Tag Archives: Pure Land

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 that 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…

Perhaps this is all that prayer is

Swanage Bay before a storm

Somehow, I feel, each one of us must find a way to know God in life as we undoubtedly shall in death, even though that knowing will often feel like death to the selfish self. In the silence, God draws near to us, and we do recognise that presence, that irresistible Light. Surely this direct experience, impossible though it may be to describe, is the very heart of the Quaker way.

I believe that we are all, all things, all beings, connected and mutually dependent, bound inevitably together in a web of such complex subtlety as to be quite beyond human deciphering. It seems, in Buddhist experience as in Christian, that it is possible to so surrender to God, to the Ground of Being,  that we become vitally conscious of this web of mutual dependencies and conditions. As we do so our hearts will be broken by all that is suffered by other sentient beings.

Our love, our surrender, our acceptance of that suffering in our own hearts, seems somehow to heal and absorb that pain, helping those for whom we find ourselves weeping towards God themselves. Perhaps this is all that prayer is. We become channels to the immeasurable mercy of God, the love that holds the universe, and who knows what others, in the palm of its pierced hand, and in doing so we are pierced ourselves.

(Photo: Mike Farley)