The Doctrine of the Buddha-Nature in the Mahāyāna Mahāparinirvāṇa-Sūtra

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The Doctrine of the Buddha-Nature in the Mahāyāna Mahāparinirvāṇa-Sūtra

Article Summary

In the Buddhist Canon, there are two main corpuses of texts which go by the name Mahāparinirvāṇa-sūtra (henceforth abbreviated to MNS) and have as their main concern the recounting of the events and dialogues of the last days of the Buddha. The first, presumably of earlier origin, is a comprehensive compendium of Hīnayāna ideas and precepts. It exists today in its Pali, Sanskrit and Chinese versions, and for its attention to factual details has been resorted to as the principal source of reference in most standard studies of the Buddha's life. As for the second, only its Chinese and Tibetan translations are still extant.[1] While it also relates some of the well-known episodes of the final months of the Buddha Śākyamuni, notably his illness and the last meal offered by Cunda, such narrations are treated in the work merely as convenient spring-boards for the expression of such standard Mahayana ideas as the eternal nature of Buddhahood and expedience as method of instruction. Both in style and content, this corpus exhibits the disregard of historical particulars and the fascination with the supernatural and the ideal which characterize Mahāyāna writings in general. As a Mahāyāna sūtra, it is of rather late date, for it mentions such influential "middle Mahāyāna" works as the Saddharmapuṇḍarīka-sūtra and the Śūraṃgamasaṃādhi-nirdeśa in its text, and so could not have been compiled before the second century A.D.[2] It is this Mahāyāna version of the MNS which we are going to examine in our present study. (Liu, introduction, 63)
  1. Fragments of the Sanskrit original of this Mahāyāna version of the MNS have been recovered in recent years, and are recorded in Watanabe Kaikyoku, Watanabe rombun shu 2nd ed. (Tokyo: 1936), pp. 570–585 and Takakusu Junjirō & Watanabe Kaikyoku, eds., Taishō shinshū daizōkyō 85 vols. (Tokyo: 1924–1934) (henceforth abbreviated to T), vol. 12, p. 604. Also see G. M. Bongard Levin, "New Buddhist Sanskrit Texts from Central Asia: An Unknown Fragment of the Mahāyāna Mahāparinirvāṇa-sūtra, Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies 4, 2 (1981), pp. 7–16.
  2. See T, vol. 12, p. 388b, 1.22, p. 390a, 1.8, p. 470c, 1.14, p. 485b.11.11–12 & p.493b. 11.4–5. Also consult Mochizuki Shinkō, Bukkyō kyōten naritatsu-shi ron 2nd ed. (Kyoto: 1946), pp. 255–273.