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Emanation Without the Self

Buddha does not correspond to or equate with any notion such as avatar or messiah or mahatma since those concepts entail a Will or Intent on the part of an individual and usually indestructible, distinct entity. 

But, Buddha Nature manifests skillfully in unlimited ways to benefit beings.  It arises out of the alaya or unmanifest state via the single Ground of Awareness, the Dharmadhatu.  The Prayer of Kungtuzangpo  (Skt.: Samantabhadra) in the ninth chapter of the Dzogchen Teachings of the Gongpa Zangthal (Northern Treasures) by the Terton Rigdzin Godem says: 

"My emanations will continuously manifest in billions of unimaginable ways, Appearing in forms to help you beings who can be trained. ... .  From the very beginning you beings are deluded because you do not recognize the Awareness of the Ground.  Being thus unmindful of what occurs is delusion -- the very state of unawareness and the cause of going astray."

For Buddhists that hold with this view, Buddha Shakyamuni ("The Buddha") is an emanation of Vajradhara, a form emerging from the Emptiness called Dharmadhatu. 

1. The Dharmakaya neither stirs nor moves, yet due to the karma of sentient beings, innumerable emanations have appeared and will appear.

2. If there is a "Buddha" that goes around to different realms, or even that harbors the thought of "I shall emanate a form there to help," that is not a genuine buddha.  Why? For that to happen, a Self is at work and Buddha does not have nor hold any concept of a Self.

3. Primarily speaking, Lord Shakyamuni was the Buddha for the Human Realm and, more specifically, for Jambudivpa (the Southern Continent that surrounds Mount Sumeru.) His teachings are intended especially for human beings; that is the reason that he assumed a human form.  (He would have been much less effective ...  had he appeared in the form of an ant, instead of a prince.  The Jatakas do tell about his previous lives as a bodhisattva in various other, different forms from Deva to Hell-dweller and the rest, in order to help the beings of those realms. ) Therefore, we know that Buddhas appear in any realm in the form most beneficial and effective for the inhabitants.  Also, in those existence-conditions or realms, rather than contemplating "the preciousness of human birth," the beings would likely be told to contemplate the preciousness of being a Hell-dweller, a ghost, an animal, etc.

4.  Even within the Paramitayana and Vajrayana -- and Dzogchen, too -- some Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are said to have either gone to non-human realms to teach, or to entrust the Teachings.  For example, the Lords of the Three Families of the Noble Sons (i.e., Chenrezig, Jampal Yang [Manjushri] and Khyagna Dorje [Vajrapani]) were sent to three different places to teach the Secret Mantra Vehicle (to the Nagas, Devas and Yakshas, respectively) using symbols and gestures.  The Prajnaparamita Sutras were also said to be recovered by Nagarjuna from Nagaland, where Manjushri had buried them. 

And, the Dzogchen Tantras say that ...  Dzogchen has been transmitted and practiced in numerous world systems beyond our own.  So, again, Buddhas in various forms have been sighted all over.

5. It is ... said, in the Uttaratantra and elsewhere, were it not for our Tathagatagarbha, even if all the Buddhas appeared before us, we would not have recognized even a single one of them. Also, if we search for the Buddha (and our own Buddhahood) outside of ourselves and our minds, we won't find any. 

On the level of relative truth, immeasurable number of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas have appeared and will appear in various forms in various Realms for the benefit of immeasurable number of beings until all Samsara is clear, due to the auspicious ripening of positive Karma and the excellent aspirations of all those who have gone before; yet, on the absolute truth level, there is Nothing --  none, zilch, zippo, nada ... !

6. The Guhyagarbha Tantra says, "When he appears in various different forms corresponding to the different beings, he does not stray from just what is, but appears variously through the power of deeds." 

The Hevajra Tantra says, "I am the teacher, and I am the doctrine.  Endowed with my own assembly, I am even the listener." 

The Kunkyab Gyalpo says, "Buddhas, teachings, and retinues are nothing else but the three aspects of My own being."

~ lightly edited from BB at the Kagyu Mailing List who adds "... I prostrate to the unborn, formless, ceaseless, luminous, all-creating suchness that is the sovereign mind!"


The Tibetan word, tulku, means incarnation.  That is, a physical manifestation recognized as the continuation of the intent and compassionate activity of someone who lived before. Sometimes, the tulku is believed to embody only an aspect of the earlier person -- his or her mind, or speech.  On rare occasions, there can be more than one tulku of a former teacher in the world at the same time. 


H.E. Tai Situ said, in Overcoming the Fear of Dying, that Guru Rinpoche never died, still lives to this day and is, in fact immortal.  Thus, I suppose you would not have reincarnations of him  ... . ... how does this relate to impermanence? How can this be, if impermanence is a basic quality of all phenomena? How is that possible?

"The nirmanakaya dies, of course ... it's a physical body. The  dharmakaya does not die, never having been born. What of the sambhogakaya?

"Buddha Nature, which is our common potential, is beyond Birth and death. It transcends all concepts. Those beings who have actualized enlightenment -- Buddhas -- actually manifest the three (or four) bodies at the same time.  Dharmakaya, Sambhogakaya, and Nirmanakaya are always inseparable; they are like different aspects of the same "thing." 

Dharmakaya is often called the "mind of the Buddhas," and can be described as the result for one's own benefit, while the Sambhogakaya and Nirmanakaya are the result for other's benefit, and are the "manifestations of the Buddha."

They are never separate.  I believe that the teachers would say they never die -- the Nirmanakaya may appear to die, due to our own impure perception.  Don't forget, the Nirmanakaya of a Buddha doesn't just mean "one body." 

Finally, the "idea" of Buddha Nature being beyond Birth and Death doesn't contradict the teachings of impermanence and Sunayata which teach that all conditioned things are impermanent.  Buddha Nature is unconditioned, and thus not subject to change. It is also Empty.

... . Reams have been written about Rangtong, Shentong, and Mahamudra, and Dzogchen, which all serve to explain the relation of mind, Buddha Nature, Emptiness, and reality.  Or ask your teacher. But to truly understand, you must practice like "you hair's on fire!" 

~ Cone at Kagyu email list: May we all realize the Inseparability of the Three Bodies of the Buddha!

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