The wrestler who had lost his Buddha Nature – the Maha Parinirvana Sutra

Here, in the Mahaparinirvana Sutra, one of the most important Sutras of Mahayana Buddhism, the Buddha reveals that all sentient beings, including you too possess a precious gem – a real treasure within us that we do not even realize that we have – the nature of a Buddha.

What’s this like?

It’s like a wrestler, who’s wearing a bead on his forehead.  But because of the hit’s he has taken, because of the force of the impacts, the bead gets hit right inside his forehead.  So that all that’s left is a swollen mass on his forehead and the wrestler thinks that he’s lost it.  Never realizing that it’s still there, underneath all the swelling and bleeding (which represents our impurities and afflictions) – but the precious jewel still lies there despite all the impurities that we have that cover it.  Our Buddha Nature is still there, underneath it all, shining brightly.

The Buddha said to Kasyapa:

“O good man! As an analogy: there is in the household of a king a great wrestler. He has an adamantine bead on his brow.

This man wrestles with other wrestlers. When [once] the head of another person touches his brow, the bead goes into the wrestler’s flesh, and there is no knowing where it is. A boil comes up there.

A good doctor is called in to cure it. At that time, there is a good doctor with a bright mind. He knows well how to diagnose and prescribe medicine. Now, he sees that this boil has appeared due to the bead’s having got into the wrestler’s body. He realises that this bead has entered the flesh and remains there.

Then, the good doctor asks the wrestler: “Where is that bead that was on your brow?” The wrestler is surprised and answers: “O great teacher and doctor! Has not the bead on my brow got lost? Where could the bead be now? Is this not a miracle [that you know about it]?” He is worried and weeps.

Then, the doctor pacifies the wrestler: “Do not be over-concerned. When you fought, the gem entered your body. It is now under your skin and can be seen, looming up.

As you fought, the poison of anger so burned that the gem got into your body and you did not feel it.”

But the wrestler does not believe the doctor’s words. “If it is under my skin, how is it that it does not come out because of the impure pus and blood? If it is in my sinews, we cannot possibly see it. Why do you mean to cheat me?”

Then, the doctor takes up a mirror and holds it in front of the wrestler’s face. The gem appears clearly in the mirror. The wrestler sees it, is surprised and is all wonder. It is like that. O good man!

The case is the same with all beings. They do not come near to a good teacher of the Way. So, they cannot see the Buddha-Nature which is within, even though they possess it. And they are reigned over by greed, lust, anger, and ignorance.

So they fall into the realms of hell, animals, hungry ghosts, asuras, candalas, and get born in such various houses as Kshatriya, Brahmin, Vaishya and Sudra. The karma generated by the mind leads a person, though born a human, into such lives as a cripple, lame, deaf, blind or dumb person, and to the 25 existences, where such as greed, lust, anger and ignorance reign over the mind, and the person is unable to know of the presence of the Buddha-Nature.

The wrestler says that the gem has gone away, even though it is [actually] in his body. The same with beings, too. Not having come into contact with a good teacher of the Way, they do not know the Tathagata’s hidden treasure and do not study selflessness. For example, even when a person is told of the unholy self, he cannot know the true quality of the Self. The same is true of my disciples. As they do not befriend a good teacher of the Way, they practise non-Self and do not know where it [Self] is. They do not know the true nature of selflessness. How, then, could they know the true nature of the Self itself? Thus, O good man, the Tathagata says that all beings possess the Buddha-Nature.

This is like the good doctor’s making the wrestler see where the adamantine jewel rests. All these beings are reigned over by innumerable defilements and thus do not know the whereabouts of the Buddha-Nature. When illusion is dispelled, there arises knowledge and brightness. This is like the wrestler’s seeing the gem in the mirror. O good man! It is thus the case that what rests undisclosed [latent] in the Tathagata is innumerable and is difficult for beings to think about.

Source: The Maha Parinirvana Sutra, Chapter 12: On the Tathagata-dhatu (the Buddha Nature)

Translated by KOSHO YAMAMOTO

FROM Dharmakshema’s Chinese version

Edited by Dr Tony Page, 2004


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