The Ten Epithets of a Buddha
What is a Buddha? There are ten epithets used to describe a Buddha.
The first epithet is `Tathagata,` literally the thus-gone one. What is a thus-gone one? A thus-gone one is also a thus-come, thus-perfected one. Paradoxically, the thus-gone or thus-come one has actually never come or gone anywhere. This is one of the ten chief titles of a Buddha.
The second epithet is `worthy of offerings.` When you meet with a truly Enlightened person, a Buddha, you should make offerings to him because he is worthy of it. Although you have not meditated on it, you will find yourself voluntarily making offerings to him. Why? Because he is the embodiment of the Universal Consciousness, and a magnetizing power from him will cause veneration to spontaneously sprout in your heart.
The third epithet is `fully Enlightened one.` This refers to the power of omniscience that I have just discussed. The pervasive radiance of a Tathagata also shines in the world of darkness, that is why he possesses a true knowledge of every event and phenomenon.
The fourth epithet is `gifted in knowledge and conduct.` A Buddha knows what spiritual pathways to take and how many practice stages one must go through to reach liberation.
The fifth epithet is `well-gone one.` A Tathagata goes and comes as he wishes. He is completely in control of his own births and deaths. A `well-gone one` can disappear or appear in any wonderful way he chooses. These transformations are just a form of transcendental play the Buddha or Tathagata engages in. When he wants to leave, he will leave. When he wants to come, he will come. He is completely free.
Lately I have been contemplating the place of my next birth. The idea of being born a Westerner does not appeal too much to me. I have been thinking about whether to be born in mainland China or not. We know that, in the past, people from Hong Kong treated people from Taiwan quite highhandedly [audience laughter] and used to take advantage of them because the Taiwanese were much more uncouth. That was why the Taiwanese were nicknamed `the sweet potatoes.` [audience laughter] But I have discovered that people in Hong Kong now are being taken advantage of by people from mainland China. The Chinese from mainland China are smarter, so we call them `taros.` `Taros` seem to be more valuable than `sweet potatoes.` The role of feng shui does make a difference. You know, the facial features of girls from Taiwan do somewhat resemble sweet potatoes. [audience laughter] Girls from mainland China, due to the influence of different feng shui, are `taros` and have different dispositions and temperaments. Different geographical environments nurture and produce different types of people. For example, the Kaoshan and Yamei tribesmen of Taiwan, the Tibetans, and the American Indians all have distinct temperaments and dispositions of their own.
So, which country should I pick as the place of my next birth? Although Thailand is a Buddhist country, the Hinayana Buddhism prevalent there does not offer a very broad vision. Ceylon was one of the countries which was directly introduced to the original Buddhism from India, and many of its Buddhist canons still exist in the form of Pali, but their culture is too sheltered from the rest of the world. In India, one would have to contend with Hinduism and Sikhism, and the country is impoverished and underdeveloped, so I am not counting on it. The idea of being born in mainland China is frightening [laughter and audience laughter]. To be born in Taiwan is to be the `sweet potatoes` again. Hong Kong ?truthfully, I have an aversion to the Cantonese dialect. [audience laughter] Really, Cantonese is so stiff sounding that it is harsh on one`s ears. My `corresponding office` has become `a little Hong Kong` now since most of the volunteers working there are students from Hong Kong. When they talk, harsh sounding Cantonese flies around as if they are quarrelling with each other.
So, if neither a Western nor Eastern birth appeals to me, where will my next birth be? I have not come to a decision yet.
A `well-gone one` comes and goes in wonderful ways. A Tathagata is a `well-gone one` because he engages in the creative transformation of himself in wonderful and subtle ways. He is completely free and has mastery over his own births and deaths. The spiritual practice I teach you today can liberate you from births and deaths and allow you to experience what it is like to be a `well-gone one.` [audience applause]
The next epithet is `knower of the worlds.` What is a `knower of the worlds`? A Tathagata understands all world knowledge. The `five sciences or studies` in Buddhism refer to world knowledge such as the art of healing and the art of crafts. The art of crafts can run the gamut from video-taping to sculpture, painting, and poetry writing.
Another epithet is `unsurpassable teacher` or `supreme master.` This means that no one else in the world is higher than the supreme master, a Tathagata is always the highest teacher. One might wonder, among the Five Directions Buddhas, who is ranked the first? If Mahavairocana is the first, then is Amitabha the second, Amoghasiddhi the third, Akshobhaya the fourth, and Ratnasambhava the fifth? No, they are all ranked the first! One way of describing them is to consider Mahavairocana as number one, Amitabha as the first of number one [audience laughter], Amoghasiddhi as the second of number one, so on and so forth ?they are all number ones. When you become a Tathagata, you reach the highest rank, surpassing everything else.
Another epithet is `taming master.` In Chinese this term is rendered as `taming husband.` A `husband` is a giant, do not take it literally as in `husbands and wives.` Who had Buddha Shakyamuni as a husband? Yashodhara? [laughter] Here husband means a giant or great person. To tame is to adjust, a little higher here or a little lower there, to strike a balance. The task of a living Tathagata in the world is to help human beings adjust their psyche. If there is misalignment, he aligns it. If it is too tight, he loosens it. If it is too loose, he tightens it. A taming master is thus a great engineer of the psyche.
`Buddha` is also one of the ten epithets, and it means an `awakened one.` The remaining epithet is `world honored one.`
I shall repeat the list once more, the ten epithets are: `Tathagata,` `worthy of offering,` `fully enlightened one,` `gifted in knowledge and conduct,` `well-gone one,` `knower of the worlds,` `unsurpassable teacher,` `taming master,` `awakened one,` and `world honored one.` Sometimes in the place of the `awakened one,` `teacher of gods and men` is used. A Buddha is a teacher of humans, as well as heavenly beings.
Today I have discussed the `ten powers` and `ten epithets` of a Buddha` in addition to analyzing the three types of Enlightenment. Although this discourse is entitled `An Overview of the Buddhadharma,` it is actually more accurate to call it `A Discourse on the Focal Points in Buddhism.` One cannot really do justice to a subject as broad as an overview without devoting a significant amount of time to it. Buddha Shakyamuni spent forty-nine years expounding on the Dharma; how can we expect to cover all of his teachings in a mere seven or eight days? It is impossible. So what I have done is to extract the essential points and lay them down as groundwork for you.
This, then, is the summary of this discourse outlined in a numerical system:
`One` refers to the `initial` step consisting of the graduated stages of `Faith, Comprehension, Practice, and Realization.`
`Two` refers to the two doorways of `theoretical` versus `practical` approaches, and how to make a selection between the two.
`Three` refers to the Three Non-outflow Studies of Discipline, Stability, and Wisdom.
`Four` refers to the Four Noble Truths, a very important as well as one of the earliest teachings of Buddha Shakyamuni. `Accumulation` causes `suffering` while `paths` results in `extinction of sufferings.` An understanding of the Four Noble Truths is one good way to enter into the door of the Buddhadharma.
`Five` refers to the Five Roots and the Five Positive Agents. By engaging in the Five Positive Agents [faith, energy, memory, stability, and wisdom], one can uproot the various negative tendencies of the Five Roots [five sensory organs].
`Six` refers to the Six Perfections. A great bodhisattva practices the Six Perfections in myriad ways to help sentient beings to reach liberation. Bodhicitta, the limitless compassion to attain liberation for the sake of the welfare of all beings, is a very great aspiration. Although a bodhisattva may have not yet attained Enlightenment, he or she is able to learn and teach at the same time. Thus the monks and nuns command our respect even though they have not yet reached realization.
`Seven` refers to the Seven Bodhyanga, or the seven kinds of awareness.
`Eight` refers to the Eightfold Noble Path.
`Ten` refers to the Ten Powers of the Buddha.
With the founding of our school, the traditional `ten` schools in [Chinese] Buddhism now becomes the `eleven` schools. [audience applause]
How about `Twelve`? It refers to the twelve links that constitute the chain of conditioned arising. Although I have not touched on this topic, I have written a great deal about this subject in my books. This time I also did not explain in great length the Eightfold Noble Path because a thorough discussion of the subject was given during my discourse on the Prajnaparamita Heart Sutra.
As a matter of fact, an understanding of the doctrines referred to in the above system is tantamount to an understanding of `the Focal Points in Buddhadharma.` If you want to expand your knowledge to include all the various doctrines advocated by the ten other schools, such as `the three aspects of the one mind,` `calming the mind and developing the special insight,` `teachings of Monk Tu Shun, the founder of the Hua Yan School,` `the doctrine that nothing exists from mind,` and `the three treatise` etc., you may do so. However, if you are already a master of our school, you should study and obtain a very clear understanding of the doctrines of the ten other schools. In the future, when people from the other schools come to ask you questions, you will not be entirely ignorant and will be able to answer them. You have to have a fundamental knowledge of all the doctrines of every school and be able to explain and penetrate deeply into them. By studying and practicing the True Buddha Tantric Dharma, you should be able to understand all Buddhist doctrines. In that sense, this discourse of the `focal points` also would become `an overview` of the Buddhdharma. [audience applause]
This concludes the discussion of `An Overview of the Buddhadharma.` Tomorrow will be a `question and answer session.` Write down your questions on a piece of paper. They will be collected and I will answer them. Do not ask any personal questions. It is important that only questions pertaining to this discourse on the Buddhadharma be submitted.
The day after tomorrow has been scheduled for `empowerments.` You should discuss among yourselves which particular empowerments you would like to receive.
This then brings this discourse of An Overview of the Buddhadharma to an auspicious completion. Thank you for your attendance.
Om Mani Padmi Hum.