The following is an extract from Ken Holmes' recent book "Karmapa"
Mahayana Buddhism considers that Sakyamuni had already achieved enlightenment before being born as Prince Gautama in Lumbini over 2,500 years ago. They see his life here on Earth as being but one fraction of that enlightenment's consequences—a necessary drama played out in twelve acts, each of which (including his "attaining enlightenment" in the eyes of people here) had a vital role to play in his bringing the timeless message of universal truth to our world.
Every one of the twelve stages helped in the proper establishment of his teaching for millenia to come and each had something to contribute to the envigoration he brought to our planet. The coming of a teaching Buddha coincides with a key moment in the destiny of the world and in the complex cycle of reincarnations of its inhabitants. Enacting the twelve deeds is the way in which each of the one thousand and two teaching buddhas who visit our Earth, before its final burn-up by the sun, will reset in motion the wheel of truth. The noble, exemplary life which they enact at such a time is known as the supreme emanation (supreme nirmanakaya).
The twelve deeds are:
... to leave the heavens and manifest on Earth at the most appropriate time,
... to enter the womb of a mother so as to be born in the most appropriate family for what will follow,
... to be born miraculously,
... to grow up showing unique physical prowess and mental intelligence,
...to enjoy consorts and the finest pleasures that worldly life can offer,
...to leave worldliness,
...to practice asceticism more radically than anyone ever did and then renounce it for its inadequacy,
...to go to the place where all the buddhas of this world manifest enlightenment,
...there to vanquish the negative energies of the world,
...to show recognition of the Middle Way and attain enlightenment,
...to teach the universal truths and
...to enter nirvana.
Had Prince Gautama not been a richand handsome prince, not had more beautiful wives than all other men, not been a better athlete and scholar and so forth, how could he be credible, later, as Gautama Buddha, declaring that worldly possessions are not everything? Had he just been a poor yogi, many might have accused him of sour grapes about worldly pleasures he had never known. Likewise, how could he have convinced people of the non-necessity of self-mortification had he himself not gone without food, sat in the burning Indian midday sun without drinking and so forth to a degree which surpassed anything anyone else had ever done?
There is great significance in each aspect of a Buddha's life. It is not just the final and perfect life of a being who has been working from purity to purity through hundreds of lives but the perfect teaching drama; a template for an age to come, a reference point by which all else can be measured.
The teaching emanation of the Buddha as Prince Guatama graced the world for 84 years. Yet throughout the five thousand year age illuminated by his enlightenment, he remains constantly present in other forms, giving teachings to those whose minds are pure enough and open enough to be aware of them. These can be emanations appearing in an infinite variety of ways, animate or inanimate, from time to time, to help human and other beings.
Beyond these there is a constant teaching presence which is so pure and powerfully direct that only those who have reached the ten levels of constant absorption in voidness have the subtlety and strength of mind to be aware of it. Called the sambhogakaya, it is a state of mental transfiguration no longer sullied by the confusion of worldly ignorance. In that state, every sight and sound is charged with deep and joyous meaning. Its experience consists of thousands of interfaces, each perfect and meaningful, with the overall universal wisdom of enlightenment. These are known as pure lands; pure experience.
Although buddhahood and its wisdom can never be realised directly for what it is until one attains complete enlightenment and actually becomes it, bodhisattvas experience it indirectly through the doors of their mind and senses, as visionary states of insight. Far removed from suffering yet emanating to help those still suffering, deeply rooted in peace and wisdom, nurtured by this ever-growing vision of perfection, they enjoy the finest access to enlightenment. Their way of experiencing enlightenment is known as sambhogakaya, which means complete access, complete enjoyment.
Last edited by BFS
on Sat Oct 10, 2009 2:49 pm, edited 1 time in total.