Chapter 15: The Moon Parable
The Buddha told Kasyapa, “It is just like when people see the moon not appear and say ‘The moon has disappeared!’ and think that it has disappeared. Yet, the moon’s nature really has not disappeared. It cyclically appears in places in other directions, and the sentient beings there say ‘The moon has appeared’. Yet, the moon’s nature really has not appeared. And why? It is because it is blocked from view by Mount Sumeru that it disappears. The moon’s nature of constantly arising has not appeared or disappeared. The Tathaagata, the Arhat, the one of perfect knowledge, is also again so. He appears in the trichiliocosm, or manifests in Jambudvipa having a father and mother. Sentient beings say that he is born in Jambudvipa, or in Jambuvipa he displays Nirvana. But, the nature of the Tathaagata really has no Nirvana. Yet, the senteint beings all say the Tathaagata really enters Parinirvana.
“Take the example of the moon disappearing. Good son, the nature of the Tathaagata is really without any birth or death. It is for the sake of transforming sentient beings that he makes a show of being born or dying. Good son, it is just as the full moon is seen in another direction as half, and the half moon in other directions is seen as full by people in Jambudvipa, or other people see the moon as new. They all say that on the first day the moon rises anew. And when they see the moon completely full they say on the fifteenth day it rises completely full. Yet, the moon’s nature is without waning or waxing. The cause is Mount Sumeru, then, [657b] that it increases or decreases. Good son, the Tathagata is also so in Jambudvipa, whether appearing to be newly born or displaying Nirvana. When he appears as a newborn, he is just like the new moon. Everyone says that the infant child at birth walked seven paces. As on the second day of the moon, again he appears to enter the academy. Like the third day of the moon, he appears to renounce the household life. Like the eighth day of the moon, he emits the great wisdom’s fine and wonderous light which is capable of destroying the infinite maras of sentient beings. Like the fifteenth day of the completely full moon, he displays the thirty-two signs and eighty kinds of excellencies that adorn him. And his show of Parinirvana is just like the lunar eclipse. Thus, sentient beings see him unequally, as they see the half moon, or the full moon, or the lunar eclipse. Yet, the moon’s nature really is without increase or decrease, there is no loss or eclipse of it. Always it is a full moon. The body of the Tathaagata is also so. This is why it is said to be constantly abiding and unchanging.
“Furthermore, good son, take for example the full moon appearing in its entirety. In every place among the cities, villages, and hamlets; the mountains, in the rivers, or wells, or ponds, and in containers of water; in all these its reflection appears. There are sentient beings who walk a hundred yojanas or a hundred thousand yojanas, and they see the moon always following them. An ordinary foolish person might mistakenly give rise to a regretful thought, saying, ‘In the past I was in cities, villages, and homes and there saw the moon. Now, again, in these empty pools of water I see it again. Is this that past moon or it is a different moon than the one in the past?’ Each think to themselves, ‘The moon’s image is larger or smaller’ or they say, ‘it is like a silver mouth’, or they say ‘it is like a cart wheel’, or they say ‘it is like forty nine yojanas in size’. All of them see the light of the moon, or they see it perfectly round just like the golden disc of the sun. The moon’s nature is singular, but the variety of sentient beings each see differing aspects of it.
“Good son, the Tathaagata is also so. He appears in the world and there are some humans or Gods who think, ‘The Tathaagata now abides before me’, or there animals who also think, ‘The Tathaagata now abides before me’. Or there are some who are deaf and mute who also see the Tathaagata as having the characteristic of being deaf and mute. The sentient beings in their various species and languages each differ, but all say the Tathaagata speaks the same language as they. And, also, each gives rise to the thought, ‘He stays in my household and receives my offerings’. Some sentient beings see the Tathaagata’s body as vast, huge, and infinite and some see it as minutely small. Some see the Buddha with the appearance of a shravaka, some see him with the appearance of the pratyeka-buddha, and those of other paths again each think, ‘The Tathaagata now rests in my Dharma and leaves the household to studies the way.’ There are some sentient beings who again think, ‘The Tathaagata appears in the world in order to come into contact with me.’ The Tathaagata’s real nature is like that of the moon. And so the essentual body (dharma-kaaya) is an unarisen body. The body of skillful means conforms to the world, displaying of infinite roots of karmic circumstances. In every place, he makes a show of being birth, just as does the moon. What is the meaning of this? The Tathaagata constantly abides, devoid of any change or difference.
“Furthermore, Good son, it is just as when Ruhula the Asura king blocks the moon with his hand and the people of the world all claim that the moon has been eaten. The Asura king, however, in reality cannot eat the moon. It is simply that the Asura king has obstructed its light. The moon is perfectly round and full and does not wane and become smaller. It is only because of the obstructing hand that it does not appear so. And when he retracts his hand, the worldly people all claim that the moon is again reborn. Their claims that the moon has suffered numerous injuries is a convention. One hundred thousand Asura kings could not harm it.
“The Tathaagata is also so. Appearing to be a sentient being, the beings of coarse and wicked minds regard the Tathaagata as a produced Buddha body, their blood rising to the five wicked deeds and becoming icchantikas. Because of these sentient beings’ future lives, there thus will be displayed the destruction of the sangha and end of the Dharma, and putting a stop to this will be difficult. It the case, however, that the infinite hundeds of thousands of kotis of maras are unable to harm the production of body or blood of the Tathaagata. And why is that? The Tathaagata’s body has no blood, flesh, muscle, veins, bone, or marrow. The Tathaagata in reality really is invulnerable.
Sentient beings who say that the Dharma and Sangha is harmed or destroyed and the Tathaagata dead. However, the Tathaagata’s nature in reality is changeless and indestructible. It is in conformance to the worldly that he thus is displayed.
“Furthermore, Good son, it is like two people fight. Suppose one uses a blade to defend himself wounds the other, causing him to bleed. Although the other may die, he did not give rise to a murderous thought. Thus, the mark of his karma would be light and not heavy. If it were the Tathaagata, he himself has no murderous thoughts. Although he might cause [the Tathaagata’s] body to bleed, the karma also would be so; light and not heavy. The Tathaagata thusly in a future life would transform into a sentient being, appearing as a karmic reward.
“Furthermore, Good son, it is just like a physician who endevours to teach his son the medical uses of roots, saying, ‘These are the medicinal roots, the medicinal stalks, and other medicinal materials. The variety of characteristics
and appearances of them you should be well know.’ His son respectfully recieved his father’s admonition to endevour and constantly studied the skillful understanding of the medicines. And after the physician’s lifespan was done and his life ended, his son fondly remembered him and said, ‘Father himself taught me, “Thus are the medicinal roots, thus the medicinal stalks, thus the medicinal flowers, and thus the form and characteristics of them.”’ “The Tathaagata is also so. In order to transform the sentient beings, he shows them the commandments and precepts which they must thusly recieve, uphold, and not transgress, nor commit the five wicked deeds or slander the true Dharma and be an icchantika. It is so that in future lives there arises these matters that he appears. He wishes to lead the bhiksus so that after the Buddha has passed on they might thus know the recorded Suutras’ deep and profound meaning, the marks of the vinaya precepts slight and grave, and the abhidharma’s which discernment of the Dharma words, so they will be just like that physician’s son.
“Furthermore, good son, it is as when someone watches the moon for six months and sees it eaten once, yet above in the heavens it is watched for but a moment and the moon is eclipsed. And why? Because a day in heaven to ancient beings is brief. Good son, the Tathaagata is also so. Gods and men all say that the Tathaagata’s lifespan is brief, like that God who for a moment watches and the moon is eclipsed. The Tathaagata also is among them for but a moment, showing Nirvana to the hundreds of thousands of nayutas of kotis [of beings]. He ends the mara of affliction, the mara of skandhas, and the mara of death. This is why the hundreds of thousands of nayutas of kotis of heavenly maras all know that the Tathaagata has entered Parinirvana. And also that he appears due to hundreds of thousands of former karmic causes and conditions. Because he conforms to the various dispositions of the worldly, he displays thusly the infinite, limitless, and inconceivable. This is why the Tathaagata is eternally abiding and unchanging.
“Furthermore, good son, it is just as the moonlight is enjoyable for sentient beings to see. This why they commend the moon, calling it enjoyable to see. If the sentient beings are greedy, angry, foolish, or deluded; then, they would not be able to commend it as being enjoyable to see. The Tathaagata thus has a nature which is harmonious, good, pure, and undefiled. This is quite commendable and enjoyable to see. Enjoying the Dharma, the sentient beings look upon him without repulsion. People of wicked minds, however, are not gladdened when they look upon him. What does that mean? This is why it is said that the Tathaagata is like the light of the moon.
“Furthermore, good son, it is just as how the day has three periods that are different [in length]. The winter days are brief, the spring days are average, and the summer days are the very longest. The Tathaagata is also so. In this trichiliocosm his lifspan is brief, and the voice hearer’s display also a brief lifespan. These having been seen, all say that the Tathagata’s lifespan is brief, like the winter day. The bodhisattvas show average-length lifespans, whether for a kalpa or a partial kalpa, like the spring day. Only the Buddha sees the Buddha’s own lifespan to be infinite, just like the summer day. Good son, the Tathaagata has said that the methods of the Mahayana teaching are subtle and esoteric. It appears in the world, raining the great Dharma rain. In future lives, if a person is able to protect and uphold the canon, to them will be revealed and discerned the blessing to sentient beings. It should be known that this comrade is a true bodhisattva. Just like the abundance of the summer, the heavens give up the sweet rain. If there are shravakas or pratyeka-buddhas who hear the Buddha’s, the Tathaagata’s, subtle and esoteric teaching, then it would be just as during the winter days are numerously encountered ice and illnesses. If a bodhisattva hears thus the subtle and esoteric teaching and is instructed that the Tathaagata is of a constantly abiding nature and unchanging, it would be as during the spring days that antlers [658b] sprout and spread out. Yet the Tathaagata’s nature is really neither long nor short. It is for the worldly that it appears thus. This then is Buddhas’ true underlying reality (dharmata).
“Furthermore, good son, it is just as when the myriad stars at noontime do not appear. And so people say that at noontime the stars perish and disapear. But really, though, they do not disapear. It is because the sunlight conceals them that they do not appear. The Tathaagata is also so. The shravaka and pratyeka-buddha are unable to see him, just as the worldly person cannot see the stars at noon.
“Furthermore, good son, it is just like when the overcast sky causes the moon and sun to not appear and the foolish person says that the sun and moon are lost and have disappeared. Yet the sun and moon really have not been lost or have disappeared. When the Tathagata’s true Dharma has past away, the three jewels will appear to disappear and also again will not be forever ceased. This is why it should be know that the Tathaagata is eternally abiding and without any change. And why? Because the real nature of the three jewels is does not become stained by defilements.
“Furthermore, good son, it is just as when the moon is dark and the night sky is swept with stars. Their light shines and blazes for a time and them disappear again. Sentient beings seeing this think it an ill omen. The pratyeka-buddhas are also so when they appear in a world without a Buddha. The sentient beings who see this say that the Tathaagata really has perished and there arises in them sorrow and grief. However, the Tathaagata’s body really is indestructible, like the sun and moon are without any ceasation or disappearance.
“Furthermore, good son, it is just as when the sun goes behind a mist and becomes completely hidden. This great Nirvana that is a subtle and wondrous Sutra is also again so, being produced in the world. If there are sentient beings who have an ear for the Sutra, they would be capable of putting to rest all evils and not longer be amidst wicked karma. This great Nirvana is profound and deep, its perspective inconceivable. Skillfully speaking of the nature of the Tathaagata is subtle and esoteric. What does this mean? Good sons and good daughters should regarding the Tathagata bring forth the thought of his being constantly abiding, devoid of any change, the true Dharma that is unending, and the sangha imperishable. This is why one should cultivate numerous skillful means and endevour to study this text. It would not be long for such a person to attain the supremely unexcelled enlightenment. This is why this Sutra is called the completion of infinite virtue. It is also called the enlightenment that is invulnerable. Because it is invulnerable is the reason that it has obtained the title ‘Great Parinirvana’. Because it possesses the good light, is it like the summer days. Because the body is limitless, it is called the Great Nirvana.”