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Where do Buddhas come from .... and go?. The Destiny of a Tathagata Buddhist Tradition Fall 2003. What is the Buddha? Diachronic & Synchronic Views of the Buddha. Tathagata: The Thus Come, or Thus Gone Diachronic and Synchronic Views of "Buddha"  The Diachronic View of Buddhas

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where do buddhas come from and go

Where do Buddhas come from.... and go?

The Destiny of a Tathagata

Buddhist Tradition

Fall 2003

what is the buddha diachronic synchronic views of the buddha
What is the Buddha?Diachronic & Synchronic Views of the Buddha
  • Tathagata: The Thus Come, or Thus Gone
  • Diachronic and Synchronic Views of "Buddha"
  •  The Diachronic View of Buddhas
  • The Synchronic View of "Buddha"
i tathagata the thus come or thus gone
I. Tathagata: The Thus Come, or Thus Gone

Buddhaghosa (4th-5th c. CE scholar of Theravada Buddhism and author of many commentaries on the sutras) has a long discussion of tathagata at pp. 59-68 of Sumangala Vilasini (a commentary on the Digha Nikaya , vol. i

  • ‘one who has arrived in such fashion,’ i.e. who has worked his way upwards to perfection for the world's good in the same fashion as all previous Buddhas
  • ‘one who walked in such fashion,’ i.e. (a) one who at birth took the seven equal steps in the same fashion as all previous Buddhas, or (b) one who in the same way as all previous Buddhas went his way to Buddhahood through the four Jhanas and the Paths
  • ‘one who by the path of knowledge has come at the real essentials of things’
  • ‘one who has won Truth’
  • ‘one who has discerned Truth’
  • ‘one who speaks even as things are’
  • ‘one whose words and deeds accord’
  • ‘the great physician whose physic is all-potent’


Chalmers, Robert. The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society

(1898), pp.103--115

ii diachronic and synchronic views of buddha
II. Diachronic and Synchronic Views of "Buddha"
  • Theravada -- Buddhas arise over time, coming into being at different times and places (Diachronic)
  • Mahayana -- Diachronic accepted, but only as relative truth; on a higher level, Buddhas are generated eternally, every moment, everywhere (Synchronic)
iii the diachronic view of buddhas
III. The Diachronic View of Buddhas
  • The Antecedents of Sakyamuni
  • The Prior and Future Buddha
  • The Decline of the Dharma
a the antecedents of sakyamuni
A. The Antecedents of Sakyamuni
  • Previous lives of the Buddha: Jataka tales
  • Siddhartha as last of the historical Buddhas (8th? 24th?)
the bodhisattva and his virtues the vessantara jataka
Giving the Elephant

From the top, Vessantara distributes charity in an alms hall. The central scene shows Vessantara seating in his palace attending to the delegation of Brahmins asking for the precious white elephant. Below, Vessantara in the white elephant pours water signifying the granting and blessing of precious gift. Opposite this scene shows the Brahmins riding away with the elephant .

The Bodhisattva and his virtues: the Vessantara Jataka
b the prior and future buddha
B. The Prior and Future Buddha
  • The Buddha Dipankara(Enlightener, Lamp-Lighter)
  • The Buddha Maitreya(Aramaic meshia – messiah ?)
c sakyamuni and the decline of the dharma
C. Sakyamuni and the Decline of the Dharma

1. the decline of the Dharma in Indian sources

2. Chinese elaborations: the three stages of the Dharma

a. (zheng-fa): True Dharma

b. (xiang-fa): Counterfeit Dharma

c. (mo-fa): End of the Dharma

Evidence we are living in the “last stage”
  • the monastic community is made up of demons in disguise, drinking wine and eating meat, wearing fancy clothes, killing living things, slandering the good monks and driving them away;
  • the five capital sins (killing, stealing, adultery, lying, intoxication) are flourishing;
  • monasteries and temples are in ruin;
  • monks are dealing in the slave trade, coveting wealth and fame;
  • they are plowing fields and destroying forests;
  • rain is untimely; grain does not ripen;
  • women seek advancement and their lives are long;
  • men are weak and their lives are short;
  • the dead are multitudinous and the people toil in vain.

Source: 5th c. CE Chinese apocryphal sutra sutra entitled Fo-shuo fa-mieh chin ching (The Scripture of the Utter Extinction of the Dharma, as Spoken by the Buddha)

iv the synchronic view of buddha
IV. The Synchronic View of "Buddha"
  • Mahayana Views of the Pari-Nirvana and Eternal Generation of Buddhas
    • spatial/static/horizontal model: simultaneous and eternal generation of buddhas in all directions
    • temporal/dynamic/vertical model: three levels of reality (the Trikaya doctrine)
2. The Mahayana Trikaya Doctrine
  • Dharma-kaya (Dharma body): beyond form, time, spaceTathata, Dharmadhatu, Vajrasattva
  • Sambhoga-kaya (Enjoyment body): manifestation of karuna

Amitabha, Avalokitesvara

  • Nirmana-kaya (Physical manifestation body): descents of celestial Buddhas and bodhisattvas into the world
b the buddha nature within i am buddha you are buddha chan zen elaborations
B. The Buddha-nature Within: I am Buddha, You are Buddha (Chan/Zen elaborations)
  • the "mind like a mirror": Fa-zang's Hall of Mirrors
  • the mirror shattered: self as sun, self as dharma-kaya

The Buddha said to Ananda and Vaidehi, "Listen carefully, listen carefully and ponder deeply. I, the Tathagata, shall discourse on pure karma for the sake of all sentient beings of the future who are afflicted by the enemy, evil passions. It is very good, Vaidehi, that you have willingly asked me about this. Ananda, you must receive and keep the Buddha's words and widely proclaim them to the multitude of beings. I, the Tathagata, shall now teach you, Vaidehi, and all sentient beings of the future how to visualize the Western Land of Utmost Bliss. By the power of the Buddha all will be able to see the Pure Land as clearly as if they were looking at their own reflections in a bright mirror. Seeing the utmost beauty and bliss of that land, they will rejoice and immediately attain the insight into the non-arising of all dharmas."

One day, Empress Wu asked the monk Fa-zang the following question:

“One cannot really understand totality in an immediate sense before reaching Enlightenment. With your genius, however, I wonder whether you can give me a demonstration that will reveal the mystery of the Dharmadhatu -- including such wonders as the "all in one" and the "one in all," the Non-Obstruction of Space and Time, and so on?”

Your Majesty, this is a demonstration of Totality in the Dharamdhatu. In each and every mirror within this room you will find the reflections of all the other mirrors with the Buddha's image in them. And in each and every reflection of any mirror you will find all the reflections of all the other mirrors, together with the specific Buddha image in each, without omission or misplacement. The principle of interpenetration is clearly shown by this demonstration. Right here we see an example of one in all and all in one. The principle of the simultaneous arising of different realms is so obvious here that no explanation is necessary.

As for the principle of the non-obstruction of space, it can be demonstrated in this manner ... (saying which, he took a crystal ball from his sleeve and placed it in the palm of his hand). Your majesty, now we see all the mirrors and their reflections within this small crystal ball. Here we have an example of the small containing the large as well as of the large containing the small. This is a demonstration of the non-obstruction of "sizes," or space.

As for the non-obstruction of times, the past entering the future and the future entering the past cannot be shown in this demonstration, because this is, after all, a static one, lacking the dynamic quality of the temporal elements. A demonstration of the non-obstruction of times, and of time and space, is indeed difficult to arrange by ordinary means. One must reach a different level to be capable of witnessing a "demonstration" such as that. But in any case, your Majesty, I hope this simple demonstration has served its purpose to your satisfaction.

Garma Chang,

The Buddhist Teaching of Totality