Article 9: Becoming the Dharmakaya

spiritual practice 1

So far in this series of articles based on the final teachings of the Buddha, the Mahaparinirvana Sutra, the focus has been the final instructions the Buddha gives before he dies. For this article however, I would like to write more generally about broader notions of spiritual practice from my experience as a long-term Buddhist practitioner moving systematically through the early, middle and later teachings, and reaching the last teachings in the evening of my life. But also from the point of view of all spiritual practices, their forms, the motivation behind them, and the fundamental reason for their existence.

The sad parting of the historical Buddha Shyakyamuni from the human world – revered teacher and tireless devotee to the happiness and liberation of humanity from all suffering – creates a situation in which his disciples were forced to end their reliance on him. He had appeared in the human world of suffering, or samsara (Skt), and relinquished his privileged life as a Prince expressly to devote himself to this end. His appearance in human form is highly significant. It indicates that human beings needed detailed instructions and constant support in transcending their suffering and arrogance at this time. It is often proclaimed in the Buddhist sutras and scriptures of other religious traditions, that a spiritual leader appears in the human dimension when people have all but lost their spiritual direction. I believe that his presence as a model was desperately needed in an ancient India which was gripped by war and power-mongering. Even in his own lifetime, the entire Shakya clan, his own people, was massacred in a battle for supremacy and wealth, and his father’s kingdom appropriated.

anceint IndiaIt is interesting and inspirational to consider what ordinary people were like going about their daily lives in the early periods of so-called ‘civilisation.’ In what was known as the Golden Era of ancient India, several thousand years before the Buddha’s appearance, the gods, the Holy Beings, lived among the members of communities, making the divine easily accessible and full enlightenment possible by simply being in their presence. This notion is based on the premise that all humans born into the physical dimension are endowed with a divine flame, an indestructible link with the sacred; that, unlike today, in the Latter Era of the Dharma or Law, when our societies are in serious decline and our karmic debts on a colossal scale, we were originally sacred beings, with natural faith born of our closeness to the divine.

The situation in ancient India was similar in Ancient Greece where the gods were constantly present, tangible, as they were in greek godsmany other European civilizations. In other areas of the world, we can see today that surviving indigenous peoples, e.g. native Americans and Australians, unexploited African tribes, et al, also live in the constant presence of their divine creation heoresbeings, their Creation Heroes as they are often known.

So, when the gods lived among us, our divine spark was burning brightly. We were awake, not slumbering and responding blindly to delusions as most of us are today. We had not yet retreated into the self-made cavern of our ego-minds, and did not habitually block and interfere with natural processes. There was no need to assert our ego in the form of opinions or flattery, deceiving or telling lies, etc., because we had not yet become attached to and distracted by gratification: our intents were pure and rooted deep in the sacred. Unlike in modern life, we had no need to practice to wake ourselves up with perpetual meditation and mindfulness, an endless schedule of rituals and goals and empowerments. Our spirits simply were, and so they wore the weight of the human form with ease. As mentioned above, our karma was also pure, virgin and untarnished, so its negative form did not ripen forcing us to behave in a delusional way or to manifest illness or suffering, which is often the case today.

Imagine the world of ancient India then, long before the Buddha’s appearance. This was his legacy, and so witnessing the clairvoyrant Buddhadeterioration around him, his last teachings were intended to prepare us for the deterioration we witness in today’s world, which he predicated with his clairvoyant powers. But what had also happened among his disciples was that they had become dependent on him, literally following him around as he taught substantial congregations of seekers of the truth. This dependency on his physical presence, made them deeply fearful as his death as it rapidly approached.

He earnestly reassured them with the following words:

A Buddha does not die. Likewise, Dharma does not perish. Only tathata (shinnyo-Jpn) is real; everything else is illusory. The substance of the Buddha is shinnyo.’

Dharmakaya 2In his last moments, Buddha revealed to his beloved disciples that the teachings he was leaving for them would become his body, the Dharma body, or Dharmakaya (see previous article Dharmakaya at, after his physical death. In other words, to the first generations of disciples, the posthumous presence of the Buddha could be found in the form of his teachings, the Dharma. Later in the Mahayana, there are three ‘bodies’ of the Buddha; the Dharmakaya is the ground for the other two – the Enjoyment Body (sambhoga-kaya) and the Emanation Body (nirmanakaya). These 3 are synonymous with perfect enlightenment, transcending all perceptual forms and so not possible to perceive. They have many astounding qualities: freedom from all conceptualization; liberation from defilements; and the intrinsic ability to perform all activities. In later forms of Indian and Tibetan Buddhism, influenced by tantric thought, the Dharmakaya is considered to be equivalent to the actual mind of the Buddha.

While transmitting his final teachings to the first disciples, which have flawlessly been transmitted orally up until today in the various Dharma Streams, the Buddha entreats them to become a reminder of Buddhahood, a representation of the Dharma-Body for all sentient beings to return to. In chapter 12 of the Sutra, The Nature of the Tathagata, he says:

‘I (the Buddha and all disciples) shall become a stupa (a repository of holy relics), a reminder of Buddhahood that other sentient beings can respect, and represent the Dharma body for them to return to…….I shall be the eyes for the blind and also a true refuge for Hearers and Solitary Awakened Ones.’

stupaThis is testament to our divine origins, to our inclinations towards the good and moral, to kindness and compassion, which I believe are at our core. We each have the spirit of a Buddha, an awakened one. We each have the choice of waking up from the deluded dreams contaminating our minds, of sensing the formless nature of reality, of resisting indoctrination and repression. The Dharmakaya, the Dharma body of the Buddha, walks among us today as we struggle with our delusions in a secular world of overwhelming diversity. If we connect with our true nature, letting go of our addiction to gratification and living with the courage to be our true selves, then we will find happiness in the realization of our sacred missions.

We are each a stupa, a shining tower housing the essence of the Great Truth (Tathata {Skt} Shinnyo {Jpn}), but the divine can only work in us when we are empty of delusions, self-serving desires and attachments. There are numerous ways we can practice to realize this emptiness, but there is a danger that we practice with ego, becoming attached to the practices themselves, forcing and striving to achieve these states. This struggling against the current of the natural, this shouldering and manipulation and grasping by religious means, is perhaps burying our true nature even more deeply.

transformationIt is interesting and at the same time quite shocking that human beings often long to wipe clean the slate of their beings, to erase everything so that they can be reborn, totally transformed. Many of us view our thinking as flawed so we block it, hide it away; we experience a frisson of guilt at having such thoughts and then bury them, perhaps forever. I have learned to let my thoughts appear, let them surface as detritus or debris in water. I do not condemn myself for having so-called bad thoughts in the same way as I do not condemn myself for having so-called good thoughts.

It is impossible to wipe the slate of our human existence and our spirit entirely clean; instead, we can adapt and accept – making the effort to free the flow of the water of our life. We are essentially formless exactly like water; in its natural state it flows wherever it wants to, wherever it can. Sometimes over-zealous practice can freeze that flow, fixing our nature in a glacier. purityEmptiness is the free flow of our waters. They are healing and cleansing, refreshing and exuberant. They are not made to flow by our human effort alone, but by our spiritual permission.

Once we did not need to make an effort to keep our divine flame alight by spiritual practice. We were truly living out our original nature, flowing freely, merging with the fluid natures of those around us in loving harmony. Then, we are misguided in learning to utilize the intellectual mind to interfere in this natural process, and our blindness began, leading us to go our own egocentric way towards the secular and personal power.

We may meditate, we may reflect, we may take empowerments and initiations, we may doggedly follow the letter of our teacher’s advice, but we must not lose sight of the truth, the suchness, which is inside ourselves, inside our stupa. We must not rule out the possibility that our ancestors were divine beings who handed on their divinity through the generations, and that by simply being, by sitting with ourselves exactly as we are, that spark will burst into joyful flame once again.

religious followersWe may see ourselves merely as followers of a teaching, of a guru, but being a follower may imply that we are separate and different from our spiritual guide, and thus we are separate from the Buddha’s eternal presence, the Dharmakaya. In Chapter 23 of the final teachings, Bodhisattva Lion’s Roar, the Buddha teaches observing the holy precepts, entering into holy meditation, and acquiring holy wisdom by first stating what they are not:

Holy Precepts are not observed:

• for your own happiness

• for the sake of profit or worldly affairs

• out of fear that you may fall into the lower realms of suffering

• to avoid encountering danger or unhappiness

• to avoid being punished

• to avoid damage to your reputation

Holy Meditation should not be practiced:

• for your own enlightenment and benefit

• for your own safety

• to avoid negative things such as greed, being free from impurities, etc

• to avoid disputes and physical violence

Holy wisdom cannot be acquired with the following thoughts: If I become wise I shall

• be able to liberate myself and escape the suffering realms, as no human can liberate all beings from the sufferings of birth and death

• be able to become enlightened quickly, eliminating all delusions now I have encountered the Buddha, which is as rare as the blooming of an udambara flower (blooming once every 3000 years)

• be able to overcome the agonies of birth, aging, sickness, death and shine a light on my spiritual darkness

meditation then wisdomWhen we are truly practicing for the sake of others, we are not conscious of the form of wisdom, or meditation, or even the precepts, for they are our true nature. We do not have to be self-conscious of them. They are housed in our stupa, integral to our ancient unconscious minds. This is the aspiration of a truly divine being:

‘As one with wisdom, I wish to carry the burden of the inexpressible agony of all beings on my shoulders. I wish to remove people’s poverty, crudeness, insidious desire, and to soak up their poisons of greed, anger, and ignorance. I implore people to let go of their greed and lust, and not be bound by their desire to have a good reputation and respect. I wish to free people from the cycle of birth and death, but will stay in that cycle myself to guide every last one to Nirvana. I wish every sentient being to attain ‘perfect universal enlightenment,’ and to recognize and cherish their divine origins and missions.’


With each breath, each blink of the eye, each thought as it arises, we are a Buddha, here in the centre of this blink

moment. We are each flawless, inspirational, universal beings. We should look no further

for we are the divine.


universal beings

(My deep gratitude to Karen Armstrong for her masterpiece ‘The Great Transformation’ (2005, Anchor Books) which taught me so much about the ages of man.)

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