What Is the Name of the 17th Stage Buddha?

(This translation only includes content pertaining to IIP #157 Q-1)

Asked by Lianhua Xuanzhen in Indonesia

Q1: Homage to Guru Buddha. Amitofo! Best wishes to you, Grandmaster! I respectfully submit the following question: Why are there only buddhas up to the 16th stage? Is there no 17th, 18th, or 19th stage? Does it just happen to be that way? Thank you Grandmaster, for your compassionate reply.

A1: As I have previously mentioned, the buddha at the 16th stage is the Adharma Buddha [Adi-buddha], the primordial buddha. OK, if you ask this way...then I will ask you, ask what? There are things about this world that we have never been there. The 16th stage buddha is merely a name we attach to the primordial buddha. As it is stated in the Vajra Sutra, although Adharma Buddha is the 16th stage buddha, Adharma Buddha would not say “I am a 16th stage buddha.” He would definitely not say this. Adharma Buddha is the original, the primordial buddha. We don’t know if there is any stage beyond this. We only know there is a 16th stage. The five buddhas are at the 13th stage. What about the 14th and 15th stages? What about the 17th stage? As this is none of our concern, we needn’t ask about it! Just attain Buddhahood, then what difference does it make what stage it is?

These stages were assigned in past times by patriarchs or Buddhists, for instance, 10th stage bodhisattvas. Why is there a 10th stage bodhisattva? The first stage is the stage of joy. The 7th stage is proceeding far. The 8th stage is unperturbed. The 10th stage is Dharma cloud. There are many other stages between these stages, such as the stage of wisdom and the stage of enlightenment. Each stage of the 10 stages has its own name expressing the level of the bodhisattva’s development. In Sutrayana, the 11th stage is equivalent to a buddha

Thousand-armed Thousand-eyed Avalokitesvara has 11 heads. This symbolizes attainment of the 11th stage. Why is Thousand-armed Thousand-eyed Avalokitesvara still addressed as bodhisattva? The reason is, in Vajrayana, to be addressed as a buddha, one must have reached the 13th stage, whereas in Sutrayana, at the 11th stage, one is already considered to be a buddha. Since Thousand-armed Thousand-eyed Avalokitesvara has reached the 11th stage, this deity can be addressed as either a bodhisattva, or a buddha. It is for our convenience that we divide bodhisattvas into 10 stages. Therefore, bodhisattvas have 10 stages. Buddhas go up to the 16th stage.

Let me ask you a question. Why is there no zero-stage bodhisattva? Why is there no -1 or -2 stage for one who is not yet a bodhisattva? The numbers are just to indicate the different stages of development. There is no strict rule. One just needs to recognize clearly that, buddha, bodhisattva, pratyekabuddha, and sravaka are the Four Holy Realms. They are great holy saints, the four kinds of sages. Although we make these rough divisions, a buddha is a buddha. Divisions are for convenience only. 

In Vajrayana, as you know, when one opens one chakra, one advances two stages. By opening five chakras, one reaches the 10th stage. Upon opening five chakras, one has reached the 10th stage. By opening the crown chakra, one reaches the 12th stage. Upon opening the ushnisha, one reaches the 12 ½  stage. These stages are used to explain the different stages of buddhas’ and bodhisattvas’ opening chakras. As one gradually opens the five chakras, one advances two stages each time one opens a chakra, one by one from the bottom to crown. This is how the level of one’s inner practice is determined. Hence, these are just numbers. So far, what I know of is the buddha of the 16th stage. In terms of your question about the 17th ground...did I write about this before? Did I write about buddhas above the 16th stage? I believe I did. What I mean is that these stages are enumerated to help ordinary people know what phenomena they will experience upon reaching a certain level. Do you understand now? This is my answer to the question from Lianhua Xuanzhen in Indonesia.

Although science is highly advanced, there are actually many things we still don’t understand. Let me ask you a question: how large is the universe? No one can answer this question, nor can science answer this question. Now, it’s said that one can fly an extremely long distance but one eventually runs into a barrier beyond which one cannot penetrate. Why? I’ve recently heard there is a barrier around our solar system beyond which we cannot pass because of the temperature. It’s impossible to pass through this extreme temperature, because at this temperature, everything would melt.

So, how big is the universe?  Beyond our solar system, there are many more solar systems. It’s just that the light of these distant solar systems never reaches our solar system. Therefore, buddhas are amazing, the most incredible. Why are buddhas incredible? In the Amitabha Sutra, Sakyamuni Buddha states that when travelling to the Western Pure Land one passes through billions and billions of buddha lands. Trillions! Trillions of buddha lands!

Reverend Lianxu has looked up my previous writing on this subject which states:

“Sheng-yen Lu has discovered that above Adharma Buddha, at the 17th stage, there are buddhas called Nameless Buddha. I consider this name to be the buddhas’ name.

Buddhas at the 17th stage shall all have:

No name.

No form.

No action.

No conditions.

No non-existence.

All these 17th stage buddhas share one name, Nameless Buddha. One can be considered truly enlightened when one discovers the buddha of 17th stage:

'Not a buddha, not mind, not matter.'

Everyone please read the Sutra of the Buddha Discoursing the Names of the Buddhas. It is stated in this sutra that countless buddhas have the same name. There are trillions of Dipamkara Buddhas and trillions of Shakyamuni Buddhas. As long as a buddha has a name, the buddha is at the 16th stage or below. Since the 17th stage buddhas have no name, I call these buddhas Nameless Buddha."

This is my answer to Lianhua Xuanzhen in Indonesia. It turns out the answer is in my book, so you didn’t read my book! Amitofo! (Grandmaster laughs). The 17th stage buddha is extremely difficult to accomplish.

Translated by TBTTs

Translator: Henry Wolf

Editor: DJ Chang

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