The Big Picture
by Paul Roberts
Shakyamuni Buddha declares that there are COUNTLESS Buddha-lands (countless worlds) in a universe that is so vast and stretches so far beyond our own conceptual boundaries of time and space - that we cannot even comprehend it properly in our current state as BOMBUS - even as brilliant scientific BOMBUS.
Shakyamuni's vision extends far beyond the vision of even our best theories and theorists. It includes a time BEFORE the Big Bang, and is not at all bounded by what scientists think of as the bounds of the particular universe we are able to see via our astro-physics and our mathematics.
In fact, the more scientists seem to discover, the more clear it becomes that these "discoveries" were well known by Shakyamuni when He walked among us twenty five centuries ago.
Two brief examples:
Example #1: Recently there was a big hullabaloo among the scientific set, because apparently there are many more stars that are capable of having life-supporting planets than they ever imagined before. Scientists now believe that there are 30 BILLION stellar environments capable of supporting planets like ours, with life forms of one sort or another.
Example #2: Some of the most widely respected of our scientists are increasingly considering the possibilities of ALTERNATE UNIVERSES. Of course, this has been the stuff of science fiction, but now the idea is being taken seriously.
These two examples of our evolving understanding dovetail perfectly with Shakyamuni's declarations about the countless Buddha-lands in the ten directions.
Now...each of these countless Buddha-lands has its own Buddha who is spiritually "in charge". That does not imply that there is only one Buddha per Buddha-land. Shakyamuni and our Dharma masters teach that there are COUNTLESS Buddhas, and that many of them are involved with us, right here in this Buddha-land, working ceaselessly to lead each and every sentient being to Buddhahood, over time.
Now let's talk about the FORM of the Buddha - because this is an essential BIG PICTURE idea in order to understand what we've said so far.
There is a very BASIC teaching to which all of the Mahayana Buddhists (including the Vajrayana, or Tibetan, Buddhists) subscribe to: It is called the TRIKAYA teaching – a.k.a. the teaching of the THREE BODIES (or FORMS) OF THE BUDDHA.
Here's a brief description of these three Buddha bodies:
Buddha Body #1: The DHARMAKAYA Body - This is the form of Buddha that is all pervasive, formless, and truly inconceivable in terms of rational thought or discourse. It is the universal consciousness that penetrates and permeates everything, everywhere.
When we have a brief period in which our egoic consciousness seemingly drops away, we can and do have moments of primal apperception of this Buddha body. It is the common thread of all mystics and mysticism, even though it is named and described differently in various spiritual and religious traditions.
Buddhists on the Path of the Sages do various practices in order to CULTIVATE this primal apperception - which in some Buddhist writing is called SUCHNESS.
Some people refer to it as THE VIEW.
Now...having this experience of the Dharmakara Body - or Suchness - or The View - is a wonderful thing. It's an incredible spiritual bread crumb - a bread crumb that awakens our deepest desire - which is to stabilize this experience, which happens when a being becomes a Buddha.
The problem is, it is impossible for us to stabilize this experience – a.k.a. to become Buddhas - in this Dharma age known as Mappo or the Age of Declining Dharma.
Buddha Body #2: The NIRMANAKAYA Body - The Nirmanakaya body is the body of an individuated, fully enfleshed Buddha. The last Buddha in our world to inhabit such a body was Shakyamuni. That body was a prison for Him - chosen voluntarily - until He left it behind at age 80, when it was old and worn out...just as any human body will ultimately be.
As Shakyamuni Buddha taught in the Larger Sutra, it is VERY RARE for an individuated Buddha to actually inhabit a Nirmanakaya body. In this Buddha-land, the next Buddha who will do so is currently the great Bodhisattva MAITREYA. And he will not become a Nirmanakaya Buddha until 5,670,000,000 years from now.
In the beginning of the Larger Sutra, Shakyamuni names 53 separate Nirmanakaya Buddhas, ending with the Buddha Lokeshvararaja. He was the Buddha of His time and place when Dharmakara (a king) renounced his kingdom, took up a monk's vocation, and came to visit Lokeshvararaja, seeking guidance and counsel.
What was he seeking guidance and counsel about? Of course, it was how to become a Buddha himself, and how to help everyone else become a Buddha as well.
Buddha Body #3: The SAMBOGHAKAYA Body - Since the appearance of a NIRMANAKAYA body Buddha is so rare, what form are the countless individuated Buddhas all in? They are the form of TRANSCENDENTAL, NON-PHYSICAL Buddhas - often called Buddhas of REWARD BODY. This is the third form of Buddha Body.
When Dharmakara Bodhisattva finally completed His great work, took possession of the Pure Land and became the Buddha Amida, he became the greatest of all the individuated Buddhas. The Larger Sutra makes this totally clear, when it talks about the size and strength of the various Buddhas' Buddha-fields.
Some Buddha's buddha-fields are a meter long. Some a kilometer. Some a hundred kilometers. But the Buddha-field of Amida Buddha is INFINITE. There is no place in the universe into which it does not penetrate...there is no sentient being who is not touched, and ultimately transformed, by His light. Amida’s Buddha-light shines, unimpeded, into the deepest depth of the Hell realms, so ultimately ALL beings are respond to it. No one - NO ONE - is beyond Amida's life and light.
So...our great, BIG PICTURE, purpose and goal is to complete, as soon as possible, our endless journey of many lifetimes, and finally become what we were always destined to one day be.
Our goal is to become BUDDHAS.
Not NIRMANAKAYA Buddhas...but rather SAMBOGHAKAYA Buddhas. Not flesh-bound Buddhas...but rather Buddhas who are transcendental, capable of doing things and taking forms that no flesh-bound Buddha could.
Master Shinran talks a lot about this. He says, over and over again, that when we go to the Pure Land as people of settled SHINJIN, we IMMEDIATELY experience the final transformation and become transcendental Buddhas.
And then, once we are transcendental Buddhas, we IMMEDIATELY return to this Saha world (or perhaps some other like it), and begin to join in the great work of ALL the Buddhas, which is to lead all sentient beings to become Buddhas, too.
This great purpose, and great work, is summed up so wonderfully in the Bodhisattva Vow: "Beings are numberless; I vow to save them ALL".
So that's the BIG PICTURE of the Buddha-Dharma...the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha. First we become Buddhas ourselves...and then, using skillful means and the unimpeded power that only transcendental Buddhas have, we will join with all the other Buddhas to help everyone else come to Buddhahood as well.
Finally, when Dharmakara Bodhisattva finally completed His Pure Land and became Amida Buddha, ruling over it, it was the game changer of the ages.
All the Buddhas recognized what Amida had done - and they all worshipped and praised Him for it - and then they all joined in as His own co-workers to lead everyone along, until each and every one entrusts himself (or herself) FULLY to Amida and His Primal Vow.
It IS the work of the ages...the great existential purpose...the great cause...the great teaching.
"Everything I teach is about suffering...and the END of suffering"...so said Shakyamuni Buddha.
And so, at the end of this life, whether it comes today or many years from now, I too will go to the Pure Land, and become a Buddha, and return to "play in the forests of Samsara". No doubt, I will first seek out those with whom I have had the closest karmic relations in this lifetime. But no doubt my assistance will go far beyond that, too.
As Master Shinran said, in some life hidden in the unknowable past, EVERY being was once my mother, my father, my sister, my brother, or my child.
It's an incredible vision - not just in its scope, but in its benign compassion. It's a UNIVERSAL vision - a vision where NO ONE is eternally condemned no matter how evil their karmic actions once were.
ALL - each and every one - is fully and completely saved and brought to the pinnacle of existence - TRUE Buddhahood.
Amida, joined by all the other Buddhas, and countless advanced Bodhisattvas too, will not stop until the work is COMPLETELY done.
How wonderful it is to know that!
Thank You, Amida Buddha!
NAMU AMIDA BUTSU!
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