Nirvana Sutra

Appreciation of the "Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra"

"Buddha and God" (4)

                                                                Chapter Six

 The Powers of the Buddha

     Transcendental power is an important attribute of God - complete freedom to act as willed. How do matters stand in this regard with the Buddha?

     The Avatamsaka Sutra speaks of the " ... infinity of the power of all buddhas" (The Flower Ornament Scripture, op. cit., p. 955), and the Mahaparinirvana Sutra indicates that Buddha is Freedom itself. The Buddha is possessed of the "Great Self" of unlimited freedom and can make himself as vast as the cosmos or as small as a dust-mote; he can project an infinite number of bodies across all universes, and can make his body such that nothing can obstruct it; he can dwell in one place and yet enable the beings of all other places to see him; he can gain anything he wants, and he can use any one of his sense-organs to register any sense-impression normally conveyed (in humans) by one of the other four organs of sense; he can expound the deep meaning of Dharma for aeons to come, and yet he has no egocentric sense of "I say and they listen"; finally, as we heard earlier, the Buddha exists everywhere, filling all space - in fact, there is nowhere where he does not exist (for all these capabilities of the Buddha, see The Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra, op. cit., Vol. 7, pp. 29-30).

     In the Lalitavistara Sutra, Buddha calls himself the "Lord of the Dharma ... Driver of the caravan; Master over all dharmas [i.e. over all things]; Master of the Dharma." (The Lalitavistara Sutra, op. cit., Vol. 2, p. 639). He thus enjoys soverein mastery over Absolute Truth and over all other things, as is further emphasised when the same scripture has Buddha describe himself as "the one possessing power" (ibid. p. 643) and as "He who has obtained power over all dharmas [i.e. over all things]." (ibid. p. 661). The important Srimaladevisimhanada Sutra similarly says of the Buddha: "The Lord is the root of all dharmas [things]; the Lord is all-powerful". Furthermore, his Body of Truth (dharmakaya) is said by himself to be uncreated, adamantine and indestructible (Mahaparinirvana Stura, Vol. 1, pp. 31, 65).

     Since the Buddha is "the boundless Dharmadhatu" (the expanse of all things), according to the Mahaparinirvana Sutra, nothing remains unknown to him, nothing is hidden from his sight. He has the power of complete knowledge. Indeed, he is called All-Knowing (sarvajna), or termed "Omniscience" (sarvajnana) itself (The Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra, Vol. 1, p. 24).

     There are also 10 specific powers which are credited to the Buddha. These relate to his knowledge and are said to be the following:

1. He knows wisely, as it really is, what is right and wrong.

2. He knows wisely, as they really are, the cause and effect of the karmic results of past, present and future.

3. He knows wisely, as they really are, the order and grades of all meditative states and attainments.

4. He knows wisely, as they really are, the higher and lower faculties of sentient beings.

5. He knows wisely, as they really are, the various understandings and aspirations of sentient beings.

6. He knows wisely, as they really are, the various conditions and circumstances of sentient beings.

7. He knows wisely, as they really are, which ways and practices lead to which types of rebirth.

8. He remembers, as they really were, the past lives of all beings, including his own.

9. With his divine eye, he knows, as it really is, the decease and rebirth of sentient beings, and the maturing of their good and evil karma in future lives.

10. He knows wisely, as it really is, the present extinction of spiritual defilements within himself and other purified beings. (The formulation of these powers here is chiefly based on Garma C. C. Chang's second list of the 10 Buddhic powers in the "Numerical Glossary" of his A Treasury of Mahayana Sutras, Pennsylvania State University Press, University Park and London 1983, p. 494).

     Clearly, Buddha is multi-powered. But is he any kind of Creator? Is he the Ground of all that is?

         [To Be Continued ...]