The Great Parinirvana Sutra

(Taisho Tripitaka 0375)

Chapter 3: Lamentations

[615a] For a moment not long after Cunda had gone, the ground then shook and quaked in six ways. And on up to the Brahma realms [1] it was also again so. There were two earthquakes. One was an earthquake, and the other was a great earthquake. The smaller quake was called an earthquake. The greater quake was called a great earthquake. There was a smaller sound called an earthquake and there was a greater sound called a great earthquake. Where only the ground shook, that was called the earthquake. Where the mountains, trees, and the waters of the sea all shook, that was called the great earthquake. Where it shook to one side, that was called an earthquake. Where it shook everywhere and all around, that was called a great earthquake. When it shook and could lead the minds of sentient beings to shake, that was called a great earthquake. When the bodhisattvas from the Tusita heavens down to Jampudvipa first took notice, it was called a great earthquake. And when the first born left the households life to achieve the supremely unexcelled bodhi, to turn the dharma-wheel, and to enter parinirvana, it was called a great earthquake.

On that day, the Tathagata was about to enter Nirvana. It was for this reason that the Earth thus shook greatly. At that moment, the Gods, nagas, gandharvas, asuras, garudas, kinnaras, and mahoragas [615b], as well as non-humans, heard this proclaimed, and the hairs of their bodies stood on end, and with the same voice they wept aloud. Then they proclaimed gathas, saying,

"Prostrating ourselves before the tamer and teacher,
We now beseech him.
Far removed from men and recluses
And eternally devoid of aid or protection,

We now shall see the Buddha's Nirvana.
We who have destroyed the ocean of miseries
Are now saddened and grieved
As though losing our own mothers.

Poverity-stricken and without aid or protection are we,
Just like a weary and ill person who,
Without a healer, follows his own mind
And eats what he should not eat.

The sentient beings are afflicted with diseases,
Constantly are they looking after injuries.
Far removed are they from the Dharma and medicine king,
They imbibe and consume incorrect and harmful medicines.

This is why the Buddha, the World Honored One,
Should not leave us behind.
Like a country without a lord,
The people of which are stricken with famine,

We are also so.
Losing your aid and the flavor of the Dharma.
Now we hear of the Buddha's Nirvana.
Our minds are perplexed and disordered.

Like that great earthquake,
Confused and mistaken are we in the our ways.
When the great Sage enters Nirvana
The Buddha-sun shall set upon the land.

The Dharma waters will all dry up
And we shall surely die.
The Tathagata's parinirvana
Is to the sentient beings who are most distressed

Just like an elder's son
Who recently attended his mother and father's funeral.
How can we on this day
Not be apprehensive?

The Tathagata going and leaving us
Is just like casting away tears.
The Tathagata entering Nirvana
Is like one who will not return.

We and the sentient beings
All will be without any aid or protection.
With the Tathagata entering Nirvana,
Even the animals

Are all anxious and fearful.
Distressed and pained are their thoughts.
Just like when the sun when it first rises
It's light is a brilliant ray blazing

And when it is about to return its radiance
Again dies and all is darkened,
The Tathagata's spiritual power is a light
That can remove our distress.

In this place residing among the great congregation
He is just like Mount Sumeru.

[615c] "World Honored One, it is just as a King who sired and raised his children with his countenance upright, his mind proper, and always loving and caring for them. His past instructions to them were talented in technique, which caused them to be commonly blessed. And afterwards he left them, handing over [his rule] to a murderer (candala). World Honored One, on this day we are the Dharma king's children. Having enjoyed the Buddha's teachings and instruction, we are now endowed with the right view. We wish that he would not leave us behind, as his departure is, therefore, the same as the King leaving his children. We only wish that he remain for a long time and not enter Nirvana.

"World Honored One, it is just as someone who well studies and debates, and who again in these debates is apprehensive. The Tathagata is also so. Penetrating through the Dharmas, [a person] who then is among these Dharmas is apprehensive. If he can cause the Tathagata to remain a long time in the world and speak the sweet dew, its flavor fully complete in everyone, then sentient beings will not again be fearful of descending into the Hells.

"World Honored One, it is just as when there is someone who is just beginning to study and make effort. And an official arrests him, putting him into a prison.

Another person [in the prison] asks him, 'How do you feel?' and he replies, 'Now, I feel most sorrowful.' If he is later released, then he would be made peaceful and happy. The World Honored one is also so. It is for our sake that he has cultivated the ascetic practices. We now are like that person who had yet to be freed from the distress of birth and death (samsara). How can the Tathagata feel peaceful and happy?

"World Honored One, it is just as when a healer king who skillfully understood the methods of medicine and imparted it to his children, transforming them by means of esoteric means of teaching, and who did not teach them any other outside fields of study. The Tathagata is also so. He alone with a treasury of the most profound esoterica transforms and teaches Manjusri. To leave us behind and not look back or care, the Tathagata should not have any secret to give to us. Just like that medicine king who transformed and taught his children, who were not taught by any outside teachers who might come along, that healer could not teach everyone. Because he was overcome by emotional beliefs, he was reluctant to impart his secret to them. But the mind of the Tathagata is never overcome. Why does he thus not look to impart his teachings? We only wish that he would remain a long time and not enter parinirvana.

"World Honored One, it is just as when a person who was old, small, and suffering illnesses set off on a common dirt road, travelling a dangerous path. This dangerous path had many difficulties and he experienced a myriad hardships. Moreover, there was another person who saw him and sympathized. Thereupon that person showed him a flat, even, and excellent way. World Honored One, we are also so. The word 'small' is a metaphor for the person who has yet to advance far enough to be a person of the essential body (dharmakaya). The word 'old' is a metaphor for grave afflictions. The words 'suffering illness' is a metaphor for having not yet been freed from birth and death (samsara). The words 'dangerous path' is a metaphor for the twenty-five existences. Our only wish is for the Tathagata to show us the true path of sweet dew, to remain in the world a long time, and not to entire Nirvana."

At that time, the World Honored One addressed the bhiksus, "You bhiksus, do not be like the ordinary gods and humans, lamenting and crying aloud. You should endevour to make progress in restraining your minds with [616a] right mindfulness."

Then the gods, men, asuras, et al, hearing what the Buddha said, stood fast and did not cry aloud. They were like a person at the funeral of his loved child after it was encoffined and taken away, standing firm and not crying aloud.

At that time, the World Honored One proclaimed gathas for the great assemblies, saying,

"You must open your thoughts
And should not be greatly disturbed.
The Dharma of the Buddhas are all so.
This is why you must be silent.

Be happy, do not let loose such wild behavior.
Guard your minds with the right mindfulness
And leave behind non-Dharmas.
Thus one is consoled and elated.

"Furthermore, bhiksus, if you have doubts, you must ask about them now. Whether it is about the empty or non-empty, the eternal or non-eternal, suffering or non-suffering, dependent or non-dependent, going or not going, coming or not coming, ever-lasting or not ever-lasting, temporary or permanent, sentient being or not sentient beings, existent or non-existent, substantial or insubstantial, true or untrue, extinct or inextinct, esoteric or not esoteric, dual or non-dual: any such Dharmas as these about which there may be doubts should now be asked about. I will accordingly put them to rest for you and I will also preach as before the sweet dew for you. Afterwards I will then enter Nirvana.

"Bhiksus, the Buddha's appearance in the world is rare, the human form difficult to attain, and directly having faith in the Buddha's birth is something also difficult. Being capable of patience is difficult, and having patience is also, again, difficult. Consummating the discipline perfectly without transgression and attaining the arhat's reward, this is also something difficult, like looking for gold dust or the udumbara flower. You, bhiksus! Being removed from the eight difficulties and attaining the human body is rare! Your meeting me must not be in passed by in vain. In the past I went to do a variety of ascetic practices and now have thus obtained unsurpassed expedient means. It is for you that I throughout the immeasurable kalpas have had my body, hands, feet, head, eyes, marrow, and brains seperated [from one another]. This is why you should not let loose so wildly.

"You, bhiksus! How is the treasure city of the true Dharma adorned? It's precious jewels are the perfection of a variety of virtues. Discipline (sila), concentration, and wisdom are its walls and moat. Now you have encountered this treasure city of the Buddha's Dharma. You should not grasp at the things that are vacuous and mistaken. That is just like a merchant king who encounters a real treasure city, picks up tiles and stones, and goes back to his home. You are also so. Having directly encountered the treasure city, you are grasping at vacuous and mistaken things.

"You, bhiksus! Do not be content with a lower mind. Although you have now left the household life for the Mahayana, do not give rise to cravings and attachments. You, bhiksus! Although your bodies are clothed with the kasaya, the dyed robes, your minds should resemble the unstained and pure Dharma of the Mahayana. You, bhiksus! Although you go and beg for alms, passing successively from [616b] place to place, you have yet to first seek the Dharma-alms of the Mahayana. You, bhiksus! Although you have shaved off your hair, you have yet to cut the bonds [of existence] with the true Dharma.

"You, bhiksus! Now I shall truely teach and admonish you. Now, I, with this present body of great assemblies, am a Tathagata whose dharma-nature is true and not contrary. This is why you must progress, collect your minds, and courageously destroy the bonds using the ten powers. For once the wisdom sun has set, you will be veiled by ignorance (avidya).

"Bhiksus, just as the Earth has hills, herbs, and grasses for sentient beings to use, my Dharma is also so. It produces the wondrously good and sweet Dharma flavor and is the healer's medicine for the various ailments of sentient beings. I shall now lead all the sentient beings and fourfold assemblies of my disciples to peacefully abide within this esoteric treasury. And I also shall peacefully abide without this and enter Nirvana. What is called the treasury of esoterica? It is just like the character ii [2] of three parts. When [the parts] are combined, it is not a complete character and when they are seperated it is still not complete. As Mahesvara has above his face three eyes, therefore so can ii be complete. But if the three parts are seperated, it cannot be complete. I am also so. The Dharma of liberation is not Nirvana. The body of the Tathagata is not Nirvana. And the Great Wisdom (Mahaprajna) is not Nirvana. These three Dharmas, each being different, are also not Nirvana. Since I now peacefully abide thus in these three Dharmas for sentient beings, it is called entering Nirvana like that mundane character ii [is complete]."

At that time, the bhiksus hearing that the Buddha, the World Honored One, will definately be entering Nirvana, all of them greived and the hairs of their bodies stood on end. Weeping, their tears flowed, and they prostrated themselves at the Buddha's feet, circled him an immeasurable number of times, and said, "World Honored One, pleasures are said to be impermanent, painful, empty, and selfless. World Honored One, it is just as among the footprints of all the sentient beings, the elephant's prints are the greatest. The idea of impermanance is also again so. Among ideas, it is the very best. If there is one who progressively cultivates it, he is able to remove all the desire realm's cravings, the attachments to form and non-form, ignorance, pride, and impermanent ideas. World Honored One, were the Tathagata to abandon the idea of impermanence, he would not now be entering into Nirvana. If he does not abandon it, how can it be said that cultivating the idea of impermanence abandons the attachments, ignorance, pride, and impermanent ideas of the three realms?

"World Honored One, it is just as when the farmer under the Autumn moon deeply tills his ground in order to remove weeds. The idea of impermanence is also again so. It is able to remove all the desire realm's cravings, attachments to form and non-form, igornance, pride, and impermanent ideas.

"World Honored One, it is just as when tilling the fields in Autumn [616c], the tilling is unsurpassed; and also like how among footsteps the elephants' prints are greater: so among ideas the idea of impermanence is the most excellent.

"World Honored One, it is just as when the Emporer knows when his life's end is at hand, he is compassionate and forgiving of those in the world, setting free all the prisoners in the jails who are chained and locked up. And then afterwards, he abandons his life. The Tathagata now also should thus free the sentient beings who are all chained and locked up by the lack of knowledge and wisdom, so that they will be led to liberation after your Nirvana. We now ourselves have yet to be freed. How can the Tathagata so easily wish to go and leave us to enter into Nirvana?

"World Honored One, it is just as a person who is possessed by a spirit meets up with a skilled dharani master, who by using the power of a dharani thereupon exorcises him. The Tathagata is also so. He rids the sravakas of the spirit of ignorance, so that they may rest peacefully in the Dharmas of the Great Wisdom and liberation, like that worldly character ii.

"World Honored One, it is just like an elephant [3] that has been tethered by someone and, while having an excellent trainer, cannot be restrained, governed, immediately brought to a halt, or chained. Not caring for it, he turns it loose. We have yet to thus be freed from the fifty-seven bonds of affliction. How can the Tathagata so easily wish to go and leave us to enter into Nirvana?

"World Honored One, it is like someone who is feverishly ill and encounters a physician who can remove his suffering. We are also so. Many are our troubles, afflictions, wrong livelihoods, and feverish illnesses. While we have met the Tathagata, our ills have yet to be removed and cured. We have yet to attain unsurpassed peace and eternal happiness. How can the Tathagata so easily wish to go and leave us to enter into Nirvana?

"World Honored One, it is just as a drunken person who is not himself enlightened, not familiar with his parents, and is estranged from his mother, daughter, elder and younger sisters. Confused, reckless, lustful, and disturbed, he goes to extremes in speech and lies down in the impure. Then there is an excellent teacher who administers a medicine, directing him to drink it. Once he drinks it, he then spits it up and goes back to what is familiar to him. At heart he is ashamed deeply at his having defeated the correction [of his behavior]. Wine is unwholesome, the root of many evils. If one is able to be rid of it, then one will be distanced from many evil deeds.

"World Honored One, we are also so. Having travelled from the distant past on the turning wheel of birth and death (samsara), and being drunken on sensations and forms, we have craved the five desires. We have no mother or concept of a mother, no elder sister or concept of a sister, no daughter or concept of a daughter, and no sentient beings or concept of sentient beings. This is why the wheel turns and brings the afflictions of birth and death, like that drunken person who lies within the impure. The Tathagata now must give us the Dharma medicine and direct us to spit out the wine of affliction and evil. But we have not yet attained the mind of awakening. How can the Tathagata so easily wish to go and leave us to enter into Nirvana?

"World Honored One, it is just as a person who admires the plantain tree with the solid trunk, but has not place for it. World Honored One, sentient beings are also so. If they admire us humans, the sentient beings' throughout their lifespans nuture the perception of the actor, the giver, and real one, but they have no place for them. We thus cultivate the idea of selflessness.

[617a] "World Honored One, it is just like a thick mud that hasn't any use anywhere. This body is also so. It is selfless and masterless. World Honored One, like a seven-petalled flower lacking any perfume is this body. It is selfless and masterless. With this thought, we always cultivate this idea of selflessness, as the Buddha has said, 'All things (dharmas) are without self or constituents. You monks should practice thus, and having cultivated it then, you will remove any self-conceit. Having parted with self-conceit, thereupon is the entry into Nirvana.'

"World Honored One, it is just as the space within the footprints of a bird seem not to have any room at all, so one who can practice the idea of selflessness will have views that likewise take up no space either."

At that time, the World Honored One praised the bhiksus, "Excellent, excellent!

You are well able to cultivate the idea of selflessness."

The bhiksus thereupon said to the Buddha, "World Honored One, not only do we cultivate the idea of selflessness, but we also readily practice the others ideas such as the ideas of suffering and impermanence.

"World Honored One, it is just as someone whose drunken mind is dizzy and confused, seeing hills, rivers, cities, large palace halls, as well as the sun, moon, stars, and the North Star; all these turning and spinning about. World Honored One, suppose someone does not cultivate the ideas of suffering, impermanence, and selflessness. Such a person is not called noble (arya). Numerously will they go forth and wander the cycle of birth and death. World Honored One, it is because of these circumstances that we well cultivate thus these ideas."

At that time, the Buddha addressed the bhiksus, saying, "Listen closely, listen closely! You have turned to introducing the metaphor of a drunken person, but you know only the words and have yet to penetrate into its meaning. And what is its meaning? It is like that drunken person who looks up at the sun and moon and, while really they are not turning and spinning, there arises the mental perception [4] of them turning and spinning. Sentient beings are also so. Being subject to the veils of afflictions (klesas) and ignorance (avidya), there arises in them the deluded mind. The self, they reckon, is selfless. The eternal, they reckon, is impermanent. The pure, they reckon, is impure. Happiness, they reckon, is suffering. Because they are subject to this veil of afflictions, while they may give rise to these ideas, they do not penetrate their meaning, just as that drunken person who in a place that is not spinning gives rise to the perception of it being spun. The self, then, is the Buddha in meaning. The eternal is the essential body (dharmakaya) in meaning. Happiness is Nirvana in meaning. The pure is the Dharma in meaning.

"You, bhiksus! How, then, can it be said that having the idea of a self leads to pride and haughtiness, flowing through the round birth and death? If all of you speak of the self and also practice the ideas of impermanence, suffering, and selflessness, then these three cultivations have no real meaning. I will now explain the overcoming of these three cultivated Dharmas. Suffering is reckoned to be pleasant and happiness is reckoned to be unpleasent. This is an inverted Dharma. The impermanent is reckoned to be eternal and the eternal is reckoned to be impermanent. This is an inverted Dharma. The selfless is reckoned to be the self and the self is reckoned to be selfless. This is an inverted Dharma. The impure is reckoned to be pure and the pure is reckoned [617b] to be impure. This is an inverted Dharma. The person who thus possesses these four inverted Dharmas does not percieve the right cultivation of the Dharma.

"You, bhiksus! From painful things, there arises the perception of pleasure; from the impermanent, there arises the perception of permanence; from the selfless, there arises the perception of a self; and from the impure, there arises the perception of purity: the worldly thus also have permanence, pleasure, self, and purity. The world renouncer also has permanence, pleasure, self, and purity. The worldly Dharmas have these words [5] but not their meanings, while the world renouncer has both words and meaning. And why? Because the Dharmas of the worldly possess these four invertions, the meaning is not known. And why is that? They have ideas that are inverted, mentalities that are inverted, and views that are inverted. Because of these three inversions, the people of the world see in the pleasant pain, see in the eternal impermanence, see in the self selflessness, and see in the pure impurity. This is called inversion. Because of these inversions, the worldly know the words but do not know their meanings. And what are the meanings? The selfless is [subject to] birth and death. The self is the Tathagata. The impermanent is the sravaka and pratyeka-buddha. The permanent is the essential body. The painful is all the outside paths [6]. The pleasent is Nirvana. The impure is the existence of conditioned things. The pure is the Buddha and bodhisattvas' true Dharma. These are called the uninverted [views]. Because of these non-inversions, one perceives both the words and their meanings. If one wishes to depart from the four inversions, he should know thus the permanent, pleasant, self, and pure."

Then the bhiksus said to the Buddha, "World Honored One, it is as the Buddha has said, that parting with the four inversions is the attainment of understanding and knowing the permanent, pleasant, self, and pure. The Tathagata now is forever devoid of the four inversions. He, therefore, has understood and kown the permanent, pleasant, self, and pure. If he has understood and known the permanent, pleasant, self, and pure, why does he not remain for a kalpa or part of a kalpa to teach and point us towards parting with the four inversions? Why does he leave us behind, wishing to enter Nirvana? If the Tathagata sees, looks after, remembers, teaches, and admonishes us, we will recieve and practice it to our mind's utmost [ability]. If the Tathagata will enter into Nirvana, then how can we, with these poisoned bodies, together stop and abide in the cultivation of the ascetic practice so that we also may follow the Buddha into Nirvana?"

At that time, the Buddha addressed the bhiksus, "You should not thus say that I now possess the unsurpassed, true Dharma. It has all been conferred onto Mahakasyapa. This Kasyapa shall be a great support for you all, just as the Tathagata is for the sentient beings a place of support. Mahakasyapa is also again so. He will be a place of support for you.

"It is just as if when a great king goes out travelling with several of his generals [617c] and all of his govermental duties are handed over to his greatest minister. The Tathagata is also so. The possession of the true Dharma is also handed over to Mahakasyapa. You should know that the earlier practice of the ideas of impermanence and suffering are not genuine.

"It is just like a group of people who bath or ride about in boats at play on a great lake in the Spring, and an emerald jewel is lost, falling into the water's depths. Thereupon, the people dive into the water, looking and searching for the jewel. Frenzied, they pull up tiles, stones, weeds, sand, and pebbles [from the lake], each of them saying that they can find that emerald gem, [at first] elated at bringing it out, then noticing that [what they had] was not actually [the gem]. And so, the precious gem remained in the water. Because of the gem's power, the water was completely clarified. Those in the great crowd of people thereupon saw that the precious gem was resting beneath the waters. It was like looking up into the sky at the appearance of the moon. Then there was in the crowd a wise person who peacefully and calmly went into the water with the power of expedient means and easily got the gem.

"You, bhiksus! You should not thus practice those ideas of impermanence, suffering, and selflessness, or the idea of impurity by way of their real meanings, that being like those people who each took tiles, stones, weeds, sand, and pebbles to be the precious gem. You must well study expedient means in every place, always cultivating the ideas of permanence, happiness, and purity. Again, you must know that the earlier cultivation of the appearance of those four Dharma-marks [7] were inverted. One who wants to attain the genuine cultivation of these ideas is like that wise person who skillfully plucked out the precious gem. That refers to the idea of the self, and the ideas of permanence, happiness, and purity."

At that time, the bhiksus said to the Buddha, "World Honored One, according to the Dharmas the Buddha has spoken in the past, selflessness is what you must cultivate and study. Having cultivated and studied it, you then will depart from the idea of a self. Departing from an idea of a self, you then will depart from conceit. Departing from conceit, you will attain entry into Nirvana. What is the meaning of this?"

The Buddha addressed the bhiksus, "Excellent, excellent! You now are skillfull in inquiring into a meaning in order to remove doubt.

"It is just as a country's king whose wisdom was dim, dull, and little. He had a doctor whose nature was also foolish and boisterous. And so the king did not distinguish sincerity when bestowing such a salaried position. This doctor was dull about medicine when healing and curing the myriad illnesses and also again did not know the root sources from which the illnesses arose. While he knew the medicines, he was not skillful in understanding the breath, chills, and fevers of illness, and so all the illnesses were treated with a dose of medicine.

Yet, the king did not discern this doctor's knowledge of medicine as being excellent or detestable, good or bad. Now, there was also a bright doctor who understood the eight methods [of medicine]. He skillfully cured the myriad illnesses and knew the means of medicine. He came from a distant place. Thereupon the former doctor did not know to greet him. Instead, there arose in him thoughts of superiority and triffling conceitedness. The bright doctor thereupon sent a letter to him requesting for his teacher to greet and receive the Dharma that is the core of his method. He said to the former doctor, 'I now request that the virtuous one instruct me [618a] in the rules [of medicine]. My only wish is for you to proclaim and lay it out for me, explaining it thoroughly.'

"The former doctor replied, 'Sir, if you now are able to support me for forty-eight years, then afterwards I will teach you the doctor's Dharma.'

"Then the bright doctor thereupon recieved his instruction and said, 'So I will, so I will! Accordingly I will provide what supplies I am able and run errands [for you].'

"Thereupon, the former doctor then went with the visiting doctor to see the king.

The visiting doctor discussed for the king a variety of healing methods and other such techniques, saying, 'Great king, you should know, should well discern, that these Dharmas thus can be used to govern the kingdom. These Dharmas thus can be used to heal illness.'

"At that time, the country's king, having heard his words, came to know that the former doctor was deluded, dim, and unwise. Thereupon, he chased [the former doctor] out of the realm and afterwards doubled again his respects paid to the visiting doctor.

"And then the visiting doctor thought to himself, 'Today I wish to instruct the king correctly.' Thereupon, he said to the king, 'Great king, in my genuine feeling and thought, I must seek a hope.'

"The king then replied, 'This right arm and the rest my body shall follow my will to seek that, all in unison.'

"That visiting doctor said, 'Although the king may pledge all of his body, surely I cannot presume to have so much to seek it. But, now, I do have this goal. It is the hope that the king would promulgate to all within the kingdom that from now on they should not continue to get the medicines of that former doctor. And why is that? It is because those medicines are poisonous and harmful, causing many pains and injuries. If any administer them, they should be beheaded. Never again should there be people who fall to such unnatural deaths. It is in order for them to constantly abide in peaceful happiness that I seek this wish.'

"Then the king replied, 'That search of yours is, indeed, insufficiently voiced.

I shall quickly promulgate the decree to all within the kingdom that people with common illnesses shall not be treated with those medicines. If any use the medicines, they shall be beheaded.'

"At that time, the visiting doctor combined together many medicines, said to be acrid, bitter, salty, sweet, and sour in flavor, with which a myriad illnesses are cured, none failing to bring recovery. Not long after this, the king contracted an illness. He thereupon commanded the doctor, saying, 'I am now ill and am suffering. What shall cure me?' The doctor divined what medicinal elixir should be used for the king's illness and immediately said to him, 'As to the king's suffering, you must drink this elixir. When I had formerly ended others from drinking medicines, I was not speaking truely. Now, if one drinks, it verily can remove your illness. Being that the king is now suffering and feverish, it is correct that he should drink this elixir.'

"Thereupon, the king said to the doctor, 'Are you crazy? For this feverish illness you now say that drinking an elixir can remove this illness? Before, you said that it was poisonous. How can you now tell me to drink? Do you wish to decieve me? You said that [the medicine] of that former doctor who had been praised was poisonous and lead me to chase him away. Now you say that it is excellent, verily able to [618b] remove illness. I myself established his defeat by you.'

"Then the visiting doctor again said to the king, 'The king should not say such things. Just as an insect eats wood until it is completely nourished and does not know that it is nourished or not nourished. The wise one sees it stop and does not claim that the insect understands that it is nourished, nor is he surprised by it. The great king should know that that former doctor was also so. He did not distinguish betweeen illnesses and treated them all with [the same] medicinal elixir, just as that insect's path is by chance until it is completely nourished. The former doctor did not understand the medicinal elixirs that were excellent, detestable, good, or bad.'

"The king then asked, 'What did he not understand?'

"The visiting doctor replied, 'The medicinal elixirs as well as the harmful poisons. And also the sweet nectar. How is the elixir also called a sweet nectar? If a mother cow does not eat wine dregs, loose grass, or barley, its calf will not tame well. In the place that it is set to pasture it will not stay above the fields and also not go down to the marsh to drink clear water. It will not be herded along and will not accompany the lead animal together with a single herd. Being domesticated in its eating and drinking, it goes on to travel and abide in the place it is given. Thus is this elixir able to remove illnesses. Therefore, it is called the wondrous medicine of sweet nectar. Excepting this elixir, the rest are all called harmful poisons.'

"At that time, the great king, having heard this, gave praise, saying, 'Excellent, great doctor, excellent! From this day, I have begun to know the medicinal elixirs that are good and bad, excellent and detestable.' Thereupon he drank it willingly and removed his illness.

"Immediately, he promulgating the edict that all in the country from that day on were to go back over to drinking the medicinal elixir. All of the country's people who heard this became embittered, all saying to one another, 'Has our great king now been possessed by a spirit and gone crazy, decieving us again by ordering the drinking of elixirs?' All the people felt embittered and gathered together at the king's palace.

"The King told them, 'You should not feel bitterness towards me. Just as with [the order] not to drink medicinal exlixirs is [the order] to drink them. All this is the doctor's instructions and not my fault.'

"At that time, the great king and the people danced joyfully and redoubled their respects paid to the doctor, for all those who were ill had drank the medicinal elixir and their illnesses had been removed.

"You, bhiksus! You should know that the Tathagata, the Arhat, the completely enlightened, perfect in wisdom and conduct, the Well Gone, the knower of the worldly, unsurpassed, the tamer of men, teacher of men and gods, and the World Honored One is also, again, so. He is a great doctor who has appeared in the world, defeating all of the heretical doctors, who proclaims to those in the four assemblies, saying, 'I am the king of doctors!' Because he wishes to supress the heretics he proclaims, 'There is no self, no person, sentient beings, soul, cultivation, knowledge, perception, doer, or reciever.'

"Bhiksus, you should know that the heretics have said that the self is like the insect who eats wood, mates, and makes offspring merely. This is why the Tathagata proclaims that in the Buddha-dharma there is no self. It is for the sake of taming sentient beings, knowing the time, and that such selflessness has been the cause and condition that he also says that there is a self. He is like that physician who well knew the elixirs that were medicinal and not medicinal. It is not like that self the ordinary man reckons to be his own or the ordinary man who meets someone and reckons that they have a self. Some have said that it is as large as the thumb and finger, some that it is like the mustard seed, some that it is like a grain a dust. The Tathagata says that the self is not like any of these. This is why he says that things (dharmas) are selfless. Really it is not that there is no self. What is the self? If something is the true, the real, the constant, the master, the foundation with a nature that is unchanging, this is called the self. Just as that great doctor well understand the medicinal elixir, the Tathagata is also so. For the sake of sentient beings, in the Dharmas that he speaks there really is a self. You and the four assembles must thus cultivate the Dharma."

(Here ends fascicle three of the Great Parinirvana Sutra)

Endnotes to Chapter 3

1.That is, the Brahma heavens of the form realm.

2.This is a reference to a Sanskrit character that is composed of three equal parts. It is used as a metaphor for something that is neither unified or differentiated, with neither a fixed start or end. The Nirvana Sutra, as here, uses the character as an example of how the essential body (dharmakaya), wisdom (prajna), and liberation (vimoksha) are three equal components of, but all necessary to complete, the whole of the Tathagata's Nirvana.

3.Elephant. The actual term here is hsiang-hsiang, which literally means 'fragrant elephant'. Needless to say, this is a little odd sounding, and I am not sure what figurative meaning hsiang-hsiang might have ('royal elephant', perhaps?). I have translated it as simply 'elephant', which works fine for the parable.

4.Mental perception. The Chinese here is hsiang, which ordinarily means 'idea, concept'. Here, though, it is referring to 'spinning and turning', which is more of a perception or sensation. I take it that hsiang is being used to denote that the spinning is only an internal perception, hence the translation in this instance emphasizing that this is a mental event.

5.I.e., the four words "permanence, pleasure, self, purity".

6.Outside paths. This is how the Chinese rendered of heretical, or incompatible, teachings. It refers, technically, to the six heretical teachers who the Buddha directly declared to teach mistaken ideas during his lifetime. Generally, the term applies to other religions and philosophies apart from the Buddha's teachings.

7.I.e., permanence, happiness, self, and purity. This statement, that in early Buddhism these were seen incorrectly, is one of the recurrent themes of this Sutra.

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