This is a translation of the first of four volumes of the Mahāyāna version of the Mahāparinirvāṇa-sūtra, one of the most revered and influential Buddhist texts in East Asia. It is based on the Chinese translation by the Indian monk Dharmakṣema (385–433) from a Sanskrit text of which only fragments remain. Not to be confused with an early Buddhist sutra of the same name, the Nirvana Sutra
(as it is called in East Asian Buddhism) is most famous for its doctrine of the “buddha-nature” as universally present in all living beings. However, the text is also well known for its teachings on vegetarianism and for its discussion of nonemptiness as commensurate with emptiness that reverses Buddhist traditions of nonself, impermanence, and suffering; a class of nonbelievers called icchantikas
who can still be saved; the denial of any corporeal dimension to Śākyamuni; and for its assertion that violent defense of the Dharma is justified when threatened, among others. The first Chinese translation made some ten years earlier by the Chinese pilgrim Faxian stirred controversy because it’s depiction of the icchantika problem suggested these individuals were bereft of the buddha-nature and thus without hope for spiritual renewal, prompting the prominent monk Daosheng to denounce Faxian’s text as flawed. Daosheng was initially ridiculed for his position, but when the Dharmakṣema translation began to circulate, his view was validated, and he went on to become one of most influential thinkers in Chinese Buddhist history.
Distributed for BDK America
Translator: Mark L. Blum;