The Buddha – Chapter 24: A Hymn to the Buddha

The Buddha seems to have been an object of devotion, praise and homage from the beginning of the Buddhist tradition in India. As the tradition developed, he was not the only buddha to receive such devotion, but he was always held in special esteem as the buddha who compassionately chose to be born in, and teach the dharma to, our benighted world. Early Buddhist texts describe the devotion displayed towards Sakyamuni by his disciples, and the later tradition developed standardized lists (one of which contains 206 qualities in 21 categories) of his virtues of body, speech and mind. Indeed, the term dharmakaya (dharma-body) originally meant the corpus (kaya) or qualities (dharma) of the Buddha that were worthy of devotion. Hymns of praise to the Buddha were composed in India that seem to have circulated widely and to have been used in various ritual settings.

Some hymns praised the miraculous beauty of the Buddha, his body adorned with thirty-two major marks and eighty secondary marks of a superman. Others praised his unsurpassed wisdom, in its many manifestations. The Buddha was also praised as a teacher, for he not only discovered the truth that brings liberation from suffering, but he compassionately taught it to the world. He is thus regarded as the best of teachers, endowed with unmatched pedagogical skills.

The work translated here is a hymn to the Buddha praising him not for how he taught, but for what he taught. Among the large number of doctrines set forth by the Buddha (traditionally numbered at 84,000), one is singled out here: the teaching of dependent origination (pratityasamutpada). The Buddha seems to have gained fame early on for his emphasis on causation; he explained how suffering arises from causes, and argued that by destroying the cause of suffering, suffering itself would cease. Indeed, the summary of the Buddha’s teaching by one of his first disciples, Asvajit, was, ‘Of those things that have causes, the Tathagata has shown their causes. And he has also shown their cessation. The great renunciate has so spoken. ’ This single statement would be repeated throughout the Buddhist world and would be written on strips of paper and placed inside images, this statement of the Buddha taking the place of a relic, as noted in the previous chapter.

The idea of dependent origination took on special meaning in the philosophy of Nagarjuna, who elaborated on the Buddha’s claim that everything is empty of self because everything arises in dependence on something else; nothing can be independent because everything is dependent. Thus, the mere fact that things arise in dependence on causes is itself proof that everything is empty of autonomous existence. This emptiness and dependent origination are said to be fully compatible and complementary. The world functions, the law of karma operates, the path to liberation may be traversed because of emptiness; if things were not empty, change and transformation would not be possible. At the same time, the fact of dependent origination means that emptiness is not the utter absence of existence, but rather the absence of a specific kind of falsely imagined existence.

This is the chief theme of the work below, composed by the Tibetan monk Tsong khapa (1357-1419), who expresses his eternal devotion to the Buddha because he taught that effects arise in dependence on their causes – that everything depends on something else.

Praise of the Blessed Buddha from the Perspective of Dependent Origination, Essence of the Well-Spoken

Homage to the guru Manjughosa.

I bow to the Conqueror, unsurpassed visionary and teacher of what is to be seen and to be spoken, who saw and set forth dependent origination. (1)

Because you saw that the root of all the world’s troubles is ignorance, you set forth dependent origination to counter it. (2)

When you did so, what intelligent person would not understand that the path of dependent origination is the very essence of your teaching? (3)

When this is so, who can find something more extraordinary to praise you for, O Protector, than your teaching of dependent origination? (4)

Is there an eloquence more wondrous than the statement, ‘That which depends on causes is empty of intrinsic nature’? (5)

Fools who grasp on to it only make the bonds of extreme views stronger; for those who understand reality, it is the way to cut through all nets of elaboration. (6)

Because this teaching is not seen elsewhere, only you are called ‘teacher’. It is a term of flattery to non-Buddhists, like calling a fox a lion. (7)

Wondrous teacher, wondrous refuge, wondrous speaker, wondrous protector; I bow down to the teacher who set forth dependent origination so well. (8)

O Benefactor, you explained it in order that it might be a medicine for transmigrators; this essence of your teaching is the peerless proof for understanding emptiness. (9)

How is it possible for someone who sees dependent origination to be a contradiction or unproven to understand your teachings? (10)

When you saw that emptiness is the meaning of dependent origination, then [you saw] that the emptiness of intrinsic nature and the efficacy of actions are not contradictory. (11)

You explained that seeing the opposite of that – that actions are infeasible in emptiness and that emptiness does not exist among actions – is to fall into a frightening abyss.

(12)

Independence is like a flower in the sky. Thus, that which is not dependent does not exist. If things existed naturally, that existence would contradict dependence upon causes and conditions. (13)

Therefore, you said that apart from things that arise dependently, nothing exists. Thus, apart from things that are intrinsically empty, nothing exists. (14)

You said that, because it is impossible to reverse what naturally exists, then if some things did naturally exist, nirvana would not be feasible and no elaborations could be overcome. (15)

Therefore, again and again did you proclaim with the roar of a lion to the assembly of the wise, ‘Things lack intrinsic nature.’ Who can surpass this? (16)

You join without contradiction the utter lack of intrinsic nature and the viability of all presentations of this arising in dependence on that. What need is there to say more? (17)

‘By reason of dependent origination, one does not resort to extreme views.’ This statement of yours, O Protector, is the reason you are the unsurpassed speaker. (18)

Understanding that all of this is naturally empty and understanding that this effect arises from that are mutually supportive, without impeding each other. (19)

What is more amazing than this? What is more sublime than this? When you are praised for this, nothing else is worthy of praise. (20)

Enslaved by delusion, some confronted you. Is it surprising that they were unable to bear the sound, ‘nothing intrinsically exists’? (21)

[Others], who held dependent origination to be the cherished treasure of your words, are unable to bear the roar of emptiness. I am surprised at this. (22)

[Still others know] only the name of dependent origination – the unsurpassed door leading to the absence of intrinsic nature – and think that it intrinsically exists. (23)

By what method are these beings now to be led to that auspicious path so pleasing to you, the peerless passage well travelled by the supreme noble ones? (24)

How could the two – an innate, independent nature and a dependent, created dependent origination – be united in a single object without contradicting one another? (25)

Therefore, that which is dependently arisen is utterly devoid of intrinsic nature from the beginning. However, because they appear [to have intrinsic nature], you said that all of this is like an illusion. (26)

Because of just this, one can well understand why it is said that your opponents could not find an actual flaw in your teaching. (27)

Why? Because by explaining this you removed the possibility of exaggeration or deprecation of things seen and unseen. (28)

Dependent origination is the reason that I saw your words to be peerless. This alone created the conviction that your other teachings were true. (29)

You saw the truth and spoke it well. For those who study your teachings all troubles are cast away because all faults are uprooted. (30)

Those who oppose your teaching, no matter how long or how hard they try, are like those who repeatedly summon faults, because they rely on the view of self. (31)

How wondrous! When scholars understand the difference between these two, how could they not respect you from the depths of their being? (32)

What need is there to speak of your many teachings? Even conviction in just the general idea of a mere point of one portion bestows supreme happiness. (33)

Alas! My mind has been destroyed by delusion. I have long taken refuge in the collection of such virtues, yet I have not gone in search of even a portion of [those] virtues. (34)

Still, even with slight faith in you, until my life disappears into the jaws of the Lord of Death, I will delight in the thought that this is indeed the fortunate age. (35)

Among teachers, the teacher of dependent origination; among wisdoms, the wisdom of dependent origination. These two are like chief kings in the world. No other knowledge is as perfect as yours. (36)

Whatever you have spoken begins from dependent origination for the purpose of passing beyond sorrow. You have done nothing that does not lead to peace. (37)

How amazing! All those whose ears your teaching enters become serene. Thus, who would not respect those who uphold your teaching? (38)

You have refuted all who oppose you and are free from all contradictions. You fulfil the two aims of living beings. My delight in your ways increases. (39)

Over countless aeons you gave gifts again and again, sometimes of your body, at other times your life, your beautiful loved ones, your riches. (40)

Seeing the qualities of your teaching, I am drawn to your heart like a fish by a hook. It is my misfortune not to have heard it from you. (41)

Strengthened by that sorrow, my mind does not relinquish [your teaching], just as the mind of a mother does not forget her beautiful child. (42)

Yet when I contemplate your speech, it is in the divine voice of the teacher, his body blazing with the glory of the major and secondary marks, surrounded by patterns of light. (43)

When I think about you teaching this [dependent origination] in this way, a reflection of the Muni appears in my mind. Just a glimpse of him is medicinal, like the cool rays

 

Those people who do not understand your auspicious and wondrous ways are utterly confused, like grass twisted together. (45)

Having seen this, I sought for your intention, again and again, following the wise with much exertion. (46)

When I studied many treatises of our own and other schools, my mind was utterly tormented by the webs of doubt, again and again. (47)

You predicted that the camphor grove of Nagarjuna’s works would explain your unsurpassed vehicle just as it is, free from the extremes of existence and non-existence.

(48)

The vast orb of stainless wisdom, unimpeded in the sky of scriptures, dispels the darkness of the deepest extreme views and outshines the stars of mistaken teachings.

(49)

When, through the kindness of my teacher, [the works of Nagarjuna] were illuminated by the white beams of light of the glorious Candrakirti’s good explanations, my mind found rest. (50)

Among all your deeds, your deeds of speech are supreme. It is for this alone that the wise should remember the Buddha. (51)

A monk who goes forth from the world following that teacher should revere the Great Ascetic by not being deficient in the study of the Conqueror’s words and striving in the practice of yoga. (52)

I dedicate the virtue of this encounter with the teachings of the unsurpassed Teacher, made possible through the kindness of my lama, in order that all beings may be cared for by an excellent guide. (53)

Through setting forth his munificent deeds, until the end of existence may I be unmoved by the winds of misconceptions, and having understood the inner meaning of the teaching may I be filled with conviction in the Teacher. (54)

 

May I not relax even for an instant in upholding for the sake of all beings – even if I must give up my body and my life – the auspicious ways of the Muni, who made manifest the reality of dependent origination. (55)

May I spend day and night analysing how to increase, by whatever means, this [teaching] that the supreme guide gained by striving diligently for its essence through measureless hardships. (56)

When I strive in that way with the supreme intention [to achieve buddhahood for others] may I be tirelessly and constantly aided by protectors such as Brahma, Indra, the kings of the four directions and Mahakala. (57)

Translated by Donald Lopez from Sangs rgyas bcom Idan ’das ’’jig rten thams cad kyi ma dris pa’i mdza’ bshes chen po ston pa bla na med pa la zab mo rten cing ’brel par ’byung ba gsung ba’i sgo nas bstodpa legs par bshadpa’i saying po (better known as Rten brel bstodpa) by Tsong kha pa. It appears in the volume of miscellaneous writings (bka’ ’bum thor bu) in the second volume (kha) of the Lhasa edition of his collected works. See The Collected Works (gsun ’bum) of the Incomparable Lord Tson-kha-pa bLo-bzan- grags-pa (Khams gsum chos kyis [sic] rgyal po shar tsong kha pa chen po’i gsung ’bum) (New Delhi: Mongolian Lama Guru Deva, 1978), pp. 13a4-16a3.

Source: Lopez Donald S. (2004), Buddhist Scriptures, Penguin Classics; First Edition.

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