Thursday, August 7, 2014

Master T’an-luan on Amida Buddha and the Pure Land (the doctrine of the two Buddha bodies)

                                      - based on his teachings in the Ojoronchu[1] -

Master T’an-luan (476-542)
According to T’an-luan, all Buddhas, including Amida, have two bodies (aspects):

„1. Dharmakaya of Dharma-nature and 2. Dharmakaya of Expediency.”
The first is the ultimate, unconditioned reality beyond form, which is equally shared by all Buddhas[2], while the second is the specific and particular manifestation of each Buddha for the sake of saving sentient beings.

The relation between the two is described as follows:

„From the Dharmakaya of Dharma nature originates the Dharmakaya of Expediency; through the Dharmakaya of Expediency, the Dharmakaya of Dharma nature is revealed. These two Dharmakayas are different, but inseparable; they are one but not the same.”[3]

This is a very important aspect that is not properly understood by those who don’t accept the existence of the many transcendent Buddhas in Mahayana[4]. While the true reason for such an attitude is their materialistic vision of the universe, they often use the formless Dharmakaya as an excuse and argument to reduce all transcendent manifestations to mere symbols or metaphors, or even go so far as to blame „folk Buddhism” for their presence in the canonical writings.
But surely, T’an-luan did not shared such distorted views when he clearly said that exactly because Dharmakaya is formless, there is no form which it cannot manifest”:

„Unconditioned Dharmakaya is the body of Dharma-nature. Because Dharma-nature is Nirvanic, Dharmakaya is formless. Because it is formless, there is no form which it cannot manifest. Therefore, the body adorned with the marks of excellence is itself Dharmakaya”.   

„The body adorned with the marks of excellence” is the specific transcendent manifestation of each Buddha for the sake of saving sentient beings:

„The Dharmakaya has no form of its own and yet manifests various forms, corresponding to the conditions and capacities of sentient beings.”

In the case of Amida Buddha, this is the Form he has taken in the Pure Land; it is Amida asdescribed in the Larger Sutra by Shakyamuni, and as seen and heard by the audience gathered together on the Vulture Peak to listen to this sutra[5]

Ultimate Dharmakaya or Dharmakaya of Dharma-nature is beyond time and form, so it cannot be perceived as an object of faith. In this ultimate Dharmakaya we dwell only after we attain Buddhahood in the Pure Land, but here and now, ordinary unenlightened people like us cannot relate to it, nor understand it. This is why Amida Buddha does not remain secluded in his ultimate - formless Dharmakaya, but has manifested himself in the form described by Shakyamuni in the Larger Sutra, and has established his Pure Land. 

Even if Amida Buddha in form and Name is inseparable from his formless Dharmakaya, it doesn’t mean that he is non-existent or just a symbol or fictional character. As the saying goes, even if the two Dharmakayas are inseparable, they are different; they are one, but not the same. So, while we accept that Amida has the aspect of ultimate formless Dharmakaya, we relate in our faith and teaching to Amida in form and Name, to Amida as described in the Larger Sutra and to Amida who now resides in the Pure Land. Those who do not understand this difference, but continue to negate the existence of Amida Buddha in form and Name are not practicing in accord with the Dharma, as T’an-luan explains:

„What is the cause of not practicing in accord with the Dharma, or in agreement with the significance of the Name?
It is due to failure to understand that the Tathagata Amida is a Body of [ultimate] Reality and a Body for the sake of Living Beings.”

When we say the nembutsu we take as object of our faith and refuge, the Name of Amida Buddha in his glorious manifestation for the sake of sentient beings:

„The ten repetitions of the Name arise from the unsurpassed faith by taking as object the Name of Amida Tathagata of a glorious body of skilful means that comprises immeasurable merits which are true and pure.”   

To negate the existence of transcendent Buddhas, including Amida, with their various manifestations is, according to T’an-luan, the most evil act of abusing the right Dharma. In a famous dialogue from his Ojoronchu, which is later mentioned by Shinran in his Kyogyoshinsho, he explains that the only obstacle to birth in the Pure Land and the true exclusion in the Primal Vow is the act of abusing the right Dharma. Then he defines the abusing of the right Dharma as follows:

„If one says ‚there is no Buddha’, ‚there is no Buddha Dharma’, ‚there is no Bodhisattva’ and ‚there is no Dharma for Bodhisattvas’, such views held firmly in the mind by one’s own reasoning or by listening to other’s teaching, are called, 'abusing the right Dharma.’”

Now the thing is that those who consider the story told by Shakyamuni in the Larger Sutra, of Dharmakara Bodhisattva becoming Amida Buddha, to be a fictional story, and Dharmakara or Amida to be fictional characters, symbols or metaphors, are actually saying „there was no Dharmakara Bodhisattva” and „there is no Amida Buddha”. Their act of denying the existence of Amida Buddha in his Dharmakaya of expediency, or the body for the sake of saving sentient beings is abusing the right Dharma. For this reason, those who spread such distorted visions are excluded from birth in the Pure Land. More than this, when their present life is over, they will be reborn in the Great Avici Hell, as T’an-luan explained:

„He who has committed the transgression of abusing the right Dharma will not be able to attain Birth, even though he has not committed any other evils. For what reason? The Mahaprajnaparamita[6] sutra says:

‚[…] Those who have abused the right Dharma will also fall into the Great Avici hell. When the period of one kalpa comes to an end, they will be sent to the Great Avici hell of another world. In this way, such evildoers will consecutively pass through a hundred thousand Great Avici hells.’

The Buddha thus did not mention the time of their release from the Avici hell. This is because the transgression of abusing the right Dharma is extremely grave.
Further, the right Dharma refers to the Buddha Dharma. Such ignorant persons have abused it; therefore, it does not stand to reason that they should seek birth in a Buddha-land, does it?”

The Larger Sutra is the Amida Dharma taught by Shakyamuni Buddha with the intention of helping sentient beings to be born in the Pure Land of Amida. Those who do not take this sutra and Dharma as being genuine, but call it a fictional or mythological story, how can they be reborn in a Pure Land of a Buddha whose existence they actually deny? Indeed, as T’an-luan said, „it does not stand to reason”, isn't it ?

Master T’an-luan accepted the story of Dharmakara becoming Amida from the LargerSutra, and also emphasized that when Dharmakara decided to work for the creation of the Pure Land, he was not an ordinary Bodhisattva or monk, but one who actually had nothing more to do for his own liberation. Here are a few important passages:

„Formerly, in the presence of Lokesvararaja Buddha, Dharmakara Bodhisattva attained insight into the non-arising of all dharmas. This stage is called the Sage’s Family. While dwelling there, he made the Forty-eight Great Vows, whereby he was able to provide his Land called ‚Peace and Bliss’. This means that this Land is the result of that cause.” 

[…] „The Pure Land of Peace and Bliss has indeed arisen from the pure karma of the Bodhisattva Dharmakara, who had attained an insight into the unproduced nature of all dharmas. It is also the realm ruled by the Dharma-King Amida. Indeed, the Tathagata Amida provided the controlling power in the formation and support of the Pure Land.” 

[…] „The Land of Peace and Bliss was produced by through Dharmakara Bodhisattva’s Compassion and Right Meditation. It was established by Amida Tathagata’s Divine Power and Primal Vow.

Also, it is very important to know that the land of Amida is itself in accord with ultimate Dharmakaya:

„This Pure Land complies with the Dharma nature and is not in conflict with the Dharma-base”.

Thus, we can conclude that both Amida Buddha and his Pure Land, as described in the Larger Sutra are the Dharmakaya of Expediency or Dharmakaya in action, manifested for the sake of sentient beings. 

As we have seen, according to Master T’an-luan, there are two ways to describe Amida Buddha and his Pure Land:

  1. as a reward or consequence of Dharmakara practice
  2. as a manifestation of ultimate reality (Dharmakaya of Dharma nature/Suchness) in the sphere of causes and conditions, that is, of Dharmakaya beyond form manifesting in the  form of Dharmakara becoming Amida and establishing the Pure Land
Shinran too, once said in his Jodo wasan, in full accord with T’an-luan’s theory of the two Buddha-bodies:

 „It is taught that ten kalpas have now passed
Since Amida attained Buddhahood,
But he seems a Buddha more ancient
Than kalpas countless as particles.”

In the first two verses Amida is described as Dharmakaya of Expediency or Dharmakaya for the sake of sentient beings, while in the last verses his ultimate formless Dharmakaya is revealed.
Both Shinran and T’an-luan did not denied the story ofDharmakara becoming Amida ten kalpas ago, as described in the Larger Sutra - It is taught that ten kalpas have now passed/Since Amida attained Buddhahood - but they also wished to point out that this is only one aspect of Amida (Dharmakaya of Expediency), and that He also has an ultimate Buddha nature (Dharmakaya of Dharma-nature) which has no beginning and no end.
In short, Dharmakara becoming Amida and establishing his Pure Land is the description in terms of cause and effect of the salvation work of Amida as eternal Buddha.


This article was written on the anniversary of Master T’an-luan (476-542) at Amida-ji Temple, which falls on August 7th. Unfortunately, I've presented only a small part of his teachings on Amida Buddha and the Pure Land.  


All quotes in this article were taken from “Ojoronchu – T’an-luan’s Commentary on Vasubandhu’s Discourse on the Pure Land, A Study and Translation” by Hisao Inagaki, Nagata Bunshodo, Kyoto, 1998.

[1] All quotes in this article were taken from “Ojoronchu – T’an-luan’s Commentary on Vasubandhu’s Discourse on the Pure Land, A Study and Translation” by Hisao Inagaki, Nagata Bunshodo, Kyoto, 1998.
[2] T’an-luan said: „All Buddhas Tathagatas are called ‚equally enlightened ones’”.
[3] In Jodo Shinshu we also use the doctrine of the three Buddha bodies/aspects (trikaya), to explain Amida Buddha. These three bodies are Dharmakaya – body of ultimate reality, Sambhogakaya – Recompensed body as a result of different practices and vows, and Nirmanakaya – Accomodated body which is generally the physical body in which one attains Buddhahood, but it can also be the body manifested by a Buddha in Sambhogakaya form.
What is the relation between the “Two Buddha bodies” as expressed by T’an-luan and the “Three Buddha bodies” (trikaya)? The Dharmakaya of Dharma-nature is identical with the Dharmakaya reffered in the trikaya doctrine, and the Dharmakaya of Expediency corresponds to the Sambhogakaya or Recompensed Body.
[4] Contrary to this opinion, T’an-luan clearly explains: „To say that each Buddha rules innumerable and incalculable worlds in all the ten directions is a view maintained in Mahayana discourses”.
[5] It is recorded in the Larger Sutra: “The Buddha said to Ānanda, “Rise to your feet, rearrange your robes, put your palms together, and respectfully revere and worship Amitāyus.[…] Ānanda stood up, rearranged his robes, assumed the correct posture, faced westward, and, demonstrating his sincere reverence, joined his palms together, prostrated himself on the ground, and worshiped Amitāyus. Then he said to Śākyamuni Buddha, “World-honored One, I wish to see that Buddha, his Land of Peace and Bliss, and its hosts of bodhisattvas and śrāvakas.”

As soon as he had said this, Amitāyus emitted a great light, which illuminated all the Buddha lands. The Encircling Adamantine Mountains, Mount Sumeru, together with large and small mountains and everything else shone with the same [golden] color. That light was like the flood at the end of the period of cosmic change that fills the whole world, when myriads of things are submerged, and as far as the eye can see there is nothing but the vast expanse of water. Even so was the flood of light emanating from Amitāyus. All the lights of śrāvakas and bodhisattvas were outshone and surpassed, and only the Buddha’s light remained shining bright and glorious. At that time Ānanda saw the splendor and majesty of Amitāyus resembling Mount Sumeru, which rises above the whole world. There was no place that was not illuminated by the light emanating from his body of glory[Sambhogakaya or Dharmakaya of Expediency]. The four groups of followers of the Buddha in the assembly saw all this at the same time. Likewise, those of the Pure Land saw everything in this world.

Then the Buddha said to Ānanda and Bodhisattva Maitreya, “Have you seen that land filled with excellent and glorious manifestations, all spontaneously produced, from the ground to the Heaven of Pure Abode?” Ānanda replied, “Yes, I have.”
The Buddha asked, “Have you also heard the great voice of Amitāyus expound the Dharma to all the worlds, guiding sentient beings to the Way of the Buddha?”
Ānanda replied, “Yes, I have.”[…]
[6] Daibonhannyaharamitsukyo

2 comentarii:

Jeremiah said...

Can we buy a copy of Ojoronchu-T'an-luans commentary on vasubandhu's discourse on the Pureland? Are there any English translations available? Thank You

Josho Adrian Cirlea said...

There is the translation made by Inagaki Sensei but I do not know now where to find it. I have only one old copy.

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