The Virtue of the Tathāgata

Although brief in length, Chapter Six on the Virtue of the Name is nonetheless expansive and bold in execution in terms of bringing home the message and import of the Mahāparinirvāṇasūtra. It even makes the bold proclamation that it’s consequential weight far and above transcends the significance of any other sutra.

Chapter Six: On the Virtue of the Name

(Yamamoto-Page translation):

Then the Tathagata spoke again to Kasyapa: “O good man! You should now uphold all the words, chapters, clauses and all the virtues thereof of this sutra. Any good man or woman who hears the name of this sutra will never get born into the four realms [of hell, hungry ghost, animal, and asura]. Why not? I shall now expound to you all the virtues of this sutra and all that is practiced by innumerable boundless Buddhas.”

Right off the bat a bold assertion that anyone who simply “hears the name” of the sutra will never be born into the four “unfortunate” (the other two, human and god realm are excluded) realms of impermanence. This indicates the necessity of being born as either a human being or a god in order to benefit from the salvific communication of the Buddhadharma. Since time immemorial boundless Buddhas have put into practice what is expounded in this sutra.

Bodhisattva Kasyapa said to the Buddha: “O World-Honoured One! What is this sutra to be called? How should Bodhisattva-mahasattvas uphold this sutra?” The Buddha said to Kasyapa: “The name of this sutra is to be Mahaparinirvana”. The foremost word betokens “good”, the middle also “good”, and the final “good” too. The signification [of this sutra] is extremely deep, and what is written [in it] is good. The pureness of its arrangement is perfect, its action is pure, and its adamantine treasure-house is all-satisfying. Listen well, listen well! I shall now speak. O good man! The word “maha” betokens “eternal”. This is like all the great rivers draining into the great ocean. The same with this sutra. It crushes out all the bonds of illusion and all the qualities of Mara, and then body and life drain into “Mahaparinirvana”.

Hence we say “Mahaparinirvana.” O good man! This is like a doctor who has a secret treatment embracing all medical treatments for disease. O good man! It is the same with the Tathagata.

All the various wonderful doctrines taught and all the secret depths of meaning find their way into this Mahaparinirvana. That is why we say Maha-parinirvana. O good man! It is like a farmer who sows seed in spring. He entertains a rare wish. When he has finished the harvesting, all his longing is at an end. O good man! The same is the case with all beings. If we study other sutras, we always long for beautiful tastes. When one once hears this Mahaparinirvana, [however], one long ceases to covet the beautiful tastes mentioned in other sutras. This great Nirvana well enables all beings to cross the sea of all existences. O good man! Of all footprints, that of the elephant is the best. The same with this sutra. Of all the samadhis of the sutras, that of this sutra is the best. O good man! Of all the tillings of the field, that done in autumn is best. The same with this sutra. It is the best of all sutras. It is like sarpirmanda, which is the best of all medicines. It thoroughly cures the feverish worries and madding minds of beings.

This Great Nirvana is the foremost of all. O good man! It is like sweet butter which contains the eight tastes. The same also applies to this sutra. It contains the eight tastes. What are the eight? These are: 1) it is eternal, 2) it always is, 3) it is peaceful, 4) it is pure and cool, 5) it does not grow old, 6) it does not die, 7) it is taintless, and 8) it is pleasing and happy. These are the eight tastes. It possesses these eight tastes. This is why we say “Maha-parinirvana”.

Now, all Bodhisattva-mahasattvas peacefully abide in this and manifest Nirvana in all places.

That is why we say “Mahaparinirvna”. O Kasyapa! All good men and women who desire to enter Nirvana by this Mahaparinirvana must study well the fact that the Tathagata is eternal and that the Dharma and Sangha are eternal.”

The Mahāparinirvāṇasūtra is complete in its purpose to point the way towards a “holy life that is complete, accomplished, and pure” (Blum translation). This Yamamoto-Page translation emphasizes that “its adamantine treasure-house is all-satisfying.” This adamantine treasure-house is the pure and essential and limitless Body of the Tathagata. Its appellation “Maha”—great and eternal—is able to withstand Mara’s awful onslaught regardless of his nefarious methods employed. The medicinal quality of the Tathagata is all-encompassing, eradicating all illnesses with the applicable remedy. Of all the given samadhis and sutras this one reigns supreme; it’s almost like its saying all the other great rivers [of sutras] eventually will drain into the magnificent ocean of this premier and absolute one! Yea, once one hears the marvelous refrains of a given passage in the Mahā-parinirvāṇasūtra one will never be able to equate the refrains heard in any other sutra. This adjudication over all other sutras is really hard to swallow, given the auspicious nature and really quite moving refrains heard in others like the Heart, Lotus, and Diamond Sutras. Or what sutra could possibly supplant the Mighty-Avataṃsaka with its unsurpassed quality of describing the endless Dharma-realms? What this particular stance is attempting to convey is that the teachings contained in the Mahāparinirvāṇasūtra are second to none, a familiar dharma-technique employed within other sutras, since the Holy Scribes are conveying that their inspiration is drawn from the ineffable Source Itself! The final statement here about how all good men and women who “desire to enter Nirvana by this Mahaparinirvana” must never forget the three fold significance of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, is a reference back to what was taught earlier in the sutra concerning the “treasury of esoterica”, wherein these three equal components are necessary to complete the whole of the Tathagata’s Nirvana.

Bodhisattva Kasyapa said to the Buddha: “All is wonderful, O World-Honoured One! We cannot conceive of the Tathagata’s depths of virtue. The same is the case with the virtues of Dharma and Sangha. This Maha-parinirvana is also inconceivable. One who studies this sutra will gain the right eye of Dharma and become a good doctor. Anybody who has not studied this sutra, we should know, is [like] a blind person, not possessing the eye of Wisdom and overshadowed by ignorance.”

The concluding refrains of this chapter link together the virtue of the Absolute Tathagata with the aforementioned virtues of 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.

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