The Scripture on the Absence of Increase and the Absence of Decrease [in the Realm of Beings].
Thus I heard: At one time the Bhagavat was dwelling in Rājagr̥ha on Mount Gr̥dhrakūṭa, together with a large assembly of one thousand two hundred and fifty bhikṣus, and with an immeasurable, infinite and innumerable number of bodhisattva-mahāsattvas.
At that time, the venerable Śāriputra got up from his seat in the great assembly and approached the Buddha. Bowing his head to the Buddha’s feet, he withdrew and sat to one side. Placing his palms together reverentially, he spoke to the Buddha, saying: “World-honored One! All beings wander in the six paths from beginningless time, transmigrate in the three realms and, repeating the cycle of birth and death through the four types of birth, experience pain without exhaustion. World-honored One! Does this mass of beings, this ocean of beings, undergo increase and decrease, or does it not undergo increase and decrease? The purport of this is profound and mysterious, and I am not yet able to understand it. If someone asks me about it, how should I respond?”
Śāriputra is the catalyst who introduces the Sūtra’s salient theme: does this realm increase or decrease?
six paths: the six realms of sentient existence, Gods, Demi-gods, Human, Animal, Hungry Ghosts, Hell Beings.
three realms: of desire, kāmadhātu; of form, rūpadhātu; formlesss realm, ārūpyadhātu
At that time the World-honored One said to Śāriputra: “Good! Good! Śāriputra, you ask me about this extremely profound purport in order to pacify all beings, to bring happiness to all beings, to show compassion for all beings, to benefit all beings, to avail and bring happiness to all beings, gods and men. If you were not to ask the Tathāgata, Arhat, Perfectly Awakened One about such a purport as this, Śāriputra, there would be many faults. How so? In the present age and in future ages all beings—gods, men, and so on—would suffer and be harmed for an extended time, and would forever lose all that is beneficial and brings them happiness.
Śāriputra is proficient with enough prior Buddha-gnosis to address this issue—he has become most competent in the Unborn.
If such questions were not asked, in this particular sutra as well as ALL others, all future ages of sentient beings in the six realms of impermanence would permanently suffer from their own misfortunes and proclivities for malice.
“It is a greatly mistaken view, Śāriputra, to see the realm of beings as increasing or to see the realm of beings as decreasing. Because of these views, Śāriputra, beings who hold these greatly mistaken views are born blind and sightless. Consequently, for a very long time they errantly tread mistaken paths, and therefore in the present age they fall into evil destinies. It is great disaster, Śāriputra, to cling to and grasp at [the notion of] the realm of beings as increasing, or to cling to and grasp at [the notion of] the realm of beings as decreasing. These beings, Śāriputra, cling to and grasp at [these notions]. Consequently, for a very long time they will errantly tread mistaken paths, and therefore in future ages they will fall into evil destinies.
The sattvadhātu neither increases nor decreases—such views render one incompetent in discerning Right View.
All who hold unto such mistaken views “fall into evil destinies” and become heralds of Mara’s false dream realms.
“Because all foolish common people, Śāriputra, do not know the single
dharma-realm in accord with reality, because they do not see the single
dharma-realm in accord with reality, they entertain ideas informed by mistaken views, thinking that the realm of beings increases or that the realm of beings decreases. While the Tathāgata is in the world, Śāriputra, my disciples will not entertain these views. (However,) when five hundred years
have passed after my nirvāṇa, there will be many beings who are foolish and
lack insight. [Being] within the Buddhist community, although they will
remove their beards and hair, put on the three dharma robes, and manifest
outwardly the appearance of śramaṇas, nevertheless inwardly they will lack
the virtuous behavior of śramaṇas. Such people, although actually not
śramaṇas will call themselves śramaṇas, although not disciples of the
Buddha will call themselves disciples of the Buddha. Still they themselves
will say: ‘I am a śramaṇa, a true disciple of the Buddha. ‘This sort of persons
will entertain the view that there is increase or decrease. Why?
foolish common people: puthujjana
in accord with reality: They are not aware of True Reality, or the Dharmadhātu. they do not see IT AS IT IS: yathabhutam.
actually not śramaṇas: followers of the Buddhadharma in name only. They wear the mere external patches of Buddhism on their shoulders—but they don’t comprehend the Element of Truth.
“[They entertain the view that there is increase or decrease] because these
beings, having resorted to the Tathāgata’s sūtras of provisional meaning,
lack the wisdom-eye; because they are remote from the view of emptiness
in accord with reality; because they do not know in accord with reality the
initial aspiration (to awakening) realized by the Tathāgata; because they
do not know in accord with reality the practices which accumulate immeasurable merits for bodhi; because they do not know in accord with reality the immeasurable qualities attained by the Tathāgata; because they do not know in accord with reality the Tathāgata’s immeasurable power; because
they do not know in accord with reality the Tathāgata’s immeasurable
sphere (of knowledge); because they do not believe in the Tathāgata’s immeasurable range of action; because they do not know in accord with
reality the Tathāgata’s inconceivable, immeasurable mastery of the Teachings; because they do not know in accord with reality the Tathāgata’s inconceivable, immeasurable skillful means; because they are not able to distinguish in accord with reality the Tathāgata’s immeasurable sphere of discrimination; because they are not good at penetrating into the Tathāgata’s inconceivable great compassion; because they do not know in accord with reality the Tathāgata’s great nirvāṇa.
lack the wisdom-eye: they lack the inner Dharma-eye of the Tathāgatas.
because they do not know in accord with reality the practices which accumulate immeasurable merits for Bodhi: They cannot acquire the Ariyan Noble Ten-fold path to Self-Realization in the Unborn.
because they do not know: they lack all the qualities that are of the Tathāgatas immeasurable attributes.
the Tathāgata’s immeasurable sphere of discrimination: “discrimination” is usually a negative notion; Silk notes that “In our passage here in the AAN…where the discrimination must be taken positively, it may be that this discrimination refers to the Tathāgata’s skillful means or something similar.”
“Śāriputra, because foolish common people lack [even that] insight which
comes from hearing [the teachings], hearing of the Tathāgata’s nirvāṇa they
entertain the view that it is annihilation and the view that it is cessation.
Because they entertain the notion that it is annihilation and the notion that
it is cessation, they consider that the realm of beings decreases, and this creates the extremely heavy evil karma of a greatly mistaken view.
The truth of the buddhadharma comes though the inner-hearing (Parato ghosa–or the soundless sound of deathlessness ITself.) Lacking the necessary Buddha gnosis of acquiring the Dharma-Eye, they thus entertain notions of annihilation and/or cessation; yea, imagining Nirvana ITself to mean extinction of beingness.