The Scripture Preached by the Buddha on the Total Extinction of the Dharma
Thus have I heard:
Once, the Buddha was in the state of Kushinagara (1); he was to attain Parinirvana in three months. Together with all the monks and all the bodhisattvas, an innumerable crowd came to visit the place where the Buddha was, and bowed themselves to the earth. The World-Honored One was still, silent and preaching nothing; his radiant brilliance was not manifested.
The wise and wordily Ánanda did obeisance, and said to the Buddha, “World-Honored One, whenever you have preached the Dharma, your majestic brilliance has been uniquely illustrious. But now, a great multitude has come together, and your radiance is not manifested in the slightest. What is the reason for this? A reason there certainly must be, and we wish to be taught its significance.”
The Buddha was silent, and made no response. After Ánanda had repeated the question three times, the Buddha told him, “After my nirvana, the Five Mortal Sins (2) will foul the world, and the Mara-way will flourish exceedingly. The Maras will become monks, to spoil and wreck my Way or they will wear lay dress, rejoicing in multicolored clothing. They will drink wine and eat meat, killing living things in their desire for fine flavors. They will not have compassionate minds, and they will hate and envy each other.
“At times, there will be Bodhisattvas, Pratyekabuddhas, and Arhats, who concentrate single-mindedly on cultivating merit and treat all beings with reverence; being the objects of the people’s devotion, they will impartially preach and convert. They will pity the poor and keep the old in their thoughts, and take care of those in poverty and difficulty. They will constantly induce the people to worship and serve scriptures and images, doing all good acts that bring merit; their wills and natures will be kind and good. They will not harass or injure people, but sacrifice themselves for the deliverance of others. They will not spare themselves, but will put up with insult, being benevolent and harmonious.
“Should there be such a being, the gang of Mara-monks will unite in hating him, slandering him and focusing on his bad points. He will be expelled and banished; they will not suffer him to remain. From then onwards they will all fail to cultivate merit according to the Way. Temples will be empty and desolate, and will no longer be repaired, but will be allowed to fall into ruin. The monks will covet nothing but material goods, accumulating them without distribution, not doing good deeds. They will deal in male and female slaves, plow the fields and plant them, burning off the mountain forests and harming all living things; they will not have compassionate minds. Male slaves will become monks, female slaves will become nuns; they will have none of the merit that comes from practicing the Way, but rather will be filthy and depraved, foul and turbulent; men and women will not be kept separate. The reason the Way will become shallow and weak, is all because of that type of person!
“Some will evade the constables by taking refuge in my Way, seeking to become monks, but not practicing the precepts and ordinances. At the middle and end of the lunar month, although in name they should chant the precepts, they will be tired of it and resentful; lazy and careless, and they will not wish to listen. They will select and abbreviate here and there, unwilling to speak everything. The scriptures will not be recited, and should there be readers, they will not know the characters and phrases; they will force interpretations and allege their accuracy, not bothering to ask people who know. In their haughtiness they will pursue fame, making a vain display of elegant manners with which to glorify themselves, and hope for people’s offerings.
“This gang of Mara-monks will be doomed to fall spirit and soul into Avici Hell after the end of their fated lives. In their punishment for the Five Mortal Sins, there is nothing they will not suffer as hungry ghosts and domestic animals, for as many kalpas as there are grains of sand in the Ganges. Their sin atoned for, only then will they come forth, but they will be born in a frontier state, where there will be no place that has the Three Treasures. (3)
“When the Dharma is on the verge of being destroyed, it is women who will concentrate on advancement, and have the habit of performing good deeds. Men will be lazy and indolent; they will have no use for the words of the Dharma. They will consider monks to be like befouled earth; they will not have believing minds.
“The Dharma is about to be wiped out, and when the time for that comes, all the Devas will weep tears. Rainy and dry seasons will be untimely, the Five Grains will not ripen, pestilential vapors will be prevalent; there will be many dead. The common people will toil in hardship, the public officials will be calculating and harsh; not compliant with the principles of the Way, all will have their hearts set on pleasure or disorder. Wicked men will steadily increase in number, to become like the sands of the sea; the good will be very scarce, no more than one or two.
“Because the kalpa is nearly at its end, the days and months will become shorter and shorter, and men’s lives will pass more and more hastily; their heads will be white at forty. Men will be filthy and depraved; they will exhaust their semen and shorten their lives, living at most to the age of sixty. The lives of men will become shorter, but the lives of women will become longer, to seventy or eighty or ninety; some will reach a hundred years.
“Great floods will suddenly occur; they will strike by surprise, unlooked-for. The people of the world will have no faith, and hence they will take the world to be permanent. Living creatures of every variety, with no distinction between gentry and the base, will be drowned and float away, dashed about, to be eaten by fish or turtles.
“At that time, there will be Bodhisattvas, Pratyekabuddhas, and Arhats; the gang of Maras will drive them away, and they will not participate in the religious community. These three types of disciples will enter into the mountains, to a land of merit. Tranquil and self-controlled, they will rest content in this. Their lives will grow longer, the various Devas will protect and watch over them, and Candraprabha (4) will appear in the world. They will be able to meet him, and together they will make my Way flourish.
“In fifty-two years after that, the Shurangama Scripture (5) and the pratyutpanna-samádhi (6) will prematurely change and vanish, and shortly afterwards the twelve divisions of the Mahayana canon will also be destroyed in their entirety, and will not appear again. The robes of the monks will spontaneously turn white. (7)
“When my Dharma is destroyed, the process will be comparable to an oil lamp, which, drawing close to the time it will go out, will shed an even greater radiance and brilliance, and then be extinguished. When my Dharma is destroyed, it will surely be like a lamp going out.
“What will happen then is not possible to describe in detail. But several thousand myriad years after this happens, Maitreya will descend to be Buddha in the world. All-under-Heaven will enjoy peace, prosperity, and equality; the pestilential vapors will be dispersed and expelled. The rain will be suitable to growth and no more, and the Five Grains will grow and flourish. Trees will grow large, and men will be eighty feet tall. All of them will live eighty-four thousand years. It is impossible to count how many living things will be able to be saved.”
The wise and worthy Ánanda made obeisance and said to the Buddha, “What shall we name this scripture? How is it to be venerated and practiced?”
The Buddha said to Ánanda, “The name of this scripture is “The Total Extinction of the Dharma.” Propagate it to all; you should cause all to have a clear, complete understanding of it. The merits of its accomplishments are limitless, and cannot be counted up.”
The four types of disciple heard the scripture; grief-stricken and rueful, all vowed to attain the Way of the Limitlessly High Sage Truth. All did obeisance to the Buddha, and departed.
1) A city in Central India, site of the Buddha’s Parinirvana.
2) Also known as the five Cardinal Sins, they are the most serious offences that any student of the Dharma can possibly commit. The five Cardinal sins are parricide, matricide, killing an Arhat, shedding the blood of a Buddha, and disrupting the Sangha.
3) The Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha.
4) In early Buddhism Candraprabha, the bodhisattva Moonlight, was associated with the decline and extinction of cosmic eras (as were the more renowned bodhisattva Maitreya and King Cakravarti). These kalpic changes were depicted in eschatological terms, especially in “apocryphal” (indigenous) works, with all the destruction and fury of the apocalypse. For a study of Candraprabha in Chinese Buddhist texts, see Emil Zürcher, “‘Prince Moonlight’: Messianism and Eschatology in Early Medieval Chinese Buddhism,” T’oung Pao 68 (1982), pps. 1-75.
5) The Shurangama Sutra
6) “The samádhi in which the Buddhas of the ten directions are seen as clearly as the stars at night.”
7) That is, the religious vocation will disappear.