Wise words from my wife the bodhisattva, part 2

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.

This may sound funny if you’re not used to the dialectic, but in Thich Nhat Hanh’s commentaries on the Diamond Sutra, consider the following passage from the Diamond Sutra itself:

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:

Nara Daibutsu, Mahavairocana

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.

About Doug

A Buddhist, father and Japanophile / Koreaphile.
This entry was posted in Buddhism, Religion, Shingon, Zen. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Wise words from my wife the bodhisattva, part 2

  1. jmcleod76 says:

    Good post. I’ve always found this aspect of Buddhism incredibly moving, but also challenging to practice. One version of the Bodhisattva Vow we chant in the Zen tradition goes like this:

    “When I, a student of the Dharma, look at the real form of the universe,
    all is the never-failing manifestation of the mysterious truth of Tathagata.
    In any event, in any moment, and in any place,
    none can be other than the marvellous revelation of its glorious light.

    This realization made our founding teachers and virtuous Zen leaders extend tender care, with the heart of worshipping, to animals and birds, and indeed to all beings.
    This realization teaches us that our daily food, drink, clothes, and protections of life
    are the warm flesh and blood, the merciful incarnation of Buddha.
    Who can be ungrateful or not respectful to each and every thing, as well as to human beings! ”

    It goes on from there, but that part always affects me deeply. “The warm flesh and blood, the merciful incarnation of Buddha.” Wow! It also gives new context to the Christian practice of partaking of the “body and blood of Christ.” When I was a Christian, I had been told by someone -can’t remember who – that every meal was the Eucharist. Now, as a Buddhist, I get it. So were my clothing, my home, my car …


  2. Doug says:

    Good analogy with the Eucharist and such. :)

    Good post. I’ve always found this aspect of Buddhism incredibly moving, but also challenging to practice.

    I don’t know how much of this can be really practiced myself. It’s not all that hard to understand at an intellectual level, but it can take a lifetime for it to sink in. Asahara Saichi is a famous Jodo Shinshu Buddhist follower from the 1800′s who kept an extensive diary of writings on Buddhism, and based on analysis, he seemed to struggle with the teachings for over 20 years before he had a kind of breakthrough that reflected similar teachings.

    I guess it’s not something you can really rush. Exposure to the Dharma is probably the best remedy, but I couldn’t say for sure.

  3. Wamae says:

    Great post!

    Your wife the bodhisattva really knows how to cut straight to the heart of the matter :-)

    I just have a tiny correction to something you wrote; you said the Daibutsu of Todaiji is Mahavairocana; it’s actually an image of Vairocana Buddha who is central to the Kegon school, and appears in the Flower Garland Sutra…Now Wikipedia tends to conflate the two but that isn’t strictly accurate.

    Of course, ultimately, Buddha is Buddha is Buddha :-)

  4. Doug says:

    Welcome to the JLR and thank you for the correction. Yes, you’re right, that is Vairocana Buddha, which is not quite the same as Mahavairocana Buddha. I should go find out how exactly they differ though. :)

    Amusingly, I did write much of the Wikipedia article, but admittedly I cobbled it together from scattering of sources, so it really does need more work. Haven’t been able to find a lot definitive sources though since most of the information is esoteric in nature. Ah well.

    Thanks again!

  5. jmcleod76 says:

    I’m certainly no expert on the various Buddhas, having a faily minimalistic practice, myself, but my understanding is the “Maha” is just a prefix meaning something along the lines of “great,” an honorific. In which case, wouldn’t Mahavairochana Buddha, just be Great Vairochana Buddha? In other words, same “guy,” just a different way of addressing him.

    Again, no expert here, but that seems right to me.

  6. warriortwo says:

    I have no other commentary than to say I am still out here enjoying the blog! :D

  7. Doug says:

    jmcleod76: I consulted a fellow I know online (ordained Shingon priest) and he said that there really isn’t much difference between them. They are essentially interchangable, except that one name derives form one sutra, while another uses a somewhat different name.

    warriortwo: Good to see you. I know people lurk from time to time, but it’s always nice when someone pops in to say hi. :)

  8. Kendall says:

    Your posts seems to be missing an end piece. After this discussion with your wife, did you go looking for the rosary, or did you decide to continue not worrying about it? That’s, in part, made me curious about the rosary being Buddha, and why you should care more about it getting lost. Did your wife feel you should care more for a material item, or was it because you added the word Buddhism into your explanation of why you didn’t feel it was important? I was just curious.

  9. Doug says:

    Well, the ending is pretty anti-climactic. I found the rosary, brushed it off, and put it in it\’s rightful place. As for the meaning behind what my wife said, she just said to treat everything with reverence, not just this or that.

  10. Doug says:

    Well, the ending is pretty anti-climactic. I found the rosary, brushed it off, and put it in it\’s rightful place. As for the meaning behind what my wife said, she just said to treat everything with reverence, not just this or that.

  11. - says:

    Well here is what I found interesting; If I start practicing loving kindness or whatever with everything because everything is a part of the buddha, then I find that I at least, am refusing to acknowledge the reality of the thing, and instead am clinging to the idea of Buddha which I project onto the thing and then worship/accept it. Grin, this is the danger of an insight which is not mine. For me of course.
    p.s I hope you don’t mind me butting in. :)

  12. Doug 陀愚 says:

    Not at all, and welcome to the JLR!

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