Shinnyo-en Celebrates the Feast of Nirvana

February 15, 2012

On February 15 this year, Shinnyo-en Members around the world will observe the Feast of Nirvana, an annual celebration of Buddha Shakyamuni's final teaching before his passing, at age 80 and 45 years after his enlightenment. Shakyamuni's final discourses and many of the most well-known episodes about his life were handed down through history as the Mahaparinirvana Sutra, the final summary and clarification of all his teaching.

Sanskrit fragments of the Mahaparinirvana Sutra have been dated to about the first century, and early versions have been found in Central Asia, Afghanistan, China, and Japan. The Mahaparinirvana Sutra is one of the major sutras of Mahayana Buddhism, the "Greater Vehicle" branch of Buddhism which emphasizes altruistically seeking a path for the enlightenment of all living beings.

While the Feast of Nirvana is celebrated by all Buddhists throughout the world, the observance is particularly important for Shinnyo-en members, because it is a reminder of the Mahaparinirvana Sutra, the ultimate and last teaching of Shakyamuni, a cornerstone of Shinnyo-en.

Shinnyo-en's Co-Founder, Shinjo Ito, was inspired by a version of the Mahaparinirvana Sutra called the Southern Text (36 fascicles or scrolls) first compiled in China in the fifth century CE. Shinjo Ito first studied the sutra in the 1930s during his training at Daigo-ji, the Shingon Buddhism head temple, and Shinjo Ito's subsequent teaching based on his reading of the Mahaparinirvana Sutra is one of the three founding pillars of Shinnyo-en, along with the teachings of Japanese Esoteric Buddhism and Shinnyo-en's distinguishing meditative practice called sesshin.

The Buddha promises in the Mahaparinirvana Sutra, that this sutra "is complete and perfect in every way, the treasure of all treasures." The Sutra says:

This profound sutra on mahaparinirvana is just like the sun that causes any fog to vanish.
When this sutra appears in the world, and if it reaches the ears of sentient beings, all ills and unrelenting negative karma will be extinguished.
No one can fathom the deep state that this great nirvana leads to. The Mahaparinirvana Sutra expounds the profound and hidden nature of tathagatas. Because of this, all good men and women will understand that tathagatas are ever-present and do not undergo change. Then the Dharma does not cease to exist, and the Sangha Jewel endures.
For this reason, one should master many good and skillful means and practice this sutra. Within a short time, such a person will truly attain perfect universal enlightenment."

Shinnyo-en emphasizes the key points of the Mahaparinirvana Sutra as follows:

  • Buddhahood is always present: the presence, guidance, and compassion of buddhas is timeless
  • All beings possess a buddha nature: there is an inner self that awakened is at one with Buddhahood
  • There is hope for everyone to attain nirvana: even those who try to harm the Buddha, Dharma, or Sangha can eventually be enlightened
  • Nirvana is of the present moment and characterized by permanence-bliss-self-purity. In other words, the state of nirvana is timeless, joyous, personal, and pure (clear and free)