05 June 2015

Nirvāṇa Sūtra, Madhyāgama 55.

This blog post is an old one I've held in reserve for a week when I can't make the Friday morning deadline The Pali counterpart to this text, the Upanisā Sutta (SN 12.23), is a very important text for the Triratna Buddhist Order. Sangharakshita, following pointers provided by Mrs Rhys Davids, found this sutta and from as early as the 1950s made it a core text for his teaching. The main idea he called the Spiral Path. An account of the doctrine of the Spiral Path was included in the first edition of his A Survey of Buddhism in 1954. Later other teachers, such as Bhikkhu Bodhi and Ayya Khemma also took an interest in this text, though the true significance of the Spiral Path is seldom seen outside of the Triratna Movement. 

The Chinese counterpart, translated into English by myself for the first time (back in 2012), is very similar in many ways to the Upanisā Sutta. It shows an element of standardisation with the other Spiral Path texts which are compiled in the 5th section of the Chinese Madhyāgama (MĀ) translation. The MĀ is different from it's Pāḷi counterpart in that it collects many Spiral Path texts together that are scattered about the Nikāyas. I've prepared draft translations of all of these texts (MĀ 42-55) though these have now been superseded by the Numata Foundation translation of the Madhyāgama under the editorship of Bhikkhu Anālayo. However, though the first volume has been published, it is very expensive and thus unlikely to be accessible to ordinary Buddhists. Hence my translations remain useful for now. At some point it would be useful to produce a comparative study of the Pāli and Chinese versions of the Spiral Path texts. 

A reminder that I have already completed a comprehensive survey of the Pāḷi Spiral Path texts which was published in the Western Buddhist Review

Nirvāṇa Sūtra.

Madhyāgama 55 [1] Corresponding Preconditions Section. Taisho Vol. 1 no.26.


Chinese Translation by Gautama Saṅghadeva between 397-398 CE. [2]
English Translation by Jayarava Aug 2012

English Translation


Thus have I heard, one time the Buddha was staying in Śravāsti ( 舍衛國 shěwèiguó ), at the Jeta Grove 勝林 of Anāthapiṇḍika’s park 孤獨園. Then the Bhagavan addressed the monks: "nirvāṇa (涅槃 nièpán) has a precondition (習xí [3] Skt. upaniṣad) and does not lack a precondition. The precondition for nirvāṇa is liberation (解脫 jiětuō Skt. vimokṣa).

Liberation also has a precondition and does not lack a precondition. What is the precondition of liberation? Cessation of desire (無欲; Skt. virāga) is the precondition of liberation.

Cessation of desire also has a precondition and does not lack a precondition. What is the precondition of cessation of desire? Disillusionment (厭 yàn; Skt. nirveda) is the precondition.

Disillusionment also has a precondition and does not lack a precondition. What is the precondition of disillusionment? To see reality and know things as they are (見如實 知如真. jiànrúshí zhīrúzhēn; Skt yathābhūta-jñānadarśana [4] ) is the precondition.

To see reality and know things as they are has a precondition and does not lack a precondition. What is the precondition of seeing reality, and knowing things as they are? Samādhi (定 dìng) is the precondition.


Samādhi also has a precondition and does not lack a precondition. What is the precondition of samādhi? Bliss (樂 lè; Skt. sukha) is the precondition.


Bliss also has a precondition and does not lack a precondition. What is the precondition of bliss?
Calming down (止 zhǐ; Skt. praśrabdha) is the precondition.

Calming down also has a precondition and does not lack a precondition. What is the precondition of calming down? Rapture (喜 xǐ ; Skt. pīti) is the precondition.

Rapture also has a precondition and does not lack a precondition. What is the precondition of calming down? Joy (歡悅 huānyuè; Skt. prāmodya) is the precondition.

Joy also has a precondition and does not lack a precondition. What is the precondition of joy?
Non-regret (不悔 bù huǐ; Skt. avipratisāra) is the precondition.

Non-regret also has a precondition and does not lack a precondition. What is the precondition of non-regret? Morality (護戒 Hù jiè; Skt. śila) is the precondition.

Morality also has a precondition and does not lack a precondition. What is the precondition of morality? Guarding the sense faculties (護諸根 Hù zhūgēn; Skt. gupta indriya? [5] ) is the precondition.

Guarding the sense faculties also has a precondition and does not lack a precondition. What is the precondition? Right mindfulness (正念 zhèng niàn Skt. samyak-smṛti), attentiveness (正智 zhèngzhì; Skt. saṃprajāna) [i.e. the eightfold path] is the precondition.

Mindfulness and attentiveness also has a precondition and does not lack a precondition. What is the precondition? Wise attention (正思惟 zhèng sīwéi; Skt. yoniśo manasikāra) [6] is the precondition.

Wise attention also has a precondition and does not lack a precondition. What is the precondition?
Faith (信 xìn; Skt. śraddhā) is the precondition.

Faith also has a precondition and does not lack a precondition. What is the precondition? Suffering (苦 kǔ; Skt. duḥkha) is the precondition.

Suffering also has a precondition and does not lack a precondition. What is the precondition of duḥkha? Old age and Death (老死 lǎosǐ; Skt. jarāmaraṇa) are the precondition.

Old age and death also have a precondition and do not lack a precondition. What is the precondition of old age and death?  (生 shēng; Skt. jāti) is the precondition.

Birth also has a precondition and does not lack a precondition. What is the precondition of birth?
Becoming (有 yǒu; Skt. bhava) is the precondition.

Becoming also has a precondition and does not lack a precondition. What is the precondition of birth?
Sensation (受 shòu; Skt. vedanā) is the precondition.

Sensation also has a precondition and does not lack a precondition. What is the precondition of sensation? [7] Desire (愛 ài; Skt. kānti; cf. 貪欲 tānyù; Skt. tṛṣṇā) is the precondition.

Desire also has a precondition and does not lack a precondition. What is the precondition of desire?
Contact (覺 jué; Skt. sprśati) is the precondition.

Contact also has a precondition and does not lack a precondition. What is the precondition of Contact?
Contact food [8] (更樂 gènglè; Skt. sparśo āhāra) is the precondition.

Contact food also has a precondition and does not lack a precondition. What is the precondition of contact food. The six sense faculties (六處 liù chù; Skt. sadāyatana) are the precondition.

The six sense faculties also have a precondition and do not lack a precondition. What is the precondition of six sense faculties? Name & form (名色 míng sè; Skt nāmarūpa) are the precondition.

Name & form also have a precondition and do not lack a precondition. What is the precondition of name & form? Awareness (識 shi; Skt. vijñāna) is the precondition.

Awareness also has a precondition and does not lack a precondition. What is the precondition of awareness? Constructs (行 xíng; Skt. saṃskāra) are the precondition.

Constructs also have a precondition and do not lack a precondition. What is the precondition of
constructs? Ignorance (無明 wúmíng; Skt. avidyā) is the precondition.

Ignorance is the cause (緣 yuán; Skt. pratyaya) of constructs; constructs cause awareness; awareness causes name & form; name & form causes the six sense faculties; the six sense faculties cause contact food; contact food causes contact; contact causes desire; desire causes sensation; sensation causes becoming; becoming causes birth; birth causes old age and death; old age and death cause suffering;
With suffering as a precondition there will be faith. With faith as a precondition, there will be wise attention. With wise attention as a precondition, there will be mindfulness & attentiveness. With mindfulness & attentiveness as a precondition there will be guarding the senses; morality; non-regret; joy; rapture; calming down; bliss; integration (samādhi); knowing and seeing things as they are; disgust; cessation of desire; liberation. With liberation as cause there will be nirvāna.

This is what the Buddha said. The bhikkhus heard and they all rejoiced.




[1] T01n0026_p0490c01(00)- T01n0026_p0491a13(00). "*Nirvāṇa Sūtra, the 55th sutra of T.99 中阿含經 *Madhyāgamasūtra" Note from  my friend Maitiu O'Ceileachair , henceforth [MO’C]

[2] This sūtra is the counterpart of the Pāli Upanisā Sutta (S 12.23). "Most of the other Sutras in this section deal with the same topic but they don't all give the the same chain. Sutras 42, 43, 47, and 50 give the chain from observing the precepts to nirvāṇa. Sutras 45 and 46 give a similar chain that starts with hrī and apatrāpya. Sutra 44 gives a chain starting with *saṃyagjñāna, saṃyaksaṃkalpa. Most of them are very short and give little more than lists of the links in the chain. Sutra 55 is probably the most detailed." [MO’C]

[3] 習 xí "usually means ‘to practice or become accustomed to’ and the only place I've seen it used to mean ‘cause or condition’ is in this sutra and the other sutras in this section of T.99." [MO’C] Here is stands for upaniṣad (Pāli upanisā) in the sense of underlying condition, or precondition. Bodhi uses the phrase ‘proximate condition’ in his translation of the Upanisā Sutta.

[4] Cf. 見 ‘see; darśana’; 如實 ‘reality, truth’, yathābhūta;jñāna; 如真 yathābhūta, tathatā; hence "to see reality, and know things as they are".

[5] 諸根 zhūgēn = indriya; 護 = ‘protect, guard’ and used to translate Skt. gupta as well as rakṣita, pāla and pālita. Perhaps Skt. indriyagupta? Cf. 守護根門 Shǒu hùgēn mén ‘guarding the sense gates’.

[6] This combination of characters is also used for samyak-samkalpa right-intention.

[7] Note that sensation and desire are given in reverse order in the Chinese text. This would seem to be a scribal error.

[8] I can’t find 更樂 per se, but Digital Dictionary of Buddhism has  "更樂食 (simplified 更乐食) [gēnglè shí] ‘sensory food’". In Yogācārabhūmi-śāstra (Translated Chapters)  By Maitreya Bodhisattva.  Buddha Education Foundation, 2012. http://buddhavacana.net/yogacarabhumi-sastra/  "Sensory food 觸食/樂食: the nourishment that one takes through the contacts of the six senses". (p.47) The collective term for the four kinds of food is catvāra āhārāḥ. In the Yogacarabhumi [manobhūmidvitīyā]  itself we find "| te punaścatvāra āhārāḥ | kavaḍaṅkāra āhāraḥ sparśo manaḥsañcetanā vijñānañ ca | http://dsbc.uwest.edu/manobhūmidvitīyā. The idea of contact as food occurs in the Pāli (See Nyanaponika 1981. ‘The Four Nutriments of Life: An Anthology of Buddhist Texts.’ Wheel Publication. No. 105/106 Buddhist Publication Society). But it is used very differently. In Pāli contact is nourishment; here contact-nourishment is a precondition for contact.

~~oOo~~
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