The No-Sign Sign

Five: The No-Sign Sign

“Now, what do you think, Subhuti, should a Tathagata be seen (known) by the possession of signs?”

Subhuti said: “No indeed, Blessed One, a Tathagata is not to be seen (known) by the possession of signs. And why? Because what has been expounded by the Tathagata as the possession of signs, that is indeed the possession of no-signs.”

After this, the Buddha spoke thus to the venerable Subhuti: “Wherever there is, O Subhuti, the possession of signs, there is falsehood; wherever there is no possession of signs, there is no falsehood. Hence the Tathagata is to be seen (known) from no-signs as signs.”

Alternate translations indicate “signs” as “marks”; this is in reference to the traditional 32 bodily marks that constitute Buddhahood. So, just as in our last post which stated that it would be a mistake to look for external “signs”, it would be equally inadequate to consider some form of recognition of a Buddha solely via his external bodily “marks”. This is an inward and spiritual Mind realization; otherwise there is no perception of a Buddha. This means that the Real Buddhakaya cannot be perceived through phenomenal law, but rather Dharmatic Law. Hence, there is no Mind, there is no Buddha, there is only Buddha-Mind and It is Unborn with no distinguishable phenomenal marks. Thus a True Sign of a Buddha is a No-sign—the No-Sign Sign. The Lankavatara Sutra breaks it down as follows:

“In the teachings of all the Tathagatas there is a sameness of meaning. Among all the Buddhas there is a sameness of Buddha-nature. They all have the thirty-two marks of excellence and the eighty minor signs of bodily perfection; there is no distinction among them except as they manifest various transformations according to the different dispositions of beings who are to be disciplined and emancipated by various means. In the Ultimate Essence which is Dharmakaya, all the Buddhas of the past, present and future, are of one SAMENESS.”

“Sameness” is key here, because the Diamond Sutra says that these thirty-two marks are such that they are not thirty-two marks; the essential “sameness” of the Dharmakaya is that it is the Absolute Buddha Body devoid of any “characteristics”; hence, in light of Noble Wisdom, the thirty-two marks refers to what lies beneath sensory appearances and “images”…thus, the thirty-two marks are “imageless” ones bearing the “sameness” of spirit within the Dharmakaya. In light of the Unborn, only those who bear the “auspicious marks” of Tathatic Light will be able to discern the true from the false Buddha.

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