings.
"Also, next, O good man! For example, a milking woman, intending to gain exorbitant profit, adds 20% water to the milk and sells it to another woman, who again adds 20% water and sells it to a woman living close to the castle town. This woman further adds 20% water and sells it to a woman living in the castle. This woman buys the milk and takes it to the market and sells it. At that time, there is a person who takes in a woman for the sake of his son [?]. He chances to want to use good milk with which to serve his guest. He goes to the market and wants to buy some. The woman selling the milk demands the normal price. The man says: “This milk has a lot of water in it. So it is not worth the normal price. Today I have to treat a visitor. So I shall have it.” Taking this [milk] home, he cooks some porridge, but it has no milk flavour. Though it does not have any taste of milk, it is far better than any bitter thing; so it is a thousand times better. Why? Because of all tastes, milk is the best.
"O good man! When I die, for 80 years when Wonderful Dharma has not yet expired, this sutra will be widespread in Jambudvipa. At that time, there will be many bhiksus of evil design who will cut this sutra into parts and simplify it, so that the colour, flavour, beauty and taste of Wonderful Dharma will be lost. All these evil persons will read this sutra, despoil the profound and essential meaning of the Tathagata, enshrine [insert?] merely grand, decorative and meaningless words that belong to the world. They will lop off the front part and add it to the back part of the sutra, or take off the back part and add it to the front, or they will put the front and back parts in the middle and the middle at the front and back. Know that such bhiksus are friends of Mara. They will keep and store all impure things and say that the Tathagata gave permission [for bhiksus] to do so. This is like the milking woman who adds water to the milk. It will be the same with these wicked bhiksus. They will add words of worldly life and despoil the fixed and right words of the sutras, and obstruct beings from [getting] the right sermons, from [making] correct copies, [having] right understanding, honouring, praising, making offerings to, and respecting, [the sutras]. Because of [their desire for] seeking profit, such bhiksus of evil design will not disseminate this sutra. The world where its benefits obtain will be so limited as not to be worth mentioning. This is as in the case of the poor milk-woman who adds water to the milk and sells it on, so that the porridge that is later made has no milk flavour. The same is the case with this Mahayana Great Nirvana Sutra. Its taste will gradually diminish and [eventually] no flavour will remain. The spirit will have gone; yet it will still be 1,000 times better than other sutras. It is as with the diluted milk, which is still 1,000 times better than any bitter thing. Why so? Because this Mahayana Great Nirvana Sutra is the best of all the sravaka class of sutras. It is as with milk, which is the best of all tastes. Hence, we say Great Nirvana.“
’ "Also, next, O good man! All good men and women desire to be born as a man. Why so? Because females are the nests of evil [!]. Also, it is as in the case of the water of mosquitoes and sawflies, which cannot moisten this great earth. In addition, the sensual appetite of females cannot ever be satisfied. This is as though one were to make the great earth into a ball and then press it into a small pill [?]. All such [vast numbers of] people may lustfully disport themselves with a female and [the female] will not ever be satiated. Even if as many people as the sands of the river Ganges disport themselves with a woman, there will be no satisfaction [on the part of the woman]. O good man! As an example, it is as with the great sea, into which flow the raindrops from the heavens and the waters of rivers, and yet the sea-water never indicates that it has had its fill. The same is the case with a woman. For example, even if all people were made male and had carnal sport with a woman, there would yet be no having had enough [on the part of the woman]. Also, next, O good man! The asoka, patala, and kanika put forth flowers in spring, when bees gather around the colour, smell, and the delicate taste, and there is no satisfying of them. It is the same with a female who desires to have a male. O good man! For this reason, all men and women who hear the teaching of this Mahayana Great Nirvana Sutra should always shun the female form and seek the male. Why so? This Mahayana sutra may be compared to a male. The point is that it has the Buddha-Nature. If one does not know the Buddha-Nature, one cannot be called a man. Why not? Because one does not realise that one has the Buddha-Nature within. Any person who does not realise that he has the Buddha-Nature is a woman. If he does so realise, he is a man. If any woman knows that she has the Buddha-Nature, she is a man. O good man! This Mahayana Great Nirvana Sutra is replete with innumerable, boundless and wonderful virtues. How so? Because it reveals the hidden store of the Tathagata. For this reason, O good men and women, if you desire swiftly to know of the hidden store of the Tathagata, you should devise means and study this sutra."
Kasyapa said to the Buddha: "O World-Honoured One! It is so, it is so! It is as you, the Buddha, say. I now have the characteristics of a man, because I have now entered the hidden store of the Tathagata. The Tathagata has awakened me. In consequence, I shall now surely pass in." The Buddha said: "Well said, well said, O good man! What you know of the unsurpassed taste of Dharma is profound and difficult to fathom. And yet, you know well. You act like the bee. Also, next, O good man! It is as in the case of swamp-water in which mosquitoes live and which is not able to wet this earth. The same will be the case in the future with the propagation of this sutra in the world. It is just like the swampy ground where the mosquitoes live. When Wonderful Dharma becomes extinct, this sutra will become extinct in this land. Know that this is the declining fortune of this sutra. Also, next, O good man! For example, after summer comes autumn, when the autumnal rains fall one after another. The same with this Mahayana Great Nirvana Sutra. For the sake of the Bodhisattvas of the south, dissemination will proceed widely, and there will be the rain of Dharma, which will fully moisten the land. When Wonderful Dharma is about to become extinct, it goes to Kashmir and nothing lacks [?]. It will get into the earth and become extinct. There may be a person who is faithful or a person who is not. The sweet taste of all such Mahayana vaipulya sutras then sinks into the ground. When the sutra [Mahaparinirvana?] dies out, all other Mahayana sutras will die out too. If this sutra is perfect, this is none but the elephant king of men. All Bodhisattvas should know that the unsurpassed Wonderful Dharma of the Tathagata is about to die out before long."
Then Manjushri said to the Buddha: "O World-Honoured One! Now, this Cunda has some doubt. Please, O Tathagata, explain [things] once more, and do away with [his] doubt." The Buddha said: "O good man! What do you mean by a “mind that doubts”? Speak out! I shall explain [matters]." Manjushri said: "Cunda has a doubt in [his] mind regarding the eternal nature of the Tathagata, because of the power that can well see the Buddha-Nature. If it is the case that there is the eternal when the Buddha-Nature is seen, there must be the non-eternal when it is not. If the basis is the non-eternal, this non-eternal will persist. Why? The law of the world is that a thing comes about which did not exist before. What existed before is not now [i.e. no longer is]. All things that proceed thus are non-eternal. Hence, there can be no difference between the Buddha, Bodhisattva, sravaka, and pratyekabuddha." Then the Buddha said in a gatha:
“What originally was is now not;
What originally was not is now. There can be
No “is” obtaining
In the Three Times.”
"O good man! For this reason, there can be difference between the Buddha, Bodhisattva, sravaka, and pratyekabuddha; and there can be no difference." Manjushri praised [the Buddha] and said: "It is good, it is just as you, Holy One, say. I now, for the first time, have come to know that there are cases of difference between the Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, sravakas, and pratyekabuddhas."
Bodhisattva Kasyapa said to the Buddha: "O World-Honoured One! You, the Buddha, say that there is by nature no difference between the natures of the Buddha, Bodhisattva, sravaka, and pratyekabuddha. Please, O Tathagata! Condescend to tell [of this] in detail, explain [it] widely, and give benefit and peace to all beings." The Buddha said: "O good man! Litsten carefully, listen carefully! I shall now explain [it] to you. As an example: there is here a rich man. He has many cows, which are of various colours. He always has a man take care [of them] and bring them up [raise them]. This man, once on the occasion of a religious service, has all the cows milked and pours the milk into a container. The milk of all these cows is white. He sees this and is surprised. “The colour of these cows varies. How is it that the colour of the milk is white, all the same?” The man thinks and comes to realise that because of past karma and beings' causal relations, the colour of the milk becomes one [and the same]. O good man! It is the same with all sravakas, pratyekabuddhas, and Bodhisattvas. That all of these possess the same Buddha-Nature is as with milk. Why so? The reason is that all “’asravas“’ [defilements, taints, "influxes" of unwholesome thoughts and emotions] are done away with. And yet, there are differences between the Buddha, sravaka, pratyekabuddha, and Bodhisattva. Yet all sravakas and common mortals doubt and say: “How could it be that there can be no difference between the three vehicles?” All these beings, after a long time, come to understand that all three vehicles equally have the Buddha-Nature. The case is similar to that of the milk, which appears as it does because of past karma. Also, next, O good man! For example, when gold is treated [smelted?] in a furnace, the dregs [scum?] are discarded. Smelted again, gold appears and its price becomes inestimable. O good man! It is the same with sravakas, pratyekabuddhas and Bodhisattvas. All can arrive at the same Buddha-Nature. Why? Because the defilements have been done away with. It is like doing away with the scum from gold ingots. Hence, all beings have the same Buddha-Nature. And when one first hears of the hidden store of the Tathagata and when one later attains Buddhahood, one, in the course of time, comes to know this fact. This is as in the case of the milk of the rich man, in which the oneness of the quality of the milk becomes apparent. Why [this dawning of awareness]? Because innumerable billions of defilements have been done away with."
Bodhisattva Kasyapa said to the Buddha: "O World-Honoured One! If all beings have the Buddha-Nature, what difference is there between the Buddha and [other] beings? If things are explained in such a way, misgivings can arise. If beings all have Buddha-Nature, how is it that Sariputra enters Parinirvana with [only] a small-sized Nirvana, the pratyekabuddha passes away into a middle-sized Nirvana, and the Bodhisattva passes away into great Nirvana? If they have the same Buddha-Nature, how could it be that they do not enter [Nirvana] as in the case of the Tathagata?" "O good man! The Nirvana attained by the All-Buddha-World-Honoured One is not that which sravakas and pratyekabuddhas attain. That is why we say that “Mahaparinirvana” is a “good existence”. Even if there is no Buddha in the world, it is not the case that the two vehicles do not gain two Nirvanas."
Kasyapa said further: "What might this mean?" The Buddha said: "Innumerable boundless asamkhyas of kalpas ago, there was a Buddha who appeared in the world and displayed the three teachings of the three vehicles. O good man! As to there being no difference between the Bodhisattvas and the two vehicles, about which you ask, I may say that I have already explained [this] when I spoke of the Great Nirvana of the hidden store of the Tathagata. All arhats have no element of good. Why? Because they are those who gain the great Nirvana [?]. For this reason, there is after all bliss in Mahaparinirvana. That is why we say “Mahaparinirvana”."
Kasyapa said: "As you the Buddha have taught me, I now, for the first time, have realised the points of difference and non-difference. How? Because all Bodhisattvas, sravakas and pratyekabuddhas will attain Mahaparinirvana in the future. This is as with all rivers draining into the great sea. That is why we say that those sravakas and pratyekabuddhas are eternal and not non-eternal. Because of this, there is difference and there is no difference."
Kasyapa said: "How is it that there is a difference in the nature [of NIrvana]?" The Buddha said: "O good man! The sravaka is like milk, the pratyekabuddha like cream, the Bodhisattva like butter, and the All-Buddha-World-Honoured One like sarpirmanda. That is why we say that there are four kinds of different nature in Great Nirvana."
Kasyapa spoke again: "What are the characteristics of the nature of all beings?" The Buddha said: "O good man! It is as in the case of a cow that is newly born and there is no difference between milk and blood. The same is the case with the nature of beings, which contains in it all defilements."
Kasyapa said further: "At Kusinagara Castle, there was a candala called “Joy”. When this person aspired to Enlightenment, the Buddha prophesied that this person would attain unsurpassed Enlightenment while living in this aeon of 1,000 Buddhas. Why is it that the Buddha does not make a prophecy and say that the venerable Sariputra and Maudgalyayana will attain Enlightenment at once?" The Buddha said: "O good man! The sravakas, pratyekabuddhas and Bodhisattvas may take vows: “I shall for eternal kalpas uphold Wonderful Dharma and shall then attain Buddhahood.” When they have taken their vows, I give them their prophecy [to Buddhahood] instantly. Also, next, O good man! As an example: a merchant possesses a priceless treasure. He takes it to the market and sells it. The ignorant, not knowing what it is, laugh at it. The owner of the treasure says: “This treasure is priceless”. On hearing this, they laugh again. The people, not knowing the value of this treasure, say that it is merely a piece of crystal. It is the same with the sravakas and pratyekabuddhas. If they receive an instant prophecy, they will become indolent, will laugh and regard things lightly. This is analogous to the ignorant people who do not know [the value of] the true treasure. In days to come, there will certainly be many bhiksus who won't make effort and practise the Way. They will be poor and in difficult circumstances, and they will suffer from hunger. In consequence, they will get ordained and live. Their minds will be rash and they will be impudent; they will live in the wrong way, flatter and tell lies. When they hear that the Tathagata gives sravakas their prophecy of instant attainment to Enlightenment, they will laugh it off, behave arrogantly, and even commit slander. This is nothing other than an infringement of the precepts. They will say that they have attained what others cannot. For this reason, Enlightenment is prophesied as soon as the vows are taken, to say that there will be instant attainment of Enlightenment. And to those who protect Wonderful Dharma, a prophecy is given for the days to come."
Bodhisattva Kasyapa further said to the Buddha: "O World-Honoured One! How can a Bodhisattva avoid breaking relations with his kindred?" The Buddha said to Kasyapa: "All Bodhisattvas try to make effort and protect Wonderful Dharma. As a result, there can be no breaking of relations with those who are one's relatives."
Bodhisattva Kasyapa said further to the Buddha: "O World-Honoured One! In what circumstances do beings come to have their mouth dried up?" The Buddha said to Kasyapa: "If a person does not know that there always exist the Three Treasures, in consequence his mouth will dry up and burn. Because of this, the human mouth turns the wrong way and that person is unable to distinguish the six tastes of what is sweet, bitter, pungent, sour, salty, and light. All beings are ignorant, have no intellect, and do not know that there are the Three Treasures. Hence, we say: “Lips and mouth get dried up and burn.” Also, next, O good man! Any person who does not know that the Tathagata is eternal, such a person is one congenitally blind. Any person who knows that the Tathagata is eternal, though [he is] of fleshly eyes, is one with the Heavenly Eye. Also, next, O good man! Any person who knows that the Tathagata is eternal has long studied sutras of this kind. I also say that such a person is also of the class of people posssessing the Heavenly Eye. Though possessing it, if a person does not know that the Tathagata is eternal, such a person belongs to the class of [those possessed merely] of the fleshly eye. This type of person does not know his own hands and limbs, nor how to enable other to know, either. For this reason, he is of the fleshly eye.
"Also, next, O good man! The Tathagata becomes the parent to all beings. How? All beings and various living things possess two feet [humans], four feet [animals], multiple feet [insects], and no feet [fish]. The Buddha talks about Dharma in one voice, and all such understand, utter praise, and say: “The Tathagata spoke to me alone [of] Dharma.” For this reason, we say parent.
"Also, next, O good man! A person gives birth to a child. After sixteen months, it speaks, but the words it speaks cannot be understood. The parents teach [the child] words, first repeating the same sound. Step by step, things progress. It is thus. Is it the case that the parents' words might be incorrect?" "No, O World-Honoured One!" "The same is the case with the Buddha-Tathagata. He teaches Dharma in accordance with the various sounds of beings. In order to have them rest peacefully in the Wonderful Dharma of the Buddha, he manifests himself in various forms. The Tathagata speaks with the same tongue. Can this possibly proceed in an incorrect way?" "No, O World-Honoured One! Why not? Because the Tathagata's speech is like the roar of a lion. Following the sounds of the world, he speaks about Dharma for beings' sake."“