The Lanka’s Nirvana

As a quick reference, the abridged version of the Lankavatara Sutra as found in the Buddhist Bible, Chapter XIII, offers a general overview of the Lanka’s take on Nirvana. Our Study will offer here a more extensive treatment as covered throughout the sutra. This is largely a compilation from the Complete Lanka and Discussion as found in our library.

CHAPTER TWO, verse 7:

You do not vanish in Nirvana, nor is Nirvana abiding in you; for it transcends the duality of knowing and known and of being and non-being.

As stated in the introductory blog of the series, The Nirvanic Mind is not in a symbiotic-relationship with the apparent you. No, IT is not in you but transcends all categorical imperatives of here or there, being and non-being. IT is a Transcendent Kingdom unto Itself.


The Bodhisattvas-Mahasattvas, Mahamati, will before long attain to the understanding that Nirvana and Samsara are one.

The beauty and wonder of the path of the Lankavatarian is that mystic-intuition, through practice–and hence “experience”–as well as sutra study, assures this “intuitive understanding of the truth”. Through this intuitive and mystical understanding the Lankavatarian will come to know that even Nirvana and Samsara are essentially the same…one of the benefits received when one attains the Samadhi Mayopama—the highest samadhi in the Lankavatara (the highest state of mind-concentration that discerns the maya-like nature of existence.)


Further, Mahamti, those who, afraid of sufferings, arising from the discrimination of birth-and-death, seek for Nirvana, do not know that birth-and-death and Nirvana are not to be separated the one from the other; and, seeing that all things subject to discrimination have no reality, imagine that Nirvana consists in the future annihilation of the senses and their fields. They are not aware, Mahamati, of the fact that Nirvana is the Alayavijnana where a revulsion (turn-about) takes place by self-realization. Therefore, Mahamati, those who are stupid talk of the trinity of vehicles and not of the state of Mind-only where there are no images. Therefore, Mahamti, those who do not understand the teachings of the Tathagatas of the past, present, and future, concerning the external world, which is of Mind itself, cling to the notion that there is a world outside what is seen of the Mind and, Mahamati, go on rolling themselves along the wheel of birth-and death.

Fascinating linkage of Nirvana with the Alayavijnana! This would be like saying that heaven is one with the collective unconsciousness mind. According to the Lanka, Nirvana IS the Alayavijnana where a massive “turn-about” takes place and all those stored “images” of phenomena begin to see the very Source of their own vivifying nature—the imageless face of the Unborn itself! The section concludes by saying that those who do not understand the teachings of the Tathagatas, which is a Mind-only revelation, are eternally bound to the wheel of birth-and death.


Again, Mahamti, there are others who, believing in such things as ego, being, vital principle, nourisher, supreme spirit, or personal soul, will seek Nirvana in them. Again, Mahamati, there are still others who, seeing that all things exist by depending upon causes, will recognize in this the way to Nirvana.  But, Mahamati, as they have no insight into the egolessness of things, there is no emancipation for them. This, Mahamati, is where those of the Sravaka-vehicle and the philosophers make the mistake in their insight by regarding non-deliverance as deliverance. Therefore, Mahamati, you ought to discipline yourself in order to escape this wrong view.

When one develops a full grasp of the egolessness of things, one discerns that they lack Substance and are de facto sunyatic in nature.


Again, Mahamati, how is it that the Icchantika (those who are destitute of the Buddhanature) never awaken the desire for emancipation?  Because they abandoned all the stock of merit, and because they cherish certain vows for all beings since beginningless time. What is meant by abandoning all the stock of merit? It refers to those Buddhists who have abandoned the Bodhisattva collection of the canonical texts, making false accusation that they are not in conformity with the sutras, the codes of morality, and the emancipation. By this they have forsaken all the stock of merit and will not enter into Nirvana. Secondly again, Mahamati, there are the Bodhisattva-Mahasattvas who, on account of their original vows made for all beings, saying, “So long as they do not attain Nirvana, I will not attain it myself,” keep themselves away from Nirvana. This, Mahamati, is the reason of their not entering into Nirvana, and because of this they will go on the way of the Icchantika.

Again, Mahamati said; Who Blessed One, would never enter Nirvana? The Blessed One replied: Knowing that all things are in Nirvana itself from the very beginning, the Bodhisattva-Icchantika would never enter Nirvana. But those Icchantikas who have forsaken all the stock of merit finally do. Those Icchantikas, Mahamati, who have forsaken all the stock of merit might some day be influenced by the power of the Tathagatas and be induced at any moment to foster the stock of merit. Why? Because, Mahamati, no beings are left aside by the Tathagatas. For this reason, Mahamati, it is the Bodhisattva-Icchantika who never enters into Nirvana.

Interesting juxtaposition of both the Bodhisattva and Icchantika (those who are destitute of the Buddha-nature) who miss the mark of Nirvana due to vows that tie them to mundane affairs; indeed, as the Lanka states, Nirvana is a state of mind realizable within the self-realization of noble wisdom and not as something “other” or beyond or even as something attainable.


There is no Nirvana except where is Samsara; there is no Samsara except where is Nirvana; for the condition of existence is not of mutually-exclusive character. Therefore, it is said that all things are non-dual as are Nirvana and Samsara. For this reason, Mahamati, you should discipline yourself in the realization of emptiness, no-birth, non-duality, and no-self-nature.

The emptiness of mutuality (itaretara): the Lanka asserts that in terms of spatial reality, one thing will be present while another is not; hence, from the point of view of mutuality some things do not exist somewhere.

The Lanka states that “things are not born of themselves, except when seen in the state of Samadhi—this is what is meant that all things are unborn.” Indeed, from this vantage point, particularly within a state of deep Samadhi, one discerns that all things truly lack self-nature and hence are not apart from the Unborn Mind. It also states that these essential teachings of Mind-only are found within all the Sutras, but that the Sutras “alone” will not lead one to the truth-preserving statements of noble wisdom—they are meant as a boat that leads one to the shore of the Unborn—but once there, one must leave the boat (or all vehicles) behind—hence all discriminatory tools are forever discarded in favor of the supra-essential light of the Unborn.


Thus it is said :

  1. In all things there is no self-nature, words too are devoid of reality; as the ignorant understand not what is meant by emptiness, yes, by emptiness, they wander about.
  2. In all things there is no self-nature, they are mere words of people; that which is discriminated has no reality; [even] Nirvana is like a dream; nothing is seen to be in transmigration, nor does anything ever enter into Nirvana.

All created things have no self-nature, this includes words themselves which are really “toys” to be expediently employed. The Lanka states that even words like Nirvana are employed in this fashion since there is not really anything that enters into it…so, Nirvana, too, is a dream-word used to wet the appetite of sentient beings who are really thirsting for a way out of apparent phenomenal reality.


At that time Mahamati the Bodhisattva-Mahasattva again said this to the Blessed One: You speak of Nirvana, Blessed One. What is meant by this term Nirvana?

Replied the Blessed One: When the self-nature and the habit-energy of all the Vijnanas, including the Alaya, Manas, and Manovijnana, from which issues a habit-energy of wrong speculations—when all these go through a revulsion (turn-about), I and all the Buddhas declare that there is Nirvana, and the way and the self-nature of this Nirvana is emptiness, which is the state of reality.

Further, Mahamati, Nirvana is the realm of self-realization attained by noble wisdom, which is free from the discrimination of eternality and annhilation, existence and non-existence. How is it not eternality? Because it has cast off the discrimination of individuality and generality, it is not eternality. How about its not being annhilation? It is because all the wise men of the past, present, and future have attained realization. Therefore, it is not annihilation.

Again, Mahamati, the great Parinirvana is neither destruction nor death. Mahamati, if the great Parinirvana is death, then it will be a birth and continuation. If it is destruction, then it will assume the character of an effect-producing deed. For this reason, Mahamati, the great Parinirvana is neither destruction nor death. Neither has it anything to do with vanishing; it is the goal of the Yogins.

Again, Mahamati the great Parinirvana is neither abandonment nor attainment, neither is it of one meaning nor of no-meaning; this is said to be Nirvana.

Further, Mahamati, Nirvana conceived by the Sravakas and Pratyekabuddhas consists in recognising individuality and generality, in escaping social intercourse, in not having a perverted view of the world, and not raising discrimination. This is their notion of Nirvana.

Wonderful, thorough, breakdown of “Nirvana” as understood within the Lanka:

  1. Nirvana: When the entire habit-energy of the Vijnana system, which includes the full stop of the Skandhic stranglehold, is laid to rest through the “turn-about”—when Mind in full recollection mode turns toward the Source of Its own vivifying nature; hence, proper utilization of the Recollective Resolve institutes the state of Nirvana, wherein self-nature is seen to be sunya (empty)—this realization IS Nirvana.
  2. Nirvana: The realm of self-realization as attained through noble wisdom—when all discriminatory thought is STOPPED realization of Nirvana is attained. This also frees one from the false notions of eternalism—which depends upon categories of individuality and generality, i.e., something dependent upon a greater-separate reality for transformation into a generalized “Other”; also one is freed from nihilism—since there have been those who have attained self-realization, hence eradicating the notion of “nothingness” with its assertion that there is nothing to be attained.
  3. Nirvana: As conceived by the Sravakas and Pratyekabuddhas places them within the realm of eternalism—which “distinguishes” between the “individual” seeking a greater and generalized “whole”.


Further, Mahamati, there are four kinds of Nirvana. What are the four? They are
1. The Nirvana which is attained when the self-nature of all things is seen as non-entity;
2. The Nirvana which is attained when varieties of individual marks characterizing all things are seen as non-entities;
3. the Nirvana which is attained when there is the recognition of the non-existence of a being endowed with its own specific attributes; and
4. the Nirvana which is attained when there takes place the severance of the bondage conditioning the continuation of individuality and generality of the Skandhas. Mahamati, these four views of Nirvana belong to the philosophers and are not my teaching. According to my teaching, Mahamati, the getting rid of the discriminating Manovijnana—this is said to be Nirvana.
179. I enter not into Nirvana by means of being, of work, of individual signs; I enter into Nirvana when the Vijnana which is caused by discrimination ceases.
180. With it [i.e. the Manovijnana] for its cause and support, the Manas secures its use; the Vijnana causes the Citta to function, and is supported by it.
181. Like a great flood where no waves are stirred because of its being dried up, the Vijnana-system in its various forms ceases to work when there is the annihilation of the Manovijnana.

Fourfold breakdown of Nirvana as seen by the philosophers. The Lanka also posits here that Nirvana occurs once the sixth Vijnana—the Manovijnana—has thoroughly ceased its discriminating function. Why just the Manovijnana and not the other seven vijnanas? Well, as the Lanka states, this “thinking-mind consciousness” is the connecting link between the preceding five sense vijnanas as they make their way to the Alaya-Vijnana (the warehouse consciousness), hence acting as a filter of sensate phenomena; once that filter is shut-down, there’s no longer any flow of defiled skandhic phenomena and the “waves” of the Vijnana system are stilled and hence dry-up—leaving the Alaya-Vijnana completely at rest.


The Blessed One said: Just so, Mahamati, what has been realized by myself and other Tathagatas is this reality, the eternally-abiding reality (sthitita), the self-regulating reality (niyamata), the suchness of things (tathata), the realness of things (bhutata), the truth itself (satyata). For this reason, Mahamati, it is stated by me that from the night of the Tathagata’s Enlightenment till the night of his entrance into Nirvana, he has not in the meantime uttered, nor will ever utter, one word. So it is said:

  1. From the night of Enlightenment till that of Nirvana, I have not in the meantime made any proclamation whatever.
  2. It is on account of the deeper meaning that the eternally-abiding reality of self-realization is talked of by me; and between myself and all the other Buddhas, in this respect, there is no distinction whatever.

The deeper meaning behind the realization that the Tathagata has never “uttered one word”; this realization has been fostered by Ch’an/Zen Masters throughout the ages.


Further, Mahamati, if one becomes attached to the literal meaning of words and holds fast to their agreement in regard to the original state of Nirvana which is unborn and undying, the triple vehicle, the one vehicle, the five Dharmas, mentation, the three Svabhavas, ect., one will come to cherish views either affirmative or negative. As varieties of objects are seen in Maya and are discriminated as real, statements are erroneously made, discriminations erroneously go on.

Wonderful breakdown of the significance of “meaning”. If taken literally, the words behind the meaning will cause one to lose sight of the “original state of Nirvana that is unborn and undying.” Indeed, an undue emphasis behind the “meaning” of all things places one in a quagmire from which there is no escape since it produces further karmic propensities in the mind of one who is obsessed with “meaning”—the Lanka goes so far to state that one will be making a self-made hell. So, the quest for meaning is a discriminatory one and lags far behind the awakening “into the exalted state of Nirvana”—which is not a quest but a self-realization.


No-birth and no-annihilation, this I call Nirvana. By Nirvana, Mahamati, is meant the looking into the abode of reality as it really is in itself; and when, along with the turning-back of the entire system of mentation (citta-caitta-kalapa), there is the attainment of self-realization by means of noble wisdom, which belongs to the Tathagatas, I call it Nirvana.

If one were to be asked which verse from the Lanka succinctly sums up Nirvana this would be the one. There is no birth or annihilation in Nirvana, thus putting to rest all notions of extinction or eternalism. IT is looking straight into the Dharmadhatu AS IT IS in Itself. This realization is instilled once all mentation ceases and the Real can then look at the Real and no-thing-else.


For the Bodhisattvas, Nirvana does not mean extinction; as they have abandoned thoughts of discrimination evolving from the Citta, Manas, and Manovijnana, there is for them the attainment of the recognition that all things are unborn.

Due to the nature of their compassionate vows, Bodhisattvas refrain from entering Nirvana until all sentient beings are freed from their samsaric chains. It’s interesting to point out here what “type” of Nirvana they refrain from entering, for this chapter of the Lanka talks about Nirvana as seen through “discriminating ideas and knowledge”; whereas, it also states that there are Bodhisattvas who are “already in Nirvana because in them there is no rising of discrimination.” Fascinating point because the type of Nirvana that Bodhisattvas refrain from entering is the former notion—that of a discriminatory and illusive one concerning a particular time and place, hence some “other” spatial locality; whereas through the Noble Wisdom of self-realization—where all discriminatory notions are forever laid to rest including spatial locations of otherness—the latter “self-realization” of Nirvana is just that—the “awakening” of self-realization through Noble Wisdom as sustained through “bodhipower” [the power of the awakened Mind]. Or as Tozen once eloquently sums up:

To SEE and understand this BOHDIPOWER, to know how to correctly approach IT and allow the bodhisattvachild in you to transform it by proper union with it, to use it in wholesome ways and not unwholesome ways, to allow IT to erase all defilements in the alaya-vijnana and slowly allow the Tathagata of your Mind come forth perfectly IS ALL what the LANKAVATARA SUTRA is all about.”

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3 Responses to The Lanka’s Nirvana

  1. scott says:

    Hello again

    Very interesting theme this month. Have also been concurrently studying Tibetan Dzogchen and Mahamudra texts. Find the Lankavatarian take to resonate vastly in depth with these teachings as well. Combined with Unborn Zen these all contribute to paint a richer and fuller picture of the true nature of mind. Also love the library and the videos. Just wonderful. Eh Ma Ho!

    So, just wanted to drop by to say thanks again with a heart full of gratitude for the incredible wealth of resources presented on this site.

    Wishing you boundless oceans of blessings and merits for transmitting such pure clear radiant light.

  2. n. yeti says:

    Good for you, Scott!!

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