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Words of Wisdom

Selection from The Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra: Chapter 15 – On the Parable of the Moon, Part 1 of 2

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The Mahāyāna Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra (大般涅槃經) or Nirvana Sutra is a Tathagatagarbha sutra of Mahayana Buddhism. It is considered as a major Mahayana sutra. The actual date of the original sutra is not known, however it is said that its early texts may have been written before or during the second century CE. “The Buddha said to Kasyapa: ‘As an example: there is a man here who, as he sees that the moon is not yet out, says that the moon has departed, and entertains the thought that the moon has sunk down. But this moon, by its nature, does not sink down. When it appears on the other side of the world, the people of the other side say that the moon is out. Why? Since Mount Sumeru obstructs (vision), the moon cannot reveal itself. The moon is always out. It has, by nature, no coming out or sinking down. The same is the case with the Tathagata, the Alms-deserving, the All-Enlightened One. He manifests himself in the 3,000 great-thousand worlds; or He gives the semblance of having parents in Jambudvipa or of entering Nirvana in Jambudvipa. The Tathagata, by nature, does not enter Nirvana. But all beings say that He truly enters Parinirvana. The case is analogous to the sinking of the moon. O good man! The Tathagata, by nature, does not possess the nature of birth and death. To succor beings, He manifests (His) birth and death.’” “‘O good man! The same is the case with the Tathagata. In Jambudvipa, He manifests birth and enters Nirvana. His first coming out (appearance in the world) is the first of the month. Everybody says that this boy is first born. He strides seven paces. This is like the moon on the second day. Or He shows himself studying. This is like the moon on the third day. He displays renunciation. This is like the moon of the eighth day. He emits the all-wonderful light of Wisdom and subdues an innumerable number of beings and the army of mara. This may be likened to the full moon of the 15th day. Or He manifests the 32 signs of perfection and the 80 minor marks of excellence. He thus adorns Himself and manifests Nirvana. He is like the eclipse of the moon. Thus, what beings see is not the same. Some see a half-moon, others a full moon, and still others an eclipse. But this moon, by its nature, knows of no waxing or eclipsing. It is always the full moon. The body of the Tathagata is like this. For this reason, we say eternal and unchanging.’”
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