“dharmakāya ceased” part 2

By David Reigle on November 30, 2021 at 8:39 pm

There was some controversy over whether there are three or four buddha-bodies. This question revolves primarily around the interpretation of the eighth chapter of Maitreya’s Abhisamayālaṃkāra, titled “Dharma-kāya.” The oldest available commentary, by Ārya Vimuktisena, understands this chapter to teach three kāyas, while the somewhat later commentary by Haribhadra understands this chapter to teach four kāyas. The svābhāvika-kāya spoken of in verse 1 of chapter 8 is understood by Ārya Vimuktisena to just be the dharma-kāya, simply another name for it. Haribhadra understands the svābhāvika-kāya to be distinct from the dharma-kāya, which latter he then designates as the jñānātmaka dharma-kāya, the dharma body consisting of wisdom (jñāna). He takes the svābhāvika-kāya to be the true nature (dharmatā) or emptiness (śūnyatā) of the wisdom attributes (jñāna-dharma) that the jñānātmaka dharma-kāya consists of. In accordance with this, the svābhāvika-kāya could never cease, while the jñānātmaka dharma-kāya could.

The dharma-kāya, whether understood as the svābhāvika-kāya or as the jñānātmaka dharma-kāya, is said in Abhisamayālaṃkāra 8.2-6 to consist of the many attributes (dharmas) of a buddha that pertain to a buddha’s unique wisdom (jñāna), such as the supernormal knowledges (abhijñā), the analytical knowledges (pratisaṃvid), the ten powers (daśa-bala), etc. Could these ever cease? Verse 8.8 says that a buddha’s wisdom from aspiration (praṇidhi-jñānam) always remains (sadā sthitam), and verse 8.11 says that a buddha is [all-]pervading (vyāpī) and permanent (nitya). Then comes a description of a buddha’s sambhoga-kāya or enjoyment body, verses 8.12-8.32, followed by a verse on a buddha’s nirmāṇa-kāya or emanation body, 8.33. This verse says that the nirmāṇa-kāya is the body that acts for the benefit of the world without interruption as long as worldly existence lasts (ā bhavāt). The first half of the next verse, 8.34, says that so also its activity (tathā karmâpi) [goes on] without interruption as long as cyclic existence lasts (ā saṃsāram). Ārya Vimuktisena takes “its” (asya) as referring the nirmāṇa-kāya from the preceding verse, while Haribhadra takes “its” as referring to the jñānātmaka dharma-kāya, which was described in verses 8.2-8.11. The remaining verses of the chapter, from the second half of verse 8.34 to verse 8.40, describe the twenty-seven kinds of activity of the dharma-kāya.

For Haribhadra it is the jñānātmaka dharma-kāya and its activity that lasts as long as does cyclic existence, while for Ārya Vimuktisena it is the nirmāṇa-kāya and its activity that lasts as long as does cyclic existence. We would expect the nirmāṇa-kāya or emanation body to last only until the end of the cycle of existence, as understood by Ārya Vimuktisena. Haribhadra’s understanding that the jñānātmaka dharma-kāya is what lasts only that long is based on taking “permanent” (nitya) from verse 8.11 to mean only “as long as cyclic existence lasts” (ā saṃsāram) from verse 8.34. In his commentary on 8.11, in the section of the Abhisamayālaṃkāra on the dharma-kāya where a buddha is described as being “permanent” (nitya), he explains “permanent” as: “because, existing as a continuous series for as long as cyclic existence lasts, a Blessed One does not perish” (prabandhatayâ saṃsāram avasthānena/avasthāne ca bhagavataḥ kṣayâbhāvād). Then in his commentary on 8.34, the verse in which the phrase “as long as cyclic existence lasts” (ā saṃsāram) occurs, he confirms that this applies to the dharma-kāya: “thus, like the dharma-kāya [itself], its twenty-seven-fold activity lasts as long as does cyclic existence (evaṃ dharmakāyavad asyâ saṃsāraṃ saptaviṃśati-prakāraṃ karma). For him, this is the jñānātmaka dharma-kāya, because its activity occurs on the level of conventional truth. It is the svābhāvika-kāya that describes ultimate truth.

Haribhadra’s interpretation and his four-body scheme were adopted in Tibet by the Gelugpas, while Ārya Vimuktsena’s interpretation and his three-body scheme were adopted by the Sakyapas. Tsong kha pa in his extensive commentary on the Abhisamayālaṃkāra, published in English translation as Golden Garland of Eloquence, defends Haribhadra’s interpretation of this against Ārya Vimuktisena’s. This idea might provide some support for the statement that “dharma-kāya ceased,” although I have not yet found such a statement in the Buddhist writings.

Note on sources:

John Makransky’s book, Buddhahood Embodied, is quite the most detailed study of this issue. Since his book was published in 1997, a complete English translation by Gareth Sparham of both Ārya Vimuktisena’s commentary and Haribhadra’s commentary on the Abhisamayālaṃkāra has been published in four volumes, 2006-2012: Abhisamayālaṃkāra with Vṛtti and Ālokā. In an additional four volumes, 2008-2013, Gareth Sparham has translated Tsong kha pa’s commentary on the Abhisamayālaṃkāra, titled Golden Garland of Eloquence, in which Tsong kha pa explains why he accepted Haribhadra’s view over Ārya Vimuktisena’s. Another English translation of most of Tsong kha pa’s commentary is found in Groundless Paths, a translation by Karl Brunnholzl of Patrul Rinpoche’s two commentaries on the Abhisamayālaṃkāra, which commentaries consist entirely of literal or abridged passages from Tsong kha pa’s Golden Garland. Makransky translated the relevant material in his book, and gave plenty of context. Nonetheless, we can now see these commentary passages in the full texts that they are found in.

The references to the Sanskrit text of Haribhadra’s Āloka commentary on the Abhisamayālaṃkāra, as noted by Makransky (p. 399, note 46), are p. 918, line 11, and p. 925, lines 3-4, of Unrai Wogihara’s edition, vol. 2, which I have posted here: http://www.downloads.prajnaquest.fr/BookofDzyan/Sanskrit%20Buddhist%20Texts/abhisamayalamkara_aloka_vol_2_1935.pdf.

My translations given above are from these. The first of these is commenting on 8.11, and the second of these is commenting on 8.34. In the shorter Vivṛti commentary by Haribhadra, the first of these references is found on p. 108, line 1, of Koei H. Amano’s 2000 edition, Abhisamayālaṃkāra-kārikā-śāstra-vivṛti. It has the reading avasthāne, Tibetan bzhugs kyang, for avasthānena, agreeing with Wogihara’s variant from the Calcutta manuscript of the Āloka. The second of these references is found on pp. 114-115, having somewhat different wording.

The first of these references, commenting on 8.11, is found in Sparham’s translation of Haribhadra’s Āloka on p. 254 of vol. 4. The second of these references, commenting on 8.34, is found in Sparham’s translation on p. 264 of vol. 4. Ārya Vimuktisena’s comments on these verses are found in Sparham’s translation on pp. 83 and 97-98, respectively, of vol. 4.

Tsong kha pa’s commentary on 8.11 is found in Sparham’s translation of Golden Garland, p. 194 of vol. 4, and his commentary on 8.34 is found in Sparham’s translation, p. 225 of vol. 4.

From part 1, for the reference to the original Sanskrit of the Kāya-traya-stotra, it is quoted in the Sekoddeśa-ṭīkā, Mario E. Carelli edition, 1941, pp. 57-58, and Francesco Sferra edition, 2006, p. 171.

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  • Dewald Bester says:

    Could ‘Dharmakaya ceased’ mean something along the lines of – the Dharmakaya ceased working / manifesting / acting etc?
    I was browsing this phd thesis ” The Evolution of the Concept of the Buddha
    from Early Buddhism to the Formulation of
    the Trikaya Theory
    Guang Xing. Seemingly quoting from the Avatamsaka Sutra, the author extracts quotes like “The dharmakdya of the Tathagata is equal to the dharmadhatu (cosmos) and manifests itself according
    to the inclinations of sentient beings for their specific needs”. And, “The dharmakdya of the Buddhas is inconceivable and it has no form, no shape and not
    even the shadow of images, but it can manifest itself in various forms for the many
    different kinds of sentient beings, allowing them to behold it in accordance with their
    mentality and wishes”. If there are no sentient beings, then the Dharmakaya could presumably not ‘manifest’ for their benefit. The location of the phrase does seem to indicate a pre-manifest state.

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