Nyorai ~ Amida Shu Podcast 105: 1st November 2020 (Transcription)

The word Nyorai 如来 is the Japanese rendering of the original Indian term Tathāgata. It is the term in Japanese of highest respect for the Buddha, for any Buddha, for Amida, for Lokeśvararāja Buddha.

In the Larger Pureland Sutra Shakyamuni, talking to Ananda, says:  “Lokeśvararāja, the  Tathāgata. Arahat Samyaksaṃbuddha, full of boundless compassion for myriads beings“ and so on.

And “Tathāgata” can be understood in two different ways. There is an ambiguity in the Indian word.   Tathāgata can be understood as tatha gata or as tatha agata.

I you read it as tatha gata, then it means “one who has gone to tatha“. Tatha is variously translated, Often you see neologisms such as “suchness“ or “thusness“. The Buddha has gone to the realm about which we cannot say anything in relative language - the realm of thusess or suchness - this is the realm beyond conditiones. So, we say that the Buddha, after his death, after his parinirvana has gone to this realm of suchness.

However, the Buddha used this term in his own life about himself. In fact, it's the most frequent term that he uses for himself and he uses it particularly when he is clearly in the role of “The Enlightened One”, just as a monarch might say: “The Queen will allow this petition”, when it's the Queen herself who is speaking. In this sort of way, the Tathāgata, the Buddha, Shakyamuni will say: “The Tathāgata spreads compassion in the world.” He is talking about himself, but himself in a particular role, in a particular spirit. He's talking about himself magnified by the spirit of all of the Tathāgatas throughout space and time.

But at this point he has not gone to parinirvana; he's alive. So, the other way of translating Tathāgata is as tatha agata. Here it means “one who has come from suchness”; and this really is the true meaning of Nyorai. In Japanese there isn't this ambiguity. In the Japanese translation “Nyorai” - “rai” means “come”, so Nyorai (the Tathāgata, tatha agata) has come from the Unconditioned into this world. So, we can say that the man Shakyamuni is, in a sense, a channel: the light of salvation, the light of awakening, the light of enlightenment, of spiritual truth shines through Shakyamuni. Shakyamuni is its channel into this world.

So, what is it that Shakyamuni transmits to others? Well, of course, he transmits that light. This is the function of the Tathāgata, to transmit that wisdom, that compassion, that love into the world.

But, more importantly and for those closest to him, what the Tathāgata transmits is the ability to be the function of being a transmitter of that kind. So, as a transmitter, one who receives and gives that wisdom, that compassion, the Dharma, the Buddha is also a transmitter of the ability to be a transmitter - the role of being a transmitter. This is the real transmission of Buddhism: it’s the transmission of transmission. And this is the Ultimate Refuge, the final meaning of Namo Amida Bu.

Thank you very much
Namo Amida Bu

Dharmavidya
David

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