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Nirvāṇa Sūtra


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The standard English short title for the Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra, a Buddhist scripture that enjoyed a period of intense interest and study in the early period of Chinese Buddhism and was for a time at the centre of the so-called Nirvāṇa school. The text has its apparent origin in the Pāli Mahāparinibbāna Sutta, but Mahāyāna versions appeared later incorporating many new ideas such as tathāgata-garbha (‘embryonic Buddha’) thought, teachings on emptiness (śūnyatā), Buddha-nature.and the eternally abiding nature of the Buddhas. This Mahāyāna version of the text was translated twice in Tibet and at least three times in China. The discrepancies between the Tibetan and Chinese versions, and between the first two Chinese versions, show that the contents of the Sanskrit originals were quite disparate, indicating a text still undergoing active redaction and augmentation well into the 5th century. The three surviving translations in the Chinese canon are: (1) the six-fascicle version produced in 418 by Fa-hsien and Buddhabhadra (Taishō 376); (2) a 40-fascicle translation produced in 422 by Dharmarakṣa (Taishō 374); (3) a new edition (rather than a new translation) produced between 424 and 453 in south China in 36 fascicles (Taishō 375). This last edition was produced by collating the contents of the previous two translations, polishing the language, and adding new section headings.

(1) the six-fascicle version produced in 418 by Fa-hsien and Buddhabhadra (Taishō 376); (2) a 40-fascicle translation produced in 422 by Dharmarakṣa (Taishō 374); (3) a new edition (rather than a new translation) produced between 424 and 453 in south China in 36 fascicles (Taishō 375).

This sūtra was highly influential in the development of Chinese Buddhism in several ways. It provided a scriptural basis for asserting that all living beings have Buddha-nature.and thus even icchantikas.beings previously thought to have no potential for enlightenment (bodhi) and liberation, may eventually attain nirvāṇa. It further identifies this Buddha-nature with the final nature of reality, which profoundly changed the way Buddhism in China presented its vision of the truth. Whereas before the final nature of reality, expressed as the truth of emptiness, consisted simply in clearing away delusions about reality and presenting a static statement of the nature of things, the identification of emptiness and the Middle Way (madhyamā-pratipad) with Buddha-nature made the truth of things an active force working in the world by expressing itself in living beings themselves. The text is also noteworthy for its strictures against meat-eating (see diet). Finally, it taught (in concert with the even more influential Lotus Sūtra) that Buddhas do not simply enter extinction upon the attainment of nirvāṇa, but instead are eternally abiding and remain active in the world on behalf of suffering beings. These ideas gained currency through the work of the Nirvāṇa school and the numerous lectures and commentaries that expounded and promoted the text's teachings throughout China. As a result, these teachings became part of the fundamental currency of Chinese Buddhism, and played an active role in the formation of the T'ien-t'ai school (into which the Nirvāṇa school was eventually subsumed), and the Ch'an school

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Subjects: Buddhism.


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