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Nirvana Sutra – Appreciation of the “Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra” – Home
Welcome to the “Nirvana Sutra” site, devoted to the “Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra” – the sutra specialising in the Buddha’s “Buddha-dhatu” (“Buddha Nature”) / “Tathagatagarbha” (“Buddha-Matrix”) and “True Self” teachings.
“You, monks, should not thus cultivate the notion (samjna) of impermanence, suffering and non-Self, the notion of impurity and so forth, deeming them to be the true meaning [of the Dharma], as those people [searching in a pool for a radiant gem but foolishly grabbing hold of useless pebbles, mistaken for priceless treasure] did, each thinking that bits of brick, stones, grass and gravel were the jewel. You should train yourselves well in efficacious means. In every situation, constantly meditate upon [bhavana] the idea [samjna] of the Self, the idea of the Eternal, Bliss, and the Pure … Those who, desirous of attaining Reality [tattva], meditatatively cultivate these ideas, namely, the ideas of the Self [atman], the Eternal, Bliss, and the Pure, will skilfully bring forth the jewel, just like that wise person [who obtained the genuine, priceless gem, rather than worthless detritus misperceived as the real thing.]”
– The Buddha, Chapter Three, “Grief”,The Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra
“… one who knows himself (atmanam) as nondual, he wisely knows both Buddha and Dharma. And why? He develops a personality (atmabhava) which consists of all dharmas [phenomena]; for all dharmas are fixed on the self in their own-being (atma-svabhava-niyata). One who wisely knows the nondual dharma, wisely knows also the Buddhadharmas. From the comprehension of the nondual dharma follows the comprehension of the Buddhadharmas and from the comprehension of the self the comprehension of everything that belongs to the triple world. ‘The comprehension of self’, that is the Beyond of all dharmas …” (The Buddha in the “perfect insight” scripture, The Questions of Suvikrantavikramin, from Perfect Wisdom: The Short Prajnaparamita Texts, tr. by Edward Conze, BPG, England, 2002).
“The Tathagata also teaches, for the sake of all beings, that there is, in truth, the Self in all phenomena” (The Buddha in The Mahaparinirvana Sutra, Chapter Three).
This site is the world’s first-ever website centred on an exploration and appreciation of the Buddha’s final Mahayana scripture, the Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra. This site also provides a complete English translation of the entire sutra (the 36-fascicle “Southern” version).
The website is dedicated with enormous gratitude and admiration to the memory of Kosho Yamamoto, the first man to earn the inestimable merit of translating the Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra into English.
Inspired by this superlative sutra, I have created this website to encourage the accurate study and practice of what may be called “Nirvana Sutra Buddhism” or “Tathagatagarbha Buddhism” – a very positive, balanced, faith-promoting and spiritually affirmative manifestation of Buddhism, which recognises the hidden reality of the unconditioned, ego-free Buddha-Self (Buddha–atman) or Buddha Principle (Buddha-dhatu) in all beings. That Self (Atman) of the Buddha is a mystery, the non plus ultra of all spiritual Truth, beyond the reach and range of the worldly intellect: while the Buddha-Self is real, it is certainly not comparable to our mundane, ignorant little ego-self and cannot truly be captured within the net of words or concepts. Yet it is the only enduring Truth that can ever be found. Ultimately names fail it and concepts have to fall silent in the face of a transcendental , noumenal and immanent Reality that is beyond all grasping and confining. Its nature is non-dual, as it alone is Real, whereas samsara is illusory. There can be no dualistic relationship with what in fact does not truly exist (samsara)! Yet words can point towards Ultimate Truth and indicate the Path to tread for an Awakening into Reality’s presence, which is all-pervading and eternal. That eternally present Truth is the Buddha, who is the sole genuine Reality. As the Mahayana Angulimaliya Sutra insists: “The Tathagata [Buddha] is the single Way, the single Refuge, and the single Truth.”
It is important to recognise that the Mahaparinirvana Sutra is, in its own words, an uttara-tantra (definitive explanation of the Buddha’s teachings given by the Buddha himself) – indeed an uttarottara-tantra, according to the Buddha: the most supreme explanation of his doctrines that the Buddha ever enunciated (coupled with that found in the great Lotus Sutra). Some Buddhists feel unsettled and even frightened by this sutra’s cataphatic (positive) and affirmative teachings on the immortal reality of the Self or Soul (the atman) of the Buddha, present in all beings, and like to pretend that the scripture is of relatively low spiritual grade (in diametrical contradiction of the Buddha’s own insistence that these teachings are definitive and final); but perhaps this unhappy resistance to the Sutra or the attendant wish (increasingly encountered amongst those with only a shallow knowledge, and even less practice of, Tathagatagarbha Buddhism) to pervert the Sutra’s clear and cataphatic meaning stems from an unfortunate clinging and grasping at pre-conceived, narrow and rigid little notions of what Buddhism “must be” and from a needless, almost neurotic terror of certain word-labels (“Self” or “Essence” in this case), rather than issuing from any problematic nature of this great spiritual text itself. Whether one terms ultimate Truth the “Self”, the “Tathagata”, “Buddha-dhatu”, “Tathagatagarbha”, or Mahaparinirvana (and the Buddha uses all of these terms and more), the ineffable Reality towards which these words point remains itself unchanged and ever the same. At all events, entry into the Buddha-dhatu (Buddha Principle), also called the Tathagatagarbha (Buddha Matrix), is not for those who are frightened by certain words and their transcendental referents, or by such a subtle and recondite Truth as the Buddha Nature (and who cling to the provisional, contingent, incomplete “non-Self” teaching) – it is for those Bodhisattvas who have conquered all fear. The Buddha states this explicitly, when he declares: “you should know that the Tathagata-dhatu is the refuge of Bodhisattvas who have attained fearlessness …”, (“Tathagatagarbha” chapter, Faxian’s Nirvana Sutra). Many Mahayana Buddhists who encounter this final scripture of the Buddha’s display veritable symptoms of panic and terror in the face of a term they cannot brook, let alone embrace: the ‘True Self’! Such people believe that only the prajna-paramita and sunyata (Emptiness) teachings of the Buddha have final validity and refuse to recognise that the Buddha did in fact teach an ultimate doctrine – that of the Tathagatagarbha (‘Buddha Nature’) – beyond those earlier forms of Mahayana Dharma. That the Buddha-dhatu doctrine is ultimate and definitive is what the Buddha himself insists upon in the Mahaparinirvana Sutra and other Tathagatagarbha sutras, and yet numerous disappointingly blinkered and pre-conditioned Mahayana Buddhists sadly and unjustly suppress or deny this truth; whether this is out of genuine ignorance of these scriptures or out of sheer dread at what does not fit into their pre-conceived, cosy (for them) yet constricted little world-view is not quite clear.
The plain fact, however, is that the Nirvana Sutra complements (and clarifies) the prajna-paramita doctrines. The teachings of the Nirvana Sutra represent the final elucidatory step within the sutras towards Nirvana and full Awakening: they (in alliance with the doctrines of the Lotus Sutra and the astonishingly cosmically dimensioned Avatamsaka Sutra) are definitive and full revelations by the Buddha of his ultimate Dharma. Other (earlier) teachings, such as those on prajna-paramita and Emptiness, did not present the total picture. They lacked the revelation of the Tathagatagarbha. Yet they helped lay the ground for the revelation of a selfless (i.e. ungraspable, untouchable, unselfish, impersonal, all-compassionate, unconditioned, suffering-free, conceptually unfixable and non-dual) Self (the Eternal Buddha) that is far from being a mutating, time-bound ego or tangible entity – but is rather the ego-free, unconditioned, everlasting Buddha as the Dharmakaya (Body of Truth) – a mystery that only a Buddha (solely real being) can fully know and comprehend. Yet all beings can become Buddha – since they contain within their very body, here and now, the Buddha Principle which makes Awakening possible. Here, in this great Mahaparinirvana Sutra, we are given the final pieces of the spiritual jigsaw puzzle of the Dharma which reveals this truth. The picture thus becomes complete, and Dharma reaches its culmination and consummation.
This website treats with sincere respect the reiterated and emphatic assertions of the Buddha in the Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra that this sutra (the “all-fulfilling conclusion” of all Mahayana scriptures) is nothing less than a definitive statement of Mahayana doctrine and that it reveals the Buddha’s final explanation of his intended, ultimate meaning in the central areas of his Dharma (Buddhic Truth). It is therefore wholly inappropriate for the student and practitioner of Buddhism to say (as some, surprisingly, do), “Oh, it is true that the Buddha claims the Nirvana Sutra constitutes a statement of ultimate Truth, is definitive, and the final explanation – but I’ll choose to treat it as an elementary teaching for less advanced Buddhists, because I feel more comfortable viewing it that way”! It is manifestly unwise and wrongheaded to adopt such a stance, just as it is to try to explain (even more so “explain away” – as some attempt) these teachings solely using the yardstick of previous, provisional Buddhist doctrines. Rather, those earlier doctrines need to be understood and contextualised within the full vision of Dharma that is provided here in the noble Nirvana Sutra and the other tathagatagarbha sutras. To argue (as many misguidedly endeavour) that these teachings are for the spiritually immature is disrespectfully to ignore and discard the words of the Buddha himself, who categorically and repeatedly affirms the ultimacy of the Buddha-dhatu teachings. If one is not going to take the Buddha’s own insistent words seriously and with confident trust (as is enjoined upon the student by the Buddha), then it might be wiser not to engage with his sutras at all – or at least not to pretend that one is a sincere and faithful Mahayana Buddhist (and faith in the Buddha’s teachings, one should remember, is a vital part of the Buddha-Dharma)! Regrettably, some Buddhists do remain stuck in the first two phases of the Buddha’s progressive, three-fold teaching trajectory (since they happen to “like” those earlier, incomplete transmissions of the Dharma) and do not advance to the final stage of the Tathagatagarbha. Such persons then arbitrarily decide to concoct their own (non-Buddha-sanctioned) gradation of ranking within the Dharma and choose to put the Tathagatagarbha revelations down as an elementary teaching – which is in shameless defiance of what the Buddha himself declares in this, his final, sutra (as well as elsewhere). In his last scripture he explains that from the early teachings there arose the prajna-paramita doctrines (radical spiritual insights into the Emptiness of all phenomena); and from the prajna-paramita doctrines there arose the culminational and clarifying Buddha-dhatu revelations, in which we hear from the Buddha’s own lips what we had never directly heard before. And it is affirmed by the Buddha in this and other sutras that the Buddha “never lies”.
Nowhere in any of the prajna-paramita sutras (nor in the Tathagatagarbha sutras) does the Buddha state that the Buddha-dhatu / Tathagatagarbha teachings are provisional, or simply a more positive way of speaking about Emptiness (a baseless claim found in the writings of some commentators), or merely a ruse for the spiritually retarded, or for the ears of the under-developed neophyte. In fact, in the final Tathagatagarbha sutras, he makes it abundantly clear that these doctrines are, rather, aimed at the highest of Bodhisattvas (who are already well versed in the non-Self and Emptiness teachings) and constitute the crowning glory that comes after the prajna-paramita teachings and present the definitive meaning of the entire Dharma. The Tathagatagarbha doctrines clarify the true nature and meaning of “Emptiness” (shunyata) by delimiting its range of application and revealing that a full understanding of Emptiness needs to be balanced by knowledge of the indestructible and omni-present Buddha-dhatu, and that this mysterious Dhatu (Principle, Element or Factor) is only empty of impermanence, impurity and suffering, not of its own immeasurable virtues and blissful eternity. So when some commentators on Buddhism, eager to minimise or de-essentialise the Buddha Nature, seek to claim that the Buddha-dhatu is simply another word for Emptiness, they should in all conscience explain to the student that ‘Emptiness’ has different ranges of meaning and connotation, and that when applied to the Tathagatagarbha, it means empty of imperfection and physical / ideational graspability. That is not to say that the Tathagatagarbha / Buddha-dhatu is not real and true. It is, in fact, the most real entity (although not, of course, a tangible or material ‘thing’) that can ever be seen or known. It is nothing less than the heart of the Buddha himself.
It also becomes clear as one explores the Nirvana Sutra that the Buddha speaks here (as in other Tathagatagarbha scriptures) of two kinds of “self”: one is the worldly, ephemeral, composite ego, which he terms a “lie” (as it is an ever-changing bundle of impermanence, with no enduring essence of its own) and which is to be recognised as the mutating fiction that it is; the other is the True Self, which is the Buddha – Eternal, Changeless, Blissful, and Pure. Some Buddhists find this a stumbling block and are baffled by how the Buddha can on the one hand deny the self and on the other upold the reality of the Self. The answer is that the referent of the word “self” is not the same in all instances. On some occasions the illusory ego is being referred to, while on others it is the Buddha as Dharmakaya that is meant. The one is small, personal and illusory, while the other is real, impersonal and great (“the Great Self”, as the Buddha labels it). To deny the sovereign reality of that birthless and deathless, non-individuated Buddha-Self (which is the unbegotten and immortal Dharmakaya – the invisible and ultimate body-and-mind of the Buddha) is tantamount to turning oneself into a species of self-immolating “moth in the flame of a lamp”, as it were – so the Buddha says in the Nirvana Sutra. It is to deny Truth and therewith to commit spiritual suicide. This Buddha-Self or Dharmakaya is present everywhere and at all times, thus making the teaching of non-duality feasible: there is only one, non-dual Truth, and all else is illusion (as it possesses no true reality, so cannot actually stand in opposition to Truth). Within this all-embracing perspective, the prajna-paramita notions find their final integration into a truly balanced Dharma, as part – rather than the whole – of a majestic edifice of spritual revelation, whose capstone is precisely the Buddha-dhatu or Tathagatagarbha – the Essence of all beings and indeed all Buddhas. It might be noted in passing that the Self of these tathagatagarbha sutras is not identical to the Self variously described in the Upanishads or Vedanta generally. For example, in one Upanishad, the Self is described as being the size of a human thumb and having its location in the heart. This type of Vedantic Self is specifically rejected by the Buddha in the Mahaparinirvana Sutra.
A desperate ploy that is sometimes resorted to by certain Buddhists or putative scholars who evidently cannot tolerate the genuine teachings of the Buddha-dhatu’s changeless Reality within each being is to argue that it is only a ‘potential’ for Awakening – nothing more. The Dhatu is indeed a salvific, Buddhic potential – that is true (since the superficial being, as it were – still comprised of the mundane, samsaric skandhas – has not yet realised the state of Awakeness (bodhi) that always lies within and which the Buddha-dhatu makes accessible to him or her). But the Buddha Nature is not only a potential, as some scholars would have us believe. That claim is demonstrably false, since in this Nirvana Sutra (as elsewhere) the Buddha speaks of the Buddha Nature (Buddha-dhatu) of ordinary beings as well as of the Buddha himself. At one point in the sutra, the Buddha tells of those elements which are present in his Buddha Nature (his Buddha-dhatu) and those which are not, saying: “The Buddha-dhatu of the Tathagata has two aspects …” And in the Tathagatagarbha Sutra, the Buddha spcifically states, without any room for misunderstanding: “Just as I have a Tathagata nature,
so do all beings.”
Would it make sense to say that a fully and perfectly Awakened Buddha has the ‘potential’ to become a Buddha? Clearly not. He has already arrived at complete Buddhahood and is fully Awoken. And yet the scriptures speak of the Buddha’s persistent Buddha-dhatu. Obviously it is something far more than a mere potential that is being referred to here. It is an immortal, continuing essence.
It might further be noted, in passing, that the idea of an immutable, Buddhic Reality or Buddha-Self, empty of all pain and all change, is also the teaching presented by the great Tibetan Jonang Buddhist master, Dolpopa. For an excellent and inspiring website on the Jonang and Dolpopaic teachings, please go to the Great Middle Way website here: http://greatmiddleway.wordpress.com/. Dolpopa speaks of that which is empty of itself (the constant mutations of changeful samsara) and, most importantly, of that which is only empty of what is foreign to its nature but is never void of its transcendental Self (Nirvana, That-ness, the Buddha, or the Buddha Essence). Speaking of the Buddhist scripture entitled The Expression of Manjushri’s Ultimate Names (Mañjuśrī-nāma-saṅgīti), Dolpopa applies the following terms to Ultimate Buddhic Reality:
- “the pervasive Lord”
- “the Supreme Guardian of the world”
- “the beginningless Self”
- “the Self of Thusness”
- “the Self of primordial purity”
- “the Source of all”
- “the Single Self”
- “the Diamond Self”
- “the Solid Self”
- “the Holy, Immovable Self”
- “the Supreme Self”
- “the Supreme Self of all creatures”. (Mountain Doctrine: Tibet’s Fundamental Treatise on Other-Emptiness and the Buddha-Matrix, Snow Lion, NY, 2006, tr. by Jeffrey Hopkins, pp.279-294).
Rejection or denigration of the Buddha-dhatu (which is termed “the Self” in the Mahaparinirvana Sutra) thus ultimately means a rejection of Supreme Reality itself, which in turn is a rejection of the Buddha; for he is “…the definitively real and true” (Faxian Nirvana Sutra). Down-playing or denigration of the Buddha-Reality (so popular with academics these days, who do not have the spiritual insight to see the great harm they are causing both to themselves and others) constitutes a lamentable failure to recognise that there is just such an abiding, immutable, personal yet impersonal, refuge-providing, non-egoic Truth (the Buddha) which knows of no conditioning, no limitation, no dissolution, and no constraints by the processes of the ebb and flow of time, but is ineffably Beyond …
I hope that you will find a spiritual treasure trove in this superlative sutra that will enrich, uplift and inspire you, filling you with happiness – just as it does me. If you would like to buy a copy of the sutra in book form, you can do so at the following website address http://www.heavenlightstore.com/product.php?143. The book has been beautifully published and may be found convenient to read in physical-book form. Needless to say, I have no financial connections with this book or its publisher whatsoever and receive not a penny of any monies made from the sale of this book. Mine is not a commercial website – but one for free spreading of information on the Authentic Dharma! For other related “tathagatagarbha” scriptures (whose enormous importance cannot be over-stressed), please consult my second, ancillary website called “Tathagatagarbha Buddhism” on the “tathagatagarbha” sutras, which contains some extracts from some tathagatagarbha sutras. For this, please click on the following URL:
It should be noted in this connection that contrary to the claims of some persons, the final section of the Lankavatara Sutra, known as the Sagathakam (which speaks of the pure Self as of a garment that has been cleansed of its extraneous dirt) is likely to be the oldest portion of the sutra (rather than a much later addition). Buddhist scholar, Stephen Hodge, has expressed this view in personal conversation with me. The fact that the numerous verses of the Sagathakam are not yet embedded in a narrative framework or structure strongly suggests that this is ancient material that has not yet been editorially worked upon; it is like some precious gold ore that has been extracted from the earth, but not yet shaped into something different. It is generally accepted that verse forms in Dharma texts tend to be older material – and that is most likely the case here too. So the claim that the positive utterances on the Self in the Lankavatara Sutra are a late concoction has very little to substantiate it.
For a very convenient pdf version of the complete Mahaparinirvana Sutra please go to the following excellent collection of sutras and click on “mahaparinirvana.pdf”: http://info.stiltij.nl/publiek/meditatie/soetras/mahaparinirvana.pdf
For a very positive and affirmative website on the Buddha Nature, please go to the ‘Essence of Buddhism’ site here: http://essenceofbuddhism.wordpress.com/2013/07/04/introduction-to-the-buddha-nature/.
(Note: the Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra is an entirely different scripture from the Pali Mahaparinibbana Sutta, and should not be confused with the latter).
The Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra (“Mahayana Great Complete-Nirvana Scripture” – commonly known as the Nirvana Sutra, for short) is one of the most profound, inspiring and arguably most important of all the Buddha’s Mahayana sutras (along with the great Lotus Sutra). The Mahaparinirvana Sutra claims to preserve the final, ultimate and true Mahayana teachings delivered by the Buddha on his last day and night of life upon earth. The sutra can be said to eclipse all others in its authority on the question of the Buddha-dhatu and Tathagatagarbha. It claims to be definitive: the quintessence of Mahayana Dharma. And yet despite being greatly revered and strongly influential in the East, it is little known, and even less well studied, in the West. This website is devoted to an appreciation of this unique scripture – both for those who wish to study the background of the text from a scholarly point of view, but more particularly and more importantly for those who wish to practise the teachings of the Mahaparinirvana Sutra from a basis of faith and meditative experience. The Mahaparinirvana Sutra is a key sutra for an understanding of the Buddha’s teachings on the Buddha-dhatu (“Buddha Nature”, “Buddha Element”, “Buddha Principle”) and the synonymous Tathagatagarbha (indwelling Buddha Essence of each being).
The present website offers the complete Kosho Yamamoto English translation of the “Southern” edition of the Dharmakshema Nirvana Sutra, in a version revised and edited by Dr. Tony Page.
Dr. Tony Page is further the author of Buddhism and Animals; Buddha and God; and Buddha-Self: The ‘Secret’ Teachings of the Buddha in the Mahaparinirvana Sutra, and is the authorised editor, reviser and publisher of Kosho Yamamoto’s English translation of the Mahaparinirvana Sutra.
The present website is still in the process of being developed, as more information is gradually added to the various sections. Vitally, the site is principally aimed at more “mystically” orientated Buddhists and spiritual seekers, who may feel that many of the forms of Buddhism which they encounter today tend to be too negative and nihilistic in their attitudes, emphases, and anti-metaphysical (non-)vision. Spiritual questers of a more mystical stamp may intuitively feel (in line with the Buddha’s teaching) that there truly does exist an indwelling yet transcendental Buddhic Principle (Buddha-dhatu) or infinite “That-ness” (tathata), a peaceful, blissful, pure, unchanging Essence (svabhava) or eternal Self (atman) – the infinite Buddha – concealed within the deeps of each person’s mind. This is the realm of ineffable Nirvana. This Nirvana is truly Real and exists Now, but lies beyond the grasp of worldly thinking, beyond mere logic, beyond “dependent origination” (although Nirvana is present within dependent origination without being constricted or limited by it), beyond “momentariness” and secular rationalism. Entry (the Buddha’s own word) into it, however, will be facilitated by faith in the Buddha-dhatu (Buddha Principle) and meditation upon its inherent peace and bliss. This is not some random “theosophist” or crypto-Hindu interpretation foisted onto the Tathagatagarbha sutras by the present webmaster (as is falsely claimed by some who have not deeply studied the Mahaparinirvana Sutra, let alone devoted half a lifetime of research into this great spiritual literature) nor is it inspired by Mrs. Rhys-Davids’ books (none of which has actually been read by the present writer!): the reality of the eternal Buddha (whose realisable, immortal Principle inheres in all beings) is rather the repeated and insistent declaration of the Buddha himself in the great Mahaparinirvana Sutra and other related Tathagatagarbha sutras (sutras which state that the Tathagatagarbha revelation is ultimate in nature, not provisional in its declarations). Many Buddhists, sadly, are not familiar with these often neglected and inaccessible (because not generally translated) teachings and unwisely seek to reject, twist or debunk them – or else cling to the comfort blanket of “safe”, pre-packaged, Buddha-dhatu-denigrating “commentaries” (often contradictory of what the Buddha actually and repeatedly states in the sutra) – and seeming not to dare to look at the text itself in great detail and do the unimaginable: look at what the Buddha says (rather than some later commentator), think independently and experience for themselves! Wilful ignorance, intellectual pusillanimity and mental pre-programming and conditioning are, however, sad spectacles to witness and are particularly out of place in the field of Buddhist study and practice (not that this writer is free of his own karmic conditioning, of course!) . Yet open-hearted and open-minded mystical seeking and meditation may well disclose a spiritual home for the seeker in this noble Mahaparinirvana Sutra – a number of whose central tenets are set forth below (based on the words and the teachings of the Buddha in this pinnacle of Mahayana sutras, a position which it arguably shares with the great Lotus Sutra alone). For a vital refutation of the fallacious idea that the Buddha-dhatu is merely “conditioned co-arising” (i.e. a process of constant and conditioned change), please read the following rebuttal of this spiritually dangerous and aberrant notion: http://www.nirvanasutra.net/buddhanaturenotupaya.htm
There follow some important summarised principles of doctrine, drawn from a close reading of the noble Mahaparinirvana Sutra:
Some Basic Principles of the “Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra”
a) That the essential Buddha (transcending his physical, historical form) is ETERNAL, UNCHANGING, EVERLASTING, beginningless, endless, steadfast and indestructible (yet capable of projecting manifestations of himself in numerous bodies, modes and times); that he is deathless, totally Aware, omnipresent across time and space, as well as being disassociated from time and space;
b) That there exists an immortal, immanent and transcendent, radiantly shining Buddha-Principle (Buddha-dhatu) or Buddha-Matrix (Tathagata-garbha) in all sentient beings, which links beings to Buddhahood and functions as the cause of spiritual Awakening (bodhi), but which only perfect Buddhas can clearly see; this Tathagatagarbha is also called the Self (atman – non-egoic, unconditioned, indestructible ultimate Selfhood of the eternal Buddha), which exists in all beings (and in all phenomena) – thus all persons and creatures possess one-and-the-same immutable core to their being: the essence of a Buddha, which inheres in and embraces all things – conditioned and unconditioned – and yet is beyond them all, unconstrained by all process and change;
c) That the Buddha-dhatu or Tathagatagarbha is the very essence (svabhava) or Dharmakaya (ultimate level of being) of the Buddha and of all persons and creatures, in contradistinction to the five transient skandhas (impermanent mental / physical elements of the “worldly ego”); the Buddha himself is the visible manifestation of the Buddha-dhatu and is no less than the inconceivable, virtue-filled Soul or Self (sometimes termed the “True Self” – satya-atman), whose potency inheres in our own body-and-mind complex, and into which Self we should “enter”. Such “entry” is made possible when we have eradicated the kleshas (negative mental, moral and behavioural tendencies) from our being. The chief kleshas are passionate desire, anger, delusion and pride. A major delusion is to see Self where there is in fact non-Self (compulsive mutation, transitoriness and change) – and to see non-Self where there is in reality the Self (i.e. the eternal, unconditioned Buddha);
d) That Nirvana is the state/sphere (vishaya) of the Eternal (nitya), Bliss (sukha), the Self (atman), and the Pure (subha), and that these Nirvanic attributes constitute the heart of the Buddha;
e) That the root of all good qualities is Friendliness or Loving-kindness (maitri), in association with Compassion, Empathetic Joy, and Impartiality towards all beings; these qualities are also inherent in the nature of the Buddha. The universal application of Kindliness (maitri) implicitly excludes all possibility of hatred for any being on the basis of his/her race, religion, sex or sexuality – indeed, all hatred is to be rejected as a klesha (moral contaminant). Instead, all beings should be “regarded as one’s only child” (i.e. with the caring eye of a loving parent);
f) That followers of the Mahayana (Bodhisattva) Path should be vegetarian, and compassionate towards animals and must never use evil as a means to an end; such compassion and kindness as enjoined by this sutra, even explicitly towards ants, also (implicitly) make it utterly impossible and inconceivable for the Bodhisattva to perpetrate such misguided and degrading practices as hunting or vivisection (experimentation on living animals);
g) That the Buddha’s teachings in the Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra (particularly those centring on the Tathagatagarbha) are NOT provisional, lower-level or purely metaphorical doctrines (they emphatically do NOT need to be inverted and “interpreted” into the exact opposite of what they actually state); they are NOT mere tactical fictions; instead, they are definitive doctrines which point directly to Ultimate Truth (paramartha-satya) – to the Buddha, who is NOT a vacuous Emptiness or merely a “dependently originated” process, but is Reality itself, the changeless Great Self (mahatman), who is solely empty of all impermanence, unhappiness, ignorance and afflictions, and endowed with limitless virtues and bliss;
h) That the noble Mahaparinirvana Sutra itself is “unique”, “the ultimate of all Mahayana discourses”, the “most excellent King of sutras [scriptures]”, revealing “the very ultimate meaning of all sutras”, and that even hearing its words or name can bring about happiness and pleasure and can lay the causal foundations for the attainment of Awakening.
i) That the noble Mahaparinirvana Sutra possesses the power to bring about “benefit, happiness and kindness for all beings” – with the one possible exception of those termed icchantikas, the most spiritually deluded of persons, who disparage the sutra and reject its teachings on the Tathagatagarbha;
j) That Nirvana is supreme peace and utmost purity, and that the Buddha, the embodiment of Nirvana, “abides eternally, without change.”
The English text of the sutra mainly cited for reference throughout this study is the specially commissioned English translation by Stephen Hodge of the Tibetan version of the scripture, as well as that same scholar’s occasional forays into the Faxian and the Dharmakshema “Northern” versions of the scripture. The website also contains the Dharmakshema “Southern” version of the sutra, The Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra, as translated into English by Kosho Yamamoto and edited and revised by Dr. Tony Page (Nirvana Publications, London, 1999-2000).
If you would like a general overview of the teachings of the Mahaparinirvana Sutra (before tackling the complete text of the scripture itself), I suggest that you might like to read first this present page (if you have not already done so!), then the “Basic Teachings” page, and finally the “Selected Extracts” pages and ‘Stephen Hodge Translations’ pages (which contain key, vital quotations in very new, reliable translations by Stephen Hodge).
Happy reading and meditation! – Dr. Tony Page.