Nirvana Sutra

Appreciation of the "Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra"

"Buddha and God" (10)

 

                                        Chapter Nine

          Buddha is Recognised Under Multitudinous Different Names

     It is often claimed by Buddhists that Buddha never once said that he was God. Yet this is not entirely true and requires qualification, for there are definite virtual admissions or strong hints from the Buddha that he is God.

     As we have seen, within Buddhism, "Dharma" has much of the character normally ascribed to the more mystical conceptions of Divinity: Dharma is the intelligent, powerful, mysterious, sustaining Law of the cosmos.

     Professor Alex Wayman refers to a book by Maryla Falk (entitled Nama Rupa and Dharma Rupa) in which the author makes the following important point regarding research carried out by a Professor Geiger and his wife:

     "One of the principal results of the long and detailed inquiry made by Mrs. M. Geiger and Prof. W. Geiger into the use of the term dhamma [i.e. Dharma] in the Pali Canon [i.e. the earliest extant Buddhist scriptures] ... is the conclusion that 'the concept dhamma takes in Buddhism the place of the brahman of older Vedanta' ... We have shown above that in Upanishadic thought, ever since its Vedic beginnings, the equivalence of both terms [i.e. Dharma and Brahman] reflects the sameness of the entity they designate." (Quoted in Yoga of the Guyyasamajatantra by Professor Alex Wayman, Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, Delhi 1977, p. 79).

Brahman is the mystical, all-pervasive, effulgent, impersonal, divine Reality - the Essence of the All, which informs everything - the Spirit or Soul of the universe. Dharma is very much like this. And, speaking to a disciple valled Vakkali, the Buddha says in an early Pali Scripture:

     "Vakkali, he who sees the dhamma sees me; he who sees me sees the dhamma. Indeed, Vakkali, seeing the dhamma is seeing me; seeing me is seeing the dhamma" (emphasis added; the "Vakkali Sutta", from Khandha Samyutta, Sri Satguru Publications, Delhi 1996, p. 244).

In the Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra (Vol. 4, p.54), Buddha re-states this, saying, "The Tathagata is Dharma, and Dharma is the Eternal." Although Dharma is essentially abstract and impersonal, it projects and manifests through a personal being, who is Buddha. The impersonal and the personal thus become inextricably entwined and interwoven. Buddha manifests as the vessel or visible embodiment of Dharma, or Dharma in personalised, human form. And in a major Mahayana scripture called the Lankavatara Sutra, the Buddha goes much further. He reveals how he is praised and revered by people under a multitude of different names, some denoting a personal God, others an impersonal Ultimate; but in their ignorance these people fail to realise that the birthless and deathless Being they are all worshipping is actually one and the same - the Tathagata (Buddha). In the highly important passage which we now present, we hear Buddha clearly communicate that he is in fact what people deem to be "God", known under countless diverse names:

     "I come into the hearing range of the ignorant in this Sahaloka [world of endurance - our world] in hundreds  of thousands of three asamkhyeyas [numberless amounts] of names, and they talk to me under these names, yet they fail to recognise that they are all my own appellations. There are some who call me the Self-existing One (svayambhuva), the Leader (nayaka), the Remover-of-obstacles (vinayaka), the Guiding One (parinayaka), Buddha, Rishi, Bull-king, Brahma, Vishnu, Isvara [God], the Originator (pradhana), Kapila, the Destroyer (bhutanta) [or: the Extreme of Reality], the Imperishable (arishta), Nemina, Soma (moon), Fire, Rama, Vyasa, Suka, Indra, the Strong One (Balin), or Varuna; there are others who know me as Immortality (anirodhanutpada) [literally: non-Cessation, non-Arising], Emptiness, Suchness, Truth (satyata), Reality (bhutata), Limit of Reality (bhutakoti), Dharmadhatu [Realm of Dharma], Nirvana, Eternity (nitya), Sameness (samata), Non-Duality (advaya), the Imperishable (anirodha) [literally: Non-Cessation; Non-Extinction, Non-Ending], Formless (animitta) [literally: Without Characteristic Marks/ Qualities], Causality [pratyaya), Teaching the Cause of Buddhahood (buddha-hetupadesa), the All-Knowing (sarvajna), the Conquering One [or Conqueror] (jina), or the Will-body (manomayakaya).

     "While I am thus known in hundreds of thousands of three-asamkhyeyas of titles, not only in this world, but in other worlds [too], my names are not exhausted; I am like the moon casting its shadow [reflection] on water, I am neither in it nor our of it. Those who know me will recognise me everywhere, but the ignorant who cannot rise above dualism will not know me.

     "They pay respect and make me offerings, but they do not understand well the meaning of words, do not distinguish ideas, the true from the false; they do not recognise the truth itself; clinging to words of teaching they erroneously discriminate that the unborn and undying means a non-existence. They are thus unable to comprehend that one Tathagata may be known in many different names and titles." (Emphasis added; from The Lanikavatara Sutra, quoted in Studies in the Lankavatra Sutra by Dr. D. T. Suzuki, orig. ed. 1930; Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi, 1999, pp. 353-354).

 

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     We have reached the end of our quest. It is much to be regretted that most Buddhists seem unaware of, or if aware then unstirred by, this vital passage, where the Buddha finally lays to rest any lingering doubts which the aspirant Buddhist may have as to whether or not the Buddha is Divine. The Buddha here indicates that as the beginningless and indestructible embodiment of Ultimate Reality, he is worshipped as the personal God Vishnu or Rama (also famously known as Krishna), Isvara (i.e. the general name for the Supreme God, later identified with Shiva), the primal Original Source (pradhana) of all things. But he can also be linked with the more impersonal concepts of Nirvana, Emptiness, and Truth. There are in fact infinitudes of names and terms for Buddha, yet they all ultimately denote the same Godhead. As the Buddha declares in the Mahaparinirvana Sutra (Vol. 4, p. 47): "Truth is one, but names are many." Yet none of these names or concepts fully captures or embraces Him - neither in this world nor on other planets, where the inhabitants have still further names for Him. The Ultimate is reflected in everything, yet cannot be grasped by the mind of ignorance - any more than we can grab hold of the moon mirrored in a body of water. Yet this does not in any way mean that Buddha or God is a non-entity or that He cannot be reached. Far from it. In fact, the wise see God in all things. And as the Mahaparinirvana Sutra makes clear, the nature of Buddha-Dharma is BENEVOLENCE or LOVE (maitri). It is by connecting with that LOVE through wise and selfless kindliness, through self-purification (eradication of all inner moral negativity) and ego-transcendence that one is finally enabled to enter the divine realm of the eternal, blissful and pure SELF, which is the SELF OF BUDDHA. It is here at last that we find immortality and eternal release into limitless and unclouded, unceasing happiness. It is here that we finally come to SEE the Absolute - bhuta-tathata / dharmata - , which speaks of itself in decidedly personal terms. As the Buddha in the Lankavatara Sutra has it in connection with the self-purified seeker after Truth:

     "When the truth-seeker sees [the Truth] devoid of discrimination and free from impurities, then he is accomplished in his contemplation; he sees me, there is no doubt." (Emphasis added; The Lankavatara Sutra, tr. by Dr. D. T. Suzuki, Prajna, Boulder, 1978; orig. edition 1932, p. 228).

And the "Me" that is seen is the indwelling and transcendent Divine - supreme, omniscient, omnipresent, infinite in power and measureless in virtue and universal Buddhic Mind. It is this One Supreme Reality, this One Without a Second, which has been hidden from our tarnished vision for uncountable millenia, and with whom we now, after aeons of searching, joyously connect in fully realised freedom.

 

                                                           THE END