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Saturday, July 22, 2006

The Great Sun Buddha Shines Everywhere

In Which I Reveal My Secret Devotion (besides Lila)

I have long had a secret Buddha in my heart.

The very first time I saw the Dainichi Nyorai, the "Great Sun Buddha," I had an instinctive grasp (excuse the pun--you'll see) of the meaning of his mudra.

Without words, I knew that this was about "grasping the One." I knew little else about the figure, but my knowledge developed over time. My understanding has not developed, however; that first intuitive flash regarding the meaning was all I needed, or will ever need.

(I admit to having sometimes called this the "Pull My Finger" Buddha, most notably in a museum on Mt. Koya, where my pal Gavin shouted at me to "Shut the F*** UP!" Not likely, I countered. If you don't know the meaning of "Pull my finger," ask your uncle; it's an uncle thing.)

Anyhow, it was only with the passing of time that I learned that:

  • In a Japanese system which designates a Buddha for each month, the Buddha for July (my birth-month) is the Great Sun Buddha
  • In a Chinese system which designates a Buddha for each birth-year animal, the sheep (my year) is the Great Sun Buddha
  • The key Buddha of Shingon Buddhism, my favorite school, is the Great Sun Buddha
  • In the system of five Dhyani or "Wisdom" Buddhas, the Great Sun Buddha occupies the center (the other four being: Akshobhya, east; Ratnasambhava, south; Amitabha, west; and Amoghasiddhi, north).

And so on. I am tied to this Buddha in a multitude of ways. But I have never (as discussed in the previous post) centered my practice around his sutra. It is esoteric and complex. I may try to find it when I'm back in the states, but for now, I will love him for that gesture.

So, in the conversation with Mr. Wu discussed in the previous post, I mentioned my affection for this Buddha. And Mr. Wu said that this is a good Buddha to love, because he represents all Buddhas.

In fact, there are some who say that this Buddha's body is the body of the universe. As I wrote elsewhere:

The Three Buddhas [the Triad mentioned last time] may also symbolize a complicated idea, that of the Trikaya or Three Bodies of the Buddha. You may have noticed that, except for the items held in their hands, the Three Buddhas [as represented at Hsi Lai Temple in Los Angeles, and in many Chinese temples] are almost identical, as though they were three aspects of the same person. This is not accidental. The Trikaya is the idea that the One Buddha has Three Bodies--a kind of Buddhist Trinity. The first is the Dharmakaya, the "true nature" of the Buddha that pre-exists any earthly appearance. It is the bond between the Buddha and all existence. The word "Dharmakaya" may be translated "Law Body," but it signifies his oneness with the cosmic order. The second is the Sambhogakaya, the "Body of Delight" in which a Buddha dwells when he is resident in a Paradise or Pure Land. This would be the body out of which a Buddha descends to Earth, and into which he returns after "death." Finally, when out of compassion a Buddha does come to Earth to teach sentient beings, he dwells in a Nirmanakaya, or "Body of Transformation."

When we see a Buddhist Triad, it sometimes signifies the Trikaya. In the Triad at Hsi Lai, the Shakyamuni Buddha who came to Earth to teach is the Nirmanakaya; and the Amitabha Buddha of the Western Pure Land is the Sambhogakaya. But what about the Dharmakaya? This is usually represented by Vairocana, the Great Sun Buddha sometimes identified with the AdiBuddha or First Buddha. Why is Bhaishajyaguru here instead? As it turns out, Bhaishajyaguru and Vairocana are somewhat interchangeable in art. There are mandalas, for example, in which the place usually occupied by Vairocana is held by Bhaishajyaguru instead-and vice versa.

So the Medicine Buddha, the least discussed of the Three Buddhas at Hsi Lai, is standing in for the ineffable cosmic order, and represents the Buddha's Dharmakaya or "Body of the Great Order." ...

So the chart I gave in that post may be amended to add one more row:

But in order to do this, we must see that Yaoshifo and (Maha)Vairocana, the Great Sun Buddha, are interchangeable.

As you'll see in a later post, Mr. Wu discounts the idea. His main reason is that you could never place the Great Sun Buddha in a triad. After all, if he is all Buddhas, how could two more be seated next to him?

He also told me something very exciting: Hua Yan Temple, where I stayed for the week, has a very special statue of the Great Sun Buddha. The mother of one of the Ming emperors had sent out five statues of this Buddha to five temples; this was said to be the only one remaining. It is housed on the top floor of the highest hall of the temple (the Dharma Hall, where the sutras are stored), placing it literally above all other Buddhas there.

Notice that this mudra is quite different from the one I showed you before. I don't know if this is peculiar to this statue, or if it's the general Chinese iconography for this Buddha. [2023: I later learned the latter is true.] Instead of grasping the One, it seems to be pointing at it. Nevertheless, the emphasis is on the One.

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One more thing I want to say about this: this site discusses the idea of the AdiBuddha, which some identify with the Great Sun Buddha:

[T]he Trikaya doctrine is an important thesis that can be understood on many levels and applied to many different realities. For example, there is the cosmological teaching of the Adibuddha and the Tathagata Buddhas. According to this, the original Dharmakaya, which is beyond all ideas and concepts, all images and forms, is represented symbolically by, or alternatively its first emanation or manifestation is, the Adibuddha; the First or Original Buddha, the perfect Buddha or Primordial image of all buddhas.

This is very close to the "Hindu" idea of Brahman, the All, the One, "God without Attributes."

I picked a good One!

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