The Queen’s Mahayana


The Buddha told Srīmālā, “You should now explain further the embracing of the true Dharma, which l have taught, and which is cherished by all Buddhas alike.” 

Srīmālā said, “Very well. World-Honored One. The embracing of the true Dharma is called the Mahayana. Why? Because the Mahayana gives birth to all Sravakas and Pratyekabuddhas, and all mundane and supramundane wholesome dharmas. Just as Lake Anavatapta is the source of the eight rivers, so the Mahayana produces all all Sravakas and Pratyekabuddhas, and all mundane and supramundane wholesome dharmas. 

Mahayana: the Great Vehicle. Later we will see how this, in terms of the sutra, is synonymous with the Absolute body of the Dharmakaya. The Great Vehicle here contains all others. 

“World-Honored One, just as all seeds, grasses, trees, and forests depend upon the great earth in order to grow, so all Sravakas and Pratyekabuddhas, and all mundane and supramundane wholesome dharmas, depend upon the Mahayana in order to grow. Therefore, World-Honored One, to abide in and embrace the Mahayana is to abide in and embrace [the vehicles of] the Sravakas and Pratyekabuddhas, and all mundane and supramundane wholesome dharmas. 

This reinforces the assertion that the Great Vehicle is the Sole (or One) Vehicle that embraces all dharmas. In this sense the sutra shares a similarity with the Lotus Sutra. Ultimately, for both sutras, there is only One Genuine-Vehicle that IS the Absolute Buddha Vehicle that is also synonymous with Buddha-nature. The following is from the Lotus Sutra series:

Scholars continue to ponder the true meaning behind what is exactly the nature of the “One Vehicle”. Could it be the Bodhisattva as opposed to the śrāvakayāna or pratyekabuddhayāna? Or is it simply in reference to the “Great-Vehicle”, or Mahayana? Or even perhaps the One Dharma that encompasses them all? The fact remains that the Lotus Sutra never explicitly defines it; it does however give broad hints that whatever its true variable is, it rests solely in leading all people to attain Buddhahood. At this junction I’m going out on a limb and conjecture that the One Vehicle=Buddha-nature. I believe that the ongoing study of the sutra will support this thesis. Indeed, this One-Vehicle is meant to supplant the former-three, which had provided provisional expedient means to enlightenment but never quite satisfied the Core Element of Buddhism itself which can be argued, in particular through the latter Ch’an schools, that the Bodhikaya, or the fully awakened Body is non- other than the One Mind, or one’s innate Buddha-nature.

We shall also soon realize that the “Great-One-Vehicle” IS Self-Realized as the Absolute Buddha Body of the Dharmakaya; in particular AS Tathagatagarbha that is within all sentient beings AS their Buddha-nature.

“The Buddha, the World-Honored One, has discoursed on six subjects,

Namely, the abiding of the true Dharma, the extinction of the true Dharma, the Pratimoksa, the Vinaya, true renunciation of the household life, and full monastic ordination. lt is for the sake of the Mahayana that these six subjects are taught. Why? The abiding of the true Dharma is taught for the sake of the Mahayana because the abiding of the Mahayana is the abiding of the true Dharma. The extinction of the true Dharma is taught for the sake of the Mahayana because the extinction of the Mahayana is the extinction of the true Dharma. As for the Pratimoksa and the Vinaya, these two Dharmas differ in name, but mean the same. Vinaya is instruction for the Mahayana. Why? It is for the sake of Buddhahood,[which is the aim of the Mahayana,| that one leaves the household life and receives full monastic ordination. Therefore, the Vinaya, true renunciation of the household life, and full monastic ordination are all Mahayana disciplines. 

Pratimoksa: Monastic-regulatory rules

Vinaya: the monastic discipline based on the Canonical Texts

The extinction of the true dharma: it is best here to include the following sutra (in its entirety) that best describes the nature of this “extinction”:

[The Buddha Speaks the Ultimate Extinction of the Dharma Sutra

Thus I have heard. At one time the Buddha was in the state of Kushinagara. The Tathagata was to enter nirvana within three months and the bhikshus and Bodhisattvas as well as the great multitude of beings had come to pay homage to the Buddha and to bow in reverence. The World Honored One was tranquil and silent. He spoke not a word and his light did not appear. Worthy Ananda bowed and asked the Buddha,

“ 0 Bhagavan, heretofore whenever you spoke the Dharma, awesome light would naturally appear. Yet today among this great assembly there is no such radiance. There must be a good cause for this and we wish to hear the Bhagavan’s explanation.”

The Buddha remained silent and did not answer until the request had been repeated three times. He then told Ananda,

”After I enter nirvana, when the Dharma is about to perish, during the evil age of the five turbidities, the way of demons will flourish. Demonic beings will become shramanas; they will pervert and destroy my teachings. Monastics will wear the garb of laypersons and will prefer handsome clothes. Their precept sashes will be made of multi-colored cloth. They will use intoxicants, eat meat, kill other beings and they will indulge in their desire for flavorful food. They will lack compassion and they will bear hatred and exhibit jealousy even among themselves.

”Even then Bodhisattvas, Pratyekabuddhas, and Arhats will reverently and diligently cultivate immaculate virtue. They will be respected by all people and their teachings will be fair and egalitarian. These cultivators of the Way will take pity on the poor, they will be mindful of the aged, and they will save and give counsel to those people they find in difficult circumstances. They will at all times exhort others to worship and to protect sutras and images of the Buddha. They will do meritorious deeds, be resolute and kind, and never harm others. They will make physical sacrifices for others’ benefit. They will hold no great regard for themselves but will be patient, yielding, humane, and peaceful.

”As long as such people exist, the hordes of demonic bhikshus will be jealous of them. The demons will harass them, slander and defame them, expel them from their midst and degrade them. They will ostracize the good monks from the monastic community. Thereafter these demons derive no virtue from their practice. Their monastic buildings will be vacant and overgrown with weeds. For want of care and maintenance their Way-places will drift into ruin and oblivion. The demonic bhikshus will increase their greed for wealth and will amass great heaps of goods. They will refuse to distribute any of it or to use it to gain blessings and virtue.

”At this time, the evil monks will buy and sell slaves to till their fields and to slash and burn the mountain forests. They will do harm to living creatures and they will feel not the least bit of compassion. These slaves will themselves become bhikshus and maidservants will become bhikshunis. Totally lacking in Way-virtue, these people will run amok, indulging in licentious behavior. In their turbid confusion they will fail to separate the men from the women in the monastic communities. From this generation on, the Way will be weakened. Fugitives from the law will seek refuge in my Way, wishing to be shramanas but failing to observe the moral regulations. Monastics will continue to recite the precepts twice a month, but in name alone. Being lazy and lax, no one will want to listen any longer. These evil shramanas will be unwilling to recite the sutras in their entirety and they will make abbreviations at the beginning and at the end of the texts as they please. Soon the practice of reciting sutras will stop altogether. Even if there are people who recite texts, they will be unlettered, unqualified people who will insist, nonetheless, that they are correct. Bumptious, arrogant, and vain, these people will seek fame and glory. They will put on airs in the hope of attracting offerings from other people.

”When the lives of these demonic bhikshus come to an end their essential spirits will fall into the Avichi Hell. Having committed the five evil deeds, they will suffer successive rebirths as hungry ghosts and as animals. They will know all such states of woe as they pass on through eons as numerous as sands on the banks of the Ganges River. When their offenses are accounted for they will be reborn in a border land where the Triple Jewel is unknown.

”When the Dharma is about to disappear, women will become vigorous and will at all times do deeds of virtue. Men will grow lax and will no longer speak the Dharma. Those who are genuine shramanas will be looked upon as dung and no one will have faith in them. When the Dharma is about to perish, all the gods will begin to weep. Rivers will dry up and the five grains will not ripen. Pestilences will frequently take millions of lives. The masses will toil and suffer while the local officials will plot and scheme. No one will adhere to principles. Instead, the human race will multiply, becoming like the sands of the ocean-bed. Good persons will be hard to find; at most there will be one or two. As the eon comes to a close, the revolutions of the sun and the moon will grow short and the lifespan of people will decrease. Their hair will turn white by the time they are forty. Because of excessive licentious behavior they will quickly exhaust their seminal fluids and will die at a young age, usually before sixty years. As the lifespan of males decreases, that of females will increase to seventy, eighty, ninety, or one hundred years.

”The mighty rivers will flood and lose harmony with their natural cycles, yet people will not take notice or feel concern. Extremes of climate will soon be taken for granted. Beings of all races will mix together at random, without regard for the noble and the mean. Their births and rebirths will cause them to sink and float, like feeding aquatic creatures.

”Even then Bodhisattvas, Pratyekabuddhas, and Arhats will gather together in an unprecedented assembly because they will all have been harried and pursued by the hordes of demons. They will no longer dwell in the assemblies but the Three Vehicles will retreat to the wilderness. In a tranquil place they will find shelter, happiness, and long life. Gods will protect them and the moon will shine down upon them. The Three Vehicles will have an opportunity to meet together and the Way will flourish. However, within fifty-two years the Shurangama Sutra and the Pratyutpanna [Standing Buddha] Samadhi, will be the first to change and then to disappear. The twelve divisions of the canon will gradually follow until they vanish completely, never to appear again. Its words and texts will be totally unknown ever after. The precept sashes of shramanas will turn white of themselves. When my Dharma disappears it will be just like an oil lamp that flares brightly for an instant just before it goes out. So too, will the Dharma flare and die. After this time it is difficult to speak with certainty of what will follow.

”A period of ten million years will follow before the time when Maitreya is about to appear in the world to become the next Buddha. At that time the planet will be entirely peaceful. Evil vapors will have dissipated, rain will be ample and regular, and crops will grow abundantly. Trees will grow to a great height and people will grow to be eighty feet tall. The average lifespan will extend to 84,000 years. It will be impossible to count all the beings who will be taken across to liberation.”

Worthy Ananda addressed the Buddha, “What should we call this Sutra and how shall we uphold it?”

The Buddha said, “Ananda, this sutra is called The Ultimate Extinction of the Dharma. Tell everyone to propagate it widely; the merit of your actions will be measureless, beyond reckoning.”

When the four-fold assembly of disciples heard this sutra they grieved and wept. Each of them resolved to attain the true path of the Supreme Sage. Then bowing to the Buddha, they withdrew.

End of The Buddha Speaks the Ultimate Extinction of the Dharma Sutra.]

“World-Honored One, the Arhats do not [truly| leave the household life or receive full monastic ordination. Why? Because it is not for the sake of Tathagatahood that they leave the household life or receive full monastic ordination. 

“The Arhats take refuge in the Tathigata out of fear. Why? The Arhats are constantly afraid of all phenomena, as if someone sought to harm them with a sword in hand. Therefore, they do not actually accomplish the deeds of renunciation, nor do they attain the ultimate bliss. World-Honored One, [he who does not need] a refuge does not seek a refuge, just as sentient beings without refuge are afraid of this and that and seek refuge For the sake of security and peace, so, World-Honored One, the Arhats take refuge in the Tathagata out of fear. 

It is imperative here to differentiate the type of “arhat” the sutra is referring to. The Lankavatara Sutra is an excellent text that wonderfully breaks this down:

Tathagatas, Arhats, Fully-Enlightened Ones…

Again, Mahamati, the Arhat is the one who has attained the Dhyanas, Samadhis, emancipations, powers, psychic faculties, and with whom there are no more passions, sufferings, and discriminations. Hence the appellation “Arhat.”

Mahamati said: Now, the Blessed One declares that there are three kinds of Arhats: to which one of the three is this term “Arhat” to be applied? To one who makes straightway for the path of cessation? Or to one who neglects all his accumulated stock of merit for the sake of his vow to enlighten others? Or to one who is a form of the Transformation Buddha?

Replied the Blessed One: Mahamati, the term “Arhat” applies to the Sravaka who makes straightway for the path of cessation, and to no others. Mahamati, as for the others, they are those who have finished practicing the deeds of a Bodhisattva; they are forms of the Transformation Buddha.

“Thus, the Arhats and the Pratyeltabuddhas have not ended their rebirths, have not sufficiently cultivated pure conduct, have not accomplished what should be accomplished, and have not completely eradicated what should be eradicated; they are still far from nirvana. Why? Only the Tathagata, the Worthy One, the Perfectly Enlightened One, has attained nirvana; has achieved all the infinite, inconceivable merits; has eradicated all that should be eradicated; is ultimately pure; is adored by all sentient beings; and has transcended the states of the two vehicles and of the Bodhisattvas. The Arhats and so forth have not done so. It is only as skillful means that the Buddha speaks of them as having attained nirvana. Therefore, they are still far from nirvana. 

Only the Tathagata: Wayman’s text refers this as Tathagata-Arhat-Samyaksambuddhas. A better reference with nirvana here ought to be parinirvana—unexcelled, complete and final nirvana, that is only realizable by the Tathagatas. 

“World-Honored One, when the Tathagata says that the Arhats and Pratyekabuddhas have an insight into liberation, thoroughly possess the four knowledges, and have attained ultimate relief and rest, he is speaking of the expedient truth in order to accommodate others’ inclinations. Why? There are two kinds of [birth and] death. What are the two? They are the recurring |birth and] death and the transformational [birth and] death. The recurring [birth and] death are the [birth and death of] sentient beings who continue [to exist in samsara]. The transformational [birth and] death are [the birth and death of | the mind-created bodies of Arhats, Pratyeltabuddhas, and liberated Bodhisattvas, which they retain until they attain bodhi. Now, of the two kinds of [birth and] death, it is with regard to the recurring [birth and] death that the Arhats and Pratyekabuddhas are said to know they have exhausted their rebirths. Because they have realized the incomplete fruit, they are said to know they have fully cultivated pure conduct. Because they have thoroughly eradicated the continuous defilements—which cannot be accomplished by any ordinary people or by the seven grades of learners—they are said to know they have accomplished what should be accomplished.  

the four knowledges: knowedge of the Four Noble Truths

mind-created bodies: manomaya-kaya… 

manomaya-kāya 意生身, “a body made by mind”, not only in a ascetic, but also a philosophical sense. Manomaya-kāya is presented as a meditator’s new body that is created in the process of meditation. Distinguished from the mortal body, the “body made by mind” is described as performing supernormal activities such as penetrating walls, and leaping across spatial distances. (The Philosophical Meaning of  Manomaya-kaya, Sumi Lee) 

The manomayakaya has also been thoroughly presented elsewhere in these blogs. As is specified in this section, it is an early-mode of manomaya-kaya before the actualization of exceptional-mode of manomayakaya as exhibited by the Transformation-Arhats and advanced Bodhisattvas (described earlier above) at the 4th stage Dhyana and above:

Manomaya-kāya is described as a body obtained by the practitioner at the stage of the fourth Jhāna of four Jhānas: 

“With his mind thus concentrated, purified, and bright, unblemished, free from defects, pliant, malleable, steady, and attained to imperturbability, he directs and inclines it to creating manomaya-kāya. From this body he creates another body, endowed with form, made of the mind, complete in all its parts, not inferior in its faculties. 

The Lankavatara Sutra states: 

‘All things are to be regarded as forms born of a vision or a dream and have never been created since there are no such things as self, the other, or bothness. [The Bodhisattvas] will see that the external world exists only in conformity with Mind-only; and seeing that there is no stirring of the Vijñānas and that the triple world is a complicated network of causation and owes its rise to discrimination…. Establishing themselves on the eighth stage of Bodhisattvahood, they will experience a revulsion [in their consciousness] by transcending the Citta, Manas, and Manovijñāna, and the five Dharmas, and the [three] Svabhāvas, and the twofold Egolessness, and thereby attain the mind-made body (manomaya-kāya)…’ 

In other words, manomaya-kāya is the body of the saints in “transformed samsāra” (one of the two kinds of samsāra), distinguished from the mortal body of sentient beings in the “three realms”. The “transformed samsāra” of the saints is entered where manomaya-kāya is obtained by discarding the mortal body through the meditative practice: the meditator enters the stage of the saint just at the moment he discards his mortal body and receives manomaya-kāya. (ibid, Sumi Lee) 

*This excellent resource on the Manomaya-kaya is now available in our library 

The seven grades of learners: those who are approaching the fruit of a stream-enterer, and those who have obtained it; those who are approaching the fruit of a once-returner, and those who have obtained it; those who are approaching the fruit of a non-returner, and those who have obtained it; and those who are approaching the fruit of one beyond learning, i.e., an Arhat.

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2 Responses to The Queen’s Mahayana

  1. Mahasidhra says:

    So that’s the source of the often repeated claim that the Shurangama Sutra will be the first to disappear! Seen that claim before but never read the Dharma-Extinction Sutra itself (I shorten its name here).

    seems to me that the “manomaya-kāya” is almost a taboo topic; it is seldom if ever discussed in the West (not sure about the East). Good to learn more about it. Looking forward to reading that new addition to the Library when the time is right for me to study it. At this juncture it seems to be too advanced for me. But it certainly fascinates.

    • Vajragoni says:

      Yes, the manomayakaya can get rather sticky. The resource is excellent; it breaks it down into philosophical, psychological, ontological, and ascetical categories. There is frequent reference within these blogs–where it takes on a more spiritual component. Do a search here sometime, the study of it is fascinating.

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