By Jayaram V
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"But the Buddhism of Kanishka difered much from
the ethical creed of the great Maurya. the human teacher of the
four noble truths and the noble eight-fold path now became not merely
a deva(deity) but devatideva (the god of gods). Like the Blessed
Lord of the Bhagavatas or Vaishnavas he is repeatedly born in the
world of the living to remove the affliction of the creatures and
reveal to them the true law." - An Advanced History of India
by R.c.Majumdar, H.C.RayChaudhuri and Kalikinkar Datta.
A new school of Buddhism known as Mahayana Buddhism or Mahayana
school of Buddhism or Mahayanism became prominent during the reign
of Kanishka who ruled large parts of the Indian subcontinent in
the late second century A.D. Mahayana literally means a greater
vehicle. Although its exact origin is not clearly known, it is argued
that the basic tenets of this school can be traced directly to the
teachings of the Buddha himself. Followers of this school of Buddhism
did not believe that they deviated from the teachings of the Buddha,
but rather they rediscovered his lost teachings. Mahayana
Buddhism differed from the orthodox Hinayana School in many ways.
Some of the basic differences between the two schools are discussed
Buddha was deified and revered as the Highest Being
The Buddha did not make any attempt to validate the existence
of the first cause or the Cause of the causes. In the early Buddhism
there was no mention of any Absolute God akin to Brahman of the
Upanishads. The followers of Mahayana deviated from this early stand
of the Buddhists and declared that Buddha himself was the first
cause and that as the Absolute Being he pervades and presides over
the whole universe.
Mahayanists describe this being as Adi Buddha, whose manifestation
on earth was the corporeal Buddha who came to the earth and preached
the Dhamma. This Being, the Eternal Buddha, has three bodies or
three manifestations. They are the body of essence (Dharmakaya),
the body of bliss (Sambhogakaya), and the created body (Nirmanakaya).
The body of bliss presides over the highest heaven, while it is
the last one, the created body, which manifests on the earth for
the welfare of earthly beings.
The body of essence is the ultimate Buddha, the supreme lord of
the universe. It is the One, the eternal and the absolute. It is
omnipresent and omniscient and manifests itself as the other two
bodies. It presides over the entire universe and all the numerous
Buddhas who rule other heavens and other worlds in various parts
of the universe. Mahayana scriptures especially speak of five Buddhas,
namely Vairochana, Askshobya, Ratnasambhava, Amitabha and Amoghasiddha.
The body of bliss exists in the highest heaven and will continue
to exist till all the beings attain Nirvana. Sukhavathi is the name
of the heaven over which it presides. Here enlightened beings remain
seated infront of the Buddha's throne, in lotus buds, floating amidst
a lovely lake. Amitabha is the name that is given to the Buddha
who rules this heaven. The created body is a manifestation of this
body of bliss.
The interpretation of Nirvana
The Buddha discouraged all speculations about the true nature
of Nirvana. The Mahayana school made a radical departure from the
original teachings of the Buddha in this respect. According to its
tenets, Nirvana is not just a final liberation from the suffering
of continuous becoming, but also union with the Buddha's Body of
essence. Thus Nirvana that we are talking about here is not very
much different from the Vedanta concept of the blissful union of
the soul with the Eternal.
While it is difficult to speculate on how and why the Mahayana
school emerged so many centuries after the Buddha's death, we have
to admit that its cause was rooted in the ambiguity that surrounded
the early Buddhist stand on such concepts as soul and God.
But definitely the foundations of this school did not lay in
the scholastic and speculative exercises of some innovative minds,
but probably in the inner revelations that emerged out of deep spiritual
experiences during deep meditations and contemplations.
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