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Bù zēng bù jiǎn jīng
The Discourse on Neither Increase nor Decrease

One of the sūtra sources cited in the Ratnagotravibhāga, especially in relation to the fourth and sixth of the seven vajra topics discussed therein—namely, the teachings on the element, which in this case is a synonym for buddha-nature, and the teachings on the qualities. Though much of it is quoted in the Ratnagotravibhāga, the full text is only extant in a single Chinese translation.

Relevance to Buddha-nature

Almost one third of this short sūtra is quoted in Asaṅga's commentary to the Ratnagotravibhāga, where it is used as a source for the exposition of the fourth vajrapada, the element (dhātu or khams), as well as the sixth vajrapada, the qualities (guṇa or yon tan), which are crucial aspects of the treatise's presentation of buddha-nature.

Translations of This Text

Recensions of This Text

Scholarly notes

The Anūnatvāpūrṇatvanirdeśaparivarta (Scripture on the Absence of Increase or Decrease [in the Extent of the Sphere of Beings]) is preserved only in a single Chinese version, the Bu zeng bu jian jing (不增不減經; T. 668), translated by Bodhiruci (菩提流支; ?–527 ce), though portions are cited in the Ratnagotravibhāga, showing that the text was already in existence by circa 400 ce. The Anūnatvāpūrṇatvanirdeśaparivarta is also cited in the *Mahāyānadharmadhātunirviśeṣa (see below), the date of which is unknown. The relative chronological relation among the Anūnatvāpūrṇatvanirdeśaparivarta, the Tathāgatagarbhasūtra, and the Śrīmālādevīsiṃhanādasūtra remains unclear. (For an annotated English translation, see Silk, 2014; important studies are Takasaki, 1965; 1974, 69–96; see also Srisetthaworakul, 2010; Tsai, 2004; Wakiya, 2005; Watanabe, 1984.)
      The Anūnatvāpūrṇatvanirdeśaparivarta may be divided into two main parts, with the second, the main body of the text, giving the impression of being quite shastric – doctrinally complex and even somewhat abstruse. The first part of the text discusses a range of “false views” (dṛṣṭi), which are, however, difficult to identify or interpret with precision. These false views are, in various ways, said to prevent insight into the correct nature of truth and reality, the topic of the second part.
      In accordance with the title of the text, the main burden of the correct view presented in the second part is that there is “neither decrease nor increase” in the “realm (or domain, or element) of (sentient) beings” (sattvadhātu; T. 668 [XVI] 467a2–7), which means that the overall number of sentient beings does not increase or decrease, despite all the vicissitudes of transmigration, and despite the fact that some beings may attain liberation or buddhahood. This is because there is in fact only one realm or element (*ekadhātu), which is identical in both the deluded realm of ordinary sentient beings in saṃsāra and in the liberated state of the buddhas. This leads to a series of other equivalences: sattvadhātu is paramārtha (ultimate truth); sattvadhātu is tathāgatagarbha; tathāgatagarbha is dharmakāya (the transcendent body); sattvadhātu is dharmakāya. This bivalent single essence that runs through all things and states of being, both suffering and liberated, is also aligned with the notion of the “originally pure mind” (*prakṛtipariśuddhacitta, *prakṛtiprabhāsvara). It is also said to be precisely the dharmakāya that, “carried by the flood of saṃsāra,” comes and goes through the rounds of birth and death; the feature that distinguishes this state of the dharmakāya from its fully realized state in the buddhas is that it is “hidden within a sheath of countless defilements.”

(Source: Radich, Michael. "Tathāgatagarbha Scriptures." In Vol. 1, Brill's Encyclopedia of Buddhism: Literature and Languages, edited by Jonathan A. Silk, Oskar von Hinüber, and Vincent Eltschinger, 262. Leiden: Brill, 2015.)

Description from When the Clouds Part

Another early tathāgatagarbha sūtra (and the shortest) is the Anūnatvāpūrṇatvanirdeśaparivarta. It is available only in a Chinese translation,[1] and almost one-third is quoted in RGVV, which clearly shows the Indian origin of this sūtra. As its title suggests (parivarta means "chapter"), this sūtra may originally have been part of a larger sūtra or a sūtra collection. It has a close thematic relationship with the Śrīmālādevīsūtra and likewise emphasizes the importance of faith as a skillful means for the realization of the tathāgata heart (though not as its actual cause). As in many other early mahāyāna sūtras, the main interlocutor in the Anūnatvāpūrṇatvanirdeśaparivarta is Śāriputra.

      As its name says, the main theme of the sūtra is the discussion of the lack of increase and decrease. The text says that it is due to the misconception of there being any increase or decrease of the dhātu of sentient beings that beings roam in saṃsāra and wrongly think of nirvāṇa as annihilation or permanence. The root of such misconceptions is their lack of understanding the oneness of the nondual dharmadhātu. This dharmadhātu is the sphere and the great nirvāṇa of buddhas, which cannot be perceived even by śrāvakas and pratyekabuddhas, let alone ordinary beings. Still, buddhas, bodhisattvas, and sentient beings are not different in essence since they are nothing but three different states of the dharmakāya in terms of its being more or less unobscured by adventitious stains. The dhātu of sentient beings is ultimate reality and the tathāgata heart, which is also identified as the dharmakāya, fully endowed with the inseparable, innumerable, and inconceivable qualities of a buddha, just as the radiance, color, and shape of a jewel are inseparable. The three states of buddhas, bodhisattvas, and sentient beings are nondual, being neither the same nor different.

      Tathāgatagarbha is primordially connected by nature with the inconceivable qualities and wisdoms of a buddha. For the sake of sentient beings, this is described as the naturally pure mind. Also, the tathāgata heart is by nature not connected with the cocoons of the afflictions, which are eliminated only through the awakened wisdom of a tathāgata. For the sake of sentient beings, it is described as the naturally pure mind being tainted by adventitious stains. The tathāgatagarbha as the nature of phenomena remains the same and is permanent until the end of time. It is the ground of all phenomena but is itself without arising and ceasing, and represents the permanent, eternal, everlasting, and peaceful refuge that is the inconceivable and pure dharmadhātu (that is, the dharmakāya). Thus, ultimately, sentient beings are without arising and ceasing, as well as endowed with all the qualities of the dharmadhātu. The realization that buddhas, bodhisattvas, and sentient beings are not different in their essence is thus free from the two wrong views of increase and decrease. Thus, when the dharmakāya is obscured by adventitious stains, it is called "sentient being." When this very same dharmakāya becomes weary of saṃsāra and practices the ten pāramitās and bodhisattva conduct, it is called "bodhisattva." When it is free from all stains, it is called "buddha."

      As Jikido Takasaki, Diana M. Paul, and Henry Shiu point out, there are a number of common features between the Tathāgatagarbhasūtra and the Anūnatvāpūrṇatvanirdeśaparivarta, such as tathāgatagarbha ’s being associated with sentient beings, its embodying the nature and wisdom of a buddha, its being obscured by adventitious stains, and sentient beings’ not being aware of its presence within them. Of course, all these features are also shared with other tathāgatagarbha sūtras. Shiu adds that the Mahāparinirvāṇasūtra and the Aṅgulimālīyasūtra are also closely related to the Anūnatvāpūrṇatvanirdeśaparivarta in their presentations of tathāgatagarbha. (pp. 12-13)

  1. Taishō 668 (two pages). For a detailed study and translation of this sūtra, see Shiu 2006.

Text Metadata

Text exists in ~ Chinese

About the text

The very short Anūnatvāpūrṇatvanirdeśaparivarta, or “No-Increase, No-Decrease Chapter,” exists today only in Chinese translation, although it was eventually known to Tibetans through extensive quotations in the Ratnagotravibhāga (initial Tibetan translators of the Ratnagotravibhāga, however, did not recognize the quotations and so failed to identify it as a sūtra). Jonathan Silk dates the text to at least before the early fifth century, after the Tathāgatagarbhasūtra and the Śrīmālādevīsiṃhanādanirdeśa,[1] as does Diana Paul,[2] while Takasaki argues for it having appeared after the Tathāgatagarbhasūtra and before the Śrīmālādevī.[3]

      Like other tathāgatagarbha scriptures, this one is ambiguous as to whether tathāgatagarbha is a womb/seed or an intrinsic nature, a currently nonexistent potential or an already existent presence. Silk argues that the text understands the term in the latter sense. The title of the scripture comes from the discussion of whether the number of ordinary beings decreases when someone becomes a buddha. Such a question reveals dualistic thinking, the Buddha chides in the narrative, and is therefore flawed, because ordinary beings and buddhas are not fundamentally different in nature. As Brunnhölzl puts it, the text teaches that

when the dharmakāya is obscured by adventitious stains, it is called “sentient being.” When this very same dharmakāya becomes weary of saṃsāra and practices the ten pāramitās and bodhisattva conduct, it is called “bodhisattva.” When it is free from all stains, it is called “buddha.”[4]

In other words, there is no essential difference between an ordinary being and a buddha, and to ask whether there is a change in population when a person attains enlightenment is nonsensical, not unlike asking whether there is a change in the number of water molecules when ice melts. It is simply that ordinary beings are afflicted by stains and a buddha is not, similar to a golden statue wrapped in rags compared to a statue on display in all its glory. (Note how in the above passage buddha-nature and dharmakāya are treated as synonyms.)

      One of the main contributions of the Anūnatvāpūrṇatvanirdeśaparivarta is the emphasis on faith as a necessary—though not sufficient—condition of enlightenment. Such a rhetorical move might suggest an admission that tathāgatagarbha is a notion that is not available for logical proof—it does, after all, raise the specter of a quasi-Hindu transcendent self, not to mention a mystical presence that is beyond the reach of language. The use of positive terms to describe tathāgatagarbha, much less its use of the word ātman, required a lot of exegesis to convince many that the doctrine was in accordance with current understandings of emptiness and did not violate the Buddha’s teaching of no-self.[5]

      The Anūnatvāpūrṇatvanirdeśaparivarta survives only in Chinese. It was translated by Bodhiruci (of the Wei Dynasty) in 520 in Luoyang with the title Foshuo bu zeng bu jian jing 佛 説不増不減經 (T668).[6] It appears that no Tibetan translation of the Anūnatvāpūrṇatvanirdeśaparivarta was ever made.

The Anūnatvāpūrṇatvanirdeśaparivarta is translated into English by Jonathan Silk in Buddhist Cosmic Unity.

  1. Silk, Buddhist Cosmic Unity, 4.
  2. Paul, The Buddhist Feminine Ideal, 3.
  3. Silk, Buddhist Cosmic Unity, 21.
  4. Brunnhölzl, When the Clouds Part, 13.
  5. For a fine discussion of the use of ātman in the tathāgatagarbha sūtras, see Jones, “A Self-Aggrandizing Vehicle.”
  6. Jones, “Beings, Non-Beings, and Buddhas,” 60.