Tag Archives: DT Suzuki

Trikaya

I have been conscious for a long time (a really long time – I read DT Suzuki’s Mysticism: Christian and Buddhist in the early 1970s) of parallels between mystical Christianity and the Buddhist way, especially the Shin path of Pure Land Buddhism.

Recently, though, I’ve come again to look at the Buddhist doctrine of Trikaya, the doctrine says that a Buddha has three kāyas or bodies: the Dharmakāya or Truth body which embodies the very principle of enlightenment and knows no limits or boundaries; the Sambhogakāya or body of spiritual experience which is a body of bliss or manifestation of clear light; and the Nirmāṇakāya or created body which manifests in time and space.

Obviously there is an immediate parallel here with the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, which can be understood, from a mystical Christian perspective at any rate, as God the Father, the Ground of Being, uncreated and unknowable isness; God the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, spiritual counsellor or guide, who inspired the Scriptures, and still speaks in ministry and in spiritual gifts; and God the Son, the indwelling Christ, present in all who live, and most fully seen in Jesus of Nazareth.

It used to the fashionable, when I first began to read about these things, to caution the novice against too facile an equivalence between Trikaya and Trinity; but these days interfaith scholars seem more open to the idea. Similarly, many writers seemed to look askance at drawing parallels between one tradition’s practice and another’s, yet today there seems to be much more openness to these insights. Around ten years ago now, I think, I had an email correspondence with a Pure Land Buddhist leader in this country, in which we both recognised the close parallels, in practice and in intent, between the Nembutsu and the Jesus Prayer.

We have much more to learn from each other, I suspect, we of the Christian mystical tradition and we others of the Buddha’s path. Liberal Quakers have long been open to the striking parallels between Quaker activism and Engaged Buddhism; perhaps there are more connections to be made still, in the matters like practice (I have written more here, among other posts) and mystical theology. After all, our action, if it is to be right action, grows out of our practice; our practice does not exist merely to fuel our activism, as I’ve discussed here and elsewhere. I’m looking forward to reading more about, and looking further into the practice of, our sisters and brothers on the way…

The Field Within

In his little book God is Silence (1969,70) Pierre Lacout, discussing the stages by which silence leads on to union with God, writes:

Each stage corresponds to a progress in love. Love unites. Silence and love go hand in hand. The quality of the one indicates the quality of the other.

Later come the stages of silence. which are the gifts of God’s Grace and the manifestations of his Nature. The first of these is the grace of inward retirement. Mystics compare the faculties of the soul to the sheep which the whistle of the divine shepherd calls back to the fold. The sheep return of their own accord at the faintest signal. They also say that the soul is like the bee which flies swiftly back to the hive; or like the tortoise which with an instinctive movement withdraws and hides in itself. The power of the soul, says another, is like the needle which swings towards the magnet. Such, according to the mystics, is the grace of inward retirement.

I have often thought that any list of spiritual graces, or stages, is entirely flexible and dependent upon the individual pilgrim, as she or he steps, one breath at a time, towards the Light. For me, this grace of inward retirement was, apart from a couple of childhood epiphanies of some kind, the first conscious step on the path of contemplation. I didn’t know to call it that, unfortunately, and so wasted years wandering about trying to find where it might fit into life as I understood it. Even when I first encountered the teachings of Thomas Merton and DT Suzuki, for instance, and even when I first began the practice of the  Jesus Prayer (more than 30 years ago now) I didn’t clearly understand that this instinctive movement to withdraw and hide within myself was the very foundation of the path I had stepped on to.

As far as I can remember, it was only when I encountered Quaker worship that I came to realise that inward retirement – and in the case of meeting for worship a shared inward retirement – was the movement of the heart into the field of God. Quakers know this as ‘gathered worship’; Buddhists, at least in some traditions, would think of it as a glimpse into a buddha field, a pure land. It is the realm of grace, and it might not be an exaggeration to suggest that Jesus had something like this in mind when he taught that ‘The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, “Look, here it is!” or “There it is!” For, in fact, the kingdom of God is within you.’ (Luke 17.20-21)