Then Sudhana went to Veshthila’s house in the city of Shubhaparamgama…
Veshthila said, “I have attained an enlightening liberation called ‘not ultimately exhausted.’ To my way of thinking, no buddha in any world ever has, does, or will become finally extinct, except as a docetic device. When I
opened the door of the shrine of the buddha Sandalwood Throne, I attained
an enlightening concentration called ‘manifestation of the endless lineage
of buddhas.’ I enter this concentration in each mental moment, and every
moment understand many kinds of excellence.”
docetic device: a doctrine that states the Buddha had no human-form, just an “appearance of one”—like a rainbow in the sky. Quite contrary to the Theravadin anthropocentric and historical accounts of the Buddha’s human form, it’s a doctrine that states he had a mind-borne appearance—much like the manomayakaya, or mind-made body; hence, the Blessed One has a peace-of-mind that is never disturbed, never exhausted, an equanimity that is never marred by pain or suffering. Of course, the Buddha’s Truth Body—his Dharmakaya—will always transcend any mere human appearance, being the Absolute and Imageless Essence of Transcendence itself; it is this latter context that best describes the householder, Veshthila, and his marvelous sandalwood altar that bears no icon—no image—which best demonstrates how the Buddha(s) have no visible sign of origination, or destruction. Li Tongxuan expounds:
When you understand that essence is space-like and find that appearances are like projections, you open up enlightened knowledge and vision; then there is no beginning and no end, no present and no past. Thus Veshthila said that when he opened the shrine he attained liberation without complete extinction, absorbed in the infinity of the lineages of buddhas. (ibid, pg. 57)
Veshthila states that when he is in this supra-essential mindset, he visits all subsequent and successive Buddhas of every world-system: “I immediately become aware of the succession of appearance of untold numbers of buddhas, of as many buddhas as atoms in the continent, as many as atoms in untold buddha-lands.” He continues:
“I also perceive the successive buddhas of the future, beginning with
Maitreya, seeing a hundred buddhas in a single mental instant, then a thousand, and so on, uninterruptedly seeing as many buddhas as atoms in untold buddha-lands. I also see the order of their aspiration and preparation and so on, and distinctly remember their teachings, take them up mindfully, examine them, follow them, and elucidate them. And just as I see the succession of past, future, and present buddhas in this world-system, so do I also comprehend the succession of all buddhas in as many past and future
world-systems in the ten directions as atoms in untold buddha-lands. I also
comprehend the order of the aspiration and preparations of those buddhas,
and I comprehend the unbroken continuity of the successive incarnations of
“I am also aware of the succession of buddhas of the present in all worlds
in the ten directions, beginning with Vairocana, incomparable, accessible to
faith and the vigorous resolution of enlightening beings, increasing the
energy of enlightening beings, unsurpassed by any worldlings, individual
illuminates, or enlightening beings who have not reached that sphere. In a
single mental instant I see a hundred buddhas; in the next instant of awareness I see a thousand buddhas, continuing thus without interruption until I meet as many buddhas as atoms in untold buddha-lands.
“I see whatever buddhas I wish, whenever I wish, and I hear all that has
been, is being, and will be spoken by those buddhas I meet, and I take up,
what I hear, remember it, examine it in action, analyze it, follow it with discernment, and elucidate it with wisdom.
Quite a potpourri of Transcendent-Exposures highlighting “this enlightening liberation of ultimate nonextinction.”
Certainly no stranger to the great pantheon of Preeminent Bodhisattvas, Avalokiteshvara is without question THE Bodhisattva of Universal Compassion. Sudhana’s encounter with him amidst his long litany of Spiritual Benefactors is quite an auspicious one. The following poetic-verse-segment best sums up this most auspicious visit; it is truly worth inclusion here in its entirety.
Having respectfully rendered honor and praise,
Sudhana, well controlled, went south.
On a cliff of a mountain he saw Avalokiteshvara,
the seer who abides in compassion.
On a diamond slope, adorned with jewels,
Sitting on a lion seat in a lotus calyx, the Steadfast,
Surrounded by various creatures and enlightening beings,
Expounds the Teaching to them.
Seeing this, Sudhana, his joy unequaled,
Went and bowed to the feet of the Ocean of Virtue
And said, “Teach me, noble one, with compassion,
To attain this good conduct.”
Extending his undefiled arm of a hundredfold auspicious splendor,
Radiating far-reaching pure light,
Avalokiteshvara, the purified being, the sage,
Laid his hand on Sudhana’s head and spoke:
“I know a gate of liberation, the embryo of knowledge
Of clouds of compassion of all buddhas,
Born of my own love and operating everywhere
To protect and care for all beings.
“I protect all beings from many disasters;
Those caught in the grip of enemies,
Physically injured, and imprisoned
Are freed from their bonds on hearing my name.
“Arrows shot at the condemned do not wound them,
Weapons break and swords are deflected
If they remember my name.
“In disputes among kings, those who remember my name
Defeat their adversaries and gain what is good,
Increase in repute among friends and relatives,
And their property becomes inviolable.
“Any who remember my name
Go without fear
To forests infested with bandits and wild animals,
Conquering all enemies.
“For those who are thrown from a mountain into burning coals
By malefactors to harm them,
The flames become lotus sprouts in a pond of water
If they remember my name.
“Thrown into the sea, they will not die,
Nor will they be swept away by a river or burned in fire:
No harm will come to them, but rather benefit instead,
If they remember my name, even for a while.
“From fetters, chains, and beatings,
Scorn, humiliation, and constraint,
Abuse, whipping, threats, and scolding,
Those who remember my name will gain release.
“The inimical, faultfinders,
Those who always maliciously slander,
Become friendly on sight
When they hear my name remembered.
“Evil magicians trying to kill them are appeased,
And no poison can injure those who remember my name.
“Malicious spirits, fiends, demons, and goblins, life-sapping, dangerous,
Are all quelled, even in dreams, once my name is recalled.
“One will not be separated from family and friends
Or be joined with the unfriendly
Or become materially destitute,
If one remembers my name, even for a while.
“Those who remember my name will not go to hell
Or become animals or ghosts
Or fall into other unfavorable states;
They will be reborn as celestial or human, purified beings.
“People remembering my name will not
Be blind, deaf, or infirm;
They will not be violent, but friendly
And sound in mind and body for countless ages.
“Those who scatter a handful of flowers over me,
Calling my name, go to my refuge of bliss;
Those who give me offerings with a clear mind
Will be worthy of receiving offerings in my buddha-land.
“Purified beings, passing away, are born here,
Face to face with the buddhas of all worlds;
Those who remember my name see the buddhas
And hear their teaching.
“By this and infinite other means
I guide sentient beings in the world;
I have developed one liberation,
And cannot know all the virtues of the virtuous.
“Sudhana has attended spiritual benefactors
In the worlds of the ten directions
And has not tired of hearing the teaching of the offspring of Buddha;
Why would joy not arise while hearing the Teaching?”
I discovered your most excellent blog not long ago. I will definitely follow your work and delve deep into the archives. Thank you very much for the enlightening effort you are doing on here!
“docetic device: a doctrine that states the Buddha had no human-form, just an “appearance of one”—like a rainbow in the sky.”
Could there be a parallel between this and what has been known as the “rainbow body” in aTibetan Vajrayana tradition? If this has been ‘attained’, the body will often completely disappear at physical death. This has been observed in numerous cases. Something very similar is described in Daoist traditions: the bodies of some highly realized adepts will disappear at death, as if completely absorbed into the Light. This was not described in the stories about Buddha Shakyamuni’s death, though – his body was instead cremated according to tradition.
Perhaps you would consider writing an article on the “rainbow body” and how this pertains to the realization of the Dharmakaya and so on? How is it to be understood in a broader context?
Many thanks for your message.
If you use the search function here there are further references to the “rainbow body” of which you refer. Among them, Tozen also has nice references to it; it would be interesting to hear more of his take on this.
Thank you for your reply, Vajragoni. I followed your advice and looked up the articles briefly mentioning the subject. It would indeed be interesting to read some more thoughts on the matter from Tozen. Speaking of which; is it true that Tozen is living in Sweden? So am I. Does he ever organize some kind of meetings or ‘events’ that a humble seeker for true Dharma might attend?
The implementation of a “Rainbow body is achived only by self realized Bodhisattvas of the 8th Bhumi and above. This is done at certain stages of their path depending on their dharma expedients (teaching of sentient beings). Some choose to “transform” their physical bodies (cellular matrix) into pure light (basically a converision of matter into energy by the sheer power of a unified will (Spirit) the very day they fully identifywith their true nature being a Spiritual body (bodhi) or Spiritual Being (Bodhi-Sattva). This body is made of pure Mind (as its dynamic essence) with a myriad functions available as to appear and dissapear within the gross consciousness field of ordinary beings. Examples of this is The Western Bodhisattva Jesus Christ and his full transformation into a Spiritual Body thus able to apply the dharma of a super being (in the eyes of ordinary sentients), Bodhidharma shed his biological body long before he went to China and commanded its appearance so well ppl really thought they dealt with a being of flesh like themselves. There are of cours emany more examples.
I am planning to write a long article on this and post it in my Dharma school (online UBM school) and of course also here on Vajragonis excellent Dharma blog.
Remember though that this is very advanced dharma and demands at least Kensho (first awakening to the reality of the Spiritual body of your true self) in order to make sense in terms of proper application and validation.
Looking forward to that blog–marvelous!!!
Thank you for your interesting reply, Tozen. The article that you are planning to write is a great idea.
There are even relatively recent examples of manifestations of the rainbow body “phenomenon” within the Tibetan vajrayana sphere, which would testify to the continuation of initiatic realization of a high degree in some of these lineages.