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Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra: Chapter 14: On the Parable of the Birds

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Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra
Chapter 14: On the Parable of the Birds

Translated by Kosho Yamamoto from Dharmakshema's Chinese version,
edited and revised by Dr. Tony Page
Copyright for this edition is held by Dr. Tony Page, 2012.



“The Buddha said further to Kasyapa: "O good man! There are two species of birds, one the kacalindikaka and the other the mandarin duck. In playing or stopping (resting), they always act together; they do not separate. The same is the case with suffering, the non-eternal, and non-Self. They do not separate."

Bodhisattva Kasyapa said to the Buddha: "O World-Honoured One! In what way do things obtain with suffering, the non-eternal, and non-Self as with the mandarin duck and the kacalindikaka?" The Buddha said: "O good man! What is contrary to Dharma is suffering, and what is contrary to Dharma is bliss. What is contrary to Dharma is the eternal and what is contrary to Dharma is the non-eternal. What is contrary to Dharma is self and what is contrary to Dharma is non-Self. For example, it is as in the case in which rice differes from hemp and wheat, and hemp and wheat from beans, millet and sugar cane. With all of these, the non-eternal are the buds, flowers and leaves. When the fruit ripens and when man uses it, we say eternal. Why? Because the nature is true."

Kasyapa said to the Buddha: "O World-Honoured One! If these are eternal, are they equal to the Tathagata?" "O good man! Do not speak in such a way. Why not? If one says that the Tathagata is like Mount Sumeru, does this imply that he will break up, as Sumeru must break up when the time comes for it to disintegrate? O good man! Do not view things thus. O good man! “With all things, excepting Nirvana, not one thing is eternal”. Merely to conform with the ways of secular truth, we say that the fruit is eternal." Bodhisattva Kasyapa said to the Buddha: "O World-Honoured One! It is good, it is good. It is as the Buddha says." The Buddha said to Kasyapa: "It is thus, it is thus, O good man! A person may be true to what the sutras say or may have practised all the samadhis, but until he has learned Mahaparinirvana, he will say that all is non-eternal. When a person has learned this sutra, he may have illusion, but he is, so to speak, without illusion. It (learning this sutra) well benefits man and heaven Why? Because “one clearly sees that one's own body has the Buddha Nature within. This is the Eternal.”

"Also, next, O good man! It is like the case of the mango tree. When its flower first appears, what there is (at that time) is the changing phase. When it bears fruit and when it bestows much benefit, we speak of the eternal. O good man! A person may thus be true to all the sutras or may have practised samadhis, but when he has not yet given ear to this Great Nirvana Sutra, all is based on the non-eternal. When a person gives ear to this sutra, although (still) possessing illusion, it is as though he had no illusion. That is to say that it benefits both man and heaven. How? Because that person clearly knows that he has the Buddha-Nature within. This is the Eternal.

"Also, next, O good man! When an ingot of gold melts, this is the phase of the non-eternal. Once molten, it becomes gold. When it greatly benefits a person, we say eternal. The case is like this. Thus, O good man, a person may be true to all sutras or may have practised all samadhis, but if he has not yet given ear to this Great Nirvana Sutra, all is non-eternal. When a person has given ear to this sutra, he may well have illusion, but it is as though he did not. It thus benefits all men and gods. Why? Because the person clearly comes to know that he has the Buddha-Nature within. This is the Eternal.

"Also, next, O good man! Sesame, for example, when not yet pressed, is non-eternal. Once the pressing has been done and the oil has been extracted, the sesame gives great benefit. This is the eternal. O good man! A person may be true to all sutras or may have practised samadhis, but not yet having heard of Great Nirvana, all is non-eternal (for that person). Having heard this sutra, though yet bound by illusion, a person is equal (equivalent) to possessing no illusion. Benefits accrue to any human or god. Why? Because that person realises that he has the Buddha-Nature within him. This is the Eternal.

"Also, next, O good man! It is as in the case in which all rivers drain into the sea. All sutras and samadhis flow into the Mahayana Great Nirvana Sutra. How so? Because it ultimately expounds the Buddha-Nature. That is why I say: "Some dharmas are eternal; some dharmas are non-eternal. With non-Self, too, things amount to the same." It is thus that I say.

Bodhisattva Kasyapa said to the Buddha: "O World-Honoured One! The Tathagata is already segregated from the poisonous arrows of apprehension and suffering. Apprehension and suffering are heaven (devas); the Tathagata is no heaven (deva). Apprehension and suffering are human; the Tathagata is no human. Apprehension and suffering are the 25 existences. Hence, there can exist no apprehension or suffering with the Tathagata. How could one say that the Tathagata is apprehension and suffering?" "O good man! In No-Thought Heaven (“avrha”), what obtains is thoughtlessness. If thoughtless, there can be no life. If there is no life, how can there be the five skandhas, the 18 realms and twelve spheres? Hence, we cannot say that the life of No-Thought Heaven has any place to exist. O good man! For example, the god of a tree lives in the tree. We cannot definitely say that he lives in the branch, the knot, the trunk, or the leaf. Though we cannot name the place, we cannot say that he does not exist. The life of No-Thought Heaven is also like that. O good man! The case of Buddha-Dharma is likewise thus. It is very deep and unfathomable. The Tathagata has no apprehension, suffering or worry. Yet, he evinces great compassion towards beings, has apprehension and sorrow, and views them as he views Rahula.

"Also, next, the life of No-Thought Heaven can only be known by the Buddha. It is beyond the ken of others. Also, the same applies to Thoughtlessness-non-Thoughtlessness Heaven. O Kasyapa! The nature of the Tathagata is pure and untainted, and is like a transformed body. How can there be any apprehension, suffering or worry? If the Tathagata has no apprehension or suffering, how can he bestow benefit upon beings and disseminate the Buddhist teaching? If "no", how can we say that he sees beings as he sees Rahula? If he does not see beings as he sees his Rahula, any such statement can only be false. Hence, O good man, the Buddha is inconceivable, Dharma is inconceivable, the nature of beings is inconceivable, and the life of No-Thought Heaven is inconceivable. Whether the Tathagata has any apprehension or not is for the world of the Buddha (to know). It is not what sravakas or pratyekabuddhas can fathom out.

"O good man! For example, a house cannot stand in the air as it is for a moment. If one says that a house cannot remain in the air, this is not something that can be said. For this reason, one should not say: "A house in the air can stand or not." A common mortal may say that a house stands in the air. But there is no place in the air where it can remain. Why not? Because, by nature, it has no place to stay. O good man! The same is the case with the mind. Do not say that its abode is in the five skandhas, the 18 realms, or the 12 spheres. The same with the life of No-Thought Heaven. Regarding any apprehension and sorrow of the Tathagata it is also like this. If he has no apprehension and sorrow, how can we say that he views (all beings) with an all-equal eye, as though viewing Rahula? A person might well say that he has (apprehension and sorrow), yet how (then) can one say that his nature is like the Void?

"O good man! As an example: a magician may conjure up such diverse things as a palace, killing, long life, binding or undoing, gold, silver, beryl, treasures, forests, and trees. But these have no place where they exist. The same with the Tathagata. Following the way of the world, he displays apprehension and sorrow. There can be (in actuality) no such forms (i.e. no such things as these with him). O good man! The Tathagata has already entered Parinirvana. How could there be any apprehension, sorrow, or worry? Now the Tathagata enters Nirvana. If anyone says that this is the non-eternal, know that this person has apprehension and sorrow. No one can truly know whether the Tathagata has apprehension or not.

"Also, next, O good man! As an example: a person who lives in a low social sphere can certainly know what obtains in the lower sphere of life. But he cannot know what obtains in the middle or upper spheres of life. A person of the middle sphere knows what obtains in the middle sphere, but not in the upper. A person of the upper sphere knows about that upper sphere, but not about the middle or lower spheres. It is the same with sravakas and pratyekabuddhas. Likewise, a person only knows what is of his own sphere. It is not thus with the Tathagata. He knows his own sphere, as well as those of others. That is why we say that the Tathagata is unhindered. He manifests phantoms and follows the ways of the world. The fleshly eyes of common mortals see this. They say that it is true. They may desire to know the unhindered and unsurpassed Wisdom of the Tathagata, but this never comes about. Only the Buddha knows what is apprehension and what is not. Hence, different things possess the Self and different things do not possess the Self. This is what we mean when we say that things obtain as in the case of the mandarin duck and the kacalindikaka.

"Also, next, O good man! The Buddhist teaching is like the mandarin duck (and kacalindikaka) who go about together. The mandarin duck and the kacalindikaka seek out uplands in midsummer when the water is high and deposit their young there. This is to bring raise them. Later, they play as they originaly ought to. The same with the appearance of the Tathagata. He teaches innumerable beings and enables them to abide in Wonderful Dharma. This is like the mandarin duck and the kacalindikaka seeking out uplands and safely depositing their young ones there. The same with the Tathagata. He enables beings to act as they ought to act and enables them to enter Mahaparinirvana. O good man! That is to say that suffering is one teaching (dharma) and bliss is a different one (dharma). All created things are sorrow; Nirvana is Bliss. It is most wonderful and destroys created things (i.e. lifts one beyond the created sphere)."

Bodhisattva Kasyapa said to the Buddha: "O World-Honoured One! How do beings attain Nirvana and gain the pre-eminent Bliss?" The Buddha said: "O good man! As stated, the fusion of composites is age-and-death.

"If strict in one's way of life and not indolent,
This is amrta (the deathless, ambrosia).
To be indolent and not strict
In one's way of life is death.
Non-indolence gains one the deathless place;
Indolence always leads one to death."

"Indolence is of the created, the foremost of suffering. Non-indolence is Nirvana, the foremost of amrta and Bliss. The created is a place of death, the foremost of suffering. Nirvana is deathlessness, the most wonderful Bliss. Indolence calls in (i.e. is generative of) the created. This too is spoken of: eternal Bliss, deathlessness, and the Body Indestructible. What is indolence and what is not? The unholy common mortal (i.e. a tirthika) is of indolence and eternal death; the world-fleeing holy one (“shramana”) belongs to the class of non-indolence, in whom age-and-death has no abode. Why not? He gains the foremost of eternal Bliss and Nirvana. The holy persons of the supramundane stage have no indolence and there exists (for them) no age-and-death. Why not? They enter into the foremost stage of eternal Nirvana. Hence, Suffering and Bliss are two different things; Self and non-Self are two different things.

"A man stands on the ground and looks up at the sky, where he can see no trace of where the birds have flown. The same is the case (here). O good man! The same is the case with beings. They do not possess the heavenly eye. Immersed in illusion, they cannot see the nature of the Tathagata, which they possess. For this reason, I now expound the (hitherto) undisclosed teaching on selflessness. Why? “A person who lacks the heavenly eye does not know the True Self”. Because he estimates Self in the wrong way. All things created by illusion are non-eternal. That is why I say that the Eternal and the non-Eternal are two different things.

"If one with effort and courage
Gains the summit of a mountain,
One sees the plains, the expanse of the fields and all beings.
As one gains the great palace of Wisdom
And the seat that is topless (topmost) and wonderful,
One already makes away with apprehension and suffering
And sees the apprehension of beings.

"The Tathagata cuts off innumerable illusions, lives in the mountain of Wisdom, and sees beings who live amidst innumerable billions of illusions."

Bodhisattva Kasyapa said to the Buddha: "O World-Honoured One! Things are not as stated in the gatha. Why not? One who enters Nirvana has no apprehension or joy. How can such a person gain the palace of Wisdom? Moreover, living on the summit of the mountain, how can one see beings?"

The Buddha said: "O good man! The palace of Wisdom is Nirvana. The person with no apprehension is the Tathagata; the person who has apprehension is the common mortal. The common mortal has apprehension and the Tathagata has not. The summit of Mount Sumeru is true emancipation. One who incessantly makes effort is like Mount Sumeru, which knows of no shaking. The earth is a thing created. All common mortals live peacefully on the earth and do all (manner of) things. Wisdom is true Awakening. A person away from existence is one eternal. This is the Tathagata. The Tathagata has pity for the innumerable beings who are exposed to the poisonous arrows of all existences. That is why we say that the Tathagata has apprehension."

Bodhisattva Kasyapa said to the Buddha: "O World-Honoured One! If the Tathagata has apprehension and sorrow, he could not be the All-Enlightened One." The Buddha said to Kasyapa: "All depends on the circumstances. As he sees that his presence is called for to save beings, the Tathagata manifests himself. Though manifesting himself in life, there is yet (here) truly no life. That is why we call the Tathagata one who is Eternal. The case is like that of the kacalindikaka and the mandarin duck."

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