Unpacking the Adi-Buddha?

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Unpacking the Adi-Buddha?

Postby LionelChen » Wed Apr 24, 2013 4:15 pm

To my limited understanding of things, Buddhism in all of its three forms explicitly rejects the notion of a First Cause, however so conceived whether this comes in the form of a Platonic/Aristotlean Demiurge or from those religious traditions which trace their origins back to Abraham.

Its rejected in the Digha Nikaya, its rejected by Mahayana masters such as Asanga, Dharmakirti, Shantideva, etc.

So when I first stumbled on the concept of the Adi-Buddha, at least presented by non-Buddhists, I couldn't help but scratch my head in wonder.

The Adi-Buddha (be it Samntabhadra, Mahavairocana, etc) in these explications seems to be presented in manner less of a Creator and more as some sort of Ground of All Being (the Brahamnical conception of Brahman perhaps?)

But at least to what I understand of Anatman, Dependent Origination, Shunyata, Karma, and Rebirth - that's impossible (that or I have severely misunderstood some basic tenants of Buddhism).



Could anyone throw me an intellectual life preserver? Or a monograph? :smile:

Ultimately, I guess my question for this particular post is: Just what is the Adi-Buddha? And how might I bridge the concepts I've learned thus far in Yogacara/Madhyamika toward a proper understanding of it?
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Re: Unpacking the Adi-Buddha?

Postby Tenso » Wed Apr 24, 2013 8:10 pm

From my learning, Adi Buddha is the name of the being who became the first Buddha of this current aeon. Adi means first.
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Re: Unpacking the Adi-Buddha?

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Wed Apr 24, 2013 8:27 pm

It has yet to be explained to me how, or if Adi-Buddha is different from Brahma. It does seem to be a similar concept, at least in some Buddhism.

I think though, if you read Nagarjuna for instance, it's hard to square with these more eternalist -leaning concepts.

It helps me to realize that in the end, all philosophy in Buddhism is provisional.
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Re: Unpacking the Adi-Buddha?

Postby LionelChen » Wed Apr 24, 2013 8:59 pm

From my learning, Adi Buddha is the name of the being who became the first Buddha of this current aeon. Adi means first.


Hmm. I was under the impression that the Adi-Buddha was never subjected to our afflicted state.

Johnny Dangerous wrote:It has yet to be explained to me how, or if Adi-Buddha is different from Brahma. It does seem to be a similar concept, at least in some Buddhism.

I think though, if you read Nagarjuna for instance, it's hard to square with these more eternalist -leaning concepts.

It helps me to realize that in the end, all philosophy in Buddhism is provisional.


When I first heard of the concept, I thought it might have originated out of the Tathagarbha wing of Mahayana. Which would make sense to me at least, as the Tathagarbha sutras had a strong eternalist bent to begin with.

But then I see start to pop up in Shingon, Tendai, and the Tibetan schools and it leaves me quite confused. In a sense of "did I miss something?"
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Re: Unpacking the Adi-Buddha?

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Wed Apr 24, 2013 10:30 pm

http://itisnotreal.com/uploads/7/2/9/3/ ... tiness.pdf

Reading this actually helped contextualize alot of stuff for me (thanks to my DW pal who made me privy to it).

It opened some new questions as well, but it is a pretty good place to start to begin reconciling the seeming inconsistencies I think..the final chapter on Shentong confused me a bit, prompting me to post on here..but it is definitely relevant to your question - especially since you are interested in Vajrayana anyway.
Last edited by Johnny Dangerous on Wed Apr 24, 2013 10:32 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Unpacking the Adi-Buddha?

Postby dyanaprajna2011 » Wed Apr 24, 2013 10:31 pm

The Adi-buddha, from my understanding, is a type of representation of the dharmakaya, and/or the tathagatagarbha. Adi-buddha is like the primordial Buddha-nature from which all things eminate, in an almost Neoplatonic sense. Samantabhadra, or Mahavairocana, whichever one is presented, just seemed like a type of manifestation of the adi-buddha concept, or a way to give a name to something that has no name. The idea does seem to present some problems, though, as it seems, at times anyway, an attempt to add a type of creator being to Buddhism, when the Buddha denied such a being. Or as others have pointed out, a way to add Brahman to Buddhism. As far as how the various schools who accept the concept view it, I couldn't say. Zen doesn't really accept the concept.
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Re: Unpacking the Adi-Buddha?

Postby dakini_boi » Wed Apr 24, 2013 10:50 pm

The Adi Buddha simply refers to the fact that Buddha nature has never and can never be affected by samsaric stains. It's just another way of saying that enlightenment is non-fabricated. Because you can never manufacture your enlightenment, your enlightenment has always been present. "Adi Buddha" is a term to refer to Buddha in this context.
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Re: Unpacking the Adi-Buddha?

Postby Wayfarer » Wed Apr 24, 2013 10:58 pm

LionelChen wrote:To my limited understanding of things, Buddhism in all of its three forms explicitly rejects the notion of a First Cause, however so conceived whether this comes in the form of a Platonic/Aristotlean Demiurge or from those religious traditions which trace their origins back to Abraham.


I am a long-time student of comparative religions, self-directed 'Western Buddhist' but with strong Christian/Platonist leanings, so am very interested in these questions.

First - the 'first cause' ideas of Greek philosophy were never, in the first place, given in terms of the 'Creator-God' of the Hebrew scriptures. Plato and his successors are still categorised as pagan (albeit 'virtuous pagans') in the Catholic religion, but many ideas from the Platonic tradition were assimilated into Christianity over the early centuries of the Christian era. But in so doing, their meanings were changed in ways that might not have been countenanced by their originators.

Plotinus, 'the last great sage of antiquity', became a major influence in Christian theology, mainly via St Augustine but also by the elusive figure now known to scholars as the 'pseudo=Dionysius' (who in had been falsely identified as a direct disciple of the Apostle Paul, but who, it became clear, actually lived centures later.) The neo-platonist teachings of Plotinus, which were part of these schools, became part of Christian theology.

In W Y Evans-Wentz edition of The Tibetan Book of the Great Liberation, there are many quotes from Plotinus, mainly in the footnotes, which illustrate parallels between Plotinus and Mahayana Buddhism.

Such ideas are elaborated in more detail in The Shape of Ancient Thought: Comparative Studies in Greek and Indian Philosophies, by Thomas McEvilly, published in around 2002. It is not a mainstream work and I don't think it is widely recognized in academic Buddhist studies, but many of the essays in that book comparing aspects of Platonist and Mahayana philosophy are highly insightful (i.e. Chapter 23 Plotinus and Vijñānavāda Buddhism, 24 Neoplatonism and Tantra).

I have also always rather liked Soyen Shaku's lecture on The God Concept of Buddhism.

As for 'God' or 'the first cause', there is an approach that says that 'God' is not 'an existing thing' or 'one type of being amongst many', no matter how nobly conceived. The apophatic approach of the Platonic Christianity is to approach God through negation, which is very similar to the neti, neti approach of the Vedanta and the negative dialectics of the Madhyamika. This gives rise to the counte-intuitive doctrine of God wherein God does not exist, being completely beyond existence. Paul Tillich explored similar ideas:

The religious element of consciousness, Tillich concluded, consisted in the immediate and “unconditioned” meeting of our thinking mind with Being. This meeting with Being is the absolute limit of thinking. Being can only be apprehended through a mystical experience, in other words through intuition.


Such ideas were also explored by the Kyoto School philosophers, notably Masao Abe, who studied Heidegger and other Western philosophers in depth.

I had better stop at that point, although could keep going indefinitely. But if there's anything of particular interest, I am happy to discuss it further.
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Re: Unpacking the Adi-Buddha?

Postby LionelChen » Wed Apr 24, 2013 11:01 pm

Erp, not sure if the website hiccupped but..

Thank you all for your responses, and esp. you Johnny for the pdf. I'm a lover of books, so if you think anything might help please feel free to suggest it.
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Re: Unpacking the Adi-Buddha?

Postby Jikan » Thu Apr 25, 2013 12:14 am

Two sources that may be of interest:

*The Mahavairocana tantra, trans. Stephen Hodge, covers much of the ground you are interested in.

from another perspective...

*The Kunjed Gyalpo (translated as The Supreme Source by Clemente)

To my poor mind, it makes more sense to talk about the way the category of AdiBuddha is articulated in particular texts or traditions, than to generalize. I cited these two because you could construct a kind of Venn diagram of AdiBuddha characteristics from them. How do these descriptions differ, or not?

For myself, I find much more in common than otherwise.

happy reading...
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Re: Unpacking the Adi-Buddha?

Postby LionelChen » Fri Apr 26, 2013 6:26 am

Jikan wrote:Two sources that may be of interest:

*The Mahavairocana tantra, trans. Stephen Hodge, covers much of the ground you are interested in.

from another perspective...

*The Kunjed Gyalpo (translated as The Supreme Source by Clemente)

To my poor mind, it makes more sense to talk about the way the category of AdiBuddha is articulated in particular texts or traditions, than to generalize. I cited these two because you could construct a kind of Venn diagram of AdiBuddha characteristics from them. How do these descriptions differ, or not?

For myself, I find much more in common than otherwise.

happy reading...


Thank you as always Jikan. Your approach seems alot more clear-cut than my scattershot question.

I'd very much like to hear your views on the matter, after i've digested the works in question. I have been putting of reading Hodge's book , and I am rather curious as to how the Tibetans approach the matter. If i recall corretly, Kunjed Gyalpo is associated with the Dzogchen tradition?

It will make for interesting reading either way.
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Re: Unpacking the Adi-Buddha?

Postby Jikan » Fri Apr 26, 2013 3:56 pm

Yes, that's right: the Kunjed Gyalpo is a Dzogchen text of the Semde series.

It would be great if you could repost to this thread your ideas and responses to your reading as you learn more. I look forward to a more detailed discussion on this topic as well.
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Re: Unpacking the Adi-Buddha?

Postby LionelChen » Tue Apr 30, 2013 5:49 am

Jikan wrote:Yes, that's right: the Kunjed Gyalpo is a Dzogchen text of the Semde series.

It would be great if you could repost to this thread your ideas and responses to your reading as you learn more. I look forward to a more detailed discussion on this topic as well.


More than happy to - but as always I find myself bound by those two great impediments to learning.

Time and access!

I will probably start with the Mahavairocana - its more familiar territory to me.
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Re: Unpacking the Adi-Buddha?

Postby LastLegend » Tue Apr 30, 2013 6:02 am

First in First Cause refers to time. So then first cause must be relative to last cause. Without a last cause there cannot be a first cause. So time is a mind-construct, and we usually thinks it to be linear or directional when it is merely and expression of change.
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Re: Unpacking the Adi-Buddha?

Postby monktastic » Wed May 01, 2013 6:25 pm

In (one translation, possibly not the best one, of) the Kunjed Gyalpo, Samantabhadra says:
"I am the existential ground (gnas chen) of all Buddhas" and "... the root of all things is nothing else but one Self ... I am the place in which all existing things abide."

"Oh all you sentient beings of this threefold world [i.e. the entire universe, both visible and invisible]! Because I, the All-Creating Sovereign, have created you, you are My children and equal to Me. Because you are not second to Me, I am present in you ... Oh all you sentient beings of this threefold world, if I were not, you would be non-existent. ... Because all things do not exist outside of Me, I firmly declare that I am all - the All-Creating One."


But we are reminded (by Keith Dowman):

If this matrix of intrinsic awareness sounds like God to some people, then they are definitely on the right track. But the nondual state of rigpa is personified as Samantabhadra... It would be a mistake, however, to approach "Samantabhadra" as anything but a label for something that is quite beyond language and symbolism.


Of course, I think many Advaitins would say the same about Brahman. To me, any distinction seems to be polemical, but others may draw different conclusions :)
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Re: Unpacking the Adi-Buddha?

Postby Jikan » Wed May 01, 2013 8:56 pm

Relevant discussion on Mahavairocana as presented in the Brahma Net Sutra:

http://www.dharmawheel.net/viewtopic.php?f=41&t=1033
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