No form, No appearance

Twenty: No form, No appearance

“What do you think, Subhuti? Can the Tathagata be seen by means of his perfectly formed body?”

Subhuti said, “No, Blessed One. As I understand it, the Tathagata is not to be seen by means of his perfectly formed body. Why? Because the Tathagata has taught that what is called a perfectly formed body is not a perfectly formed body. Such is merely a name. Therefore it is called a perfectly formed body.”

The Buddha asked further, “What do you think, Subhuti? Can the Tathagata be seen by means of his possession of bodily marks?”

Subhuti replied, “No, Blessed One. As I understand it, the Tathagata cannot be by means of his possession of the bodily marks. Why? Because the Tathagata has taught that what are called the bodily marks are not in fact bodily marks. Such is merely a name. Therefore they are called the bodily marks.”

Red Pine adds some real in-depth commentary to these last sections of the Diamond Sutra; Mu Soeng applies a less refined contemporary spin, although of the two I prefer Mu Soeng’s translation. Red Pine can really put some meat on apparently dry-bones. Red Pine makes an astute observation that “by means of his perfectly formed body” refers to the Buddha’s Sambhogakayic Body; the Buddha emphatically warns Bodhisattvas not to become too dependent on this “enjoyment-body” revelation in their practice, lest they neglect to see the Tathagata’s Real Body—the Dharmakaya. Red Pine’s inclusion of the ancient Sages commentaries is truly remarkable. In reference to “his possession of bodily marks”, consider Hui-neng’s and Meng-ts’an’s commentaries:

“The Tathagata is the dharma body free of all form. Such a body is not visible to the physical eye. Only the prajna eye can see it. But before the prajna eye is perfectly clear, if it gives birth to forms as self and other, and views the thirty-two attributes as [emphasis mine] the Tathagata, it cannot be called perfect. But when the prajna eye is completely clear, and such forms as self and other do not arise, and the true light of wisdom shines without cease, this is called the perfection of all attributes.” Meng-ts’an says, “According to the Avatamsaka Sutra, the dharma body can be seen, but what can be seen isn’t what we see. And who see’s it? Only those great dharma-bodied saints (Mahabodhisattvas—inclusion mine) who realize the final stage of practice (Dharmamegha, inclusion mine). For the dharma body extends everywhere and preaches all dharmas in all places. Thus, it is said that attributes that have no attributes can be seen and that the Tathagata’s dharma body possesses attributes. But for lesser disciples and ordinary people it is provisionally said to have no attributes.” (Red Pine, Diamond Sutra, pg. 333)

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