Another good witticism from my wife this morning. We were sitting eating breakfast, when she told me how Baby got a hold of one of our Buddhist rosaries (the one pictured in this post), and was playing with it. Somehow she got it lost under the couch, so she apologized. I told her not to worry about it. She asked me “why?” and I remarked “well, it’s not really an important part of Buddhism, so not a big deal.”
Then she quipped, “but that’s Buddha.”
I looked a little confused and she continued, “this table is Buddha too,” as she knocked on the surface.
I understood her point immediately and was humbled. Like so often, being an “intellectual” Buddhist, I tend to discriminate what Buddhism is and isn’t. She cut right through the mind-games and pointed out the truth that all is Buddha.
The Buddha: “What do you think, Subhuti? Is it possible to grasp the Tathagata by means of bodily signs?”
Subhuti: “No, World-Honored One. When the Tathagata speaks of bodily signs, there are no signs being talked about.”
The Buddha said to Subhuti: “In a place where there is something that can be distinguished by signs, in that place there is deception. If you can see the signless nature of signs, then you can see the Tathagata.”
Which Thich Nhat Hanh explains:
Our usual way of perceiving is according to the principle of identity: “A is A” and “A is not B.” However in this passage [above], Subhuti says “A is not A”…When we perceive things, we generally use the sword of conceptualization to cut reality into pieces, saying, “This piece is A, and A cannot be B, C or D.” But when A is looked at in light of dependent co-arising, we see that A is comprised of B, C, D, and everything else in the Universe. “A” can never exist by itself alone.
Indeed, as I have come to realize through this and other things that all phenomena exist not as separate entities, but as a series of relationships to all other things.
Once, when I visited the Shingon Buddhist temple for the first time in Seattle,1 I sat with the priest there, who patiently gave me an explanation of Shingon Buddhist beliefs in a mix of English and Japanese. He drew a picture of various objects: trees, people, cars, etc. Then he drew lines between them emphasizing their inter-dependent nature. A big mesh of lines it looked like. Then I recall he drew a big circle around the whole thing and said to me, “This is Buddha, Maha-Vairocana.”
Mahavairocana Buddha is the central Buddha of Shingon Buddhism, and also the massive statue in the famous Japanese temple of Todaiji:
This is a terrible picture I took in 2005, and uploaded to Wikipedia of the famous Daibutsu statue at Todaiji. This is Maha-Vairocana, who also goes by the Japanese name Dainichi Nyorai (大日如来).
Anyways, Francis Cook’s Hua-Yen Buddhism: The Jewel Net of Indra essentially teaches the same thing: the supreme Buddha, Maha-Vairocana, is the totality of interdependence and impermanence, the ultimate embodiment of reality.
So, when my wife says, “that rosary and this table are Buddha”, she speaks very profound words.
Once again, her incisive wisdom blows my arrogant thinking away. Good job, dear!
P.S. “Wise words”, post #1 here.
CORRECTION: The Great Buddha statue in Todaiji is of Vairocana Buddha, not Maha-Vairocana Buddha. See Wamae’s comments below. Thanks!
1 Seattle Koyasan Temple: a very small Japanese-American temple, led by Rev. Taijo. Rev. Taijo’s really a cool guy so take time to say hi.