In what does the general statement consist?
The Mahâyâna can be briefly treated as to two aspects, namely, What it is, and What it signifies. 1
What is the Mahâyâna? It is the soul 1 of all sentient beings (sarvasattva), that constitutes all things in the world, phenomenal and supra-phenomenal; 2 and through this soul we can disclose what the Mahâyâna signifies.
Because the soul in itself, involving the quintessence of the Mahâyâna, is suchness (bhûtatathatâ), but it becomes [in its relative or transitory aspect, through the law of causation] birth-and-death (samsâra) in which are revealed the quintessence, the attributes, and the activity of the Mahâyâna.
The Mahâyâna has a triple significance. 3
The first is the greatness of quintessence. Because the quintessence of the Mahâyâna as suchness
exists in all things, remains unchanged in the pure as well as in the defiled, is always one and the same (samatâ), neither increases nor decreases, and is void of distinction.
The second is the greatness of attributes. Here we have the Tathâgata's 1 womb 2 (tathâgatagarbha) which in exuberance contains immeasurable and innumerable merits (punya) as its characteristics.
The third is the greatness of activity, for it [i.e., Mahâyâna] produces all kinds of good work in the world, phenomenal and supra-phenomenal. [Hence the name Mahâyâna (great vehicle).]
[Again this Dharma is called the Mahâyâna;] because it is the vehicle} 3 (yâna) in which all Buddhas
from the beginning have been riding, and Bodhisattvas 1 when riding in it will enter into the state of Buddhahood.
52:1 "What is" and "What signifies" are respectively in Chinese yu fa and fa , but in the older translation fa and i . This is a little puzzling, but if we bear in mind that in Chinese as well as in Sanskrit fa or dharma means both the substance itself and its attribute or significance, or law that regulates its movements, we will understand that Paramârtha, the first translator, used fa here in the sense of substance or "what is," while Çikshânanda, the second translator, used the word in the sense of significance or that by which a thing is conceived, the ordinary meaning of i.
53:1 "Soul '' is not used here in a dualistic sense, but as Dr. Paul Carus defines it in the last chapter of The Soul of Man. Speaking of the soul of the universe he defines the term as "the formative principle which gave and still gives shape to the world" (loc. cit., first edition, p. 437). The literal translation of the Chinese character hsin is kernel, or heart, or essence of all things. The Chinese hsin, however, is rather indiscriminately used in our text for both Sanskrit terms, Hrdaya (kernel or heart) and Citta (mind, the thinking faculty). These terms are more or less synonymous, especially from Açvaghosha's standpoint, that does not allow the transcendental existence of a metaphysical soul-entity. In this translation soul denotes the absolute aspect of suchness, and mind its relative aspect, wherever this distinction is noticeable.
53:2 This is a literal translation of the Chinese chu shi chien . It signifies anything transcending conditionality or worldliness.
53:3 This triad which has a striking similarity to Spinoza's conception of substance, attributes and modes, also reminds us of the first principles (padârtha) of the Vaiçeshika philosophy, that is, substance (dravya), qualities (guna), and action (karma).
54:1 Tathâgata literally means one who thus or truly comes. That the omnipresent principle of suchness could come or go appeared contradictory and seemed to render an explanation necessary. The Vajracchedikâ-Sûtra, Max Müller's English translation, Chap. XXIX: "And again, O Subhûti, if anybody were to say that the Tathâgata goes, or comes, or stands, or sits, or lies down, he, O Subhûti, does not understand the meaning of my preaching. And why? Because the word Tathâgata means one who does not go anywhere, and does not come from anywhere; and therefore he is called the Tathâgata (truly come), holy and fully enlightened."
54:2 Cf. the Bhavadgîtâ (Sacred Books of the East, Vol. VIII., Chap. XIV., p. 107): "The great Brahman is a womb for me, in which I cast the seed. From that, O descendant of Bharata! is the birth of all things. Of the bodies, O son of Kuntî! which are born from all wombs, the main womb is the great Brahman, and I am the father, the giver of the seed."
54:3 Cf. the Saddharma-pundarîka, Chap. II. (Sacred Books of the East, Vol. XXI., p. 40): "By means of one sole vehicle, to wit, the Buddha-vehicle, Çâriputra, do I teach creatures the law; there is no second, nor a third."
55:1 Literally, one who seeks perfect enlightenment, or one who is full of wisdom and compassion.