Tài năng là do bẩm sinh, hãy khiêm tốn. Danh vọng là do xã hội ban cho, hãy biết ơn. Kiêu căng là do ta tự tạo, hãy cẩn thận. (Talent is God-given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful.)John Wooden
Ngu dốt không đáng xấu hổ bằng kẻ không chịu học. (Being ignorant is not so much a shame, as being unwilling to learn.)Benjamin Franklin
Cuộc đời là một tiến trình học hỏi từ lúc ta sinh ra cho đến chết đi. (The whole of life, from the moment you are born to the moment you die, is a process of learning. )Jiddu Krishnamurti
Người ta trói buộc với vợ con, nhà cửa còn hơn cả sự giam cầm nơi lao ngục. Lao ngục còn có hạn kỳ được thả ra, vợ con chẳng thể có lấy một chốc lát xa lìa.Kinh Bốn mươi hai chương
Nghệ thuật sống chân chính là ý thức được giá trị quý báu của đời sống trong từng khoảnh khắc tươi đẹp của cuộc đời.Tủ sách Rộng Mở Tâm Hồn
Nên biết rằng tâm nóng giận còn hơn cả lửa dữ, phải thường phòng hộ không để cho nhập vào. Giặc cướp công đức không gì hơn tâm nóng giận.Kinh Lời dạy cuối cùng
Tôn giáo không có nghĩa là giới điều, đền miếu, tu viện hay các dấu hiệu bên ngoài, vì đó chỉ là các yếu tố hỗ trợ trong việc điều phục tâm. Khi tâm được điều phục, mỗi người mới thực sự là một hành giả tôn giáo.Đức Đạt-lai Lạt-ma XIV
Mạng sống quý giá này có thể chấm dứt bất kỳ lúc nào, nhưng điều kỳ lạ là hầu hết chúng ta đều không thường xuyên nhớ đến điều đó!Tủ sách Rộng Mở Tâm Hồn
Dầu mưa bằng tiền vàng, Các dục khó thỏa mãn. Dục đắng nhiều ngọt ít, Biết vậy là bậc trí.Kinh Pháp cú (Kệ số 186)
Hãy sống tốt bất cứ khi nào có thể, và điều đó ai cũng làm được cả.Đức Đạt-lai Lạt-ma XIV

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Common Buddhist Text - Guidance and Insight from the Buddha
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Phật Điển Phổ Thông - Dẫn vào tuệ giác Phật - Chương 2. CÁC QUAN ĐIỂM KHÁC NHAU VỀ ĐỨC PHẬT

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THERAVĀDA

Th.1 Qualities of the Buddha

This is part of a passage on the Three Refuges (see *Th.93) that is frequently chanted in Pāli in devotional settings, as well as being reflected on in devotional meditations.

Here, monks, a noble disciple who is endowed with confirmed confidence in the Buddha thus: ‘The Blessed one is an arahant,115 perfectly awakened Buddha, one endowed with knowledge and conduct, Fortunate One, knower of the worlds, incomparable trainer of persons to be tamed, teacher of gods and humans, awakened one, Blessed One.’

Rājā Sutta: Saṃyutta-nikāya V.343, trans. P.H.

The Buddha’s relation to the Dhamma

The nature of the Buddha is seen as closely related to the Dhamma, in the sense of his teachings, the path to the Buddhist goal, and this goal itself, nirvana. be called either saṃsāra or nirvana.

Th.2 Who sees the Dhamma sees the Buddha

Even if, monks, a monk should dwell seven hundred miles away, but be one who has not become covetous … or with a mind of ill-will, … (and is) one with mindfulness present, clearly comprehending, composed, with one-pointedness of mind, restrained senses, then such a one is really in my presence. What is the reason for this? For this monk sees Dhamma, and, in seeing Dhamma, sees me.

Saṅghāṭikaṇṇe Sutta: Itivuttaka 91, trans. P.H.

Th.3 Buddhas as having become Dhamma

In this passage, the arahant Mahā-kaccāna describes the Buddha as the source of explanations of Dhamma.

Knowing, the Blessed One knows; seeing, he sees; he has become vision, become knowledge, become Dhamma, become the highest, he is the sayer, the proclaimer, the elucidator of meaning, the giver of the deathless (nirvana), the master of Dhamma, the Tathāgata (see *L.20).

Madhupiṇḍaka Sutta: Majjhima-nikāya I.111, trans. P.H.

Th.4 The Buddha as embodying Dhamma

These passages introduce the compound term ‘dhamma-kāya’ (Pāli, Skt dharma-kāya), which was to be much reflected on and extended in Mahāyāna Buddhism (see *M.9–11, *V.2). Kāya means ‘body’, but can mean this in the sense of a ‘collection’, including a collection of mental qualities. In a compound, one cannot tell if the first word is singular or plural, so dhamma- can mean the Dhamma, or dhammas, qualities developed on the path. In the first passage, the compound is an adjective and seems to mean that the Buddha is one whose ‘body’ of qualities, i.e. character, is Dhamma: he is one with a body of Dhamma-qualities, he embodies the Dhamma. The lead-up to this passage is given below as *Th.44. In the second passage, in which the compound is a noun, the arahant-nun Mahā-pajāpatī, the Buddha’s step-mother, speaks to the Buddha.

Vāseṭṭha, he whose faith in the Tathāgata has taken root and become established, firm, unshakeable by any renunciant, brahmin, god, māra or brahmā or any other person in the world, it is fit for him to say: “I am a legitimate son of the Blessed One, born of his mouth, born of Dhamma, produced by Dhamma, created by Dhamma, inheritor of Dhamma. What is the reason for this? Because, Vāseṭṭha, these are designations of the Tathāgata, ‘one whose body (of qualities) is Dhamma (Dhamma-kāyo)’, ‘one whose body (of qualities) is the highest (brahmā)’, ‘become Dhamma’, become the highest.’

Aggañña Sutta: Dīgha-nikāya III.84, trans. P.H.

I, Fortunate One, I am your mother; you, O wise one, are my father:
Lord, you give the happiness of the good Dhamma, (so) I am born from you, Gotama!

Fortunate One, this body of material form of yours was reared by me.
But my flawless dhamma-body (body of good qualities) was reared by you.

Therī-apadāna, section 17, vv. 31–32: Apadāna p.532, trans. P.H.

The nature of the Buddha

Th.5 Is a Buddha simply a human?

The introduction to passage *L.38 refers to the ‘thirty-two characteristics of a great man’, that a Buddha and a universal, ‘Wheel-turning’ monarch are seen to have. This shows that even the physical body of a Buddha is seen as wondrous, and as being karmically influenced by his perfections built up over many lives. In this striking passage, someone sees one of the thirty-two characteristics of a great man in the Buddha’s footprint, and thinks that such a being cannot be human. He then meets the Buddha and asks him whether he might be a god, divine musician, a nature spirit or – a human. The Buddha says he is none of these (and also has no future lives in which he would be any of them) but, standing above the world in which he has developed he is, precisely, a Buddha.

Then Doṇa, following the Blessed One’s footprints, saw him sitting at the root of the tree: graceful, inspiring confidence, with peaceful faculties and peaceful mind, having attained the utmost control and tranquillity, (like) a tamed and guarded bull elephant with his senses restrained.

On seeing him, he went to him and said, ‘Sir, could you be a god?’ ‘No, brahmin, I will116 not be a god.’ ‘Could you be a divine musician?’ ‘No, brahmin, I will not be a divine musician.’ ‘Could you be a nature spirit? ‘No, brahmin, I will not be a nature spirit.’ ‘Could you be a human being? ‘No, brahmin, I will not be a human being.’

‘… Then what could you be?’ ‘Brahmin, the intoxicating inclinations by which – if they were not abandoned – I would be a god: those are abandoned by me, their root destroyed, made like a palm-tree stump, deprived of the conditions of development, not destined for future arising. The intoxicating inclinations by which – if they were not abandoned – I would be a divine musician … a nature spirit … a human being: those are abandoned by me, their root destroyed, made like a palm-tree stump, deprived of the conditions of development, not destined for future arising.

Just like a red, blue, or white lotus flower that, though born in the water, grown up in the water, rising up above the water, stands unsoiled by the water, in the same way, though born in the world, grown up in the world, I have overcome the world and live unsoiled by the world. Remember me, brahmin, as a Buddha (awakened one).’

Doṇa Sutta: Aṅguttara-nikāya II.37–9, trans. P.H.

The Buddha, his perfections built up in past lives as a bodhisatta, and his awakened disciples

Th.6 Jātaka stories and the perfections of the bodhisatta

Our present Buddha is seen to have met a past Buddha many lives ago, and resolved to become a Buddha like him. He is then seen to have gone on to develop his moral and spiritual qualities in many lives, in which he meets various other past Buddhas. A rich kind of literature dealing with some of the lives of the bodhisatta (a being dedicated to Buddhahood) who became the historical Buddha consists of the jātaka stories. The Pāli Canon jātaka section contains 547 of these in verse form, and the commentarial prose expands these into a range of morality tales, which no doubt partly drew on and adapted Indian folk tales. The Cariyā-piṭaka (III.15 vv.8–11), or ‘Basket of Conduct’, is a short text (37 pages) of the Pāli Canon, one of the last to be included. This focuses on certain jātaka stories to exemplify the bodhisatta’s ten ‘perfections’ (Pāli pāramī, Skt pāramitā): generosity, ethical discipline, renunciation, wisdom, vigour, patient acceptance, truthfulness, resolute determination, loving kindness and equanimity. Each of these is said to exist as a perfection, then as a ‘higher perfection’ (upapāramī), then as an ‘ultimate perfection’ (paramattha-pāramī; Buddhavaṃsa I.77). These are seen by some as developed respectively by an arahant, a solitary-buddha and a perfect Buddha. The following passage is from a jātaka story telling of the bodhisatta as Magha, who led others in doing works of benefit to the community, but was then wrongly accused of theft. Being sentenced, with his fellows, to being trampled to death by an elephant, he protected them all by urging them to have lovingkindness for the slanderer, the king who had ordered their punishment, and the elephant.

Another time these thirty men were led by the bodhisatta to have the same purpose as himself; he established them in the five ethical precepts, and afterwards used to go about with them doing good deeds. … With their staves they used to roll out of the way all the stones that lay on the … roads of the village; they cut down trees that would strike against the axles of chariots; they made rough places smooth; they built causeways and a hall, and dug water-tanks; they practised generosity and kept the precepts. In this way did most of the villagers generally follow the bodhisatta’s teachings and kept the precepts.

But the village headman thought, ‘When these men used to get drunk and commit murders, etc., I used to make a lot of money out of them, not only on the price of their drinks, but also by the fines and dues they paid. But now there is this young Brahmin Magha bent on getting them to keep the precepts; he is putting a stop to murder and other crime’. And in his anger, he cried, ‘I’ll make them keep the five precepts!’.

And he went to the king, saying, ‘Sire, there is a band of robbers going about sacking villages and committing other bad actions’. When the king heard this, he told the headman to bring the men before him. … [which he then did, slandering them to the king]. Without any enquiry, the king commanded offhand that they should be trampled to death by an elephant. So they then made them lie down in the king’s courtyard and sent for the elephant. But the bodhisatta exhorted them, saying, ‘Bear in mind the precepts; cultivate loving kindness equally for the slanderer, the king and the elephant, and your own bodies’.

Then the elephant was brought to trample them to death. But however much he was led, he would not approach them, but fled, trumpeting loudly. Elephant after elephant was brought up, but they all fled like the first. Thinking that the men must have some drug about their persons, the king had them searched, but was told that nothing had been found. ‘Then they must be muttering some mantra’, said the king, ‘ask them whether they have such a mantra’. The question being put to him, the bodhisatta said that they had got a mantra. …so the king had them all summoned to his presence and said ‘Tell me your mantra’.

The bodhisatta replied, ‘Sire, we have no other s mantra than this: that not a man among the thirty of us kills, takes what is not given, misconducts himself (sexually), or lies; we drink no strong drink; we cultivate loving kindness; we practise generosity; we level roads, dig tanks, and build a public hall: this is our mantra, our protection and our strength’.

Well pleased with them, the king gave them all the wealthy in the slanderer’s house, and made him their servant.

Kulāvaka-jātaka: Jātaka I.199-200, trans. P.H.

Th.7 The Buddha and other arahants

Passage *L.18 shows that a perfectly awakened Buddha is one who rediscovers the path to liberation when it has been lost. This passage shows that this is the key difference between a perfectly awakened Buddha and other arahants, his awakened disciples.

Therein, what is the distinction, the disparity and difference between the Tathāgata, arahant, perfectly awakened Buddha, and a monk liberated by wisdom? … The Tathāgata, arahant, perfectly awakened Buddha is the one who makes arise the previously unarisen path, the producer of the previously unproduced path, the declarer of the previously undeclared path. He is the knower of, discoverer of and one skilled in the path. And his disciples now dwell following that path and become endowed with it afterwards.

Sambuddha Sutta: Saṃyutta-nikāya III.66, trans. P.H.

Th.8 A Buddha knows much but only teaches what is spiritually useful

This passage suggests that a Buddha also knows much more than other arahants, but only teaches what helps others attain liberation.

At one time the Blessed One was staying at Kosambī in a siṃsapā grove. Then the Blessed One, taking a few siṃsapā leaves in his hand, said to the monks: ‘What do you think, monks? Which are the more numerous, the few leaves I have here in my hand, or those up in the trees of the grove?’

‘Venerable sir, the Blessed One is holding only a few leaves: those up in the trees are far more numerous.’

‘In the same way, monks, the things that I have directly known, but not taught to you, are numerous. What I have taught to you is only a little. And why, monks, have I not taught it? Because, monks, it is not related to the goal, it is not fundamental to the holy life, does not conduce to disenchantment, to dispassion, to cessation, to tranquillity, to higher knowledge, to awakening to nirvana. That is why I have not taught it. And what, monks, have I taught? I have taught: ‘This is the painful’; I have taught: ‘This is the origin of the painful’; I have taught: ‘This is the cessation of the painful’; I have taught: ‘This is the way leading to the cessation of the painful.’

Siṃsapā Sutta: Saṃyutta-nikāya V.437–478, trans. P.H.

Th.9 The nature of arahantship

These passages briefly encapsulate the nature of the arahant (literally ‘worthy one’), one who has used the teachings and practices taught by the Buddha to end all causes of the painful, experienced nirvana, and thus reached the end of all rebirths. These vary in the extent to which they have such powers as knowledge of past rebirths, and their abilities as teachers. (See also *Th.205ff).

‘Friend Sāriputta, it is said “arahantship, arahantship”. What now is arahantship?’ ‘The destruction of attachment, the destruction of hate, the destruction of delusion: this, friend is called arahantship.’

Arahantta Sutta: Saṃyutta-nikāya IV.252, trans. P.H.

Calm is the mind, calm the speech and the action

Of such a one who is tranquil and freed by perfect gnosis.

Dhammapada 96, trans. P.H.

The status of the Buddha beyond his death

As seen in *Th.20, the Buddha refused to answer the ‘undetermined’ questions: of whether, after death, a Tathāgata ‘is’, ‘is not’, ‘both is and is not’ or ‘neither is nor is not’. The word for ‘is’ here, hoti, is often used for asserting identities, such as ‘the brahmin is a minister’, or as equivalent to ‘occurs’; it is about events and identities in time. Now it is clear from the texts that a Buddha or other awakened person is not reborn in any way: one cannot say that such a person ‘is’ after death in some temporal realm. But nor can one say that he or she completely ‘is not’, if this is equivalent to saying ‘one whose intoxicating inclinations are destroyed (an arahant) is annihilated and perishes with the dissolution of the body and is not after death’ (Saṃyutta-nikāya III.110). The ‘both is and is not’ rejected possibility probably means that an awakened person exists after death in a state in which only part of their nature is reborn as in a formless state beyond physicality, and the ‘neither is nor is not’ one means being in an extremely attenuated state: rebirth in the highest formless state, the sphere of ‘neither-perception-nor-non-perception’. Further, those who ask about the fate of a Tathāgata after death are seen to wrongly see him as an awakened Self-essence.

Th.10 The Tathāgata as immeasurable like the ocean

In this passage the wanderer Vaccahagotta asks the Buddha about the fate of an awakened person after death. The Buddha does not accept any of the four proposed possibilities and says that asking which of them applies is like asking which direction an extinguished fire goes in. Given that ‘fire’ (heat) is seen as one of the component elements of any physical thing, and that one of the rejected options is that an awakened person is annihilated at death, this simile cannot mean that an awakened person totally ends at death. Rather, like a fire without fuel (upādāna), such a person has no grasping (upādāna) that could lead to any rebirth. Even in life, they are seen as ‘profound … hard to fathom as is the great ocean’, due to having abandoned any grasping at, and thus identification through, the five kinds of bodily and mental processes making up a person. The Milindapañha (p.73), an early post-canonical text, says that the Buddha still ‘exists’, cannot be located, but can be pointed to by means of the body/collection of Dhamma (Dhamma-kāya)’, for he taught the Dhamma.

But, Master Gotama, the monk whose mind is thus liberated, where does he reappear (after death)?’ ‘“Reappear”, Vaccha, does not apply.’ ‘In that case, Master Gotama, he does not reappear.’

‘‘‘Does not reappear”, Vaccha, does not apply.’ ‘… both does and does not reappear.’ ‘... doesn’t apply.’ ‘... neither does nor does not reappear.’ ‘... doesn’t apply.’

‘… At this point, Master Gotama, I am bewildered; at this point, confused. My measure of confidence arising from earlier conversation with Master Gotama has now disappeared.’ ‘Of course you’re bewildered, Vaccha. Of course you’re confused. This Dhamma is profound, difficult to see, difficult to understand, peaceful, sublime, beyond the scope of mere reasoning, subtle, to be experienced by the wise. For those with other views, other practices, other satisfactions, other aims, other teachers, it is difficult to know. That being the case, I will now put some questions to you. Answer as you see fit.

What do you think, Vaccha: If a fire were burning in front of you, would you know that, “This fire is burning in front of me”?’ ‘... yes ….’ ‘And suppose someone were to ask you, Vaccha, “This fire burning in front of you, dependent on what is it burning?” Thus asked, how would you reply?’ ‘... I would reply, “This fire burning in front of me is burning dependent on grass and timber as its fuel.”’ ‘If the fire burning in front of you were to go out, would you know that, “This fire burning in front of me has gone out”?’ ‘... yes ....’ ‘And suppose someone were to ask you, “This fire that has gone out in front of you, in which direction from here has it gone? To the east, the west, the north, or the south?” Thus asked, how would you reply?’ ‘That doesn’t apply, Master Gotama. Any fire burning dependent on a fuel of grass and timber, when that is used up, if it does not get any more fuel, being without sustenance, is reckoned simply as “gone out”.’

‘Even so, Vaccha, any material form by which one describing the Tathāgata might describe him: that the Tathāgata has abandoned, its root destroyed, made like a palm-tree stump, deprived of the conditions of development, not destined for future arising. The Tathāgata is liberated from being reckoned in terms of material form, Vaccha, he is profound, immeasurable, hard to fathom as is the great ocean. “Reappears” does not apply. “Does not reappear” does not apply. “Both does and does not reappear’” does not apply. “Neither reappears nor does not reappear” does not apply. Any feeling ... Any perception ... Any volitional activities ... Any consciousness by which one describing the Tathāgata would describe him: that the Tathāgata has abandoned, its root destroyed, made like a palm-tree stump, deprived of the conditions of development, not destined for future arising. The Tathāgata is liberated from being reckoned in terms of feeling, perception, volitional activities or consciousness, Vaccha, he is profound, immeasurable, hard to fathom as is the great ocean.

Aggi-vacchagotta Sutta: Majjhima-nikāya I.486–488, trans. P.H.

Th.11 Beyond death, an awakened one is beyond words

This passage emphasizes that an awakened one beyond death (not ‘after’ death, as this still implies existence in time) has passed beyond any way of talking of him.

‘He who has gone out (‘set’ like the sun, or gone to the goal), does he not exist, or is he in a state of eternal well-being? Please give me a good explanation of this, O sage, for this Dhamma is known by you.’

‘There exists no measure for one gone to the goal, Upasīva’, said the Blessed One. ‘That no longer exists for him by which one might speak of him. When all phenomena are removed, all means of speaking are removed.’

Upasīva-māṇavapucchā Sutta: Sutta-nipāta 1075–1076, trans. P.H.

MAHĀYĀNA

Epithets and qualities of the Buddha

M.1 Explanation of the Buddha’s epithets

This passage interprets the qualities of the Buddha as found in passages such as *Th.1.

1. The Tathāgata, from the contemplation of impurity117 up to the attainment of perfect awakening, and from the stage of preparation, surpassed all disciples and solitary-buddhas. This is why he is known as the ‘Unsurpassed One’.

2. The Tathāgata, the Blessed One, taught the cultivation of the meditative concentration of emptiness, the meditative concentration of the cessation of perception and feeling, the four meditative absorptions, the cultivation of loving kindness and compassion, the twelve links of dependent arising, all for the benefit of living beings. What the Buddha has demonstrated is unalterable. This is why he is known as the Tathāgata, ‘Thus-gone’. Moreover, the Buddha first proceeded from the stage of preparation and then attained unsurpassed perfect awakening. This is why he is known as the Tathāgata, ‘Thus-come’.118

3. As he has attained subtle, wondrous, authentic qualities,119 he is known as an arhant, a ‘Worthy One’. Furthermore, as he is worthy to be worshipped by all gods and human beings, he is known as an arhant.

4. As he has awakened to the two kinds of reality, conventional reality and ultimate reality, he is known as a perfectly awakened Buddha.

5. As he has completely perfected his ethical discipline, and as he possesses the three kinds of knowledge, he is known as one who is accomplished in knowledge and conduct.

6. As he will certainly never go to be born again in any form of existence, he is known as the Sugata, ‘Well-gone’.120

7. As he has complete knowledge of the two worlds, the world of living beings and the physical world, he is called the ‘knower of worlds’.

8. As he is well-versed in the skill in means needed to train and discipline living beings, he is known as one who trains people.

9. As he is able to relieve living beings of their fear, and to skilfully teach them the way to freedom from suffering and to blissful pleasure, he is known as the ‘teacher of gods and humans’.

10. As he understands all phenomena and all actions, he is known as the Buddha, the Awakened One. Furthermore, as he has defeated four kinds of Māra,121 he is known as the Bhagavā, the Blessed One.

Upāsaka-śīla Sūtra, Taishō vol.24, text 1488, ch.16, p.1051b01–b16, trans. T.T.S. and D.S.

M.2 Praise of the Buddha

The following verses are from a hymn of praise to the Buddha by a Mahāyāna poet.

1–2. It is fitting for an intelligent person to go for refuge to the one who is always free of any fault, and who is blessed with every virtue. It is fitting to honour and praise him, and to base oneself on his teaching. …

27. You did not envy those above you, show contempt for those below you, or compete with your peers. In this way, you became the most excellent in the world.

28. You were devoted to the causes of virtues, not their fruits, and through your perfect practice, all virtues have become firmly established in you. …

40. You obtained the jewel of the Dharma, and thereby obtained excellence. Through that accomplishment alone you are just like that jewel, and it rests within you. …

52. Beautiful yet tranquil, brilliant yet not dazzling, powerful yet still, your form is flawless.…

56. Where else could these wondrous Tathāgata-virtues reside than in your very form with its radiant bodily marks. …

58. Everyone in this world without exception is bound by the defilements.122 To liberate the world from its defilements, you forever bound yourself to compassion.

59. What should I praise first? You, or your great compassion, which led you to remain in saṃsāra123 throughout the ages, though you knew its faults?

60. Though you were naturally inclined towards solitude, your compassion led you to spend time with crowds of people. …

92. Listening to you brings satisfaction, and seeing you brings calm. Your words bring joy, and your teaching brings emancipation. …

94. Praising you removes flaws, and recollecting you brings delight. Seeking you brings understanding, and understanding you brings purification. …

95. Approaching you brings good fortune, and serving you brings great wisdom. Venerating you brings fearlessness, and honouring you is auspicious.

96. Purified by ethical discipline, calmed by meditation, made imperturbable by wisdom, you are a great lake of beneficial karma. …

98. You are an island for those swept away by floods, protection for the wounded, a refuge for those afraid of being reborn, and a sanctuary for those who long for liberation.

99. For everything that lives, you are worthy of offerings because of your complete purity, a good field because you bear fruit,124 and a true friend because of the help you give. …

113. Exhaustion, the loss of the happiness of tranquillity, the company of fools, the pairs of opposites,125 and crowds of people, you bear these difficulties as if they were blessings.

114. You strive to benefit the world with a mind free from attachment. What a blessing the Buddha-nature of the Buddhas is. …

116. You are a powerful protector, enduring disrespect in order to serve others, changing your clothes and adapting your dialect out of love for those who are to be trained. …

119. You help those who wish to hurt you, more than ordinary people help those who wish to help them.

120. To an enemy intent on harming you, you are a friend intent on helping them. You are devoted to looking for virtues in those who are always looking for faults. …

124. Through your skill in means, the harsh become gentle, the miserly become munificent, and the cruel become tender. …

138. You have announced the destruction of the defilements and dispelled Māra’s illusions. You have declared the deficiencies of saṃsāra, and pointed out the place free from fear.

139. What more is there to be done for living beings by those with compassion who wish to do good, that you have not already given, out of kindness? …

142. Out of empathy for the world, you have spread the Dharma on the Earth for a long time. You have trained many good disciples who are able to bring good to the triple world.126

143. You have personally trained a great many disciples, the last of whom was Subhadra. What remaining debt do you owe to living beings?

145. ‘My physical form and my Dharma-body exist for the sake of others’, you said. Even in nirvana, you show this unbelieving world the way.

Śatapañcaśatka-stotra of Mātṛceṭa, trans. from Sanskrit by D.S.

M.3 Praise of the infinite good qualities of the Tathāgata

This passage comes after Queen Śrīmālā receives a letter sent to her by her royal parents, praising the infinite good qualities of the Buddha.

The Queen received the letter with respect and with great joy, read it with interest and memorized it. She then spoke these verses to the messenger, Chandra:

I have just heard the word ‘Buddha’, a word which had not been heard before in this world. If what is said about him is true, I should serve him and make offerings to him.

Buddha, Blessed One, you appear for the sake of all the world. Out of compassion, reveal yourself to me.

As soon as she had spoken these words, the Buddha appeared in the sky just above her, radiating completely pure light, manifesting an inconceivable body.

Queen Śrīmālā and her retinue bowed down before the Buddha, with their heads at his feet, and praised the great Guide:

Nothing in the world can compare to the wondrous body of the Tathāgata. It is incomparable, inconceivable. This is why we honour him.

The Tathāgata’s form is infinite, as is his wisdom. His Dharma is eternal, and so I go for refuge.

With self-discipline, having subdued the evils of mind, and the four evils of the body,127 having reached the stage of the inconceivable, I bow down to you.

You understand all knowable phenomena. Your wisdom body is unobstructed. There are no phenomena which elude you. I bow down to you.

I bow down to the measureless. I bow down to the matchless. I bow down to the self-arisen Dharma. I bow down to the inconceivable.

Protect me, out of compassion, so that the seed of the Dharma may grow in me. On the strength of the good I have done, in this life and the next, may the Buddha always favour me.

Śrīmālādevī-siṃhanāda Sūtra ch.1: sūtra 48 of Mahā-ratnakūṭa Sūtra, Taishō vol.11, text 353, p.217a16– 217b10; cf. text 310, pp.672c24–673a18, trans. T.T.S. and D.S.

M.4 The nature of unsurpassed perfect awakening

This passage portrays the awakening of a Buddha as not an attainment of anything – for it is experienced from a deep letting go of attachment that sees the ungraspability of reality.

‘Do you think, Subhūti, that there exists a phenomenon which is the unsurpassed, perfect awakening of the Tathāgata?’

The Venerable Subhūti replied, ‘Certainly not, Blessed One. There exists no phenomenon, Blessed One, which is the unsurpassed, perfect awakening of the Tathāgata.’

The Blessed One said, ‘Exactly, Subhūti, exactly. Not even the most miniscule of phenomena can be identified or be found to exist.128 This is how the phrase “unsurpassed, perfect awakening” is used.’

Vajracchedikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra, section 22, trans. from Sanskrit by D.S.

The nature of the Buddha

While Theravāda Buddhism sees the historical Buddha as a recently awakened human being, a human-become-the-ultimate, the Mahāyāna and Vajrayāna tend to see him as an earthly manifestation of a celestial Buddha who attained awakening countless eons ago, a heavenly being who embodies timeless ultimate reality.

M.5 Alarm at the apparent loss of contact with the Buddha at his death

In this passage, various kinds of spirits and lower divine beings utter a lament at the prospect of the coming parinirvāṇa of the Buddha: his passing into final nirvana at death.

As we witness the Buddha entering into nirvana, we all sink into an ocean of suffering, overcome with grief and sorrow like a calf which has lost its mother.

We are destitute with no-one to help us, like someone who is oppressed by disease who, because he has no physician to consult, follows his own ideas, and eats things that he should not eat.

Living beings are afflicted by the disease of the defilements, and are constantly harmed by wrong views.

Parted from the Physician of the Dharma, they consume poison instead of medicine. For this reason, may the Buddha, the Blessed One, never abandon us.

Just as people in a country with no king are stricken by famine, we too, are left with no shelter and without the nourishment of the Dharma.

When we now hear that the Buddha is entering into nirvana, our minds become confused and disturbed, like someone who becomes disoriented and loses their bearings during a great earthquake.

When the Great Sage enters into nirvana, the sun of the Buddha will set upon the earth, and the waters of the Dharma will dry up. We will surely die.

When the Tathāgata enters into nirvana, it is as distressing to living beings as it is for the son of a householder to hear that his father and mother have died.

Mahā-parinirvāṇa Sūtra, Taishō vol.12, text 374, ch.3, pp.0375c07–21, trans. T.T.S. and D.S.

M.6 The Buddha did not really disappear when he passed away on earth

This passage portrays the real Buddha as remaining unchanged: his passing away is just a misleading appearance.

The Buddha said to Kāśyapa, ‘It is like when people do not see the moon appear – they all say “The moon has disappeared”, and form a concept of its disappearance. However, the moon by its nature does not really disappear. The moon moves, and appears in another place. The people in that place say “The moon has appeared”, yet the moon by its nature does not really appear. Why is this? The moon is not visible because it has been obscured by Mount Sumeru.129 The moon is always present, it does not appear or disappear. The Tathāgata, the perfectly awakened Buddha is like this. Appearing in the billionfold world-system, he manifested himself in this world as a human being, so that everyone says “He has appeared in this world”. He manifested himself there entering into nirvana, but the Tathāgata by his nature does not really enter into nirvana. Nevertheless, living beings all say “the Tathāgata has entered into nirvana”. Just as the moon does not really disappear, son of good family, the Tathāgata by his nature does not really appear or disappear. He only manifests his appearance and disappearance in order to train living beings.

It is like this, son of good family. When the moon is full in one place, it is seen as a half-moon in another. A half-moon in one place is seen as a full moon in another. When people in this world see the crescent moon, they all say, “It is the first day of the month”, and form a concept of a new moon. When they see the full moon, they say, “It is the fifteenth day of the month”, and form a concept of a full moon. Nevertheless, the moon by its nature does not really wane or wax. It only appears to wane or wax because of the influence of Mount Sumeru. The Tathāgata’s appearance in this world as a newborn baby or the manifestation of his entering into nirvana is just like this. When he appears as a newborn baby, he is just like the new moon on the first day of the month. Everyone says that the infant has just been born. He then appears to walk seven paces, like the moon on the second day. He appears to enter into the realm of learning, like the moon on the third day. He appears to go forth from the household life, like the moon on the eighth day. He appears to emit the great, wondrous light of wisdom, which can destroy Māra’s immeasurable armies of defilements in living beings, like the full moon on the fifteenth day. He then displays his own beauty through the thirty-two bodily characteristics130 and eighty secondary characteristics of a Buddha, and manifests his entrance into nirvana, like the eclipsed moon.

Mahā-parinirvāṇa Sūtra, Taishō vol.12, text 375, p.657a17–b07, cf. Taishō vol.12, text 374, p.416a18–c03, trans. T.T.S. and D.S.

M.7 The continuing presence of the Buddha, and his huge life-span

This passage, from the Lotus Sūtra, has the Buddha declare that his attainment of Buddhahood was not a recent event, but happened countless lives ago, since when he has appeared in our world (and elsewhere), many times, in the form of earthly Buddhas who teach the Dharma and then seemingly disappear into final nirvana. He gives this impression only so that beings do not become lazy, thinking that he is always around to help them, but exert themselves on the path. His real form lies beyond this world, at a heavenly, celestial level.

Children of good family, listen and I will tell you the kinds of supernormal powers I possess. This entire world, with its gods, human beings, and demi-gods, children of good family, thinks that in the present age, the Blessed One, the Tathāgata Śākyamuni left the Śākya clan, went to the excellent, supreme seat of awakening in the great city known as Gayā, and attained unsurpassed, perfect awakening. You should not see it in this way. Children of good family, I attained unsurpassed, perfect awakening many countless hundreds of thousands of millions of eons ago. …

Since that time, children of good family, I have taught the Dharma to living beings in this world-system called Earth, and to living beings in countless hundreds of thousands of millions of other world-systems. During this time, children of good family, I have told of the Tathāgata Dīpaṃkara,131 and other Tathāgatas, arhants, perfectly awakened Buddhas. I have told of their final nirvanas, and of the miraculous creations they produced in order to teach the Dharma by applying skill in means.

Furthermore, children of good family, when living beings come to the Tathāgata, I closely examine the strength of their various faculties, proclaim a name,132 proclaim that I will attain final nirvana, and then delight them with different kinds of Dharma-teachings. …

Children of good family, the measure of life I have gained from my previous practice of the bodhisattva path is not yet exhausted.133 Children of good family, my measure of life will not be exhausted for twice as many countless hundreds of thousands of millions of eons as it has already lasted. Now, children of good family, I will appear to attain final nirvana without attaining final nirvana. Why is this? Children of good family, I do not bring living beings to maturity by remaining for a very long time. If living beings were always able to see me, they would not cultivate wholesome roots, and they would neglect the accumulation of beneficial karma. They would become poor and blind, craving sensual pleasure, and they would remain caught in the net of wrong views. When they saw the Tathāgata, they would be overjoyed, but if the Tathāgata was near at hand, they would not think that it was difficult to see the Tathāgata. They would not make an effort to escape from the triple world,134 and they would not think that it is difficult to see the Tathāgata.

This is why, children of good family, the Tathāgata has applied skill in means and proclaimed to those living beings, ‘It is difficult, monks, to witness the appearance of a Tathāgata’. Why is this? It is because those living beings may or may not see a Tathāgata for countless hundreds of thousands of millions of eons. This, children of good family, is why I say, ‘It is difficult, monks, to witness the appearance of a Tathāgata’. When they understand that it is difficult to witness the appearance of a Tathāgata, they will develop an understanding of what is wonderful, and of what is sorrowful. When they do not see the Tathāgata, the arhant, the perfectly awakened Buddha, they will long for the sight of the Tathāgata, and the wholesome roots they will cultivate when their minds become absorbed by the Tathāgata in this way will be to their benefit, advantage, and happiness for a long time. When he sees that they have obtained this benefit, the Tathāgata appears to attain final nirvana without attaining final nirvana, so that living beings will develop the desire to practise.

This, children of good family, is how the Tathāgata teaches the Dharma. The Tathāgata does not speak falsely.

Saddharma-puṇḍarīka Sūtra, ch.15, trans. from Sanskrit by D.S.

M.8 The Tathāgata is the same as the unconditioned

This passage proclaims that the Buddha is, like nirvana, unconditioned.

If a son of good family wishes to protect the true Dharma, he should not say that the Tathāgata is the same as the conditioned. He is not the same as the conditioned. If someone says that he is, he should reflect critically, saying ‘I am ignorant, and do not yet possess the eye of wisdom.’ The true Dharma of the Tathāgata is inconceivable, and so it is not appropriate to claim that the Tathāgata is conditioned. The Tathāgata is unconditioned. Someone who possesses right view should say that the Tathāgata is unconditioned. Why should he do so? He should do so because the Tathāgata brings forth the excellent Dharma in order to benefit living beings, and because he has compassion for them, just like a poor woman who sacrifices her life in the River Ganges out of love for her son.

Son of good family, a bodhisattva, a protector of the Dharma, should act in this way. He should prefer to give up his life than to claim that the Tathāgata is the same as the conditioned. He should say the Tathāgata is the same as the unconditioned. Because he teaches that the Tathāgata is the same as the unconditioned, he will attain unsurpassed perfect awakening, just as a woman who sacrifices herself for her son attains rebirth in the Brahmā-world. Why is this the case? It is because he protects the Dharma. What does it mean to protect the Dharma? It means to teach that the Tathāgata is the same as the unconditioned. Son of good family, liberation will come naturally to someone like this, even if he does not seek it, just as a woman who sacrifices herself for her son will naturally attain rebirth in the Brahmā-world, even if she does not seek it.

Mahā-parinirvāṇa Sūtra, Taishō vol. 12, text 375, chapter 2, p.613c10-23; cf. Taishō vol. 12, text 374, vol.12, p.374a19–28, trans. T.T.S. and D.S.

A Buddha’s three ‘bodies’

Mahāyāna ideas on the nature of a Buddha are systematised in the doctrine of the Tri-kāyas or ‘Three bodies’ of a Buddha. The Dharma-body (Dharma-kāya)or ‘body of (pure) dharmas’ (see *Th.4), is his ultimate nature, the Enjoyment-body (Saṃbhoga-kāya) is his form at a celestial level which advanced bodhisattvas are able to perceive, and the Emanation-body (Nirmāṇa-kāya) is the form in which he appears in ordinary physical worlds such as our own.

M.9 The Dharma-body I: Tathāgatas do not come or go but are to be seen in their dharma-bodies

These passages express the idea that the appearance and sound of the Buddha does not show the real Buddha: a Buddha is to be seen in his Dharma-body, which in the first passage may have meant their collection (body) of qualities (dharmas) pertaining to the Dharma as spiritual path.

The bodhisattva, the great being Dharmodgata, said to the bodhisattva, the great being Sadāprarudita, ‘… Son of good family, a man who was being burned by the summer heat, in the last month of summer, in the middle of the day, might see a mirage quivering in the air. He might run towards it, thinking to himself, “I can see water! I can see water to drink!” Where do you think that water comes from, son of good family, and where do you think it will go? To the great ocean to the east, or to the great oceans to the south, the west, or the north?’

Sadāprarudita said, ‘Son of good family, the water in the mirage does not exist. How can one perceive its coming or its going? That foolish, unwise man, son of good family, who was being burned by the summer heat, saw the mirage and formed a perception of water where there was no water. There was no inherently existing water there.’

Dharmodgata said, ‘Exactly, son of good family, exactly. Those who adhere to the physical form or the voice of the Tathāgata, and who form a mental construction of the Tathāgata as coming or going, are just like this. Those who form a mental construction of the Tathāgata as coming or going should all be described as foolish and unwise, just like the man who formed a perception of water where there was no water. Why is this? It is because the Tathāgatas are not to be seen from their physical bodies. The Tathāgatas have Dharma-bodies.’

Aṣṭasāhaśrikā Prajñāpāramitā, Sūtra ch.31, trans. from Sanskrit by D.S.

Those who saw me by my body and followed me by my voice have made the wrong kind of effort. Those people will not see me.

A Buddha should be seen from the Dharma, the Guides have Dharma-bodies. Yet, the nature of the Dharma is not knowable. It cannot be known.

Vajracchedikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra, section 26, trans. from Sanskrit by D.S.

M.10 The Dharma-body II: The Dharma-body as arising from the qualities of the Noble Path

This passage sees the Dharma-body as arising from the various qualities of the path to Buddhahood.

‘The body of the Tathāgata, friends, is the Dharma-body. It arises from generosity, ethical discipline, meditative concentration, wisdom, liberation, and the knowing and seeing of liberation. It arises from loving kindness, compassion, empathetic joy, and equanimity. It arises from generosity, self-control, and restraint. It arises from patient acceptance and gentleness. It arises from the wholesome roots produced by the steady application of energy. It arises from meditative absorption, emancipation, meditative concentration, and meditative attainment. It arises from learning, wisdom, and skill in means. It arises from the thirty-seven practices which help one to attain awakening.135 It arises from meditative calm and insight. It arises from the ten powers, from the four kinds of self-confidence, and from the eighteen unique qualities of a Buddha. It arises from all of the perfections. It arises from higher knowledge and direct knowledge. It arises when one rids oneself of all unwholesome qualities. It arises when one develops all wholesome qualities. It arises from truth. It arises from reality. It arises from vigilance.

The body of the Tathāgata, friends, arises from limitless pure karma. This is what you should long for. In order to rid all living beings of the sickness of all the defilements, you should resolve to attain unsurpassed, perfect awakening.’

The Licchavi Vimalakīrti taught the Dharma in this way to those who had gathered to inquire about his illness, and hundreds of thousands of living beings resolved to attain unsurpassed, perfect awakening.

Vimalakīrti-nirdeśa Sūtra, ch. 2, sec.12, trans. from Sanskrit by D.S.

M.11 The Buddha and advanced bodhisattvas manifest in countless forms

The Buddha appears in whatever form will help to bring beings to the Dharma and help them towards liberation.

I manifest myself in many different ways in order to liberate all the different kinds of living beings. I may appear with a male body. I may appear with a female body. I may appear with the body of a god or a nāga.136 I may appear with the body of a demon. I may appear as a mountain, a forest, a stream, a spring, a river, a lake, a fountain, or a well in order to help people and liberate absolutely all of them. I may appear with the body of Śakra,137 the King of the Gods. I may appear with the body of Brahmā. I may appear with the body of a king of the entire world. I may appear with the body of a householder. I may appear with the body of the king of a particular country. I may appear with the body of a prime minister. I may appear with the body of an official. I may appear with the body of a monk, a nun, a layman, a laywoman, and so forth. I may appear with the body of a disciple, an arhant, a solitary-buddha, a bodhisattva, and so forth, in order to bring living beings to maturity. I do not only appear with the body of a Buddha.

Kṣitigarbha Bodhisattva Pūrva-praṇidhāna Sūtra, Taishō vol.13, text 412, ch.2, p.779b18–b26, trans. D.S.

The Buddha-nature

All beings are seen to contain or be a Tathāgata-garbha, which means the ‘embryo’ or ‘womb’ of a Tathāgata, meaning that they have within them a radiant potential for Buddhahood. It is seen as radiant and pure but obscured by non-intrinsic defilements, as is the nature of the mind in *Th.124. In most cases in this work, Tathāgata-garbha is referred to by the loose translation ‘Buddha-nature’.

M.12 The nature of the Tathāgata-garbha and its relation to beings

The first passage comes from a key text that seems to have been the first to introduce the idea of the Tathāgata-garbha. It gives nine similes for how the Tathāgata-garbha relates to beings, which trade on the various meanings of ‘garbha’: womb, embryo, the calyx of a flower that encloses a developing blossom, hidden inner room/sanctuary, the outer husk of a seed or the seed itself, or the interior of anything. The sūtra describes itself as given by the Buddha ten years after his awakening, to thousands of accomplished monks and countless bodhisattvas. Most of its similes suggest that the Tathāgata-garbha is a hidden inner Buddhahood that just needs to be revealed by removing the mental defilements that obscure it, but similes no.3, 6 and 8 suggest it is something that needs to develop and mature. Together, these suggest that it is a precious Buddha-potential that needs to be uncovered and then matured.

1. The Buddha said, ‘Children of good family, it can be compared to the countless lotus flowers manifested by the Buddha which withered suddenly, and within which countless Buddhas, adorned with the thirty-two bodily characteristics of a Buddha, were manifested sitting cross-legged. … In the same way, children of good family, when I look upon all living beings with my Buddha-eye, I see the Tathāgata-wisdom, the Tathāgata-eye and the Tathāgata-body sitting cross-legged and unmoving amongst the defilements of greed, hatred, and delusion. Children of good family, although living beings are currently defiled by the defilements, they possess the eternally pure Tathāgata-garbha, with virtues which are indistinguishable from my own.

2. ... As the pure honey on a cliff or in a tree is surrounded by a cloud of countless bees swarming around it and guarding it, the Tathāgata-garbha is covered and concealed by the defilements. …

3. Again, children of good family, it can be compared to grain from which the husks have not been removed. A foolish, unwise, simple, lowly person might discard it, but when it is washed and the husks removed, the kernels can be used. …

4. Again, children of good family, it can be compared to a piece of pure gold which has fallen into a pile of waste, and lies concealed there for many years. …

5. Again, children of good family, it can be compared to a precious jewel hidden within an impoverished household [whose members are unaware of it]. …

6. Again, children of good family, it can be compared to a mango stone, which does not decay when it is buried in the earth, but which grows into a great tree, the king of trees. …

7. Again, children of good family, it can be compared to someone who has a statue of pure gold, and who is travelling to another country on dangerous roads, and who fears being attacked and robbed on the way, and who therefore wraps his statue in dirty rags, so that no-one will discover it. Imagine that he died on the way, and that his gold statue was discarded in the wilderness. Travellers trampled it, and it became filthy. …

8. Again, children of good family, it can be compared to a poor, ugly, simple-minded woman who bears within her womb an honourable son who will become a noble king, a king of the entire world. This woman, though, does not know what he will become in the future, and thinks of him as a poor, ordinary, low-born child. In the same way, children of good family, the Tathāgata sees all living beings circling through saṃsāra suffering all kinds of pain and poisons, but all possessing within their bodies the precious Tathāgata-garbha. Just like the woman, though, they do not realise what they bear within them. This is why the Tathāgata explains the Dharma to everyone, saying “Children of good family, you are not inferior and lowly. You all possess Buddha-nature in your bodies. If you apply yourselves with vigour and destroy your previous evil deeds, then you will become bodhisattvas and Blessed Ones, and you will transform and rescue countless living beings”. …

9. Again, children of good family, it can be compared to a master foundry man casting a statue in pure gold. When the statue has been cast, it is turned upside-down and placed on the ground. Although it is blackened and burnt on the outside, the statue inside is unaffected. When it is opened, and the statue is revealed, its golden colour shines forth. …

Tathāgata-garbha Sūtra, Taishō vol.16, text 666, p.457b25–c03, c23–c27, p.458a10–a14, a24–a28, b10–b15, b23–b24, b29–c06, c15–21, p.459a07–a14, a25–b02, trans. D.S.

28. … All embodied beings are always Buddha-garbhas, which have grown from a seed. …

45. In reality, there is no difference between ordinary people, noble ones, and perfectly awakened Buddhas. Those who have seen things the way they are teach that this Jina-garbha138 is to be found in living beings. …

47. It is said to be impure in the sphere of living beings, both pure and impure in bodhisattvas, and completely pure in the Tathāgatas. …

49. Just as space extends everywhere and has uniformity as its nature, the unblemished element which has the mind as its essential nature pervades everything. …

155. This element is empty of non-intrinsic characteristics, which are distinct from it. It is not empty of unsurpassed qualities, which are not distinct from it.

Ratnagotra-vibhāga of Sāramati or Maitreya, ch.1, v.28, 45, 47, 49, 155, trans. from Sanskrit by D.S.

M.13 Queen Śrīmālā on the Buddha-nature

This passage portrays the Buddha-nature (Tathāgata-garbha) as that within people which is the basis of the round of rebirths (as it is the root of the mind, which can go astray due to accompanying defilements), but which also sees the need for liberation from this and its pains, and which seeks liberation. It is eternal, and pure, but not an essential, permanent Self.

Blessed One, saṃsāra is based upon the Buddha-nature, and on account of the Tathāgata it is said to be impossible to know the primordial state. Blessed One, if one says that when the Buddha-nature exists, saṃsāra exists, this is well said. …

The two phenomena of birth and death, Blessed One, are the Buddha-nature. In worldly terms, birth takes place, and death takes place. When the faculties cease, this is called death. When new faculties arise, this is called birth. The Buddha-nature is not born and does not die. The Buddha-nature is not characterised by anything conditioned. The Buddha-nature is eternal and unchanging. For this reason, the Buddha-nature is the basis, the support, the foundation. Blessed One, it is the qualities of the Buddha, inseparable, unbreakable, indivisible, indestructible, inconceivable. Blessed One, the Buddha-nature is the basis, the support, and the foundation of conditioned things, which are breakable, divisible, destructible, and external.

Blessed One, if there were no Buddha-nature, there would be neither aversion to what is painful nor joyful striving for nirvana.139 …

Blessed One, the Buddha-nature is without origin, an unarisen and unceasing phenomenon. It can experience pain, and can therefore experience aversion to what is painful and joyfully strive for nirvana.

Blessed One, the Buddha-nature is not an essential self, a living being, a life force, or a person. The Buddha-nature is not the sphere of living beings who fall into false views of an essential self, who hold distorted views, and who have a confused understanding of emptiness.

Blessed One, the Buddha-nature is the embryo140 of the expanse of phenomena, the embryo of the Dharma-body, the supreme supramundane embryo, the embryo which is by nature primordially pure. It is by nature primordially pure, but it is contaminated by non-intrinsic secondary defilements,141 actual defilements. The sphere of the Tathāgata is inconceivable. Why is this the case?

It is because neither momentary wholesome mental states nor momentary unwholesome mind states are contaminated by the defilements.

Śrīmālādevī-siṃhanāda Sūtra, Taishō vol.12, text 353, ch.13, p.222b05–26; cf. Taishō vol. 11, text 310, p.677c07–27, trans. T.T.S. and D.S.

VAJRAYĀNA

The Buddha-nature

V.1 Everybody has the Buddha-nature

In the first chapter of his famous and influential ‘The Jewel Ornament of Liberation’, relying on Indian scriptural sources, the great Tibetan master Gampopa (1079–1153) argues that the Buddha-nature (see *M.12–13) is present in all beings, and that eventually they will all attain the supreme awakening of a Buddha.

We must free ourselves from this delusory saṃsāra142 and attain unsurpassed awakening. Yet we may wonder whether such lowly beings as ourselves, try as we might, can attain it at all. Well, if we assiduously practise, why could we not attain it? After all, just like all sentient beings, we also have the Buddha-nature – the cause of (attaining) Buddhahood. …

If that is true, then what is the reason why all sentient beings have the Buddha-nature? It is (1) because all sentient beings are pervaded by the Dharma-body,143 emptiness;144 (2) because the ultimate reality of suchness is indivisible; and (3) because every sentient being is one of the types (of Buddha-nature). It is owing to those three reasons that every sentient being has the Buddha nature. This is what is said in the Uttaratantra, ‘Because the perfectly awakened Buddha-body is all pervading; because “suchness” is indivisible; and because they are of the types; all embodied beings always have the Buddha-nature’ (UT VII.28).

The first reason is that all sentient beings are pervaded by the Dharma-body, emptiness. This means that sentient beings have the Buddha-nature because the Buddha is the Dharma-body, the Dharma-body is emptiness, and emptiness pervades all sentient beings. The second is that the ultimate reality of ‘suchness’ is indivisible. This means that sentient beings have the Buddha-nature also because the ‘suchness’ of Buddhas is not better, bigger or higher than the ‘suchness’ of sentient beings. The third is that every sentient being is of one of the types (of Buddha-nature).

This means that each sentient being is of one of the five types of Buddha-nature: the ‘cut-off type’,145 the uncertain type,146 the disciple type, the solitary-buddha type, or the Great Vehicle type.147 ...

There are two types (of Buddha-nature): the awakened and the unawakened type. The awakened type is the fully accomplished fruition (of Buddhahood), which has a perceptible sign. The unawakened type is the fruition not yet accomplished, which has no perceptible sign. One might wonder by what condition the Buddha-nature can be awakened. The answer is that once the unfavourable conditions are removed, and the favourable conditions are available, the Buddha-nature is awakened. Otherwise, the Buddha-nature remains un-awakened. There are four unfavourable conditions: being born in an unfavourable circumstance, lacking the propensity (to practise the Dharma), improper behaviour, and obscuring influences. There are two favourable conditions: the external one is a teacher who teaches the Dharma, and the internal one is a correct attitude and aspiration for the wholesome Dharma. ...

From among the five types (of Buddha-nature), the Great Vehicle type is the close cause of (attaining) Buddhahood. The disciple and solitary-buddha types are distant causes because they will eventually also lead to Buddhahood. The uncertain type can be either a close or a distant cause. The cut-off type – which does not mean that one does not attain Buddhahood at all, just that one needs a very long time to do so – is a very distant cause. Therefore, because all sentient beings belong to one of those five types, every sentient being has the Buddha-nature.

Thus, owing to the three reasons (explained above), it is taught that every sentient being has the Buddha-nature. How can it be illustrated? It inheres in us like silver in ore, sesame oil in sesame seed, or butter in milk. Therefore, just as ore can be turned into silver, sesame into oil, and milk into butter, all sentient beings can turn into Buddhas.

‘The Jewel Ornament of Liberation’, pp.6–8, 13–16, trans. T.A.

A Buddha’s three ‘bodies’

In the Vajrayāna, the three ‘bodies’ of a Buddha (see *M.9–11) are seen as accessible within, in different aspects of the mind.

V.2 The three Buddha-bodies as the nature of mind

This passage introduces the three Buddha-bodies from the Great Completion (Dzogchen) 148 perspective, which points to the presence of the three Buddha-bodies in the nature of mind or ‘knowing’ (Tibetan rig pa) as the three facets or ‘dimensions’ of non-dual experience.149 The triad in this context is defined as the essence, nature and compassion of knowing, and is likened to the empty-luminous reflexivity of a mirror. The passage is taken from the ‘Flight of the Garuda’ (FG) by Lama Zhabkar (1781-1850).

EMAHO150

And now, dear sons, listen.151

The three bodies of the Buddha: essence, nature and compassion – as well as the five bodies (of enjoyment) or the five types of knowledge152 – are all complete in this inherently knowing and self-illuminating present. The essence of knowing, its emptiness in the sense of having no colour, shape or any other attributes, is the Dharma-body. The luminous self-expression of that emptiness is the Enjoyment-body. And the ceaseless display of variety is the Emanation-body. 153

The three bodies of the Buddha are illustrated by the mirror simile. The crystal mirror illustrates the Dharma-body, its clear luminosity exemplifies the Enjoyment-body, and its unceasing display of images is similar to the Emanation-body. If beings could only recognize the three bodies of the Buddha as innate in their own minds, they would immediately become Buddhas themselves, without having to practise even a bit of meditation. Though I have introduced the three Buddha-bodies one by one, they are actually one and the same expanse,154 so do not get confused by taking them to be different, dear sons!

Know the three Buddha-bodies as utter emptiness pure from the first, a single entity that is the unity of luminosity and emptiness, and always remaining in that state without grasping. Know that the triad of essence, nature, and compassion corresponds to the Dharma-, Enjoyment-, and Emanation-bodies respectively, and knowing those three as the full unity of luminosity and emptiness, conduct yourself in that state without grasping!

‘The Flight of the Garuda’, pp.171–72, trans. T.A.

The five Buddha families

The five Buddha ‘families’ consist of the five Enjoyment-body Buddhas as family heads (‘fathers’), their female Buddha consorts (‘mothers’), several bodhisattvas seen as their spiritual descendants (‘sons and daughters’), and several other minor figures. In the Vajrayāna, though they are depicted as external transcendental deities, they are understood as aspects of one's own nature.

V.3 The five Enjoyment-body Buddhas as the five types of knowledge

In the continuation of the previous passage, Zhabkar introduces the idea of the five Enjoyment-body Buddhas (see section introduction before *M.9) as the five types of knowledge inherent in knowing. The individual Buddhas’ names are explained and are described as the ‘expressive powers’ of knowledge, which are then defined. Direct awareness of the awakened potential present within the mind’s knowing nature can bring swift attainment of awakening.

Furthermore, since this wisdom of self-arising knowledge appears in all kinds of forms, it is the body of Vairocana (‘Illuminator’). Being changeless, it is the body of Akṣobhya (‘Unshakeable’). Without centre or boundaries, it is the body of Amitābha (‘Infinite Light’). Being like a jewel that brings about all supreme and ordinary accomplishments it is the body of Ratnasambhava (‘Source of Jewels’). And since it accomplishes everything, it is the body of Amoghasiddhi (‘Action Accomplishment’). They do not exist apart from the expressive power of knowing.

Since the knowing of knowledge is essentially ceaseless, manifest luminosity, it is mirror-like knowledge. Since it is pervasive, it is the knowledge of sameness. Since variety arises from its expressive power, it is discrimination. Since it accomplishes everything, it is knowledge of action-accomplishment. And since all types of knowledge belong to the primordially pure essence (of knowing), it is knowledge of the expanse of phenomena. These types of knowledge do not exist at all apart from the expressive power of knowing.

If I were to show you directly the three bodies of a Buddha – the essence, nature and compassion, and the five bodies of enjoyment or the five types of knowledge – by pointing a direct finger at them, then they are here in this unmade and uncontrived present moment of knowing, unaffected by circumstance, untainted by grasping. They are right here in this clear and awake moment of knowing; this is where all Buddhas of the past arose from, all Buddhas of the present come from, and all Buddhas of the future will arise from. This is the mind of the Buddhas of the three times, so never part from it, my fortunate ones!

‘The Flight of the Garuda’, p.172, trans. T.A.

V.4 A prayer to the five Buddha-families from the ‘Tibetan Book of the Dead’

This passage, taken from the famous ‘Tibetan Book of the Dead’, introduces the five Enjoyment-body Buddhas, together with their ‘families’, as transcendent realities to be met with after one’s death. It is a prayer to the ‘fathers’ and ‘mothers’ of the families – who can be realized to be one’s own nature – to rescue the deceased from the abyss of the ‘dreadful bardo’, the intermediate state between death and birth.155 Each of the five Buddha families is envisaged as presenting a path of knowledge to their respective Buddha-land where one can swiftly attain liberation and awakening. One’s Buddha family will be determined by one’s dominant defilement/affliction, considered as a distorted manifestation of the type of knowledge represented by the Enjoyment-body Buddha who is the head of that family.

Prayer for Liberation from the Abyss of the Intermediate State

Homage to the Guru and the Hosts of Sky-Dancers!156

Please guide me on my path by your immense love!

Should I wander in saṃsāra owing to confusion,

May I be guided by heroes and knowledge-holders,157

Onto the luminous path of co-emergent knowledge,158

May I be supported by the supreme mother sky-dancers;

May they rescue me from the abyss of the dreadful bardo

And escort me to the ground of a truly complete Buddha!

Should I wander in saṃsāra due to strong delusion,

May I be guided by the Buddha Vairocana

Onto the luminous path of the expanse of phenomena knowledge,

May I be supported by the supreme mother Ākāśadhātvīśvarī,159

May they rescue me from the abyss of the dreadful bardo

And escort me to the ground of a truly complete Buddha!

Should I wander in saṃsāra due to fierce aggression,

May I be guided by the Buddha Vajrasattva160

Onto the luminous path of mirror-like knowledge,

May I be supported by the supreme mother Buddhalocanā,161

May they rescue me from the abyss of the dreadful bardo

And escort me to the ground of a truly complete Buddha!

Should I wander in saṃsāra due to intense pride,

May I be guided by the Buddha Ratnasambhava,

Onto the luminous path of the knowledge of sameness,

May I be supported by the supreme mother Māmakī,162

May they rescue me from the abyss of the dreadful bardo

And escort me to the ground of a truly complete Buddha!

Should I wander in saṃsāra due to strong attachment,

May I be guided by the Buddha Amitābha

Onto the luminous path of discriminating knowledge,

May I be supported by the supreme mother Pāṇḍaravāsinī,163

May they rescue me from the abyss of the dreadful bardo

And escort me to the ground of a truly complete Buddha!

Should I wander in saṃsāra due to forceful envy,

May I be guided by the Buddha Amoghasiddhi

Onto the luminous path of action-accomplishing knowledge,

May I be supported by the supreme mother Samayatārā,164

May they rescue me from the abyss of the dreadful bardo

And escort me to the ground of a truly complete Buddha!

Should I wander in saṃsāra due to the five poisons,165

May I be guided by the five Buddha fathers,

Onto the luminous path of the four kinds of knowledge combined,166

May I be supported by the five supreme mothers;

May they rescue me from the abyss of the dreadful bardo

And escort me to the ground of a truly complete Buddha!

Should I wander in saṃsāra due to forceful habits,

May I be guided by the peaceful and wrathful167 Buddhas

Onto the luminous path of frightful and terrifying visions,

May I be supported by the supreme wrathful mothers;

May they rescue me from the abyss of the dreadful bardo

And escort me to the ground of a truly complete Buddha!

Should I wander in saṃsāra due to deep confusion,

May I be guided by the heroes and knowledge-holders,

Onto the luminous path of co-emergent knowledge,

May I be supported by the supreme mother sky-dancers;

May they rescue me from the abyss of the dreadful bardo

And escort me to the ground of a truly complete Buddha!

‘The Tibetan Book of the Dead’, pp.185–191, trans. T.A.

The Buddha within

V.5 The inner maṇḍala of the five enjoyment-body Buddhas

In contrast, this passage from the ‘Flight of the Garuda’ treats the five Enjoyment-body Buddhas as immanent realities, different aspects of knowledge all included in the ‘inner maṇḍala’ of knowing. Furthermore, it identifies them as the inherent purity of the five defilements.168

EMAHO!

Now again, fortunate ones, listen to the song of this renunciant!

Vairocana is not outside, he is within.

The real Buddha Vairocana is the nature of the mind,

The expanse of phenomena free from conceptual obsession,

And the very essence of delusion – pure as it stands.

Vajrasattva is not outside, he is within.

The real Buddha Vajrasattva is the mirror,

The unceasing display of the mind’s expressive power,

And the very essence of aggression – pure as it stands.

Ratnasambhava is not outside; he is within.

The real Buddha Ratnasambhava is sameness,

With nothing to adopt or reject, prove or refute,

And the very essence of pride – pure as it stands.

Amitābha is not outside, he is within.

The real Buddha Amitābha is discrimination,

Immersed in the expanse of empty pleasure,

And the very essence of attachment – pure as it stands.

Amoghasiddhi is not outside, he is within.

The real Buddha Amoghasiddhi is activity-accomplishment,

The self-liberating immediacy of knowledge,

And the very essence of envy – pure as it stands.

‘The Flight of the Garuda’, p.196, trans. T.A.

V.6 The Ādibuddha Samantabhadra’s Prayer

The Ādibuddha is a key concept in Vajrayāna Buddhism. He is the first, original Buddha, who has been awakened since the very beginning of time.169 He is known by different names in the different schools, but in the Old School (Nyingmapa) of Tibetan Buddhism he is called ‘Samantabhadra’, ‘All-good’. The passage below is part of a larger Tantric text dealing with Samantabhadra (‘Tantra Showing the Transparency of the Samantabhadra’s Buddha Mind’), and bears the subtitle: ‘A Prayer of Great Efficiency which cannot fail to make all sentient beings attain Buddhahood’.170 Rather than an omnipotent, universal creator, Samantabhadra represents the fundamental nature of the mind that is the ‘basis’ of all phenomena of saṃsāra and nirvana. His prayer for the liberation and awakening of all sentient beings is a skilful means to make them realize their ultimate identity with him. In the first part of the prayer, he describes the process through which sentient beings strayed into the ways of saṃsāra; while he remained a Buddha. He also describes how he has kept taming sentient beings through manifesting countless emanations. In the second part, he describes the dynamics of five of the six spheres of rebirth in terms of their dominant defilement, and while ostensibly praying for sentient beings’ liberation he describes a method of meditation whereby frozen states of mind are released into the great ‘expanse of phenomena’, letting the light of ‘knowing’ arise.

HO! The worlds and inhabitants of saṃsāra and nirvana rest on the same basis – yet they are two different ways leading to two different results: one is the magical display of not-knowing, the other that of knowing. Through Samantabhadra’s prayer, may they all manifest perfectly awakened Buddhahood in the palace of the expanse of phenomena!

The all-inclusive basis is an unconditioned, self-emerging, infinite space that is inexpressible, not to be called either saṃsāra or nirvana.

If you know it, you are a Buddha – if you do not, you are a sentient being circling in saṃsāra. May all sentient beings throughout the three realms171 of existence get to know that inexpressible basis!

I, Samantabhadra, also have self-emerging knowledge of that very basis – uncaused, unconditioned. Neither external nor internal, neither reified nor denied, it is untainted by the dark shadow of oblivion. Therefore, my vision is unblemished.

Living in the state of intrinsic knowledge there is no panic even though the three worlds might collapse; there is no attachment to the five (sense) objects of desire. In non-conceptual, self-emerging knowledge there are neither material objects nor any of the five poisoning emotions.172

The unceasing luminosity of knowing is the single source of the five types of knowledge.173 From the five types of knowledge fully developed, the five families of the primal Buddha174 appear. Then, as knowledge develops even further, forty-two Buddhas175 arise; and as the expressive power of the five types is awakened, sixty blood-drinkers176 come into being. That is why knowing of the basis has never been deluded.

Since I am the primordial Buddha, I pray that all sentient beings circling in the three realms may recognize this self-emerging knowing, and develop all knowledge. My emanations being unceasing, I send forth inconceivable millions (of Buddhas) to give them various teachings, whatever tames their minds. Through my compassionate prayer, may all sentient beings circling in the three realms be liberated from the six spheres of rebirth!

In the beginning, sentient beings got confused. Failing to intuit the basis, they fell into stupefied oblivion – that is not-knowing (ignorance), the source of all confusion. Suddenly, they fell unconscious, and panicking, their minds started jumping all over the place. That is how they gave rise to the concepts of ‘self’ and ‘the other’, the enemy.

As their habitual patterns gradually developed, they entered the ways of saṃsāra. The five poisonous defilements kept increasing, and an incessant stream of the five poisonous actions ensued. Therefore, not knowing – or oblivion – being the first cause of their confusion, I – the Buddha – pray that they automatically recognize their own knowing.

Innate not-knowing is distracted, oblivious consciousness; conceptual not-knowing is dualistic perception of self and other. Innate and conceptual not-knowing are the two fundamental reasons why sentient beings are constantly deluded.

I – the Buddha – pray that all sentient beings circling in saṃsāra may wake up from the thick darkness of oblivion, be purified from dualistic perception, and recognize intrinsic knowing.

The dualistic mind, always in doubt, faintly starts clinging (to a false sense of identity), and then gradually builds up dense habit patterns. Getting attached to food, possessions, clothes, places, partners; the five sense objects and loving companions, it is tormented by desire for pleasure. Those (desires) are worldly delusions – dualistic action (karma) is inexhaustible. When the fruit of clinging ripens, one is born as a hungry ghost anguished by intense yearning, in the terrible pangs of hunger and thirst.

I – the Buddha – pray that sentient beings with clinging attachment may neither repress their burning desire, nor pursue their objects of attachment; may they just release their minds in the natural state, 177 and when they have contacted their intrinsic knowing, may they attain the knowledge of (correct) discrimination.

The mind subtly stirred up by fear of external appearances builds up habit patterns of aversion, which then give rise to enmity, aggression, and massacre. When the fruit of bitter hatred ripens, one goes through the scorching pains of hell. I – the Buddha – pray that whenever any sentient being in the six places of rebirth experiences intense aversion, may they release it without repressing or pursuing it; and when they have contacted their natural state of knowing, may they attain the knowledge of clarity.178

When the mind becomes arrogant it starts challenging and putting down others; and then, building up a habit of extreme self-conceit, it goes through the pain of constant fighting. When the fruit of that karma ripens, one is born as a god who is destined to fall. I – the Buddha – pray that when beings’ minds are puffed up, may they release that feeling in the natural state, and when they have re-contacted their intrinsic knowing, may they realize the fact of sameness.

The anguish of self-aggrandizement and disparaging others through dense habit patterns of dualistic perception grows into fierce competition and rivalry, which leads to birth as a cutthroat demi-god who is finally destined to fall into hell. I – the Buddha – pray that those in the throes of envy and competition may release their enmity rather than grasp at it; and when they have re-contacted their intrinsic knowing, may they attain the knowledge of unhindered Buddha-activity.179

Dull-headedness, stupidity, forgetfulness, torpor, sloth, and bewilderment – all resulting from being lost in indifferent oblivion – lead to rebirth as a helpless animal.

I – the Buddha – pray that the clear light of awareness may dawn in the murky minds of dull sentient beings, and (when they have contacted their intrinsic knowing) may they attain knowledge free of thought.180

Each and every sentient being in the three realms are equal to me, the Buddha, the all-inclusive basis; but while they have sunk into an oblivious, deluded state of mind and are presently engaged in meaningless activities – the six types of action (karma)181 which are like delusory dreams

– I have remained Buddha from the first in order to tame the six types of beings through my emanations. I – the Buddha – pray that all sentient beings without exception may become a Buddha in the Dharma-realm.

‘Tantra Showing the Transparency of the Samantabhadra’s Buddha Mind’, 1: 535–541, trans. T.A.

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