A Docetic Mirror

As was stated in the introductory blog to this series, Chapter Five on The Adamantine Body will directly mirror what was covered in a Dharma-series last year entitled A Docetic Assessment. So once again, at this junction in the sutra, we will be engaging Michael Radich and his examination of the docetic factor in light of the Mahāparinirvāṇasūtra. Recall that Docetic Buddhology is the belief that the Buddha only has “an apparent” material body. Radich argues that, in light of the first part of this chapter, that the Tathāgata’s true body is the dharmakāya-cum-vajrakāya. All this is broken down as follows (fully extracted from the aforementioned series):

A Buddha has no ordinary human embodiment, but rather a most salient transcendentemBODHIment, or the awakening of an Enlightened-Spirit within the Tathātic-Womb:

“Buddhas are not conceived and gestated in putrid, painful human wombs; rather, buddhahood springs from a “womb” (garbha), inherent in all sentient beings, in which glimmers the transcendent promise of final liberation from flesh altogether.” (Radich, pg. 10)

This is within the approximate vicinity of Unborn Mind, Tathāgatagarbha-Zen. Śākyamuni himself was not enlightened until his own inner-garbha child first stirred from within the depths of THAT Self-same Tathātic-Womb. After his mystical encounter beneath that Bodhi-tree the seed of Tathāgatahood was activated. It was thus that he became an awakened Buddha—or the One THAT transcends all defiled aggregated existence. His earlier “physical-birth” as Siddhartha was simply a manifestation of a vehicle that housed the garbha-seed until it was ready to become fully mature—in a very real sense, an Immaculate-Birth of his own Bodhi-child. Within the Tathāgatagarbha Doctrine this is elucidated as follows:

“I argue further that the elaboration of tathāgatagarbha doctrine in MPNMS is part of a much wider pattern of docetic Buddhology and its corollaries. In particular, the claim that all sentient beings have a garbha (“womb” or embryo”) of the Tathāgata within them, I suggest, was elaborated as a type of soteriologically-oriented, positive substitute for the idea that Buddhas could have their genesis in an ordinary, fleshly human womb, which was unacceptable to docetic thinking.” (Radich, pg. 13)

This is a milestone in revealing the soteriological-impetus that does not find its genesis within some defiled fleshy substratum, but rather within an Immaculate-Womb that gestates the transcendent-seed thus empowering one to become free from the samsaric-environment:

“Buddhas are not engendered by painful processes, from impure human mothers, touched by filthy physical organs; Buddhas properly have their genesis in a soteriologically loaded “womb” (garbha) found within all sentient beings.” (Radich, pg. 15)

Thus, while Gautama Buddha’s (as well as all other Buddhas-Tathāgatas) enlightened-spirit was not conceived in human fashion, the gestation of their garbha-child was housed within sentientalia AS the Tathāgatagarbha. Thus the sentient-factor is always relevant though never superior to the Self-Actualizing Principle THAT is housed within.

Radich argues, rightly so, that this “Adamantine Chapter” indicates that the Real Body of the Buddha is an immortal one, and that “his immortality is reflected in his embodiment in an utterly indestructible substance (Skt. vajra, Ch. jin’gang 金剛,“adamant”).” [T]he Tathāgata’s body [is] the eternal dharmakāya, the body of peace and bliss (安樂之身)…Yes, indeed, the Tathāgata’s Dharma-Body is adamant and indestructible. Hence, the first part of this chapter reinforces this:

Chapter Five: The Adamantine Body

(Mark L. Blum translation):
At that time the World-Honored One once again addressed Kāśyapa, saying:
Good man, the body of a tathāgata is a permanently abiding body, an
indestructible body, an adamantine body; it is not a body sustained by food of
any sort. In other words, it is a dharma body.
The bodhisattva Kāśyapa said to the Buddha: World-Honored One, I do not see anything like the bodies that you have just enumerated. All that I can see is a body that is impermanent, destructible, made up of atoms, which consumes different foods, and so forth. Why? Because the Tathāgata is about to enter nirvana.
The Buddha said:
Kāśyapa. Now you must not say that the Tathāgata’s body is not solid, that it is
subject to destruction like the body of an ordinary person. Good man, you
should be aware of the fact that the body of a tathāgata has become hardened
and difficult to destroy over an immense period of time-hundreds of millions
of kalpas. It is not like the body of a human or a god, nor is it a body bound by
fear, nor is it a body that consumes any sort of food.
The tathāgata body is a body and is not a body. It was not born and it will not
cease to exist. It does not learn and it does not practice. It is immeasurable and boundless. It leaves no footprints. It does not discern things and has no forms to discern. It is utterly pure. It has no movement. It is neither passive nor active. It is nonabiding and nonbecoming. It is unflavored and unmixed. It was not created (saṃskṛta). It has no karma and no karmic fruit. It does not move. It does not disappear. It is not a thought, nor is it a number. It is inconceivable and it will always be inconceivable. It has no consciousness in the usual sense. Its thoughts are impartial, neither separate nor not separate. It is not and it is. It has neither coming nor going, and yet it does come and go. It cannot be destroyed, damaged, removed, or cut off. It does not come into existence and it does not go out of existence. It does not dominate and yet it is dominant. It is not being and it is not nonbeing. It is not realized and it is not observed. It cannot be put into words and yet it is not nonlinguistic.
It is neither definite nor indefinite. It cannot be seen yet it is clearly visible. It is without any location and yet it is located. It is without any residence and yet it resides. It is without darkness and without light. It has no quiescence and yet it is quiescent. It possesses nothing. It does not receive and it does not give. It is pure and without stain. It has no disputes, having cut off disputation. It resides without any place of residence.
It neither takes nor falls into [a samsaric existence]. It is neither a dharma nor a non-dharma. It is neither a field of merit nor not a field of merit. There is no exhausting it, it cannot be exhausted, and it is totally separate from all ways of being exhausted. It is empty and yet dissociated from emptiness. Although it does not permanently reside anywhere, there is no cessation of its thoughtstream. It has no stains. It is without words, existing apart from words. It is not voice, it is not speech, and it does not learn. It does not weigh and it does not measure.
It is neither unified nor differentiated. It is neither an image nor a
characteristic, though it is adorned with external characteristics. It is neither
bravery nor fear. It has no quiescence, it does not become quiet. It has no
heat, it does not warm. It is not visible, it has no external form…
It is not a body and yet it is not a nonbody; there is no way to fully
communicate this. Aside from one dharma characteristic, [its virtues] cannot
be enumerated. When it enters the final parinirvāṇa, it does not enter
parinirvāṇa. The dharma bodies of tathāgatas have all accomplished
innumerable subtle and virtuous qualities such as these. Kāśyapa, there is no
one other than a tathāgata who understands this; it is not something
understood by either śrāvakas or pratyekabuddhas.
Kāśyapa, a tathāgata body that has achieved virtuous qualities such as this is
not a body sustained by eating of any sort. Kāśyapa, as the virtuous qualities in the true body of a tathāgata are such, how could it also be subject to illness or stress, as vulnerable and fragile as an unfired pot? Kāśyapa, the reason the
Tathāgata manifests illness is in order to tame living beings. Good man, by now you should understand that the body of a tathāgata is an adamantine, vajra body. From this day forth you should always focus your thoughts on this meaning. Do not think of it as a body sustained by eating. Moreover, you
should explain to others as well that the Tathāgata’s body is in fact a dharma
body.

Thus this dharmakāya-cum-vajrakāya is the True Deathless and Imageless Body of the Tathāgata. Radich argues that the Dharmakāya-cum-Vajrakāya is the positive, docetic corollary to the impermanent, flesh and blood, narratives of the Buddha’s body:

“Dharmakāya is thus the first instance in MPNMS itself of what I am calling positive corollaries to docetic Buddhology – that is, it reinforces the docetic denial of the Buddha’s ordinary humanity, through the articulation of a positive alternative to the embodiment denied. In fact, I believe, it can be demonstrated that dharmakāya doctrine is also presented as such a positive corollary to docetic Buddhology in other key contexts, such as LAn and the Aṣṭasāharikā prajñāpāramitā (“Aṣṭa”), and this feature is key to explaining the elaboration of dharmakāya doctrine per se.” (Radich, The Mahāparinirvāṇa-mahāsūtra and Tathāgatagarbha Doctrine, pg. 132)

Once again, the soteriological-impetus and principle that originates within the Dharmakayic-womb of the Tathāgatagarbha is the sole transcendent alternative to traversing kalpa after kalpa garnering one’s “pound of flesh” over and above putting on the salvific Unborn Buddha Mind. What therefore liberates and empowers one to SEE with absolute assurance through the self-same eyes of the Tathāgatakaya the blessed Dharma-fields of Bhutatathata. As the MPNMS states most strikingly, ‘In this manner, the seeds of the dharmakāya are in my body.’
Of course, from a Lankavatarian perspective, this “special form of a body” that gestates within the Tathāgatagarbha is the Bodhi-child, the only one who can assume a Right-Position within the Trikaya. The Bodhi-seed, not a defiled skandhic-one, is the rightful heir to the kingdom of the Dharmakaya.

 

The second-half of this chapter takes a notable shift and focuses exclusively on the proper moral and spiritual discipline of the monks, as well as the laity in their own suitable and appropriate manner.

The bodhisattva Kāśyapa then addressed the Buddha:

World-Honored One, if we come across a monk who lives apart from any protected community, residing alone in an isolated, quiet spot in the hills or under a tree, should we call that person a true bhikṣu? What about a person who follows someone who provides protection [for the dharma]—should we recognize such people as householder shavelings?

householder shavelings: The question is about people who have not formally joined the sangha but who nevertheless study the sutras and preach on the benefits of the Buddhist teachings to others. They are something like self-ordained popular preachers operating outside the proper ecclesiastical channels of authority. (Blum’s footnote)

The Buddha informed Kāśyapa:

Do not use such language, calling them “householder shavelings.” There may be [individual] mendicants who, wherever they go, comport themselves in a manner that is deserving of offerings. They may read and recite sutras and engage in contemplation in seated meditation. And when people come to them with questions on the dharma, they may then give a sermon, speaking about charity, discipline, merit-making, minimizing desire, and knowing satisfaction therein.

*Note the Buddha’s important caveat to his statement:

But though they may be able to preach in various ways, they will never have [the authority of] the *lion’s roar*. They will not be surrounded by other lions, and they will not be able to vanquish the wicked who violate the norms of behavior. Bhikṣus such as these ultimately are unable to benefit themselves and they are unable to benefit others. You should understand these people to be lazy idlers. Although they may hold to the precepts and promote the pure practices [of a brahman], those people cannot really do anything. There may be bhikṣus who comport themselves in a manner that is deserving of offerings, but [only] if they are also able to accept the precepts and restrictions [of our community] and maintain them as such will they be able effect the lion’s roar when they preach the sublime dharma. This will be so throughout the ninefold canon of scriptures that are preached in order to benefit and comfort living beings; that is, sutras, verses, predictions, metric narratives, proclamations, past life stories of the Buddha’s disciples, past life stories of the Buddha, extended discourses, and miracles of the Buddha…

Anyone who wants to protect the true dharma effectively should study what has been outlined here. Kāśyapa, those who break the precepts and do not protect the dharma I call “householder shavelings.” Someone who does not maintain the precepts earns a name like this.

lion’s roar: The lion’s roar is a metaphor for the power and authority in the voice of the Buddha. In this context, it implies the authority of someone who has attained full understanding of the Buddha’s teaching. In other words, these people can preach and help others in their work, but they are limited in what they can do because they have not attained bodhi and therefore cannot be a source of refuge for a Buddhist. (Blum’s footnote)

One must note here that, for the Tathagata, rudimentarily being a bhikṣus does not make one a Dharma-heir. Yea, that high honor is reserved for the Noble Ariyans (and exceptional bodhisattvas) who have been bestowed with permanent Bodhi—those who have put-on-the- bodhimind and are therefore now authentic heirs of the Buddhadharma.

The Buddha also makes it clear that the monks have an orchestrated role as Dharma-protectors:

Kāśyapa, when I say someone is protecting the dharma, I am referring to [a monastic] who is endowed with right opinions who can disseminate widely the Mahāyāna scriptures. Such a person never keeps decorated royal parasols, oil pots, rice or other grains, or any kind of fruits or melons. He does not cultivate relationships with kings, government officials, or the wealthy for personal gain.

Kāśyapa, if there is a monk who preaches the dharma to others for personal gain, his followers and associates will learn from their teacher and also covet personal gain. This person will destroy his own community in this way.

Different types of sangha communities:

Kāśyapa, there are three types of sangha communities: 1) sanghas that include people who violate precepts, 2) sanghas made up of the foolish and ignorant, and 3) sanghas of people who live in a pure way. The communities that include people who violate precepts are easily spoiled, but the communities of those who are pure in keeping the precepts cannot be spoiled even by situations that offer them personal gain…

Which sanghas are pure? These are the monks who are not damaged by [the acts of] even ten trillion māras. The basic nature of this group of bodhisattvas is pure, and they are able to straighten out the other two groups I have just mentioned, enabling everyone to live in peace in pure communities. I call them, “dharma-protecting, most excellent vinaya masters.” Because of their desire to discipline and [thereby] benefit living beings, they understand which aspects of the moral precepts are unimportant and which are important. They do not affirm behavior that is not in keeping with the discipline; behavior in keeping with the discipline they do affirm.

It’s interesting to note that many diverse “religious communities” are made up with those who are lax in their disciplines and teachings, and others who steadfastly hold fast to the Orthodox ways. In the above context, the “True Dharma heirs and Protectors” will always place the Buddhadharma first and foremost before all else.

Most appropriately, the Blessed One sums up this chapter with the following auspicious words:

Excellent, excellent! The body of a Tathāgata is just that: a body that is adamantine and indestructible. Bodhisattvas should thoroughly study right perception and right understanding. If you are able to see all these things clearly in this way, then you will see the Buddha’s adamantine body, his indestructible body, just as if you were looking at images [of yourself] reflected in a mirror.

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