Dharmatā

It may be of interest to some of the readership as to what is the method employed when undertaking the exegesis of the Sutras in these Dharma-series. Firstly, the given Chapters are diligently read and digested in terms of its main import which is then followed by reading the different translations side-by-side, accompanied with some research on key elements. Afterwards I enter into meditation, preferably with an appropriate ambient-audio track that fine-tunes the inner recesses of my spirit. Next I invoke the unparalleled aid of the Tathagatas, sometime referred in various series as the Primordial Mentor, empowering me to discern what stands out as a dominant theme in the given chapter. The given dominant theme usually becomes the title of the blog itself. Some time is then spent away from the Dharma-study altogether allowing all of these inspired elements to slowly come together in one coherent whole, much like a simmering-stew. After all this preparation, whilst continually invoking the aid of the Primordial Spirit, the blog itself is ready for composition.

Chapter Four: Longevity

(Mark L. Blum translation):

The Blessed One continues to encourage the bhikṣus to ask him any questions concerning the Dharma and/or their own monastic discipline. They respond that they haven’t the adequate wisdom to ask him something appropriate given their status as non-bodhisattvas. Even the great Ānanda himself would never be up to such a task. They then reinforce this claim:

…if you entrust the jewel of the dharma to Ānanda and the other bhikṣus, [we fear] it cannot abide for long. Why? Because without exception all śrāvakas, even [Ānanda and] Mahākāsyapa, are impermanent… For this reason the unsurpassed dharma of the Buddha should be entrusted to the bodhisattvas. By means of their dialogic [culture of] “inquiry and reply” at which they are so adept, the jewel of the dharma under their care will abide through incalculable thousands of kalpas. And during that time it will surely grow and flourish, bringing benefit and comfort to living beings, just like that healthy [young] man who accepted the valuables from another [and made provisions for them to be kept beyond his own lifetime]. It is in this sense that we wonder how even great bodhisattvas could put forth questions to you. [In comparison,] our wisdom is analogous to that of a mosquito. How could we presume to be able to inquire about the profound teaching of the Tathāgata?

Then the Buddha praised the monks, saying:

Excellent, excellent. Well have you attained minds without contamination, the minds of arhats. I have also thought about the circumstances of these two groups and accordingly I take the Mahāyāna and entrust it to the bodhisattvas, enabling this wondrous teaching to remain in the world for a very long time.

The stage is then set as a young bodhisattva-mahāsattva steps forth from the crowd to address the Blest One:

At that time there was a bodhisattva-mahāsattva in the crowd, originally from the village of Tāla. Known as Mahākāśyapa, he was a brahman and still young in years. Through the Buddha’s special powers he rose from his seat, threw his robe over his right shoulder, and circumambulated the Buddha for a hundred thousand paces before kneeling before him, with his right knee on the ground, pressing his palms together, and speaking thus: “World-Honored One, I now have a few questions I would like to ask. If the Buddha permits, I would dare speak.”

This Mahākāśyapa is not to be confused with the first patriarch of the Chan school. Yet, although he was not the same one, he was someone equally astute in the Buddhadharma. Once again, as in the Cunda Chapter, it appears as if the Dharma-scribes chose this particular name for some reinforced purpose, in this instance including the auspicious name so that the entire assembly (as well as the readership of the sutra) perks-up and listens attentively to this familiarly named bodhisattva-mahāsattva asking well-measured questions to the Tathagata.

After the Buddha acknowledges Kāśyapa, the bodhisattva-mahāsattva asks the following, marvelously set in verse-format:

How does one gain long life, and
An adamantine, indestructible body?
By means of what causal principles
Does one attain such solid power?
How can this sutra
Bring us to the ultimate, to the other shore?
We beseech the Buddha to reveal these secrets
For a wide range of living beings.
How does one achieve something so grand
That he becomes a spiritual support for other living beings?
When in truth someone is not an arhat
How can he have the capacity of an arhat?
How can we understand the deity Māra,
Who creates obstacles for living beings?
A Buddha utterance and a [Māra] Pāpīyas utterance—
By what understanding can we distinguish them?
What are the controls within ourselves,
For rejoicing and expounding the [Four Noble] Truths.
How might our good karmic acts be so thoroughly accomplished
That we explicate the four inversions [for others]?
How does one create good karma?
Great Sage, please explain this now.
How can the bodhisattvas
Manage to see the nature of what is difficult to see?
How can one grasp the meanings of
Complete syllables and half-syllables?41
How can we pair sacred observances,
Like the sārasa and kācilindi birds,42
The sun and moon, and
The planets Venus and Jupiter?
How is it that someone who has yet to commit to the path
Is still called a bodhisattva?
In the midst of a large community,
How can one attain fearlessness?
Like gold from the Jambū River,
With which no one can find fault,
Where in this sullied world,
Are those as immaculate as a lotus flower?
Where among those having the defilements,
Are those whom the defilements cannot stain,
Who can be like physicians treating illnesses
Yet not afflicted by those illnesses?
How in this great ocean of birth and death
Can one become the captain of his ship?
How can one jettison saṃsāra,
Like a snake shedding its skin?
How should we contemplate the Three Jewels
So they become like wish-fulfilling trees for the gods?
If the three vehicles are without self-nature,
Then how do we then explain them?
Concerning the nonorigination of the bliss [of nirvāṇa]:
Why is it said that one “acquires bliss” [when attaining it]?
How can bodhisattvas
Create a community that is not fractured?
How is it that people born blind
Can nonetheless create eyes to guide themselves?
How should we express our many faces
When we seek only for the Great Sage to preach?
How can our preaching of the dharma
Expand like a moon growing fuller each day?
How can we also express
The ultimate that is nirvāṇa?
How can we show courage
Toward humans, gods, and Māras?
How should we understand the dharma-nature (*dharmatā)
Even as we accept our longing for the dharma?
How can bodhisattvas
Distance themselves from all illness?
How can we, for other living beings
Unpack these mysteries?
How can we explain the ultimate,
As well as what is not ultimate?
If one cuts through one’s web of uncertainty,
Why is this not spoken of as definitive?
How should we approach
The path to the supreme and unsurpassed [awakening]?
I now beseech the Tathāgata,
On behalf of the bodhisattvas.
Hoping for an exposition of great depth
And subtlety about our practice.
Within each and every dharma
Is a nature tranquil and joyous.
I humbly implore the Honorable Great Sage,
To explain this to us in some detail!
O Great Support for living beings,
Most Honored One on Two Legs, Wondrous Remedy,
I now want to ask about the aggregates (skandhas)
Yet I lack the wisdom to do so.
Diligent are the bodhisattvas,
But they, too, cannot understand [these things].
Such things are profound indeed—
It is the realm of buddhas!

Two main verses prominently standout as prime-significance in this chapter: gaining long-life and the nature of the dharmatā.

At that time the Buddha said to Kāśyapa:

Good man, listen carefully. Listen carefully! I will now explain for you the acts that led to the Tathāgata’s gaining this long life. A bodhisattva obtains a long life by means of the causality in his karma. For that reason you should concentrate and listen carefully. If you can establish a proper karmic cause for bodhi, then by all means you should listen carefully to the meanings [I will expound]. And having heard and absorbed this, you can turn to communicating it to others. Good man, it is because I cultivated proper behavior in this way that I attained anuttarā samyaksaṃbodhi, and now once again I shall disseminate this doctrine to all. Good man, this is analogous to a prince who commits a crime and is detained in prison, and the king whose intense pity and affection toward his beloved son brings him to redirect his carriage to that place of detention. Bodhisattvas are like this. If they desire to obtain long life they must protect all living beings just as if those beings were their own children. Bringing forth great sympathy (maitrī), great compassion (karuṇā), great sympathetic joy (muditā), and great equanimity (upekṣā), a bodhisattva bestows upon them the precept against killing and teaches them how to practice what are wholesome dharmas. You should also firmly establish all living beings in the five moral precepts and ten aspects of good character. In addition, you should enter all realms [of saṃsāra], including the realms of hell, hungry ghosts, animals, and asuras, so that you may also relieve the suffering living beings there, liberating anyone not yet liberated, saving anyone not yet saved, enabling anyone not in nirvāṇa to attain nirvāṇa. Calming all forms of fear [in others] is the type of karmic causality that causes bodhisattvas to then attain extremely long lives, to gain freedom in all forms of wisdom, and to be reborn in a heavenly realm when this lifetime comes to an end.

The Blessed One explains that the road to Bodhisattvahood as well as procuring a “long career” as such, the faithful adept needs to put-on-the-Mind-of Bodhi in order to properly affect such a mindset; afterwards only Beneficial-Karma (for the good of others) can be rightly confected. He also states that it was only through Right-Action that he was able to attain anuttarā samyaksaṃbodhi—this is also known As Right Karma through Right Intention. The natural order for such a Bodhi-minded one leads to unconditional acceptance of all sentient beings, imparting to them Great Compassion even if they are Hell-Dwellers. There is no exception to this Bodhisattvic Golden Rule. As we shall see, this even includes the icchantikas.

At that time the bodhisattva Kāśyapa addressed the Buddha again and said: World-Honored One, the meaning of your explanation that the bodhisattva-mahāsattvas should view living beings as their own children is profound but somewhat opaque, for I cannot quite understand it. World-Honored One, [to my understanding,] the Tathāgata should not tell bodhisattvas to cultivate impartiality toward living beings, regarding them [all] as his children. Why do I say this? Because within the Buddha’s dharma there are those who violate the precepts, commit heinous crimes, or malign the true-dharma. How could [you] perceive such people to be the same as your own children?

Kāśyapa is essentially referring to the Icchantikas. He cannot possibly conceive of supporting such a one who brings great scandal to the Buddhadharma!

The Buddha answered Kāśyapa by saying:

Kāśyapa, I look upon those who malign the true-dharma, the icchantikas, those who kill living beings, those who hold false views, and those who committed crimes in the past in the same way, which is that I regard them all with same compassion I have for Rāhula.

Good man, the Tathāgata chastises those who debase the dharma in order to show such people that there are moral consequences to engaging in bad behavior. Good man, understand that at the same time the Tathāgata does this without instilling fear in these wicked living beings, for I also shine one, two, perhaps even five beams of light [upon them]. Anyone who personally encounters this light will [be transformed] and will walk away from all such bad behavior. A tathāgata is equipped with immeasurable strength to perform such deeds.

This passage specifies, unequivocally so, that the Saving Light of the Mahayana is offered to all, regardless of their prior-actions. If anyone invokes this healing Unborn Light, then such a one is pardoned for past offenses and is liberated. The Blessed One goes so far as saying, “I look upon those acting in ways that are destructive of the dharma as if they were all equally my only child.”

On the Eternal Nature of the Tathagata

The Buddha Spoke Thus:

You should understand that a tathāgata is a permanently abiding dharma, an immutable dharma. This body of the Tathāgata [that you see now] is only a transformational body, it is not a body nourished by any sort of food. It is in order to save living beings that I show [my body] as identical to a poisonous tree; thus will I demonstrate the abandonment of this form and the entry into nirvāṇa. Kāśyapa, you should understand the Buddha to be a permanently abiding dharma, an immutable dharma. And it is within this context of that which is of ultimate significance that all of you should devote yourselves to your practice with single-minded commitment, and when you have completed your practice [similarly devote yourselves to] disseminating the teaching to others…

Good man, this is what I mean when I say that the Tathāgata is permanent and immutable, which is not the “permanent dharma” meant when a common, ordinary, or ignorant person refers to Brahmā or other deities. When someone invokes “permanent dharma” in the way I am speaking of here, it calls forth the Tathāgata and not any other dharma. Kāśyapa, you should understand a tathāgata body in this way. Kāśyapa, good men and good women should always focus their thoughts on cultivating understanding of these two words: the Buddha “permanently abides.” Kāśyapa, when a good man or good woman cultivates these two words, know that such a person is following that which I have practiced and will reach the same place that I have reached. Good man, if one’s practice of these two words comes to an end, understand that for that person the Tathāgata enters parinirvāṇa. Good man, the meaning of [my] nirvāṇa is none other than the dharma-nature or natural condition (dharmatā) of all buddhas.

We have arrived at the catch-word of today’s blog—the permanent and immutable condition of the [dharmatā].

Dharmatā:

Dharma-nature, the nature underlying all thing, the bhūtatathatā, a Mahāyāna philosophical concept unknown in Hīnayāna, v. 真如 and its various definitions in the 法 相, 三論 (or法性), 華嚴, and 天台 Schools. It is discussed both in its absolute and relative senses, or static and dynamic. In the Mahāparinirvāṇa sūtra and various śāstras the term has numerous alternative forms, which may be taken as definitions, i. e. 法定 inherent dharma, or Buddha-nature; 法住 abiding dharma-nature; 法界dharmakṣetra, realm of dharma; 法身 dharmakāya, embodiment of dharma; 實際 region of reality; 實相 reality; 空性 nature of the Void, i. e. immaterial nature; 佛性 Buddha-nature; 無相 appearance of nothingness, or immateriality; 真如bhūtatathatā; 如來藏tathāgatagarbha; 平等性 universal nature; 離生性 immortal nature; 無我性 impersonal nature; 虛定界: realm of abstraction; 不虛妄性 nature of no illusion; 不變異 性 immutable nature; 不思議界 realm beyond thought; 自性清淨心 mind of absolute purity, or unsulliedness, etc. Of these the terms 真如, 法性, and 實際 are most used by the Prajñāpāramitā sūtras.

(A Dictionary of Chinese Buddhist Terms William Edward Soothill, Lewis Hodous)

In Sanskrit, “the nature of reality,” or “the nature of things,” interpreted in Chinese as the “dharma-nature”; the intrinsic nature (SVABHĀVA) of dharmas, which is constant (NITYA) and transcends all discriminative phenomena. Dharmatā is also sometimes used to mean “the way things are,” and is used interchangeably with other terms that have the connotation of “the real nature of things,” such as “suchness,” or “things as they are” (TATHATĀ), dharma realm (DHARMADHĀTU), emptiness (ŚŪNYATĀ), the “real end” (BHŪTAKOṬI), ultimate truth (PARAMĀRTHASATYA), etc., and is sometimes used in compound with those terms. Dharmatā is said to be that which constantly exists in the world (nityasthita), whether or not the TATHĀGATAs appear to rediscover it.

In the East Asian Buddhist traditions, the dharma-nature, which is described as constant, equipoised, absolute, and essential reality, is contrasted with phenomenal characteristics, which are changing, discriminative, relative, and mere conventional reality.

Certain strands of Mahāyāna Buddhism also view dharmatā as one aspect of the dharma body (DHARMAKĀYA), bifurcating the dharmakāya between the dharma body as the true nature of things (* dharmatā– dharmakāya; C. faxing fashen) and dharma body as skill in means (* upāya– dharmakāya; C. fangbian fashen). The former refers to the dharma body that is free from appearances, viz., the constant dharma that is neither created nor destroyed; the latter refers to both the enjoyment body (SAṂBHOGAKĀYA) and transformation body (NIRMĀṆAKĀYA), which take on phenomenal appearances in order to guide sentient beings. Because dharmatā was considered to be the ultimate nature of reality, it also came to be viewed as the foundational nature of even deluded sentient beings. This notion that dharmatā was thus in some sense the original nature of sentient beings eventually evolved into the related notions of the embryo or womb of the buddhas (TATHĀGATAGARBHA) or the buddha-nature (BUDDHADHĀTU; FOXING), which posit that enlightenment is somehow innate in the minds of sentient beings. The HUAYAN school eventually comes to distinguish buddha-nature (foxing), which is the innate prospect sentient beings have of achieving buddhahood, from dharmatā, which is considered the principle of true suchness (bhūtatathatā) that underlies even inanimate objects. When dharmatā means “the nature of things,” it is referring to dependent origination (PRATĪTYASAMUTPĀDA).

(Buswell  Jr., Robert E.; Donald S., Jr. Lopez. The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism (Kindle Edition)

One other definition that ought to be included is the Bardo of the Dharmatā which involves:

Now when the bardo of dharmatā dawns upon me,
I will abandon all thoughts of fear and terror,
I will recognize whatever appears as my projection
and know it to be a vision of the bardo;
now that I have reached this crucial point
I will not fear the peaceful and wrathful ones, my own
projections.

The Diamond-Mind-Body—through its now heightened sense of Amala-consciousness—is empowered to truly abandon all those thoughts of fear and terror (diseased inclinations of the former Skandhic-host mind) fully supra-cognizant that “anything” appearing in the Bardo is just a projection (afterimage) of the now defunct body-consciousness.

The Lankavatara Sutra states that the Dharmatā is an “inner-essence” that is realized inwardly by one’s inmost Self.

The Blessed One is telling Kāśyapa to drill into his head the nirvanic reality of this Dharma-nature.

(Yamamoto-Page translation):

Bodhisattva Kasyapa said to the Buddha: “What might the “Dharmata” of the Tathagata mean? O World-Honoured One! I now desire to know about “Dharmata”. Have pity and expound this to me extensively. Now, “Dharmata” means “abandoning one’s body”. To abandon means “not to possess”. If not possessed, how can the body exist? If the body exists, how can we say that there is “Dharmata” in the body? If the body possesses “Dharmata”, how can the body exist? How can I know of this?”

The Buddha said to Kasyapa: “O good man! Do not speak thus – that extinction is “Dharmata”. Now, “Dharmata” knows no extinction. O good man! This is as with the no-thought heaven [the fourth dhyana heaven of the rupadhatu – Realm of Form], where there is no thought of matter, though matter is perfectly equipped [provided]. One might ask: “How, then, can devas live there, please and amuse themselves, and have peace, and how do they think, see, and ask?” O good man! The world of the Tathagata is not one which sravakas and pratyekabuddhas can know. Do not so explicate and say that the body of the Tathagata is extinction. O good man! The Tathagata and extinction are matters for the world of Buddhas. It is not within sravakas’ and pratyekabuddhas’ reach of knowing. O good man! Do not entertain such thoughts as where the Tathagata lives, where he works, where he is to be seen, where he enjoys himself. O good man! Such, too, are things which do not come within the compass of your knowing. Everything regarding the Dharma-Body of all Buddhas and everything regarding the various expedients are beyond the range of [worldly] knowing.

The Blessed One then sums up the chapter by stating the Best thing one ought to keep in mind:

“Also, next, O good man! Practise the teaching of the Buddha, Dharma and the life of the Sangha, and abide in the thought of the Eternal. These three things do not contradict one another. There is no form of the non-eternal [there], no change. Any person practicing these three as things which differ fails in the Three Refuges which are pure. This we should know. This is to say that such a person lacks a place to abide in. No precept is fully learned; no fruit can come about of sravakas or pratyekabuddhas. Anyone who abides in the thought of the Eternal in this All-Wonderfulness has a place to take refuge in. O good man! It is like the shadow accompanying a tree. The same is the case with the Tathagata. As there is the Eternal, there is a refuge that can be taken. It is not non-eternal. If it is said that the Tathagata is non-eternal, he cannot be a refuge for all the heavens and people of the world.”

The best rule of thumb is to remember is to practice the teachings of the Three Jewels. As we learned in our previous study of the Ratnagotravibhāgaśāstra, in practicing them “the Bodhisattvas, even though they may lack the extensive merits of the Srāvakas, are still morally superior in their compassion and their capacity for bodhicitta (enlightened consciousness).”

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2 Responses to Dharmatā

  1. Suki says:

    Excellent indeed! May the Tathagatas shower you with grace. _/\_

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