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and Śūnyatā in the Early and Developed
Vietnamese translation: Bồ tát và Tánh không trong kinh tạng Pāli và Đại thừa
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THE BUDDHA’S MAJOR CHARACTERISTICS THROUGH BUDDHA BODY PERCEPTIONS
The concepts of Śūnyatā(空 性) and Bodhisattvahood (菩 薩) find their culmination in the Tathāgata (如 來), who is the embodiment of the perfection of all virtues. How a Bodhisattva (菩 薩) acquires that position and how the transformation takes place are a matter of speculation for a Pṛthakjana and a path of strong footing for the Bodhisattvas Mahāsattvas (菩 薩 摩 訶 薩). The position of the latter, that is the Bodhisattvas Mahāsattvas is so high that in certain cases they are venerated in the same way as a ‘Samyak-sambodhi’ (正 等 覺). An instance may be cited from the epithets used and the attributes paid to Venerable Avalokiteśvara (觀 世 音 菩 薩). The Kāraṇḍavyūha Sūtra (莊 嚴 經) may be cited in order to substantiate this point. It is, therefore, in the fitness of things to discuss the Lakṣaṇas (characteristics, 好 相) and Anuvyañjanas (minor signs of the Buddha) as well as the major characteristics of the Buddha (佛 陀) through the transference of body (kāya, 身) perceptions in the history of Buddhism (佛 教) in detail.
The Buddha-kāya Concept in Pāli Scriptures
While tracing the origin and evolution of the Buddha-kāya(佛 身) concept, one is led to the original explanations offered in Pāli Scriptures regarding the personality of Śākyamuni (釋 迦 牟 尼 佛) who attained Buddhahood (佛 果) after years of religious austerities. Śākyamuni was an ordinary human being, a historical person who with his own karma (業) at his very birth as all other human beings, but with effort and determinate mind to eliminate all his bad karma and suffering, attained the final liberation to be an awaken one at the age of thirty-five.662
Then he found a system of philosophy and ethics which later on came to be known as Buddhism.
The Dīgha Nakayā gave expression to the conception of Buddha in the following words:
"The Blessed One is an arhat, a fully awakened one, endowed with knowledge and good conduct, happy, a knower of the world, unsurpassed, a leader able to control men, a teacher of men and gods, the awakened, the blessed. He knows thoroughly the worlds of gods, māras, recluses, brahmins and men, and having known them he makes his knowledge known to others. He preaches the dhamma (doctrines), which is excellent in the beginning, middle and end, etc."663
(Bhagavā arahaṁ sammasambuddho vijjācaraṇasampanno lokavidū anuttaro purisadhammasārathi satthā devamanussānam buddho bhagavā. So imaṁ lokaṁ sadevakaṁ sabrahmakaṁ sasamaṇa-brāhmaṇaṁ pajaṁ sadevaṁ sayaṁ abhiññā sacchi katvā pavedeti. So dhammseti adikalyāṇaṁ, etc).
A description like this does not suggest that Buddha was originally more than a man, a mortal. In the cosmology of the Buddhists, the gods of the various heavens, the highest of which is Brāhmaloka(梵 天),664 are only beings of superior merit and power, but they are inferior, in the matter of spiritual attainments, to the saints or Arahatas (阿 羅 漢). So in this description, the Hīnayanists do not attribute any transcendental or theistic element to Buddha. All they say is that Śākyamuni, by pure and simple spiritual culture in this life and as a result of the accumulated merits of his previous lives, reached the highest stage of perfection and attained not only knowledge and power superior to any man and god but also the highest knowledge and power attainable.
In the Majjhima Nikāya, Ānanda explains why Buddha should be considered superior to the Arahatas as well, although both arrived at the same goal. He says that there is not a single bhikkhu, who can be regarded as endowed with all the qualities in all their forms as possessed by Buddha. Moreover, a Buddha is the originator of the path not existing before, a knower and promulgator of the mārga, which is only followed by the Śrāvakas (聲 聞).665
In a land where the tendency to deify saints is so strong, it lies to the credit of the early Hīnayānists that they were able to retain the human conception of Buddha even a century or two after his actual existence, when the scriptures may be regarded as having been out into a definite shape. It is true, but, as he was a great personage, the Enlightened One, he was looked upon already in his lifetime by the members of his Order as a superhuman being with divine virtues:
"There are monks, these thirty-two marks peculiar to a great man, and for that great man who possesses them only two careers are open".
(Dvāttimsimāni bhikkhave, mahāpurisassa mahāpurisa lakkhanāni yehi samannāgatassa mahāpurisassa dveca gatiyo bhavanti anaññā: sace kho pana agāpasma anagāriyam pabbajati, araham hoti sammāsambuddho loke vicattacchado. idha bhikkhave mahāpuriso suppatitthita pādo hoti...)666
The texts tell us that the Buddha-body is endowed with the thirty-two marks of the Superman, and again that the Tathāgata’s body is made of diamonds and has ten powers and the fourfold ‘fearlessness’. Thus, his disciples put their absolute trust in Śākyamuni(釋 迦 牟 尼 佛), and praised him with various appellatives.
Śākyamuni himself said that he was the All-knowing and the Tathāgata(如 來), and acknowledged his own superhuman nature which was greatly widened and enlarged. Though his death showed his own human limitations subject to transience, his devoted followers could not but look upon Śākyamuni as a superhuman personage. Passages such as the following:
"Ānanda, if the Tathāgata so wishes, he can live for a kalpa or for the rest of the kalpa." (ramaniyam Ānanda rājagaham ramaniyo gijjhakūto pabbato. yassa kassaci Ānanda cattāro iddhipādā bhāvitā bahulīkatā yānikatā vatthukatā anutthitā paricitā susamāraddhā, so ākankamano kappam vā tiṭṭheyya kappāvasesam vā tathāgatassa kho Ānanda cattāro idddhipādā bhāvitā bahulīkatā,... so Ākankhamāno Ānanda tathāgato kappam vā tiṭṭheyya kappāvasesam vā ti.)667
And, ‘The Buddha put his golden foot out from the coffin’ may be regarded as the expressions of confidence of his followers who esteemed Śākyamuni as an imperishable, superhuman personality. Thus this superhuman nature of the Buddha was transmitted to later generations and enlarged with the passage of the composition of Buddha legends like the Jātakas. According to such literature the Enlightenment of the Buddha was attained not only by means of his practice of austerities for several years, but also by dint of the immeasurable good works in his previous lives, during numberless kalpas(劫 杷) and Śākyamuni is described as a superhuman being who has the thirty-two signs of perfection and the eighty marks of excellence, and eighteen exclusive properties.
As we see, these adherents considered the Buddha(佛 陀) to be a great teacher and naturally, superhuman qualities came to be attributed to him, not only after his death, but even while he was alive. These qualities both intellectual and moral and even physical sufficed to make him transform from a human being to the position of the ultimate reality of the world in later Hīnayāna (小 乘) and Mahāyāna Teachings (大 乘 佛 教).
The View of the Buddha in Early Periods (the Classification of Buddhist sects)
Such a view of the Buddha-body(佛 身) was characteristic of the period of traditional Schools, the Sthaviravādin (上 坐 部) and the Mahāsāṅghika (大 眾 部). And the Schools developed further these views.
In the Ariyapariyesana Sutta of the Theravādins is mentioned that Buddha attained omniscience and that he did not seek Nibbāna(涅 槃). He sought Samyak Sambuddhahood (正 等 覺),668 in order to propound, preach and promulgate hitherto unknown religious and philosophical views. He became a Seer and visualized highest Truth or the Reality — the Truth which was so deep and subtle that he was at first hesitant to preach the same to the people at large, as it would do more harm to them than good. He stated:
"I am the all-conqueror, I am omniscient, I am untouched by all worldly objects. I am perfect in this world; I am a teacher incomparable; I am the only enlightened, tranquilized and have extinguished everything."
(sabbobibho sabbavido’hamasmi, sabbesu dhammesu anopalitto. ahaṁ hi arahā loke, ahaṁ satthā anuttaro, eko’mhi sammāsambuddho sitibhūto ’smi nibbuto).669
Such utterances may well be the basis of the Mahāsānghika conception of Buddha. Buddha, it is said, at the intervention of Brahma, decided to preach his doctrines in a modified form for the benefit of the mediocre searchers after Truth to enable them to achieve their desired end. This modified teaching consists of the four Ārya truths (Ariya saccas, 四 妙 諦), Eightfold Path (Aṭṭhāṅgika-magga, 八 正 道), and the Law of Causation (Paticcasamuppāda, 緣 起 , 因 緣 生 起), the subject-matter of His first discourse. The Mahāyānists took the above decision of Buddha to establish their thesis that only an omniscient Buddha could realize the highest Truth and that his disciples, who heard the first discourse (Dhamma-cakkappavattana-sutta, 轉 法 輪 經), became known as the Śrāvakas (聲 聞), who could attain perfection (Arahathood, 阿 羅 漢 果) only by observing the instructions contained ‘in the discourse; in other words, they would realize only absence of individual soul (anatta-pudgalanairātmya, 我 空) and not the non-existence (dharma-suñyatā, 法 空) or sameness (tathatā, 如 來) of all phenomenal beings and objects.
The Theravādins and Sarvāstivādins along with their offshoots conceived of Buddha as a human being, who attained perfection (Buddhahood) and became omniscient at Bodhgayā. Until then he was subject to all human frailties common to a pious and meritorious person. The Mahāsānghikās did not subscribe to this view as they contended that how could one who was the best of all divine beings in merit and knowledge in his existence just prior to his birth as Prince Siddhārtha(士 達 多), become an ordinary human being. Hence his appearance in the mortal world was only fictitious in order to follow the ways of the world (lokānuvartana). He had achieved all the perfections in his previous existences as a Bodhisattva.
The Mahāsāṅghikās, therefore, attributed to Gautama Buddha(瞿 曇 佛) not only supra-mundane existence but also all perfections and omniscience from his so-called birth in the womb of Queen Māyā, and not from his attainment of Bodhi at Bodhgayā. It should be noted that the Mahāsānghikās had in mind Buddha Gautama of Saha lokadhātu (娑 婆 世 界) and not the countless Buddhas of the innumerable lokadhātus as conceived by the Mahāyānists.
The Mahāsānghikās and their offshoots mention specifically that:
1. Buddha’s body is entirely supra-mundane(lokottara, 出 世 間). The eighteen dhātus (界) bereft of impure dharmās (無 漏). The vocal, physical are dissociated from impurities (āsrava-visamyukta). The body has nothing worldly (laukika); it is purity only (anāsrava-mātra) and indestructible.
2. His material body(Rūpakāya, 色 身) is ‘unlimited’ as a result of his unlimited past merits. Paramārtha (真 諦) explains ‘unlimited’ as ‘immeasurable’ and ‘innumerable’. It can be either large or small, and it can also be of any number. In his created body (Nirmāṇa-kāya, 應 身) he can appear anywhere in the universe.
The Kathāvatthu(論 辯 邂)670 throws further light on the above. It states that, according to the Vetulyakas, the doctrine that the Buddha does not live in the world of men, neither should he be located anywhere and it is his created form (abhinimmito jino) that delivered the religious discourses.
The Theravādins account for this heresy by saying that it is due to the literal but wrong interpretation of the passage.671
"Buddha, born and enlightened in this world, overcame this
world and remained untouched by the things of the world."
This is supplemented by further discussions in the Kathāvatthu relating to the heresies also attributed to the Vetulyakas, viz., Navattabbam:
"It should not be said that Buddha lived in the world of men"
– (xviii. 1);
"Buddhas exist in all corners of the world" (xi.6)
"The discourses are delivered by created forms" (xviii. 2).
These show that according to the opponents of the Theravādins the Buddha is omnipresent and, as such, beyond the possibility of location in any particular direction or sphere and that all the preachings of Buddhism have been done by the apparitional images of Buddha.
With his usual naivety, Buddhaghosa(佛 音) understood the Vetulyakās as holding the opinion that Buddha remained always in the Tuṣita (兜 率 天) heaven, where he was before he came to this world. The discussions in the Kathāvatthu (論 辯 邂) as also the terse statement of Vasumitra (和 須 密 多) leave no room for doubt about the fact that Mahāsānghikās (大 眾 部) especially their offshoots, — the Vetulyakas and the Lokottaravādins (說 出 世 部) regarded Buddha as transcendental. From the discussion in the Kāthāvatthu673 concerning:
"Whether Buddhas mutually differ,"
It seems that the Andhakas(按 達 羅 , another offshoot of the Mahāsānghikās, 大 眾 部) were still concerned with the Sambhogakāya (報 身) and had not yet arrived at the conception of the Dharmakāya (法 身).
Buddhaghosa says that the Andhakas hold that Buddhas differ from one another in some qualities other than attainment like Satipatthāna(四 念 處), Sammappadhāna (四 正 勤), etc., the Orthodox school (佛 教 原 始) holding that Buddhas may differ in respect of sarīra (身 , body), āyu (壽 命 , length of life), a prabhāva (發 光 , radiance) but not in regard to the attainments mentioned above. The discussion in the Kathāvatthu (論 辯 邂)674 shows that the Uttarāpathakas held the views that Buddhas could have no karunā (慈 悲 , compassion) and that Buddha’s body was made of anāsrava dharma (清 淨 法 , pure elements).675
3. Buddha’s length of life (āyu) is unlimited on account of his past accumulated merits. He lives as long as the sentient beings live.
4. Buddha’s divine power(tejas, prabhāva, 能 力) is unlimited. He can appear in one moment all over the worlds of the universe.
5. Buddha is never tired of enlightening sentient beings and awakening pure faith (viśuddha-sraddhā) in them. The Chinese commentator explains that Buddha’s compassion(karunā, 慈 悲) is limitless and so in order to enlighten beings interminably, he never enters into Nirvāna.
6. As his mind is always in meditation, Buddha neither sleeps nor dreams.
7. Buddha can comprehend everything in one moment(eka-ksaṇikacitt, 剎 那). His mind is like a mirror. He can answer any question simultaneously without reflection. In the Kathāvatthu676 this doctrine is attributed to the Andhakas (按 達 羅), who contend that Buddha has knowledge, of all present matters (sabbasmiṁ paccuppanne ñānam atthīti).
8. Buddha is always aware that he has no impurities(kṣaya-jñāna, 盡 智) and that he cannot be reborn (anutpādajñāna, 無 再 生).
What has been stated above finds corroboration in the Mahāvastu(佛 本 行 集 經 異 本) in ornate language thus: The Bodhisattva in his last existence as Siddhārtha Gautama is self-born (upapāduka, 自 生) and is not born of parents; he sits cross-legged in the womb and preaches there from to the gods, who act as his protectors; while in the womb he remains untouched by phlegm and such other matters of the womb, and he issues out of the womb by the right side without piercing it. He has no lust (kāma) and so Rāhula (羅 候 羅) was also self-born.
Buddha’s acquisitions are all supramundane(lokottara, 出 世 間) and cannot be compared to anything worldly. His spiritual practices are supramundane and so are his merits, even his bodily movements such as walking, standing, sitting and lying are also supramundane. His eating, his putting on robes and other such acts are also supramundane. It is for following the ways of the world (lokānuvartana) that he shows his Īryāpathas. His feet are clean, still he washes them. His mouth smells like the lotus, still he cleanses his teeth. His body is not touched by the sun or wind or rain, still he puts on the garment and lives under a roof. He cannot have any disease and still he takes medicine to cure himself.
In the Abhidharmakośa(阿 毘 曇 俱 舍 論 頌) and its Vyākhyā, it is said that, according to the Mahāsānghikas, Buddhas appeal at the same time in more than one world and that they are omniscient in the sense that they know all dharmas at the same time. The former statement appears also in the Kathāvatthu.677 In the Kathāvatthu and the Kośa, no special doctrines about the Bodhisattva conception are attributed to the Mahāsāṅghikās.
Buddha follows the ways of the world just as much as he follows the transcendental ways. There is nothing common between Him and the beings of the world. If the transcendence of Buddha be admitted, then it follows that the length of his life should be unlimited and that he need not be subject to sleep or dream as he could have no fatigue. As he is ever awake how can he have dreams?
The lokottara conception appears only in the introductory portion of the Mahāvastu, and so it is evident that the text was originally Hīnayānic and that, in course of time, the introductory chapters were added by the Lokottaravādins. In the main text, the doctrines mentioned are essentially Hīnayānic, e.g., the Four Truths(Ariya saccas, 四 妙 諦), the Eightfold Path (Āṭṭhāṅgika-magga, 八 正 道), the Law of Causation (Pratītyasamutpāda, 緣 起 , 因 緣 生 起), Impermanence of Constituents of a Being (Skandhas, 蘊), non-existence of Soul (Anātman, 無 我), Theory of the Effect of past Deeds (karma, 業) the Thirty-seven Dharmas leading to Bodhi (Bodhipakṣīkadharmas, 三 十 七 (助) 道 品) and so forth. There is no mention of the non-existence of phenomenal objects (Dharmaśūnyatā, 法 空), of the Three bodies of Buddha (Trikāya, 三 身) and the two veils (āvaraṇas, 障) regarding the impurities (kleśa, 煩 惱 障) and the Truth (jñeyā, 所 知 障).678 The only Mahāyānic doctrines, viz., the four stages of the Practices of Bodhisattva (Bodhisattva-Caryās, 菩 薩 行), the Ten gradual spiritual Stages (Dasa Bhūmi, 十 地), countless Buddhas and their countless spheres (Ksetras, 佛 剎) appear more as later additions than as integral parts of the text.679 The Sarvāstivādins along with the Sthaviravādins contended that the living-body of the Buddha contained impure elements, while the Mahāsāṅghika argued that the Buddha-body was free from impure elements.
According to the Samayabhedoparacanacakra(異 部 宗 輪 論) the view that the living body of the Buddha is pure is a doctrine of the Mahāsāṅ ghika (大 眾 部), the Ekavyāvahārika (一 說 部), the Lokuttaravādin (說 出 世 部), and the Kurukulaka (計 引 部). This is described as follows:
1. The Buddha, the Blessed One transcends all worlds;
2. The Tathāgata has no worldly substances (Laukikadharma);
3. All the words of the Tathāgata preach the Dharma;
4. The Tathāgata explains explicitly all things;
5. The Tathāgata teaches all things as they are;
6. The Tathāgata has physical form (rūpa);
7. The Buddha’s authority is unlimited;
8. The life of the Buddha-body is limitless;
9. The Buddha is never tired of encouraging beings to develop faith;
10. The Buddha does not sleep;
11. The Tathāgata is above the need to ponder questions;
12. The Buddha, being always in meditation, utters no word (nāman); nevertheless, he preaches the truth for all beings by means of words and explanations.
13. The Buddha understands all matters instantaneously.
14. The Buddha gains complete understanding with his wisdom equal within a single thought-moment.
15. The Buddhas, unceasingly produce wisdom regarding destruction (of defilements: kṣaya-jñāna,盡 智), and wisdom concerning non-origination (anutpāda-jñāna, 無 生 智) until reaching Nirvāna.680
This assertion of the Mahāsāmghika to the effect that the living Buddha-body is a body without defilements and that the Buddha is a purely superhuman being, was according to the Abhidharma-mahāvibhāṣāśāstra(大 毘 婆 沙 論),681 supported by a passage from the texts as follows:
"Though the Tathāgata remains in the world, he is supramundane and cannot be defiled by worldly elements."
A passage of the Āgamas reads,
"The life of our Śākyamuni Buddha is extremely long, because his cosmic body (dharmakāya) survives the decay of his physical body,"
It seems also to support the view held by the Mahāsānghikas. According to this view, it is not the Buddha’s body which perished at the age of eighty years, but his superhuman character, that is, his true body, because the former is the embodiment of the latter. Such a view may be regarded as a doctrinal development of the teaching of the superhuman nature of the Buddha with the thirty-two signs of perfection and the eighteen exclusive properties. This theory may have been a forerunner of the Mahāyānistic view of the Buddha-body.
The Mahāvastu says:
"There is nothing in the world that would be equal to the Buddha. Everything pertaining to great sages transcends the world."
(na hi kimcit samyaksambuddhanam lokena samam. atha khalu sarvam eva mahesinam lokottaram.)
According to the Kathāvatthu and its commentary by Buddhaghosa, the same opinion was held by the Andhaka, Uttarāpathaka and Vetulyaka Schools. Contrary to the above theory, the Sthaviravādins(上 座 部) and the Sarvāstivādins (一 切 有 部) emphasized that the Buddha’s physical body contained defilements, i.e., that the Buddha’s physical body with defilement, which lasted for eighty years was his real body, while he attained the state of Nirvāna and realised the Cosmic Body free from defilements.
In the opinion of the Sarvāstivādins, although the Buddha has the thirty-two signs of perfection and the eighteen exclusive properties, his physical body is, like those of the ordinary people, a qualified and defiled body produced by karma(業). According to the Samayabhedoparacanacakra (異 部 宗 輪 論), the Sarvāstivādins say:
"Not all the words of the Tathāgata preach the Dharma; the Tathāgata does not explicitly explain all things as they are; all the scriptures are not stated with explicit meanings."
The Sarvāstivādins assert that the Cosmic Body is a blissful result of the accomplishment of morality, contemplation, wisdom, emancipation and insight into emancipation and the cosmic body is nothing but an abstract, static and theoretical Buddha which forms the basis of his physical body.
The Mahāsāṇghikas cite, to support their theory of the absence of defilement in the Buddha’s physical body, a passage from the Āgama:
"Though the Tathāgata remains in this world, he is supramundane and cannot be defiled by worldly elements."
But the Sarvāstivādins interpret the same passage to the effect that by the Buddha’s physical body is meant the Tathāgata remaining in this world and his Cosmic Body is designated by saying that he is supramundane and cannot be defiled(Abhidharma-mahāvibhāṣā-śāstra, 大 毘 婆 沙 論).682 Such an interpretation makes clear the stand-point of the Sarvāstivādins who distinguish in the abstract the Cosmic Body from the physical body. The difference of views of the Buddha-body between the Mahāsāṇghikās and the Sarvāstivādins seems to derive from the fact that the former views the physical body of the Buddha idealistically and the latter retards it realistically.683 Of the Hīnayāna schools, the Sthaviravādins had very little to do with the kāya conceptions. As Buddha was to them an actual man living in this world like any other human being and subject to all the frailties of body. Metaphorically they sometimes spoke of Buddha as identical with Dhamma without any metaphysical implication but these remarks gave an opportunity to the Sarvāstivādins and the Mahāyānists to put forth their theories of Dharmakāya (法 身).
The Sarvāstivādins commenced speculating on the kāya of Buddha, but it was the school of the Mahāsāṇghikās that took up the question of kāya in right earnest and paved the way for the speculations of the Mahāyānists.
In a land where the tendency to deify saints is so strong, that it lies to the credit of the early Hīnayānists that they were able to retain the human conception of Buddha even a century or two after his actual existence...
In the face of such descriptions of Buddha, it would have been difficult for the later Hīnayāna schools to sublimate the human elements in him, had it not been for certain expressions in some of the earlier works of the Piṭaka, which lent themselves to other interpretations. Some of these expressions are:
1. "Buddha said to Ānanda just before his Parinibbāna "the dhamma and vinaya that have been preached me will be your teacher after my death".
(Yo vo Ānanda mayā dhammo ca vinayo ca desito paññatto so vo maṁ accayena satthā.)684
The Dhamma(法) and Vinaya (律) clearly refer to the collection of doctrines and disciplinary rules delivered by the Buddha. It is also evident from the conversation of Ānanda with Gopaka-Moggallāna,685 in which the former explains why the monks after Buddha’s death should not be regarded as without refuge (appatisarana, 無 處 歸 依). He says that they have now a refuge in Dhamma (dhammapatisarana), which, he points out, are the doctrines and disciplinary rules.
2. "So a Śākyaputtīyasamana may say that he is born of Bhagavā, through his mouth, born of his doctrine, made of his doctrine, etc. Though in this passage Dhamma is equated to Brahmā, the context shows that there is no metaphysical sense in it; it is only to draw a parallel between a Brāhmaṇa and a Śākyaputtīyasamana that Dhammakāya is equated to Brahmakāya."
(Bhagavato’mhi putto oraso mukhato jāto dhammajo dhammanimmito dhammdāyādo iti. tam kissa hetu? tathāgatassa h’etam adhivacanam. dhammakayo iti pi brahmakāyo iti pi, dhammabhūto it pi ti.)
"Just as a brāhmaṇa would say that he is born of brahmā, through his mouth."
(Brāhmano putto oraso mukhato jāto brāhmajo brāhmanimmito brāhmadāyādo).686
3.Vakkali on his death-bed became very eager to see Buddha in person; so Bhagavā came to him and said:
(Alam vakkali kim te pūtikāyena diṭṭhena. yo kho vakkali dhammaṁ passati so maṁ passati. yo maṁpassati so dhammaṁ passati).687
Just after saying this, Buddha referred to his Dhamma of impermanence(anicca, 無 常). There are in the Nikāyās many passages of this import, which may well be taken as precursors of the later Mahāyānic conceptions and probably formed the basis of their speculations. But the passages, when read as they stand, do not appear to bear any metaphysical sense. In this passage, Buddha refers to his body as pūtikāya (不 淨 , body of impure matter), and to lay stress on his doctrines, he says that his dhamma should be looked upon with the same awe and reverence by his disciples as they regarded his person.
4. The passage in the Aṅguttara Nikāya, where Buddha says that he is neither a god, nor a gandhabba, nor a man, has been taken by Marson-Oursel as showing trace of the Mahāyānic kāya conceptions. It is not impossible to read some metaphysical ideas into the passage, though probably the compiler of the Suttas did not mean to convey them. Drona Brāhmaṇa, noticing the sign of wheel in the feet of Buddha, enquired of him whether he was a deva, a gandhabba(乾 撻 婆), a yakkha (夜 叉) or a mortal. Buddha replied that he was none of these beings as he had got rid of the āsavas (impurities) by the continuance of which one remains a deva, gandhabba, yakkha or a mortal. Just as a lotus is born in water, grows in it but it remains above and is apart from it, so also Buddha was born in the world, grew up in it but overcame it (abhibhuyya) and lived unaffected by the same. Therefore, he asked the Brāhmana not to regard him as anything but the Buddha.
Even if it be assumed that the Mahāyānic ideas are latent in the above-mentioned expressions, though not adequately expressed, the discussion in the Kathāvatthu to establish the historical existence of Buddha as against those who denied it and the manner in which references were made to the events of Buddha’s life as depicted in the Nikāyas leaves no vestige of doubt about the opinion of the Theravādins regarding the kāya of Buddha.
Though the terms Rūpakāya(色 身) and Dharmakāya (法 身) found their way into the later Pāli works from Mahāyāna or semi-Mahāyāna works, these did not bring with them any non-realistic sense.
Buddhaghoṣa even as late as the fifth century A.D. refers thus to the kāyas:
"That bhagavā, who is possessed of a resplendent rūpakāya, adorned with eighty minor signs and thirty-two major signs of a great man, and possessed of a dhammakāya purified in every way and glorified by sīla, samādhi, etc., full of splendour and virtue, incomparable and fully awakened".
(Yo pi so bhagavā asiti anuvyañjana-patimandita-dvattimsa-mahāpurisalakkhaṇa-vicitra-rūpakāyo sabbākāraparisuddha silakkhandhādigunaratana samiddha-dhammakāyo samahattapuññamahatta ... appatipuggalo araham sammāsambuddho).688
Though Buddhaghoṣa’s conception was realistic, he was not immune from the religious bias of attributing super-human powers to Buddha. In the Aṭṭhasālinī(論 殊 勝 義) he says that during the three months of his absence from the world while Buddha was engaged in preaching Abhidhamma to his mother in the Tuṣita (兜 率) heaven, he created some Nimmita-buddhas as exact replicas of himself. These Nimmita-buddhas could not be distinguished from the real Buddha in voice, words and even the rays of light that issued forth from his body. The created Buddha could be detected only by the gods of the higher classes and not by the ordinary gods or men of the world. In short, the early Hīnayānists conceived Buddha’s Rūpakāya (色 身) as that of a human being, and his Dhammakāya (法 身) as the collection of his Dhammas, doctrines and disciplinary rules collectively. 689
The Lalitavistara(神 通 遊 戲 經) gives us a picture of Buddha more superhuman than human and yet far from the Mahāyānic conceptions of the Sambhogakāya (報 身) and Dharmakāya (法 身), though in the last two chapters it dwells on the doctrine of Tathatā (真 如). In the Lalitavistara Buddha is deified but there are no traces of the Trikāya (三 身) conception. It says in many places that Buddha appears in the world of men for lokānuvartana (i.e., to follow the ways of the world), which, if he so desired, he could avoid by remaining in one of the heavens and attaining emancipation there. The running account of Buddha’s life is interrupted at times — probably these are afterthoughts of the compiler — by dialogues between Buddha and Ānanda, in order to make the treatise appear Mahāyānic and not Hīnayānic.690
At one place, Buddha explains to Ānanda that, unlike human beings, he did not stay in the filth of a mother’s womb but in a jewel-casket(ratnavyūha, 寶 藏) placed in the womb, which was as hard as a diamond but soft to the touch like the down of a Kācilindika bird (迦 亶 鄰 陀), and that his birth and other events connected with it were all superhuman. At the same time, he prophesied that there will be, in the future, men unrestrained in act, thought and speech, ignorant, faithless, proud, and believing without deliberation what is heard by them, who will not believe in the superhuman nature of his birth.
One can perceive through the poetical exaggerations of the Lalita-vistara(神 通 遊 戲 經) that it has in view the historical Buddha endowed with the major and minor signs — a human being after all, who requires to be reminded by the heavenly musicians of the acts of his past lives and his resolution to become a Buddha and rescue beings from misery, and who needs a stimulus to renounce the world in order to fulfill his resolution. In connection with the offer of houses, which were made by the gods to the Bodhisattva when he was in the womb, it is said that in order to please all the gods who offered houses, he caused his appearances by means of the Mahāvyūha Samādhi (大 莊 嚴 定). This does not clearly reflect any idea of the Nirmāṇakāya (應 身 , 化 身) — it appears more like some of the miracles mentioned in the Nikāyās. In the last chapter of the Lalitavistara where Buddha’s attributes are mentioned, he is called the great druma (mahādruma, 大 鼓) because he possessed a body of Dharmakāyajñāna (knowledge of Dharmakāya, 法 身 智).
As this chapter is very likely a Mahāyāna(大 乘 佛 教) addition, we may reasonably say that the Lalitavistara in its original form was a treatise of the Sarvāstivādins (一 切 有 部), who viewed Buddha as a human being with superhuman attributes.
The Buddha-body Perception in Mahāyāna
The early Mahāyānists, whose doctrines are mostly to be found in the Aṣṭādasasāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā (十 八 千 頌 般 若 波 羅 密), along with the school of Nāgārjuna (龍 樹) (i.e., Mādhyamika, 中 論) conceived of two kāyas:
i) Rūpa-kāya(色 身 / Nirmāṇakāya, 應 身), denoting bodies, gross and subtle, meant for beings in general, and
ii) Dharma-kāya(法 身), which was used in two senses, one being the body of Dharma, (i.e., collection of practices), which makes a being a Buddha, and the other the metaphysical principle underlying the universe — the Reality (Tathatā, 真 如).
The Yogācāra school(瑜 伽 論) distinguished the gross rūpakāya from the subtle Rūpa-kāya, naming the former Rūpa or Nirmāṇa-kāya (應 身) and the latter Sambhoga-kāya (報 身).
The Saddharma Lankāvatāra Sūtra(妙 法 楞 伽 經), representing the earliest stage of the Yogācāra (瑜 伽 論), conceives the Sambhoga-kāya as Nisyanda-buddha or Dharmanisyanda-buddha (等 流 佛 , 法 等 流 , the Buddha produced by the Dharma).
The Sūtrālaṁkāra(楞 伽 經), uses the term Sambhogakāya for Nisyanda-buddha (等 流 佛) and Svābhāvikakāya (自 性 身) for Dharmakāya.691
In the Abhisamayālaṅkārakārikā(現 觀 莊 嚴 論) and the recast version of the Pañca-viṁśati-sāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā (二 萬 五 千 頌 般 若 波 羅 密 經), Sambhogakāya denotes the subtle body which the Buddhas adopted for preaching the doctrines to Bodhisattvas, and Dharmakāya the body purified by the practice of the bodhipākṣika and other dharmas, which constitute a Buddha. For the metaphysical Dharmakāya these texts use the term Svabhāva or Svābhāvika-kāya (自 性 身).
The Vijñaptimātratāsiddhi(唯 識 論) retains the conception of the Kārikā but adopts a new term Svasambhogakāya (自 受 用 身) to denote the Dharmakāya of the Kārikā and distinguishes the Sambhogakāya by naming it Parasambhogakāya (他 受 用 身).
The Prajñā-pāramitās(般 若 波 羅 密 經) also maintain the conception that the Dharmakāya is produced by Dharmas, the highest of which is according to them, the prajñāpāramitā, the knowledge which helps a person to realise the Dharma-Śūnyatā (法 空). The Aṣṭādasasāhasrikā Prajñā-pāramitā Sūtra (十 八 千 頌 般 若 波 羅 密 經), takes up the question, whether the honour shown to the relics of the Tathāgata-kāya (如 來 身) is more meritorious than the honour shown to the Prajñā-pāramitā e.g., by making a copy of it. The answer given is that the relics depend on the body purified by the prajñā-pāramitā, and therefore it is the source of Buddhas. The source deserves more honour than the remnants of the fruit (relics of Buddha) produced therefrom, and therefore it is more meritorious to honour the Prajñā-pāramitā than the relics. It adds that all teachings of Buddha issue from the Prajñā-pāramitā, and the Dharmabhāṇakas (法 師) preserve and propagate them; so the Dharmabhānakās should also be respected. They are protected by the Dharmakāya, the Prajñā-pāramitā.
Sarvajñatā(omniscience, 一 切 智) is pervaded (paribhāvita) by the prajñā-pāramitā from Sarvajñatā issues the body of Tathāgata, the relics of whom are worshipped; hence Prajñā-pāramitā deserves greater honour.692
The Mahāyāna finds the true body of the Buddha in the unconditioned voidness, i.e. the Cosmic Body which transcends even the Buddha’s physical body. It also believes that the Cosmic Body or the unconditioned voidness reveals itself as a temporary physical body with the merciful intention of view conveying the truth to beings. Such a view may have been derived from the idealistic view of the Mahāsāṇghikas who consider the physical body of the Buddha as superhuman. However, the characteristic of the doctrine of Mahāyāna consists in the fact that the Mahāyāna finds the true body of the Buddha in voidness or absolute truth without being limited to the Idea of transcendental undefiled Cosmic Body as the true body of the Buddha advocated by the Mahāsāṇghīka.
In the Vajrachedikā-prajñā-pāramitā Sūtra(金 剛 般 若 波 羅 密 經) which says:
"He who sees me by outward appearance, (and) seeks me in sound, treads the hetetodox path, (and) cannot perceive the Tathāgata."
(若 以 色 見 我 ， 以 音 聲 求 我 ， 是 人 行 邪 道 ， 不 能 見 如 來). 693
and in the Aṣṭādasasāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā(十 八 千 頌 般 若 波 羅 密 經) which says:
"Indeed, the Tathāgata cannot be seen as a physical body, the cosmic body in the Tathāgata".
(Na hi tathāgato rūpa-kāyato draṣṭavyaḥ dharmakāyas Tathāgata) and in the Saddharma-puṇḍarīka Sūtra(妙 法 蓮 花 經) which says:
"Tathāgata is the eternal imperishable Buddha who has immeasurable life, and displays extinction only as an expedience."
This is shown the Mahāyānistic view of the Buddha-body that the Buddha is identified with absolute truth or Śūnyatā. As mentioned above, "Those who perceive the dharma, perceive me" said Śākyamuni to his disciples, and now in Mahāyāna the Dharma is identified with voidness, absolute truth, the wisdom of the imperceptible voidness or Prajñā-pāramitā. And, in Mahāyāna Buddhism it is emphasized that the Cosmic Body or the unlimited and imperishable substance of Enlightenment which is absolute truth and voidness, transcending the physical body of the Buddha, is identified with the blissful or matured body(Vipāka-kāya, Nisyanda-kāya, 異 熟 身) which is the result of the perfection of his vows and practices in previous lives. This theory comes from the Buddha legends in which the superhuman nature of Śākyamuni is given.In the suttas of various Buddhas, such as the larger Sukhāvatīvyūha (無 量 壽 經), the Akṣobhyatathāgatasya-vyūha (阿 畜 佛 國 經), Amitābha (阿 彌 陀 佛), Akṣobhiya (阿 畜 坒 佛) and other Buddhas are described as the Cosmic Body, but with the characteristics of the Blissful Body which has form and virtue, coming from the perfection of its vows and practices. Therefore, in Mahāyāna Buddhism there are several theories of the Buddha body; one is the theory of the twofold body which assumes the Cosmic Body with which the Blissful Body is combined, (the Reward-Body), and Incarnated Body; the second is the theory of threefold body of the Cosmic Body, the Blissful Body and the Incarnated Body and the third is the theory of the fourfold body based on the above mentioned theories, and so forth.
In the Suvarṇaprabhāsa(金 光 明), Ruciraketu (妙 懂) and Kauṅḍinya (橋 陳 如) Brāhmana play the role of skeptics. The former enquires why Śākyamuni, who performed so many meritorious deeds, should have such a short span of life as eighty years. The latter seeks a mustard-like relic of Buddha’s body to worship and thus go to heaven. Ruciraketu is told by the Buddhas of all lokadhātus that they did not know any man or god who could calculate the length of Śākyamuni’s life. They said that it might be possible to count the drops of water in a sea but it would be impossible to ascertain the length of his life. Kauṇḍinya Brāhmaṇa, who only feigned ignorance, was told by Litcchavikumāra that, just as it is absurd to expect coconuts from a rose-apple tree, so it is absurd to expect a relic from the Buddhakāya (佛 身). The Tathāgatas have no origin, they are ever existing and inconceivable. It is only the Nirmitakāya that is shown to them. How can a body which has no bone or blood, leave a dhātu, Buddhas have only Dharmakāya and there is only the Dharmadhātu (法 界).
Nirmāṇakāya (應 身)
The Mahāyānic texts tried to show on the one hand, that the Hīnayānists were wrong in their belief that Śākyamuni was really a man of flesh and blood and that relics of his body existed, while on the other hand, they introduced two conceptions of Nirmāṇakāya(應 身) and Buddhakāya. Whatever is said to have been done by Śākyamuni is accounted for by those texts as the apparent doings of a created body of the Buddhakāya, a shadowy image created to follow the ways of the world (lokānuvartana), in order to bring conviction in the heart of the people that the attainment of Buddhahood was not an impossibility. As the Buddhas possess the knowledge of all that is to be done (kṛrtyānusthānajñāna, 成 所 作 智) they can take any form they desire for the enlightenment of the various classes of beings. The Mahāyānic conception of Nirmāṇakāya is essentially same as that of the Mahāsānghikās.
The Prajñā-pāramitās in their quaint way refer to the Nirmāṇakāya or Rūpakāya. The Pañcavimśati-sāhaśrikā Prajñāpāramitā (二 萬 五 千 頌 般 若 波 羅 密 經) says that of a Bodhisattva, after acquiring all the necessary Dharmas and practising Prajñā-pāramitā, becomes a Sambuddha, he then renders service to beings of all lokadhātus (世 界 , worlds) of the ten corners at all times by Nirmāṇamegha (應 化 云 , Nirmāṇa clouds). This is called the Nairmāṇikakāya.
From the Chinese sources we are informed that Nāgārjuna, in his commentary on the Prajñā-pāramitā, names it as Mahā Prajñā-pāramitā śāstra, and speaks of two kāyas, rūpakāya and dharmakāya. The former is the body born of parents, possessing the qualities of sentient beings, and is subject to human frailties. It was born in Kosala (橋 薩 羅) while his Dharmakāya was born at Rājagrha (王 舍). The material body was necessary for ‘earthly truth’. It was for the deliverance of beings that Buddha assumed different kāyas, different names, birth-places and the ways of emancipation. This interpretation of rūpa and dharmakāyas is also followed in the Chinese Parinirvāṇa Sūtra (般 涅 槃 經) and Sandhinirmocana Sūtra (深 密 經).
Some of the Yogācāra(瑜 伽 論) texts furnish us with the following information regarding the conception of Nirmāṇakāya as prevailing among the Yogācārins:
The Sūtrālaṁkāra explains the Nirmāṇakāya to be those forms, which are assumed by Buddhas to render service to beings of the various worlds. It generally refers to the human form that Buddha takes in order to make a show of his acquiring the ordinary arts and crafts required by an average man, living a family life and then retiring from it, and ultimately attaining Nirvāṇa by recourse to ascetic practices.
The Vijñāptimātratāsiddhi(唯 識 論) tells us that the Nirmāṇakāya is meant for Śrāvakas (聲 聞), Pratyekabuddhas (辟 支 佛 , 緣 覺), Pṛthagjanas (人 , common men) and Bodhisattvas (菩 薩), who are not yet in one of the ten Bhūmis (地). It may appear in all lands whether pure or impure.
The Chinese commentaries on the Siddhi(法 成 就) mention various ways, in which Buddha can transform his body or another’s body or voice, and his or other’s mind, to suit his purpose. Not only could he transform his body or another’s body or voice, and his or other’s mind, to suit his purpose. Not only could he transform himself into Śākyamuni (釋 迦 牟 尼 佛), or Sāriputra into a young girl, but also could create an altogether new apparition body, not, of course, a living, thinking being. Often he assumed the voice of Brahmā or expressed himself through the mouth of Sāriputra (舍 利 弗) or Subhūti (須 菩 提), and it was for this reason that we find Sāriputra or Subhūti explaining some of the abstruse Mahāyāna teachings, which they themselves were not expected to understand. The third way in which he could transform his voice was to produce sounds from the sky. His thoughts were supramundane (lokottara, 出 世 界) and pure (anāsrava, 清 淨). He could produce in mind any thought he liked; in fact, he appeared in his Nirmitakāya as Śākyamuni with a mind (citta) suited to the ways of the world. He could also impose his thoughts on the minds of others.
The Saddharma Lankāvatāra Sūtra (妙 法 楞 伽 經) explains the relation of Nirmāṇakāya to Dharmakāya in the same way as the Kārikā. It states that NirmitaBuddhas are not produced by actions; the Tathāgata is neither in them nor outside them:
"Sarve hi nirmitabuddhā na karmaprabhavā na tesu Tathāgato na cānyatra tebhya Tathāgato".
It is only when the sons of the Jina(禪 那) realise the visible world to have no existence apart from the citta that they obtain the Nirmāṇakāya free from kriyā (作) and saṁskāra (行), and endowed with bala (力), abhijñā (勝 智) and vaśita (生). Like the Siddhi, it says that the Tathāgatas by creating Nirmāṇakāya perform the various duties of a Tathāgata (Tathāgatakṛtya, 如 來 使 命). It gives also the interesting information that Vajrapāṇi (金 剛 首 菩 薩) serves as an attendant on the Nirmitanirmāṇa Buddhas, and not on the real Buddhas and that the function of such a Buddha is to preach and explain the characteristics of dāna (布 施), sīla (持 戒), dhyāna (禪 定), vimokṣa (解 脫) and vijñāna (惟 心).
The Nirmāṇa Kāya usually translated as apparitional body is really a body assumed by Buddha in fulfillment of his resolve to save beings from misery. The manifestation of the body of bliss in the empirical world as Gautama (Śākyamuni) or other previous and succeeding Tathāgatas is the Nirmāṇakāya of Buddha.694 The advent of a Buddha in the world is not an accident, the lucky chance of a human being happening to attain enlightenment. It is a deliberate descent of the Divinity, incarnating itself as human being; his various (twelve principal) acts from birth to passing away into Parinirvāṇa are make-believe acts, designed to create a sense of kinship with human beings.695 Gautama is one of the Buddhas; and the Bodhisattvas are other forms chosen by divinity to help man and other beings. As Haribhadra says:
"When some living being requires the explanation of the Doctrine or some other kind of help, then the Lord, by the force of his previous vows, fulfils the purpose of this living being manifesting himself in this or that form".696
Buddha is the Providence that takes the keenest interest in beings. The particulars with regard to the kāya conception cannot be logically demonstrated. They are to be taken as revealed to the elect and communicated by them to others.
In the Hīnayāna religion, the Gautama Buddha is an exalted human being, distinguished from the ordinary mankind by his unique and unaided attainment. He was not certainly God before he attained Bodhi. The historicity of the Buddha (Śākāyamuni) is indispensable for that religion. In Mahāyāna, though Gautama is a historical person, he is not the only Buddha, and his occurrence is one of the innumerable acts of divine dispensation. The Mahāyāna religion escapes the predicament of having to depend on any particular historical person as the founder of its religion.
The Rūpakāya or Nirmāṇakāya was meant for the Śrāvakas(聲 聞), Pratyeka-buddhas (辟 支 佛 , 緣 覺), Pṛthagjanas (人) and Bodhisattvas, who were not in one of the ten bhūmis, so another kāya had to be devised, a very suitable kāya for the benefit of all Bodhisattvas. This is called Parasambhogakāya (他 受 用 身) as distinguished from Svasambhogakāya (自 受 用 身), a similar subtle body perceived by the Buddhas alone.
It is this Parasambhogakāya(他 受 用 身), which plays the role of a preacher of the various Mahāyāna Sūtras (大 乘 經 典), the scenes being mostly laid either at Gṛdhrakūṭa (靈 鷲), the only place where the three dhātus are considered pure and suitable for the appearance of a Sambhogakāya (報 身), or in the Sukhāvati-vyūha sūtra (彌 陀 經 / 無 量 壽 經), or in one of the heavens.
It will be observed from the description of the appearance of Buddha and his manner of preaching the Sūtras that the Mahāyānists were not yet able to forget or rise above the human conception of Buddha of the Hīnayānists. They still gave Śākyamuni the role of the presiding Buddha of the universe, to whom flocked reverently with flowers, incense, etc., all the Bodhisattvas, Śrāvakas and Gṛhapatis of the various lokadhātus of the ten directions, to hear from him the Prajñāparamitā,(般 若 波 羅 密 經) the Saddharmapundarīka (妙 法 蓮 花 經) or the Gandavyūha / Avaṁsaka-sūtra (華 嚴 經).697
These Bodhisattvas again had their own tutelary Buddhas, who, according to the Mahāyāna metaphysics, possessed the same Dharmakāya as that of Śākyamuni. They also came or were sometimes sent by their Buddhas, with messages of greetings and flowers as tokens of their regard, to Śākyamuni Buddha whose Buddhakṣetra was then the Saha lokadhātu(娑 婆 世 界). Sometimes the descriptions go so far as to say that the Buddhas themselves came to hear discourses from Śākyamuni Buddha, and the concourse of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas became so great that the Sahā lokadhātu had to be cleared of all oceans, mountains, seas, rivers, and cities, as well as of gods, men and other beings.
As we read in the Hīnayāna texts monks used to come to meet Buddha, bringing with them one or two sāmaneras(沙 彌), so also we read in the Saddharmapuṇḍarīka that on account of insufficiency of space the countless Buddhas could not have with them more than one or two Bodhisattvas as attendants (upasthāpakas, 持 者).
According to the Satasāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā(一 百 千 頌 般 若 波 羅 密 經) and the Pañcavimśati-sāhaśrikā Prajñāpāramitā (二 萬 五 千 頌 般 若 波 羅 密 經), it is an exceedingly refulgent body, from every pore of which steamed forth countless brilliant rays of light, illuminating the lokadhātus (世 界) as innumerable as the sands of the Ganges. When this body stretched out its tongue, Innumerable rays of light issued forth from it, and on each ray of light was found a lotus of thousand petals on which was seated a Tathāgatavigraha (an image of the Tathāgata, a sort of Nirmāṇakāya), preaching to Bodhisattvas, Gṛhasthās (householders), Pravrajitas (recluses) and others the dharma consisting of the Pāramitās.
After Siṁhavikrīdita samādhi(師 子 遊 戲 三 昧), his body illuminated the Trisāhasra-mahāsāhasra lokadhātu (三 千 大 千 世 界) just as the bright clear Sun or the full moon illuminates the world. Buddha then shows his Prakṛtyātmabhāva (真 自 性 , real form) to all the worlds. The several classes of gods as well as the men of the four continents, Jambudvīpa (閻 浮 提), Aparagodāna (西 牛 化), etc., see this Prakrtyātmabhāva (真 自 性) and think that the Tathāgata is sitting before them and preaching the doctrine. From this body again issues forth some rays of light, by which all beings of all lokadhātus see Śākyamuni Buddha preaching the Prajñāpāramitā to his sangha of monks and congregation of Bodhisattvas.
The Saddharma Lankāvatāra Sūtra(妙 法 楞 伽 經) presents us first with this conception, calling it Nisyanda (等 流 法) or Dharmatānisyanda Buddha (等 流 佛) and it seems that the term Sambhogakāya was not yet current. We have seen that in Hīnayāna works also, it is pointed out that the super-excellent body of Buddha, endowed with the major and minor signs of great men, was due to the countless meritorious deeds performed by him in his previous lives.
The Chinese rendering of Sambhogakāya by Pao shen(報 身) in which Pao ‘ 報 ’ means fruit or reward, also indicates that Sambhoga (報 身) had no other sense than ‘vipāka’ (異 熟) or ‘nisyanda’ (等 流). The later Yogācārins called it Parasambhogakāya (他 受 用 身) in order to distinguish it from other kāya called by them Svasambhoga (自 受 用 身). Though the Aṣṭasāhasrikā does not distinguish Sambhogakāya from the Nirmāṇakāya, it refers to the super-excellent body of Buddha as the result of his meritorious acts in previous lives. The Lankāvatāra (楞 伽 經), by using the expression Vipāka or Vipākastha (異 熟), shows a stage of transition from the Hīnayānic conception of Vipākaja-kāya (異 熟 身) to that of the Mahāyānic Parasambhogakāya (他 受 用 身).
The Body of Bliss (Sambhoga -報 身) is so called because it represents (an existence characterised by) the full enjoyment of the Truth of the great Vehicle, as it is said: ‘Perfectly enjoying the Truth or since it takes delight in the Truth’.698 The body of Bliss is the reflection of the Cosmic Body in the empirical world in a corporeal form. Buddha appears here as a Supreme God, abiding in the Akaniṣṭha (色 究 竟 天) heaven, surrounded by a host of Bodhisattvas. He is endowed with 32 principal and 80 secondary marks of excellence.699 This body is the result of the previous virtuous deeds. The descriptions given of Buddha in the opening sections of the Mahāyāna Sūtras are of this body. The Satasāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā may be cited as a good example of this. For pages on end there are descriptions of every part of Buddha's body, of rays proceeding from his head, hands and feet and even fingers, reaching up to the extremities of the world.700 Only the Bodhisattvas who have reached the tenth stage can perceive-the body of Bliss, and not others, is the opinion of some Mādhyamika teachers.701
Dharmakāya (法 身)
The three kāyas belong strictly, to the realm of Samvṛti, worldly and transcendental, and as such they were treated as Rūpa or Nirmāṇa-kāya by the early Mahāyānists, including Nāgārjuna. The only real kāya of Buddha is the Reality as conceived by the Mahāyānists, and is not different from the things of beings of the universe. Though an attempt to define it by the current words and expressions is bound to be not only incorrect but misleading, the Mahāyānic texts tried to give an idea of it as far as the language permitted.
The Kārikā702 and the Siddhi (等 流 法) call it Svabhāvika or Svabhāvakāya (自 性 身). It is, according to them immeasurable and illimitable. It fills all space. It is the basis of the Sambhoga and Nirmāṇa kāyas. It is devoid of all marks (mahāpūrṇa-laksanas, 大 滿 相) and is inexpressible (niṣprapañca, 戲 論). It is possessed of eternal, real and unlimited guṇas (功 德). It has neither citta nor rūpa, and again Dharmakāya Buddhas may have their individual Sambhogakāya but they have all one Dharmakāya. It can only be realised within one’s own self (pratyātmavedya, 自 證) and not described, for that would be like the attempt of a blind man to describe the Sun, which he has never seen.
The Aṣṭasāhasrikā and other Prajñāpāramitās, though unrelenting in their negation of every possible statement about the reality, never assert that Tathatā(真 如) or Śūnyatā (空 性) or Dharmakāya (法 身) in its real sense is also non-existing. The statements like:
"Suchness is immutable, unchangeable, beyond concept and
show rather a positive conception of the reality than a purely negative one. In regard to the Dharmakāya also the Aṣṭasāhasrikā makes similar statements. It says that:
"He who knows that the dharmas, existing in the world or preached by the Tathāgata, have no more existence than things seen in a dream and does not enquire whence the Tathāgata comes and where he goes, realises the Tathāgata through dharmatā."
The Buddhakāya, that people speak of, arises through cause and condition like the sound of flute; it involves really no appearance or disappearance. Those, who run after the form and voice of the Tathāgata and conceive of his appearance and disappearance are far from the Truth. Nor further statements than this can be made about the Reality, for that would be again prapañca.
When the Aṣṭasāhasrikā asserts that the Tathāgata does not exist, it refers to that Tathāgata as conceived by one on reading the Mahāyāna texts. Even the Bodhisattvas, unless and until they reach the tenth bhūmi, cannot extricate themselves from a conception of the Tathāgatakāya, however, subtle it may be (e.g., the Svasambhogakāya). They are still under a delusion and it is delusion that the Prajñāpāramitā endeavours to remove by asserting that there is no Tathāgata. The Vajracchedikā to which the Aṣṭsāhasrikā as well as the Bodhicaryāvatāra(菩 薩 藏 經)703 refer,
"He who endeavoured to see me through my form and voice could not see me because a Buddha is to be seen in the sense of dharmatā (nature of dharmas), for the leaders (of men) have only dharmakāya. That dharmatā is unknowable so also is the Tathāgata".
(dharmato buddha draṣṭavya dharmakāya hī nayakāyah, dharmatā cāpy avijñeyā na sā sakyā vijānituṁ).
The conception of Dharmakāya was of special interest to the Yogācārins. The Lankāvatāra in describing it says that Dharmatā(自 性 法) of Buddha is without any substratum (nirālamba) and lies beyond the range of functioning organs of sense, proofs or signs and hence beyond the vision of Śrāvakas, Pratyekabuddhas or the non-Mahāyānists. It is to be realised only within one’s own self.
The Śūtrālankāra calls it Svābhāvika-dharmakāya(自 性 身). It is one and the same kāya in all Buddhas, very subtle, unknowable and eternal. The Trimśikā (惟 識 三 十 論 頌) explains the Dharmakāya as the transformed āsraya (所 依 , substratum) - the ālayavijñāna (阿 賴 耶 識) the transformation being effected by knowledge (jñāna, 成 智) and the suppression of the two evils (dausṭhulyas, 二 障), viz., kleśāvaraṇa (煩 惱 障) and jñeyāvaraṇa (所 知 障).
The Ā1oka on the Abhisamayālankārakārikā(現 觀 莊 嚴 論) also explains the Dharmakāya in a similar way. There are two kinds of Dharmakāya, one being the Bodhipākṣika (菩 提 分) and the other dharmas, which are themselves pure and productive of clear knowledge (niṣprapañca-jñānātmanā, 真 智 不 戲 論) and the other the transformed āsraya (所 依) of the same which is then called Svabhāvakāya (自 性 身).
The goal of Bodhisattvās is to realise the Dharmakāya. Every being has the Dharmakāya, or the Dharmakāya comprises all beings of the world, but as they are blinded by avidyā, they do not realise this fact. What the Bodhisattva alms at is the removal of this avidyā(無 明) and the realisation of the fact that he is the same as the Dharmakāya.
As the Dharmakāya, Buddha fully realises his identity with the Absolute(dharmata, śūnyatā, 性 空) and unity (samatā, 大) with all beings. It is the oneness with the Absolute that enables Buddha to intuit the Truth, which it is his sacred function to reveal to phenomenal beings.
This is the fountain-source of his implicit strength which he concretizes in the finite sphere. The Sambhoga-kāya is the concrete manifestation to himself (svasambhoga) and to the elect (parasam-bhoga) the power and splendour of god-head. In furtherance of the great resolve to succour all beings, Buddha incarnates himself from time to time in forms best calculated to achieve this end (nirmāṇakāya).
The Prajñā-pāramitā texts repeatedly ask us to consider Buddha as Dharmakāya, and not in the overt form which appears to us.704 Dharmakāya is the essence, the reality of the universe. It is completely free from every trace of duality. It is the very nature of the universe and is therefore also called the svābhāvika-kāya.705 The Dharmakāya706 is still a Person, and innumerable merits and powers etc. are ascribed to him.707
The Relation among Nirmāṇa-kāya, Sambhoga-kāya and Dharma-kāya
The three-body gospel of Nirmāṅa-kāya, Sambhoga-kāya and Dharma-kāya grew out to be a developed form of Mahāyāna principle. The three-body represents as: the Nirmāṅa-kāya is the assumed or apparitional body, a form verily of the historical Buddha which is to be revered as such. Being so much under stress his disciples came to venerate ‘The Lord of Compassion’ as Supra-historical and one who was never apart from them. The transformation body of the enlightened one is supposedly beyond time and space, formless, without colour or confrontation, unlimited in scope and primordial, the Tathāgata.
The suprahistorical body of the Buddha manifested again and again out of compassion for the sentient beings of the Saha loka, the world of living beings.
The transformed body of the Buddha appeared in two other forms of the Sambhoga-kāya and Dharma-kāya. Sambhoga-kāya is bliss-body, enjoyment body which latter does not mean physical pleasure of sensuous kind, but it is so called because of the merit of enjoying various virtues Sambhoga-kāya is also spiritually known to be formless and without colour.
The accomodating body of the Buddha called Dharma-kāya is the truth body. It is Dharma or Law itself. As truth it is also divinely conceived to be formless and colourless.
In order to understand the above doctrine, one may reverse their order. Without Dharma-kāya as basis, the two others Sambhoga-kāya and Nirmāṇa-kāya cannot be. Similarly without Sambhoga-kāya the transformation body is incomprehensible.
The Awakened one in his transformed body of the historical Buddha is still one with the formless Dharma-kāya and invisible Nirmāṇā-kāya. Mahāyāna equates Dharma-kāya with Śūnyatā or Emptiness. This is truth and wisdom that is perfect. It has rightly been cognized that emptiness or Śūnyatā is neither the negative or static state, but ever emptying it is a constant and dynamic activity that is involved into truth, Dharma. Sambhoga-kāya accomplished by fulfillment of Dharma bears a physical form, though it is ultimately formless and colourless. The Dharma-kāya is the ultimate truth which is emptying itself and is boundless openness.
662Sn, pp. 76 ff; M, I, pp. 166 ff, 246 ff.
663D. I, pp. 87-88; LS, pp. 144, 376; cf. Lalitavistara ed. P.L. Vaidya, BST, I, 1958, p. 3.
664In the Mahāyānic works also, as for instance, in the Dasa., it is stated that a Bodhisattva can become a Mahābrahma in the ninth bhūmi if he so wished.
665M, III, 8.
666D, Lakkhana Sutta, ix, 236.
667D, Mahāparinibbāna Sutta, xiii, 182.
668DCBT, pp. 337.
669M, Ariyapariyesana Sutta, I, 171.
670Kathāvatthu, ed. A.C. Taylor, London: PTS, 1894-95, XVII. 1 & 2.
671Nalinaksha Dutt, Buddhist Sects in India, Delhi: Motilal, rpt. 1998, p. 105.
672S, III, 140.
673Kathāvatthu, op. cit., XXI, 5.
674Ibid., XXVII. 3.
675Nalinaksha Dutt, Buddhist Sects in India, Delhi: Motilal, 1998, pp. 106-10.
676Kathāvatthu, op. cit., V. 9.
677Ibid, XXI, 6.
678Jñeya: cognizable, the region or basis of knowledge; quoted in DCBT, 452b.
679Nalinaksha Dutt, Buddhist Sects in India, Delhi: Motilal, 1998, p. 81.
680EB, III, 424.
683EB, III, 423-6.
684D, Mahāparinibbāna Sutta, 242.
685M, III, p. 7 ff.
686N. Dutt, Mahāyāna Buddhism, Calcutta, 1976, p. 159.
687S, Vakkalia sutta, III, p. 110 ff.
689N. Dutt, Op. Cit., 142.
691N. Dutt, Op. Cit: 136-7.
692N. Dutt, Op. Cit, 145.
693金 剛 般 若 波 羅 密 經 , 佛 學 業 書 , 台 鸞 , 一 九 九 八 , p. 130.
694Yena Śākyamuni-tathāgatādirūpeṇāsaṁsāraṁ sarvaloka-dhātuṣu sat-tvānāṁ samīhitara arthaṁ samaṇkaroty asau kāyaḥ, prabandhatayānuparato nairmāṇiko buddhasya bhagavataḥ . . . tathā coktam: karoti yena citrāṇi hitāni jagataḥ samam; ābhavāt so'nupacchinnaḥ kāyo nairṁāniko muneḥ. AbhisamayĀlaṁkārĀloka of Haribhadra, G.O.S., Baroda, p. 532.
695See Buston, pp. 133ff. Uttaratantra of Asaṅga, pp. 245ff. (Obermiller’s Trans. Acta Orientalia, vol. IX, 1931).
696AbhisamayĀlaṁkārĀloka of Haribhadra, G.O.S., Baroda, p. 525.
697N. Dutt, Op. Cit., 157.
698Buston, Vol. I, p. 129.
699dvātriṁśal lakṣaṇāsitivyañjanātmā muner ayam; sāmbhogiko mataḥ kāyo mahāyānopabhogataḥ. AbhisamayĀlaṁkārĀloka of Haribhadra, G.O.S., Baroda, p. 526.
700Śata Sāhasrikā, pp. 2 ff.
701This is the view of Dharmamitra the Mādhyamika, as we learn from Buston Vol. I (pp. 131 ff.). His work is called Prasphuṭapāda, and is preserved only in Tibetan.
702Kārikā (kāraka): concise statement in verse of, doctrine; quoted in A Sanskrit English Dictionary, Etymologically and Philologically Arranged with Special reference to Cognate Indo-European Languages, print 14 times, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1997, p. 274.
704Ye māṁ rūpeṇa cādrākṣur ye māṁ ghoṣeṇa anvayuḥ mithyāprahāṇa-prasṛtā na māṁ drakṣyanti te janāḥ dharmato Buddhā draṣṭavyā dharmakāya hi nāyakāḥ dharmatā cāpy avijñeyā na sā śakyā vijānitum Vajracchedikā. p. 43, quoted in MKV. p. 448; Bodhicaryāvātāra, Ācārya Śāntideva, p. 421. uktaih hy etad Bhagavata: dharmakāya Buddhā Bhagavantaḥ mā khalu punar imaṁ bhikṣavaḥ satkāyaṁ kāyaṁ manyadhvaṁ dharma-kāya pariniṣpattito mām bhikṣavo drakṣyanty eṣa ca Tathāgatakāyaḥ. AṣṭaSāhasrikā - Prajnā - pāramitā, (Bib. Indica), p. 94. mukhyato dharmakāyas tathāgataḥ. Abhisamayālaṁkārāloka of Haribhadra, G.O.S., Baroda. p. 181. See also pp. 205, 521ff.
705Sarvākārām viśuddhiṁ ye dharmāḥ prāptā nirāsravāḥ; svābhāviko muneḥ kāyas teṣām prakṛti-lakṣaṇaḥ. AbhisamayĀlaṁkārĀloka of Haribhadra, G.O.S., Baroda, p. 523.
706Outlines of Mahāyāna, pp. 223 - 4.
707AbhisamayĀlaṁkārĀloka of Haribhadra, G.O.S., Baroda, pp. 523 ff.
Sincere thanks to Bhikkhuni Gioi-Huong for giving the digital files (Binh Anson, 07-2009).