Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra

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The Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra (T. yongs su mya ngan las 'das pa chen po'i mdo ཡོངས་སུ་མྱ་ངན་ལས་འདས་པ་ཆེན་པོའི་མདོ།; C. Da banniepan jing 般涅槃經) or Nirvana Sutra, is a Sanskrit Mahāyāna sutra that relates the events leading up to the Buddha's final parinirvana.[1] According to the Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism, this text is a Sanskrit retelling of the "mainstream" Buddhist (aka. early Buddhist) description of these events, as recorded in the Mahaparinibbana Sutta.[1] However, the Sanskrit text differs considerably from the mainstream version, and became in influential source for Mahayana views on buddha-nature.[1]

The Tsadra Foundtation "Buddha-nature" website states:

The Mahāparinirvāṇasūtra is one of the main scriptural sources for buddha-nature in China and Tibet. Set around the time of Buddha's passing or Mahāparinirvāṇa, the sūtra contains teachings on buddha-nature equating it with the dharmakāya—that is, the complete enlightenment of a buddha. It also asserts that all sentient beings possess this nature as the buddhadhātu, or buddha-element, which thus acts as a cause, seed, or potential for all beings to attain enlightenment. Furthermore, the sūtra includes some salient features related to this concept, such as the single vehicle and the notion that the dharmakāya is endowed with the four pāramitās of permanence, bliss, purity, and a self.[2]

Mark Blum states:

Echoing and at one point even citing the Lotus Sutra (Saddharmapuṇḍarīka Sūtra), the Nirvana Sutra affirms that the Buddha’s death or parinirvana did not mean his destruction, but occurred to illustrate that the true body of a buddha (buddhakaya) is uncreated (asaṃskṛta) and eternal, and to provide relics for veneration. Arguing against the Yogacara categorization of sentient beings by their differing spiritual potentials, the Nirvana Sutra asserts that all sentient beings equally possess the same potential for buddhahood. Rendered in Chinese as buddha-nature, this far-reaching doctrine implies that the core nature of each individual is that of a buddha, but mental afflictions (kleśa) prevent most from realizing it.[3]

Text and early translations

The precise date of origin of this text is uncertain, but its early form may have developed in or by the second century CE. The original Sanskrit text is not extant except for a small number of fragments, but it survives in Chinese and Tibetan translation.[4]

The Nirvana sutra was translated into Chinese twice from two apparently substantially different source texts, with the 421 CE translation of Dharmakṣema being about four times longer than the 416 translation of Faxian (as well as the later Tibetan version).[5] The two versions also differ in their teachings on Buddha-nature: Dharmakṣema's indicates all sentient beings have the potential to attain Buddhahood, but Faxian's states some will never attain Buddhahood. Ultimately, Dharmakṣema's version was far more popular in East Asia and his version of the text had a strong impact on East Asian Buddhism.[6]

This sutra should not be confused with the early Buddhist Mahaparinibbana sutta.

English translations

  • Yamamoto, Kosho, trans. (1973-1975). The Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra, 3 Volumes, Karinbunko, Ube City, Japan.[note 1] Limited to 500 copies.
  • Blum, Mark, trans. (2013). The Nirvana Sutra: Volume 1 (of a projected 4), Berkeley, Calif. : BDK America (distr.: Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press). ISBN 978-1-886439-46-7.
  • Kato, Yasunari, trans. (2014). Daihatsunehankyou Vol.2: Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra Vol.2, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. ISBN 9781499284355 This is a Japanese translation, not English.
  • Yamamoto & Page, Dr. Tony, trans. (2015). Nirvana Sutra: A Translation of Dharmakshema's Northern version, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. ISBN 978-1517631727 Dr. Tony Page's re-editing of Yamamoto's original.


  1. Qualified by Stephen Hodge as a "sadly unreliable, though pioneering, attempt".[7]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Buswell & Lopez 2014, s.v. Mahāparinirvāṇasūtra.
  2. "Mahāparinirvāṇasūtra", Buddha Nature, A Tsadra Foundation Initiative
  3. Blum 2004, pp. 217-218.
  4. Jones, C. V. (2020) The Buddhist Self: On Tathāgatagarbha and Ātman, pp. 29-30. University of Hawaiʻi Press.
  5. Jones, C. V. (2020) The Buddhist Self: On Tathāgatagarbha and Ātman, p. 30. University of Hawaiʻi Press.
  6. Blum 2013, p. xix.
  7. Hodge 2012, p. 2.


Further reading

  • Bongard-Levin, G.M (1986). New Sanskrit fragments of the Mahāyāna Mahāparinivāṇa-sūtra: Central Asian manuscript collection, The International Institute for Buddhist Studies.
  • Ito, Shinjo (2009). Shinjo: Reflections, Somerset Hall Press.
  • Lai, Whalen (1982). Sinitic speculations on buddha-nature: The Nirvaana school (420-589), Philosophy East and West 32 (2),  135-149
  • Radich, Michael (2015). The Mahāparinivāṇa-mahasūtra and the Emergence of Tathagatagarba Doctrine, Hamburg Buddhist Studies Vol. 5, Hamburg University Press
  • Yuyama, Akira (1981). Sanskrit fragments of the Mahāyāna Mahāparinivāṇa-sūtra: Koyasan manuscript, The Reiyukai Library.

External links

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