Buddha Nirvana

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Selasa, 25 Agustus 2009

Secret Buddha Nirvana

The Three Jewels

Buddhists seek refuge in what are often referred to as the Three Jewels, Triple Gem or Triple Jewel. These are the Buddha, the Dharma, and the "noble" (Sanskrit: arya) Sangha or community of monks and nuns who have become enlightened. While it is impossible to escape one's karma or the effects caused by previous thoughts, words and deeds, it is possible to avoid the suffering that comes from it by becoming enlightened. In this way, dharma offers a refuge. Dharma, used in the sense of the Buddha's teachings, provides a raft and is thus a temporary refuge while entering and crossing the river. However, the real refuge is on the other side of the river.

To one who is seeking to become enlightened, taking refuge constitutes a continuing commitment to pursuing enlightenment and following in the footsteps of the people who have followed the path to enlightenment before. It contains an element of confidence that enlightenment is in fact a refuge, a supreme resort. Many Buddhists take the refuges each day, sometimes more than once in order to remind themselves of what they are doing and to direct their resolve inwardly towards liberation.

Although Buddhists concur that taking refuge should be undertaken with proper motivation (complete liberation) and an understanding of the objects of refuge, the Indian scholar Atisha identified that in practice there are many different motives found for taking refuge. His idea was to use these differing motivations as a key to resolving any apparent conflicts between all the Buddha's teachings without depending upon some form of syncresis that would cause as much confusion as it attempted to alleviate.

In the 11th century, Lamp for the Path by Atisha, and in the subsequent Lamrim tradition as elaborated by Tsongkhapa, the several motives for refuge are enumerated as follows, typically introduced using the concept of the "scope" (level of motivation) of a practitioner:

* Worldly scope is taking refuge to improve the lot of this life
* Low scope is taking refuge to gain high rebirth and avoid the low realms
* Middle scope is taking refuge to achieve Nirvana
* High scope is taking refuge to achieve Buddhahood
* Highest scope is also sometimes included, which is taking refuge to achieve Buddhahood in this life.

See also: Three Jewels
The Four Noble Truths

The Buddha taught that life was dissatisfactory because of craving, but that this condition was curable by following the eightfold path. This teaching is called the four noble truths:

1. Dukkha: All worldly life is unsatisfactory, disjointed, containing suffering.
2. Samudaya: There is a cause of suffering, which is attachment or desire (tanha) rooted in ignorance.
3. Nirodha: There is an end of suffering, which is Nirvana.
4. Marga: There is a path that leads out of suffering, known as the Noble Eightfold Path.

The Noble Eightfold Path

Main article: Noble Eightfold Path
Buddhist monk Geshe Konchog Wangdu reads Mahayana sutras from an old woodblock copy of the Tibetan Kanjur.

In order to fully understand the noble truths and investigate whether they were in fact true, Buddha recommended that a certain lifestyle or path be followed which consists of:

1. Right Understanding
2. Right Thought
3. Right Speech
4. Right Action
5. Right Livelihood
6. Right Effort
7. Right Mindfulness
8. Right Concentration

Sometimes in the Pāli Canon the Eightfold Path is spoken of as being a progressive series of stages which the practitioner moves through, the culmination of one leading to the beginning of another, but it is more usual to view the stages of the 'Path' as requiring simultaneous development.

The Eightfold Path essentially consists of meditation, following the precepts, and cultivating the positive converse of the precepts (e.g. benefiting living beings is the converse of the first precept of harmlessness). The Path may also be thought of as a the way of developing śīla, meaning mental and moral discipline.
The Five Precepts

Buddhists undertake certain precepts as aids on the path to coming into contact with ultimate reality. Laypeople generally undertake five precepts. The five precepts are:

1. I undertake the precept to refrain from harming living creatures (killing).
2. I undertake the precept to refrain from taking that which is not freely given (stealing).
3. I undertake the precept to refrain from sexual misconduct.
4. I undertake the precept to refrain from incorrect speech (lying, harsh language, slander, idle chit-chat).
5. I undertake the precept to refrain from intoxicants which lead to loss of mindfulness.

In some schools of Buddhism, serious lay people or aspiring monks take an additional three to five ethical precepts, and some of the five precepts are strengthened. For example, the precept pertaining to sexual misconduct becomes a precept of celibacy; the fourth precept, which pertains to incorrect speech, is expanded to four: lying, harsh language, slander, and idle chit-chat. Monks and nuns in most countries also vow to follow the 227 patimokkha rules.

See also: Pancasila
The three marks of conditioned existence

According to the Buddhist tradition all phenomena (dharmas) are marked by three characteristics, sometimes referred to as the Dharma Seals:

* Anatta (Pāli; Sanskrit: anātman): In Indian philosophy, the concept of a self is called ātman (that is, "soul" or metaphysical self), which refers to an unchanging, permanent essence conceived by virtue of existence. This concept and the related concept of Brahman, the Vedantic monistic ideal, which was regarded as an ultimate ātman for all beings, were indispensable for mainstream Indian metaphysics, logic, and science; for all apparent things there had to be an underlying and persistent reality, akin to a Platonic form. The Buddha rejected all concepts of ātman, emphasizing not permanence but changeability. He taught that all concepts of a substantial self were incorrect and formed in the realm of ignorance.

According to some thinkers both in the East and the West, this may imply that Buddhism is a form of nihilism or something similar. However, as thinkers like Nagarjuna have pointed out, Buddhism is not simply a rejection of the concept of existence (or of meaning, etc.) but of the hard and fast distinction between existence and nonexistence, or rather between being and nothingness. Buddhism thus has more in common with Western empiricism, pragmatism, and anti-foundationalism than it does with nihilism per se.

* Anicca (Pāli; Sanskrit: anitya): All things and experiences are inconstant, unsteady, and impermanent. Everything is made up of parts, and is dependent on the right conditions for its existence. Everything is in flux, and so conditions are constantly changing. Things are constantly coming into being, and ceasing to be. Nothing lasts.
* Dukkha (Pāli; Sanskrit: duḥkha): because we fail to truly grasp the first two conditions, we suffer. We desire a lasting satisfaction, but look for it amongst constantly changing phenomena. We perceive a self, and act to enhance that self by pursuing pleasure, and seek to prolong pleasure when it too is fleeting.

It is by realizing (not merely understanding intellectually, but making real in one's experience) the three marks of conditioned existence that one develops Praj�ā, which is the antidote to the ignorance that lies at the root of all suffering.

See also: three marks of existence
Other principles and practices

* Meditation or dhyāna of some form is a common practice in most if not all schools of Buddhism, for the clergy if not the laity.
* Central to Buddhist doctrine and practice is the law of karma and vipaka; action and its fruition, which happens within the dynamic of dependent origination (pratītya-samutpāda). Actions which result in positive retribution (happiness) are defined as skillful or good, while actions that produce negative results (suffering) are called unskillful or bad actions. These actions are expressed by the way of mind, body or speech. Some actions bring instant retribution while the results of other actions may not appear until a future lifetime.
* Rebirth, which is closely related to the law of karma. An action in this life may not give fruit or reaction until the next life time. This being said, action in a past life takes effect in this one, making a chain of existence. The full realization of the absence of an eternal self or soul (the doctrine of anatta (Pāli; Sanskrit: anātman)) breaks this cycle of birth and death (samsara).


The first lay precept in Buddhism prohibits killing. Many see this as implying that Buddhists should not eat the meat of animals. However, this is not necessarily the case. The Buddha made distinction between killing an animal and consumption of meat, stressing that it is immoral conduct that makes one impure, not the food one eats. Monks in ancient India were expected to receive all of their food by begging and to have little or no control over their diet. During the Buddha's time, there was no general rule requiring monks to refrain from eating meat. In fact, at one point the Buddha specifically refused to institute vegetarianism and the Pali Canon records the Buddha himself eating meat on several occasions. There were, however, rules prohibiting certain types of meat, such as human, leopard or elephant meat. Monks are also prohibited from consuming meat if the monk witnessed the animal's death or knows that it was killed specifically for him. This rule was applied to commercial purchase of meat in the case of a general who sent a servant to purchase meat specifically to feed the Buddha. Therefore, eating commercially purchased meat is not prohibited.

On the other hand, certain Mahayana sutras make a stronger argument against eating meat. In the Nirvana Sutra, the Buddha states that "the eating of meat extinguishes the seed of great compassion". A long passage in the Lankavatara Sutra shows the Buddha weighing strongly in favor of vegetarianism. And several other Mahayana Vyana prohibit consumption of meat.

In the modern world, attitudes toward vegetarianism vary by location. In the Theravada countries of Southeast Asia and Sri Lanka, monks are bound by the vinaya to accept almost any food that is offered to them, often including meat, while in China and Vietnam, monks are expected to eat no meat. In Japan and Korea, some monks practice vegetarianism, and most will do so at least when training at a monastery, but otherwise they typically do eat meat. In Tibet, where vegetable nutrition was historically very scarce, and the adopted vinaya was the Nikaya Sarvāstivāda, vegetarianism is very rare, although the Dalai Lama has recently made several comments encouraging its adoption. In the West, of course, a wide variety of practices are followed. Lay Buddhists generally follow dietary rules less rigorously than monks.
The three main branches of Buddhism
Several images of the Buddha, on display at Wat Cheddi Luang, Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Buddhism has evolved into myriad schools that can be roughly grouped into three types: Nikaya, Mahayana, and Vajrayana. Of the Nikaya schools, only the Theravada survives. Each branch sees itself as representing the true, original teachings of the Buddha, although some schools believe that the dialectic nature of Buddhism allows its format, terminology, and techniques to adapt over time in response to changing circumstances.

The Theravada school, whose name means "Doctrine of the Elders", bases its practice and doctrine exclusively on the Pali Canon. This is considered to be the oldest of the surviving Buddhist canons, and its sutras are accepted as authentic in every branch of Buddhism. Theravada is the only surviving representative of the historical Nikaya branch. Nikaya Buddhism and consequently Theravada are sometimes referred to as Hinayana or "lesser vehicle", although this is generally considered to be impolite. Theravada is practiced today in Sri Lanka, Burma, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and portions of Vietnam and Malaysia.

The Mahāyāna, or exoteric branch, literally means "Great Vehicle" and emphasizes universal compassion and the selfless ideal of the bodhisattva. In addition to the Nikaya scriptures, Mahāyāna schools recognize all or part of a genre of scriptures that were first put in writing around 1 CE. These later scriptures were written in Sanskrit and are concerned with the purpose of achieving Buddhahood by following the path of the bodhisattva over the course of what is often described as countless eons of time. Because of this immense timeframe, many Mahāyāna schools accept the idea of working towards rebirth in a Pure Land, which is not enlightenment in itself but which is a highly conducive environment for working toward enlightenment. Mahāyāna Buddhism is practiced today in China, Japan, Korea, and most of Vietnam.

The Vajrayāna or "Diamond Vehicle" (also referred to as Mantrayana, Tantrayana, Tantric or esoteric Buddhism) shares many of the basic concepts of Mahāyāna, but also includes a vast array of spiritual techniques designed to enhance Buddhist practice. One component of the Vajrayāna is harnessing psycho-physical energy as a means of developing profoundly powerful states of concentration and awareness. These profound states are in turn to be used as an efficient path to Buddhahood. Using these techniques, it is claimed that a practitioner can achieve Buddhahood in one lifetime, or as little as three years. In addition to the Theravada and Mahāyāna scriptures, Vajrayāna Buddhists recognise a large body of texts that include the Buddhist Tantras. Vajrayana is practiced today mainly in Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan, Mongolia, Kalmykia, areas of India, and, to a limited extent, in China and Japan.
Buddhism after the Buddha
One of the first representations of the Buddha, 1st-2nd century CE, Gandhara.

Buddhism spread slowly in India until the powerful Mauryan emperor Asoka converted to it and actively supported it. His promotion led to construction of Buddhist religious sites and missionary efforts that spread the faith into the countries listed at the beginning of the article.

After about 500 CE, Buddhism showed signs of waning in India, becoming a very minor religion after about 1200 CE. This was partially due to Muslim invasions, and partially due to Hinduism's revival movements such as Advaita and the rise of the bhakti movement.

Elements of Buddhism have remained within India to the current day: the Bauls of Bengal have a syncretic set of practices with strong emphasis on many Buddhist tantric and philosophic concepts. Other areas of India have never parted from Buddhism, including Ladakh and other areas bordering the Tibetan, Nepali and Bhutanese borders.

Buddhism also remained in the rest of the world although in Central Asia and later Indonesia it was mostly replaced by Islam. In China and Japan, it adopted aspects of the native beliefs of Confucianism, Taoism and Shinto respectively. In Tibet, the Tantric Vajrayana lineage was preserved after it disappeared in India.
History of the schools

Three months after the passing of Gautama Buddha, The First Council was held at Rajagaha by his immediate disciples who had attained Arahantship (Enlightenment). Maha Kassapa, the most respected and elderly monk, presided at the Council. Only two sections the Dhamma and the Vinaya were recited at the First Council. All Arahants unanimously agree that no disciplinary rule laid down by the Buddha should be changed, and no new ones should be introduced. At this point, no conflict about what the Buddha taught is known to have occurred, so the teachings were divided into various parts and each was assigned to an elder and his pupils to commit to memory. These groups of people often cross-checked with each other to ensure that no omissions or additions were made.

At the Second Council, one hundred years later, it was not the dharma that was called into question but the monks' code of rules or vinaya. This resulted in the formation of the Sthaviravādin and Mahāsanghika schools. Opinions differ on the cause of the split: the Sthaviravādins described their opponents as lax monks who had ceased to follow all the vinaya rules, while the Mahāsanghikas argued that the Buddha had never intended a rigid adherence to all the minor rules. After this initial division, more were to follow. Schism in early Buddhism was typically not on points of doctrine (orthodoxy), but in the area of practice (orthopraxy). So if two schools shared a vinaya, but were in dispute over doctrinal matters, it was likely that they would continue to practice together. However, if one group disputed the vinaya of another, this would often prevent common practice.

In the 3rd century BCE the Third Council was convened under the patronage of Emperor Ashoka, primarily for the purpose of establishing an official orthodoxy. At the council, small groups raised questions about the specifics of the vinaya and the interpretation of doctrine. The chairman of the council, Moggaliputta Tissa, compiled a book called the Kathavatthu, which was meant to refute these arguments. The council sided with Moggaliputta and his version of Buddhism as orthodox; it was then adopted by Emperor Ashoka as his empire's official religion. This school of thought was termed Vibhajjavada (Pali), literally "Teaching of Analysis". The version of the scriptures that had been established at the Third Council, including the vinaya, sutta and the abhidhamma commentaries (collectively known as Tripitaka), was taken to Sri Lanka by Emperor Ashoka's son, the Venerable Mahinda. There it was eventually committed to writing in the Pali language. The Pali Canon remains the only complete set of Nikaya scriptures to survive, although fragments of other versions exist.

Between the 1st century BCE and the 1st century CE, the terms Mahayana and Hinayana were first used in writing, in, for example, the Lotus Sutra.

The Fourth Council was convened by the Kushan emperor Kanishka, around 100 CE at Jalandhar or in Kashmir, and is usually associated with the formal rise of Mahayana Buddhism. Theravada Buddhism does not recognize the authenticity of this council, and it is sometimes called the “council of heretical monks”.

It is said that Kanishka gathered 500 Bhikkhus, headed by Vasumitra, to edit the Tripitaka and make references and remarks. A set of new scriptures were approved, as well as fundamental principles of Mahayana doctrine. The new scriptures, usually in the Gandhari vernacular and the Kharosthi script, were rewritten in the classical language of Sanskrit, to many scholars a turning point in the propagation of Buddhist thought.

During and after the 2nd century, versions of the Mahayana vision became clearly defined in the works of Nagarjuna, Asanga, Shantideva, Ashvagosha, and Vasubandhu.

Around the 1st century, Buddhism spread from India through successive waves of merchants and pilgrims. It reached as far as Arabia to the west, and eastward to southeast Asia, where the first records of Buddhism date from around 400. Mahayana Buddhism established a major regional center in what is today Afghanistan, and from there it spread to China, Korea, Mongolia, and Japan. In 475, the Indian monk Bodhidharma travelled to China and established the Chan (Chinese; Japanese: Zen), school. During the first millennium, monks from China such as Yijing and Xuanzang made pilgrimages to India.

At one time, different Turkic and Tocharian groups along the northern fringe of East Turkestan (modern Xinjiang in western China) adhered to the Theravada school. However, Buddhism there was supplanted by the introduction of Islam around 1000.

Vajrayana also evolved at this stage carried from India to Tibet around 800 by teachers such as Padmasambhava and Atisha. There it initially coexisted with native belief systems such as B�n, but later came to largely supplant or absorb them. An early form of esoteric Vajrayana known as Shingon was also transmitted by the priest Kūkai to Japan, where it continues to be practiced.

There is still an active debate as to whether or not Tantrism was initially developed within Buddhism or Hinduism. Buddhist literature tends to predate the later puranic Tantras, and there is some evidence to suggest that the basic structure of tantra depends upon the Mahayana Buddhist philosophical schools. However, it is thought by others that meditative Shiva sects seem to have existed from pre-Vedic times; also, from scriptural citations and study of the Vedas, some say Tantra saw its philosophical basis in the mystical rites and mantras of the Atharva Veda (and later the Hindu Upanishads and Mahayana school of Buddhism).

See also: History of Buddhism and Timeline of Buddhism
Young Buddhist monks in Tibet

The Buddhist canon of scripture is known in Sanskrit as the Tripiṭaka and in Pāli as the Tipiṭaka. These terms literally mean "three baskets" and refers to the three main divisions of the canon, which are:

* The Vināya Piṭaka, containing disciplinary rules for the Sāṅgha of Buddhist monks and nuns, as well as a range of other texts which explain why and how rules were instituted, supporting material, and doctrinal clarification.
* The Sutta Piṭaka (Pāli; Sanskrit: Sutra Piṭaka), containing discourses of the Buddha.
* The Abhidhamma or commentary Piṭaka, containing a philosophical systematization of the Buddha's teaching, including a detailed analysis of Buddhist psychology.

During the first few centuries after Gautama Buddha, his teachings were transmitted orally, but around the 1st Century CE they began to be written down. A given school of Buddhism will generally have its own distinctive canon of texts, which will partially overlap with those of other schools. The most notable set of texts from the early period is the Pali Canon, which was preserved in Sri Lanka by the Theravāda school. The sutras it contains are also part of the canon of every other Buddhist sect. Full versions of the original text[1] (http://jbe.gold.ac.uk/palicanon.html) and partial English translations[2] (http://www.accesstoinsight.org/canon/) are now readily available on the internet.

The appearance of the Mahāyāna tradition brought with it a collection of new texts, composed in Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit, many of which were also described as actual sermons of the Buddha. These include the Perfection of Wisdom Sutras, the Avataṃsaka, the Lotus Sutra, the Vimalakīrti Sutra, and the ṇirvana Sutra. Many of the Mahayana sutras were translated into Tibetan and classical Chinese and are also now read in the West.

The Mahāyāna canon further expanded after Buddhism was transmitted to China, where the existing texts were translated, and new texts were composed for the purpose of adapting the Indian tradition to the East Asian philosophical mindset. Many of these works are considered by modern scholars to be spurious. Other new texts, such as the Platform Sutra and the Sutra of Perfect Enlightenment did not pretend to be of Indian origin, but were widely accepted as valid scriptures on their own merits. Later writings include the Linji Lu of Chan master Linji. In the course of the development of Korean Buddhism and Japanese Buddhism, further important texts were composed. These included, for example, in Korea, some of the writings of Jinul, and in Japan, works such as Dogen's Shobogenzo.

Arguably the most thorough compilation of Mahayana sutras is found in the Tibetan canon. This is split into those texts attributed to be authored by the Buddha (Kanjur), and those texts which are understood to be commentaries by Indian practitioners (Tenjur). Vajrayāna practitioners also study distinctive texts such as the Buddhist tantras.

Recently an important archaeological discovery was made, consisting of the earliest known Buddhist manuscripts, recovered from somewhere near ancient Gandhara in northwest Pakistan. These fragments, written on birch bark, are dated to the 1st century and have been compared to the Dead Sea scrolls in importance. Donated to the British Library in 1994, they are now are being studied in a joint project at the University of Washington[3] (http://depts.washington.edu/ebmp/).
Relations with other faiths

Some Hindus (primarily in the northern regions of India) believe that Gautama is the 9th incarnation (see avatar) of Vishnu; there are accounts of the Buddha as an incarnation of Vishnu that are pro- and anti-Buddhist (i.e., either Vishnu "really meant" what he said while incarnated as Buddha or he was just messing with the Nastikas). This is not a majority view, however.

Traditionally, there has been a sharp distinction between Buddhism and what is today called "Hinduism"; this distinction is more accurately between Astika and Nastika philosophies, that is, philosophies in India which either affirmed the Vedas as divinely revealed scriptures or else regarded them as fallible human inventions. Thus Buddhism is essentially a heresy vis � vis orthodox Indian philosophy, though there are many syncretic or ecumenical tendencies within either group which are accepting of the beliefs and practices of the other.

In the Japanese religion of Shintoism Buddha is seen as a Kami (god). The Baha'i Faith states he was an independent Manifestation of God. Siddhartha Gautama is thought to have been sanctified by the Roman Catholic Church as Saint Josaphat based on a mistaken account of his conversion to Christianity. Some Muslims believe that Gautama Buddha is Dhul-Kifl, one of the prophets mentioned in the Qur'an.

Jainism is an Indian school of thought that was founded prior to Buddhism. One of its two most prominent teachers, Mahāvīra, was a senior contemporary of the Buddha whose philosophy, sometimes described as dynamism or vitalism, was a blend of the earlier Jain teacher Pārśvanātha's asceticism and the naturalistic teachings of the Ājīvikas. Dialogues between the Buddha's disciples and Mahāvīra are recorded in Jain texts, and dialogues between Mahāvīra's disciples and the Buddha are included in Buddhist texts, however there is no evidence the two teachers actually met.
Buddhism in the modern world
The international Buddhist flag was designed in Sri Lanka in the 1880s with the assistance of Henry Steele Olcott and was later adopted as a symbol by the World Fellowship of Buddhists.

Estimates of the number of Buddhists vary between 230 and 500 million, with 350 million as the most commonly cited figure. [4] (http://www.adherents.com/Religions_By_Adherents.html)
Modern Asia

In northern Asia, Mahāyāna remains the most common form of Buddhism in China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. Theravāda predominates in most of Southeast Asia, including Burma, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand, as well as Sri Lanka. Vajrayāna is predominant in Tibet, Mongolia, and portions of India.

While in the West Buddhism is often seen as exotic and progressive, in the East Buddhism is regarded as familiar and part of the establishment. Buddhist organizations in Asia frequently are well-funded and enjoy support from the wealthy and influential. In some cases, this has led critics to charge that certain monks and organizations are too closely associated with the powerful and are neglecting their duties to the poor.
Buddhism and the West

In the latter half of the 19th century, Buddhism (along with many other of the world's religions and philosophies) came to the attention of Western intellectuals. These included the pessimistic German philosopher Schopenhauer and the American philosopher Henry David Thoreau, who translated a Buddhist sutra from French into English. Spiritual enthusiasts enjoyed what they saw as the exotic and mystical tone of the Asian traditions. At first Western Buddhology was hampered by poor translations (often translations of translations), but soon Western scholars began to learn Asian languages and translate Asian texts. In 1880 J.R. de Silva and Henry S. Olcott designed the International Buddhist flag to celebrate the revival of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. Its stripes symbolise universal compassion, the middle path, blessings, purity and liberation, wisdom, and the conglomeration of these. The flag was accepted as the International Buddhist Flag by the 1952 World Buddhist Congress.
A hallway in California's Hsi Lai Temple

In 1899 Gordon Douglas became the first Westerner to be ordained as a Buddhist monk.

The first Buddhists to arrive in the United States were Chinese. Hired as cheap labor for the railroads and other expanding industries, they established temples in their settlements along the rail lines.

The Buddhist Society, London was founded by Christmas Humphreys in 1924.

The cultural re-evaluations of the hippie generation in the late 1960s and early 1970s included a renewed interest in Buddhism, proclaimed by some of them as a natural path to awareness, and enlightenment. Many people, including celebrities, traveled to Asia in pursuit of gurus and ancient wisdom. Buddhism had become the fastest-growing religion in Australia and many other Western nations by the 1990s, in contrast to the steady decline of traditional western beliefs (see Christianity).

A distinctive feature of Buddhism in the West has been the emergence of groups that, while drawing on traditional Buddhism, attempt to create a new form of Buddhist practice. Examples include the Shambala movement, founded by Trungpa, and the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order, founded by Sangharakshita.

What Is Buddha Nirvana?

uddha is a word in the ancient Indian languages Pāli and Sanskrit which means "one who has become awake". It is derived from the verbal root "√budh", meaning "to awaken."

The word "Buddha" denotes not just a single religious teacher who lived in a particular epoch, but a type of person, of which there have been many instances in the course of cosmic time. (As an analogy, the term "American President" refers not just to one man, but to everyone who has ever held the office of the American presidency.) The Buddha Siddhartha Gautama, then, is simply one member in the spiritual lineage of Buddhas, which stretches back into the dim recesses of the past and forward into the distant horizons of the future.

Gautama did not claim any divine status for himself, nor did he assert that he was inspired by a god or gods. He claimed to be not a personal saviour, but a teacher to guide those who choose to listen. A Buddha is any human being who has fully awakened to the true nature of existence, whose insight has totally transformed him or her beyond birth, death, and subsequent rebirth, and who is enabled to help others achieve the same enlightenment.

The principles by which a person can be led to enlightenment are known as the Buddhadharma, or simply the Dharma. Dharma in this sense of the rather complex term means, "law, doctrine, or truth." Anyone can attain what the Buddha attained regardless of age, gender, or caste. Indeed, Buddhists believe there have been many solitary buddhas (Pāli pacceka-buddha; Sanskrit: pratyekabuddha) who achieved enlightenment on their own but did not go on to teach others. According to one of the stories in the Sutta Nipāta, the Buddha, too, was afraid to teach humans because he despaired of their limited capacity for understanding. The Vedic (early Hindu) god Indra, however, interceded, and requested that he teach despite this. That the historical Buddha did so is thus a mark of special compassion.

Legend has it that the Buddha to be, Siddhārtha Gautama, was born around the 6th century BCE. His birthplace is said to be Lumbini in the kingdom of Magadha, in what is now Nepal. His father was a king, and Siddhārtha lived in luxury, being spared all hardship.
This engraving depicts the Buddha's first sermon, which according to the Dhammacakka Pavattana Sutta took place in the Deer Park at Sarnath in northern India.

The legends say that a seer predicted that Siddhartha would become either a great king or a great holy man; because of this, the king tried to make sure that Siddhartha never had any cause for dissatisfaction with his life, as that might drive him toward a spiritual path. Nevertheless, at the age of 29, while being escorted by his attendant Channa, he came across what has become known as the Four Passing Sights: an old crippled man, a sick man, a decaying corpse, and finally a wandering holy man. These four sights, as they are called, led him to the realization that birth, old age, sickness and death came to everyone, not only once but repeated for life after life in succession for uncounted aeons. He decided to abandon his worldly life, leaving behind his wife and child, his privilege, rank, caste, and to take up the life of a wandering holy man in search of the answer to the problem of birth, old age, sickness, and death. It is said that he stole out of the house in the dead of night, pausing for one last look at his family, and did not return there for a very long time.

Indian holy men (sādhus), in those days just as today, engaged in a variety of ascetic practices designed to "mortify" the flesh. This belief was taken to an extreme in the faith of Jainism. It was thought that by enduring pain and suffering, the ātman (Sanskrit; Pāli: atta) or "soul" became free from the round of rebirth into pain and sorrow. Siddhārtha proved adept at these practices, and was able to surpass his teachers. However, he found no answer to his problem and, leaving behind his teachers, he and a small group of companions set out to take their austerities even further. He became a skeleton covered with skin, surviving on a single grain of rice per day, and practiced holding his breath. After nearly starving himself to death with no success (some sources claim that he nearly drowned), Siddhārtha began to reconsider his path. Then he remembered a moment in childhood in which he had been watching his father start the season's plowing, and he had fallen into a naturally concentrated and focused state in which time seemed to stand still, and which was blissful and refreshing. Perhaps this would provide an alternative to the dead end of self-mortification?

Taking a little buttermilk from a passing goatherd, he found a large tree (now called the Bodhi tree) under which he would be shaded from the heat of the mid-summer sun, and set to meditating. This new way of practicing began to bear fruit. His mind became concentrated and pure, and then, six years after he began his quest, he attained Enlightenment, and became a Buddha.

Historically speaking, there are questions about this story. First, there are other narrative versions of his life that do not exactly match - one has it that the Buddha leaves home in the "prime of his youth", his parents weeping and wailing all the while. Second, we know from other sources that the country of Magadha, where he was born, was an oligarchic republic at that time, so there was no royal family of which to speak. However, regardless of the details of his early life, the evidence strongly indicates that the Buddha was indeed a historical person living in approximately the same time and place in which he is traditionally placed.

Buddha quete

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).

Laughing Buddha Nirvana

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, 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.

Buddha In Mahayana Nirvana

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 and illusory, while the other is real and great ("the Great Self", as the Buddha labels it). To deny the sovereign reality of that birthless and deathless 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.

Another desperate ploy that is resorted to by those 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.

Buddha Mahayana Sutra Nirvana

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, as well as Dr. Page's German translation (the first ever carried out) of the Tibetan version of the Mahaparinirvana Sutra, based on the (as yet unpublished) splendid English translation by Buddhist scholar, Stephen Hodge.

The webmaster of this site - Dr. Tony Page - is the man who, following in the pioneering footsteps of the great Kosho Yamamoto, single-handedly brought the Mahaparinirvana Sutra in its English version for widespread dissemination to the West. Dr. Page is also the founder of a new "Nirvana Sutra Buddhism" approach to Mahayana Buddhism (one which bases itself faithfully and accurately on the actual words and teachings of the Buddha in this and other Tathagatagarbha sutras - rather than clinging to often outmoded, ill-informed, incomplete, pre-conveived and prejudiced notions of what Buddhism must and must not "be"). Dr. Page is today the United Kingdom's foremost Mahaparinirvana Sutra doctrinal researcher, advocate and proponent, Buddha Nirvana.

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).

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 (which contain key, vital quotations in very new, reliable translations by Stephen Hodge).

To access these pages, click on those pages as listed in the Navigation Strip on the left-hand side of this page.

Happy reading and meditation!

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