Highlights from the Mahāparinirvāṇasūtra

Reflecting back upon the introductory blog from this series, along with the analysis of the Self from contemporary scholars like Dr. Tony Page and Dr. Chris Jones, the other salient construct revolved around Shimoda Masahiro’s hypothesis that the early stupa-based communities discovered the “hidden Buddha Nature” best in context of a sutra-based formulation. This construct indicated that the primary catalyst for such a shift was sparked by the early dharmakathika, or (Dharma masters). At the time of writing this I stated, “During our exegesis of the Mahāparinirvāṇasūtra hopefully some pertinent passages will affirm [these] assertions.” The forthcoming “highlights” of the series will indicate the nature of this shift and the “spirit-behind” such a noble direction.

Early on in the series I was first captivated by the chapter labeled “On Cunda” and the significance of such a persona.

Our hypothesis concerning the two Cundas serves two types of meal offerings: One resulting in the end of life, the other transcending the samsaric and skhandic matrix all together. Cunda in the Mahāparinirvāṇasūtra offers to the Blessed One what little he has, symbolic of turning-over his skandhic identity or his “lesser self”; in so doing he is rewarded by the Blessed One with the gift of the higher and “best-Self”—THE Self that is an Unborn and Undying One. This is also the spiritual significance of why the Tathagata accepted Cunda’s offering and none of the other extravagant ones as depicted by all the exotic characters in Chapter One. Simply turn-over the little significance of your skandhic-core and you will be blessed by the Buddhadharma a thousand-fold. This is described in the passage as Cunda’s “perfected giving” (danaparamita). As a sign that this is the best meal offering, the door is left open for Cunda to attain anuttarasamyaksambodhi and enter into the Nirvanic Kingdom of Self.

Cunda’s offering is symbolic of that shift away from “putting one’s faith in a holy-relic” and directly offering the best of all sacrifices, one’s limited “skandhic identity” in favor of the hidden Bodhi-seed that dwells, not in some external stupa, but rather within one’s self and spirit-mind that is the Actual Vehicle of the True Nature of Selfhood.

Prior to accepting the gift of charity one’s afflicted and “skandhic-bound” self-rules the roost in samsara. As a result, since oneself has not benefited from it, it cannot possibly be offered to others. After the action of acceptance of the paramita, the afflicted-self is minimized and the larger Spirit-Self empowers all beings to be blessed equally with danaparamita. Thus, the impermanent-self is disengaged giving-way to the adamantine and Vajra-like Self that is eternal and boundless.

All this strikes a dominant chord away from early associations of what constituted Buddhahood:

…the Mahayana departs from former Theravadin associations of what constitutes Buddhahood. The latter is really Self-limited since the Buddha’s manifestation form takes precedence. The Buddha here is a Transcendent One, no longer dependent upon a physical form but having the Adamantine-Body of the Tathagatas. The one who has not yet experienced this Self-realization of the Tathagata is still “self-afflicted”. After one Eats of the Dharma-food one enters into the adamantine samadhi, wherein the Self is set free to Self-realize Itself thus attaining anuttara-samyak-sambodhi.

Our blog in this series entitled “Something Rare” also highlighted a shift away from some external-stupa based association with the Buddha, and directly upon a premier sutra-based association.

The next passage is of utmost importance (along with the true-nature of the Self soon to follow) for an aspiring adept of the Buddhadharma; indeed as the title of today’s blog indicates, [something rare] and not to be glossed-over as something insignificant, because without encountering a Buddha and wholeheartedly digesting the Buddhadharma, all else is vain and empty:

Bhikṣus, it is extraordinary for a buddha to appear in the world. It is rare to obtain a human body. For you to meet a buddha and arouse faith [in his teachings]—such things are even more rare. To be able to endure what is difficult to endure, this is also rare. To be able to fulfill the requirements of the rules of discipline perfectly without any lapses, to attain the fruit of arhatship, these things are also rare, like searching for gold dust or an udumbara flower.

It also needs to be noted that today’s adept can best encounter the Living Buddha in the Sutras. What is being revealed in these passages are the salvific Words of the Tathagata and are Real now as when they were first written.

That blog also endorsed, “Just remember [what is being conveyed], Non-Self is Samsara, whereas the True Self is the Tathagata, or the Tathagata’s Eternal dominion of the Dharmakaya—Nirvanic Selfhood.”

Along with disciplined sutra-reading, the other prominent factor in the realization of one’s inner Buddahood concerns “putting-on-the-mind of Bodhi”:

The Blessed One explains that the road to Bodhisattvahood as well as procuring a “long career” as such, the faithful adept needs to put-on-the-Mind-of Bodhi in order to properly affect such a mindset; afterwards only Beneficial-Karma (for the good of others) can be rightly confected. He also states that it was only through Right-Action that he was able to attain anuttarā samyaksaṃbodhi—this is also known As Right Karma through Right Intention. The natural order for such a Bodhi-minded one leads to unconditional acceptance of all sentient beings, imparting to them Great Compassion even if they are Hell-Dwellers. There is no exception to this Bodhisattvic Golden Rule. As we shall see, this even includes the icchantikas.

Perhaps another dominant sift away from a traditional rendering concerned the prospect of an icchantika rising above its natural intercourse:

A dominant section of the Mahāparinirvāṇasūtra stating that even the icchantikas are not eternally incorrigible.

When an icchantika, moreover, exhausts [what makes him so], he can no longer be labeled icchantika. What in fact is meant by the name icchantika? Icchantikas are those who have destroyed all wholesome karmic roots within themselves. Their original mindset is one that does not aspire to any wholesome dharmas, and they may even reach the point where not one wholesome thought occurs to them. In true liberation there is no one like this. In fact, it is precisely because of the absence of anything like this that it is true liberation, and true liberation is what the Tathāgata is…

Kāśyapa, I look upon those who malign the true-dharma, the icchantikas, those who kill living beings, those who hold false views, and those who committed crimes in the past in the same way, which is that I regard them all with same compassion I have for Rāhula.

Good man, the Tathāgata chastises those who debase the dharma in order to show such people that there are moral consequences to engaging in bad behavior. Good man, understand that at the same time the Tathāgata does this without instilling fear in these wicked living beings, for I also shine one, two, perhaps even five beams of light [upon them]. Anyone who personally encounters this light will [be transformed] and will walk away from all such bad behavior. A tathāgata is equipped with immeasurable strength to perform such deeds.

This passage specifies, unequivocally so, that the Saving Light of the Mahayana is offered to all, regardless of their prior-actions. If anyone invokes this healing Unborn Light, then such a one is pardoned for past offenses and is liberated. The Blessed One goes so far as saying, “I look upon those acting in ways that are destructive of the dharma as if they were all equally my only child.”

Hence, they CAN change their mindset.

Our exegesis of Chapter Five on The Adamantine Body of the Tathagata concerned the “ultimate shift” away from some psychophysical component involving the True Nature of the Buddhakaya.

A Buddha has no ordinary human embodiment, but rather a most salient transcendentemBODHIment, or the awakening of an Enlightened-Spirit within the Tathātic-Womb:

“Buddhas are not conceived and gestated in putrid, painful human wombs; rather, buddhahood springs from a “womb” (garbha), inherent in all sentient beings, in which glimmers the transcendent promise of final liberation from flesh altogether.” (Radich, pg. 10)

This is within the approximate vicinity of Unborn Mind, Tathāgatagarbha-Zen. Śākyamuni himself was not enlightened until his own inner-garbha child first stirred from within the depths of THAT Self-same Tathātic-Womb. After his mystical encounter beneath that Bodhi-tree the seed of Tathāgatahood was activated. It was thus that he became an awakened Buddha—or the One THAT transcends all defiled aggregated existence. His earlier “physical-birth” as Siddhartha was simply a manifestation of a vehicle that housed the garbha-seed until it was ready to become fully mature—in a very real sense, an Immaculate-Birth of his own Bodhi-child.

Once again, the soteriological-impetus and principle that originates within the Dharmakayic-womb of the Tathāgatagarbha is the sole transcendent alternative to traversing kalpa after kalpa garnering one’s “pound of flesh” over and above putting on the salvific Unborn Buddha Mind. What therefore liberates and empowers one to SEE with absolute assurance through the self-same eyes of the Tathāgatakaya the blessed Dharma-fields of Bhutatathata. As the MPNMS states most strikingly, ‘In this manner, the seeds of the dharmakāya are in my body.’ Of course, from a Lankavatarian perspective, this “special form of a body” that gestates within the Tathāgatagarbha is the Bodhi-child, the only one who can assume a Right-Position within the Trikaya. The Bodhi-seed, not a defiled skandhic-one, is the rightful heir to the kingdom of the Dharmakaya.

Our series also underlined the nature of what is referred to as the treasury of esoterica.

It reinforces that anyone who partakes of the Holy Dharma within this sutra will become like an “excellent physician”, being empowered to cure all ailments within the created order. It also states that in doing so, one will gain the auspicious mark of the Dharma-eye that alone guides one through and reveals the True Essence of the Buddhadharma. Anyone failing to partake in the Holy Wisdom of the Mahāparinirvāṇasūtra will be like one blinded, devoid of the Dharma-eye and smothered with ignorance.

Hence one can discern once again the emphasis on the “Holy Dharma” as a primary route to salvation, rather than placing one’s trust in some exterior receptacle housing old bones.

While, of course, there are many other ingredients that went into the full-spectrum of our series on the Mahāparinirvāṇasūtra, what has just been highlighted has hopefully sustained and reinforced Shimoda Masahiro’s hypothesis. What ultimately matters in the final schemata of the sutra is:

We truly hold a treasure, not made of gold but hidden within the fleshy-substance of our mortal carcass. Our own Buddha-nature is the very Heart of our being, a nature worth more than its weight in gold. How few of us recognize IT and take to heart IT’s storehouse of salvific grace—the very Bodhi-seed that if properly nurtured, will become one’s sole single-minded impetus for living out the remainder of this heavy-laden samsaric-cruise.

Oh yes, and what about the dharmakathika, or (Dharma masters)? It soon becomes apparent, in digesting the full import of not only the Mahā-parinirvāṇasūtra but many others as well, that the Dharma-master is at work behind such ingenious undertakings. This was brought out in the series as “the Lord of the Mansion”:

The “Lord of the House” is the Inner-Dharma Master—an Unborn Spirit imbued with Nirvanic Light Itself. Before you blink in consternation at this realization, IT has already moved the blossoming Lotus Flower before your Mind’s Eye. IT is the Dharma-Eye—the Inner-Lord and Guardian of the True Buddhadharma. IT does not belong to you or Mahākāśyapa or Buddha Gautama; IT is the Sacred Reliquary THAT reveals your True Lord and Master. When your smile and Mahākāśyapa’s become As One, then you will be entrusted with the TRUE DHARMA SEAL: Recollection of the Self-Same Singular Smile of the Dharmakaya ITself.

The very Lord of the Dharma-mansions is non-other than the unparalleled aid of the Tathagatas, their Dharmatic-Spirit continuously and persistently inspiring one through the Blessed Words of the Sutras as well as one’s practice. Their-Spirit is the catalyst behind such noble Dharma-efforts and masterpieces such as the Mahāparinirvāṇasūtra. Let us conclude, then, with the invocation from Matrceta’s Hymn to the Buddha:

No faults in any way are found in him;
All virtues in every way dwell in him.

To go to him for refuge, to sing his praise,
to do him honour and to abide in his Dharma
is proper for one with understanding.

The only Protector,
his faults are gone without residue.
The All-knowing One,
his virtues are present without fail.

Even the most spiteful man
cannot with justice find fault
in the thoughts, words or deeds of the Lord.

To be born human and encounter the great joy
of the good Dharma is a chance rarer than
a turtle thrusting its neck through a yoke
floating freely in the great ocean.

So how could I not put voice to good use now,
for it is impermanent and may soon be liable to change.

Though I know that the Sage’s virtues
are beyond all human calculation,
still I will recount a portion of them,
if only for my own delight.

Homage to you, O Self-developed One
whose good works are many and wondrous,
whose virtues are too numerous and awesome to define.

Their number? They are infinite.
Their nature? Words must fail.
But to speak of them bestows great good,
so I shall speak much.

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2 Responses to Highlights from the Mahāparinirvāṇasūtra

  1. Tozen says:

    We truly hold a treasure, not made of gold -> ” but hidden within the fleshy-substance of our mortal carcass. ”

    Hmm…That is not what this marvelous sutra says,

    That would denote a spatiotemporal limitation of what is – in itself – UNLIMITED.

    It is in the nature of “humanity”, those souls attached to this FORM, and the consciousness that arises from it, by means of karma, to use an artificial “limitation” of communication (LIGHT sharing) by means of language there to “describe” the absolute and position-less. – The latter being dormant, at sleep, dreaming countless dreams it experiences and believes to be real because it believes its own self-representation in said dreams to be real.

    The Tathagatas knowing that language was the poorest form of communicating this buddhadharma to the dreaming, conceived countless skillful and expedient means as to make the dreamer to awake and realize its true self (Buddha) versus its dreamer (from demon-to-deva).

    This process was and is basically Tathagatha —> Noble Wisdom/Bodhicitta/ Pure imageless light of the Tathagta´s Mind —> (shared) to arhats (received and and instantly understood as such), and for the rest of poorer spiritual disposition –> devas, and all souls experiencing themselves as semi-devas, asuras, humanoids, animals, and lower, by means of sound (mantras), symbolism (lotus flower, dharma wheel, vajra staff etc) down to mere language which filters the original Light most as of its original MEANING and TRUTH.

    Hence it should be clear to each disciple of the way that one´s true (formless) self, or the spiritual seed of this self, is neither “within”, nor outside, the biological matrix, most souls drag around on a daily basis as a conditioned representation of their self-ignorance.

    All Buddhas to all the earliest great Bodhisattvas (Chan Masters) from Bodhidharma up to Hsuan Hua, has professed the importance to realize that what is deluded and blinded by the false light of Mara, as being ONE and ALIKE with the differentiated illusion of samsara (the perverted representation of Dharmakaya caused by the filtering consciousness of the skandhas), is not to be found within the walking corpse we call and recognize by name, form, or position, nor outside it, as its seemingly surrounding reality is in itself an illusion.

    The first thing a disciple realizes in entering the fourth dhyana, is that it is not this body, or its senses, nor is it IN this body (Shurangama Sutra) or anywhere in its sense-organs, nor is it OUTSIDE this body and its sense organs.

    Remember Lin-chi and the True Man without Rank:

    “Followers of the Way, he who at this moment, before my eyes is shining alone and clearly listening to my discourse — this man tarries nowhere; he traverses the ten directions and is freely himself in the three realms… In traveling everywhere through every land, in bringing enlightenment to sentient beings, he is never separate from his present mind. Everywhere is pure, light illumines the ten directions, and the ten thousand dharmas [things] are one as is.” (Discourse XIII)”.

    A genuine verification of the fourth dhyana is consequently a complete spatiotemporal disembodiment of the soul (or spirit) from any attached illusion made by the false vibrative light of the Mara consciousness. If this disembodiment hasn’t occurred then this dhyana stage has not taken place and thus the disciple is subject to all kind of dangers formed by erroneous conclusions and wishful thinking.

    As a matter of fact what is discovered and verified in the instantaneous sound of two fingers making a snap, or the sudden sound of a “Crows caw”, is the complete reversal, where the TRUE instantly realizes its “bodyless positionlessness” (this first en-LIGHT-event known as KENSHO) is absolute, as compared to its conditional biological and mental avatar, i.e. its samsaric representation, which is continuously re-positioned, depending on internal and external conditions (karma).

    A constant re-positioning of spatiotemporal processes, be it biological, or mental, are always painful, heavy and limiting to what in truth already is liberated (Bodhisattva and Buddha-to-be), but fooled by Mara to think, feel and believe the opposite, due to an immense subconscious desire, and attachment to anything representing a body consciousness, transmigrated and being reborn countless times. All this due to its beginningless collection of desires, and the myriad subtle fears of losing hold of them due to uncertainty of what lies beyond their immediate horizon (Dharmakaya).

    In Buddhism, walking the path of language is always a most delicate journey for any bodhisattva, offering the originally undifferentiated dharma of the Tathagathas to anyone eager to awake.

    This meant anyone down to those most hostile to the very thought of such an auspicious opportunity of their wrecked soul to break the immense illusory chains of their own self-imposed ignorance and fears of facing their true self which always means extinction of the former once the process of awakening has had its full course in anuttara-samyak-sambodhi

    Though most read this sanskrit words as “complete and unexcelled enlightenment” it really means “complete oneness with the undifferentiated light of Noble Wisdom” verifying that the self-nature of Tathagatahood is pure Noble Wisdom.



    • Vajragoni says:

      What you say is of course true. The reference was more in the vein of not focusing on stupas made of gold, but the very Buddha-nature being housed within the spirit, which is being housed in the human vehicle. Presently, we are not disemobodied spirits floating about.

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