The True Body of the Buddha

Twenty-six: The True Body of the Buddha

“Subhūti, what do you think? Can one discern the Tathāgata by means of the thirty-two bodily characteristics?”

Subhūti said, “No, Blessed One. One cannot discern the Tathāgata by means of the thirty-two bodily characteristics.”

The Buddha said, “Well said, Subhūti.  If one tries to discern the Tathāgata by means of the thirty-two bodily characteristics, then the wheel-turning sage kings (chakravartins) are Tathāgatas.”

Subhūti said to the Buddha, “Blessed One, as I understand the gist of what you have said, one should not try to discern the Tathāgata by means of the thirty-two bodily characteristics.”

Then the Blessed One spoke in a verse:

Someone who tries to discern me in form
Or seek me in sound
Is practicing non-Buddhist methods
And will not discern the Tathāgata

A Buddha is to be seen [known] through Dharmakaya,
And his guidance manifests from Dharmakaya.
Yet the true nature of Dharmakaya cannot be understood,
And it is not capable of being known.

Mu Soeng’s appears to be the only translation—in the concluding Gatha of the closing verse—that fine-tunes the Sutra’s conveyance of the Dharmakaya, or the True Buddha Body of Perfect Suchness. The Dharmakaya is the Sole-Body that distinguishes a Buddha as the True Dharma-Body of Reality; the apparition body (Nirmanakaya) constituting the Thirty-Two Bodily marks, and the reward body (Sambhogakaya) are still subject to some form of dissolution at some point, but it is the Dharmakaya Alone that is Pure, unsullied and Paramount in Stature. The Buddha imparts to Subhuti’s mind that this Dharma-body cannot be discerned or conveyed in the usual methods of discernment. It cannot be known in any objective fashion. It can only be intuited via the grace of the Tathagatas, and this grace far supersedes any feeble analytic attempts to fathom its depths. Unlike the Nirmanakaya and Sambhogakaya, the Dharmakaya is attribute-less and thus can only be intuited through Noble Wisdom. Why does the Diamond Sutra emphasize here the True Dharma Body? Because the Dharmakaya is the True Body of all Buddhas; it is in this light that they do not differ from one another. Asanga writes, in context of the above verse, that if anyone thinks that they see and hear and “know” the “Real” Buddha—they are dead wrong. The Real Deathless Body of the Tathagatas far transcends any limited means of cognition. All this is reminiscent of Vimalakirti’s Inconceivable Wisdom at its best.

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