White Wind Zen Community

A Community practising and teaching Dogen’s Zen since 1985

Every Breath You Take 134: Praising the Marks of the Buddhas

Dharma Talk Presented by Ven. Shikai Zuiko O-sensei

Dainen-ji, May 26th, 2012

The verse: 

Praising the marks of the Buddhas,
"May all beings

Unfold the body of Awake Awareness
And realize formless truth." 

"The marks of the Buddhas..." 

Now, some may have heard of the marks of the Buddha,

some may have visions of arms like elephant trunks,

heels that stick out like rooster's feet

marks on the hands and the feet of the wheel, the spoked wheel sign,
and there may come images of legs like a lion, 
images of a beautiful gait, like that of a king elephant,
a stately gait like that of a king lion,

a beautiful gait like that of a swan,

a majestic gait like that of a royal ox. 

So, people being people,
over the centuries have come up with all sorts of interpretations and understandings
of what a Buddha or Buddhas look like,
and it's understandable why this has happened,
it's really no different than what we do today. 

It is important to remember that obvious as it sounds when it's mentioned,
there were no photographs, no drawings, no videos, nothing on YouTube,
no films about the Buddha, Gautama Siddartha.
In fact, it wasn't until several hundred years after this person that we call the Buddha,
the original Buddha, the original One Who Had Woken Up,
even though there were, and we reference them, Buddhas before Buddha,
there have been people who woke up to the actual nature of Reality. 

But remember, there were no images, and for the longest time,
it is said that the Buddha, this Teacher, this object of reverence,
was represented only by symbols such as footprints,
big big footprints in some cases,
an empty chair,
a riderless horse,
or an umbrella.
Later, the tradition of sculptures was established and this was done in the Gandahara region,
now Kandahar of Afghanistan,
and it was roughly the 2nd century C. E.
before such representations came to be made and came to be accepted. 

As I've mentioned before, this part of Afghanistan was on a trade route,
a trade route between the East and the West, and cultures met.

Romans and Greeks travelled along these roads,
Chinese travelled along these roads,
they met in the middle and as happens with travellers,
especially travelling salesmen, we've all heard the stories, right?
"Let's stop and have a little drink in the pub and let's talk."
So, before you know it,
there may have been mythic representations it would seem,
of this character called "The Buddha".

And we know that in Bamiyan there were huge statues,
two of them, metres tall,
so that would go into the mythologies of the traditions: 
the sixteen foot tall body of the Buddha. 

In the Digha Nikaya: Discourse of the Marks,
32 characteristics of the Buddha,
the Enlightened One, are explained.
The 32 characteristics are the 32 characteristics of a great man.
(Why are we not surprised?) 

And these 32 characteristics were also regarded as being present in Chakravartin kings.
So I'm going to go through the list: 

Level feet:
sometimes this is translated as flat feet,
flat feet with a pronounced heel,
flat feet with a very large heel reaching out the back.
So we start to see how in the minds of people who are afflicted with this terrible disease of being people,
half-listening most of the time,
making their own interpretations,
and passing on something that is even more exaggerated.
I think we're all familiar with that in one form or another,
never of course having done so ourselves...
but having witnessed it,
having seen it in the culture,
having experienced it from a simple little fish, for example,
that might have been six inches long,
but becomes a two foot long pike in the retelling. 

So, we exaggerate, we tell stories.
As long as we don't take it too seriously, it's pretty interesting. 

Second one:

.thousand-spoked wheel sign on the feet,
which in some texts are also described as being
"smooth as a tortoise shell"
thus being able to be grounded on the earth. 

Long, slender fingers:

In some descriptions, connected with a web of light,
and apparently this web of light came because of
being generous, speaking kindly, giving encouragement,
and setting an example for all by acting in accord with the previous three.
Well this probably—
it IS quite an important thing;
being generous, speaking kindly, giving encouragement.
That's something we can get into, is it not?
And I think that we need not fear having,
or even welcome if we're that type,
a "web of light" between our fingers. 

Pliant hands and feet:

.And in some other texts, this Pali interpretation,
this Pali tradition of "pliant hands and feet" also was understood to mean that
no matter how old, the skin was unwrinkled,
like an infant that fed on mother's milk. 

(Now, we better not let that one get out
or we'll be besieged with all kinds of people coming to practise so they will be wrinkle-free.
Well, we have some examples—
I'm only talking about myself—
that this is not the case.) [laughter] 

Toes and fingers finely webbed, full-sized heels.
Or: fingers and toes extremely long.
It's also said that this comes from saving animals,
or it's attributed to the fact that animals who were about to be slaughtered were saved. 

Now, we've also talked about King Ashoka, who 300 B.C.E.,
in the kingdom which covered most of India,
set up hospitals for animals as well as people,
made hunting forbidden,
and so we can see how mythology might have been created out of this
and then the virtue of that transposed onto a human,
or somewhat human, figure.

King Ashoka also raised the columns that had an elephant,
a horse on the top of the column—
and a lion because the lion became part of the flag of India. 

Arched insteps:

So therefore the feet couldn't have been flat,
so by "level", they must have meant something else.
Maybe they meant they were both the same size,
maybe they meant that they both legs were the same size.
We will never know because no one has any pictorial representation of Gautama Siddartha,
nothing has ever been found. 

Thighs like a royal stag. 

Hands reaching below the knees:

Well, definitely we are primates but the hands "reaching below the knees"
might take it just a little step closer to our primate brothers than we might—
and sisters, (sorry about that)—
than we might want to be. 

A well-retracted male organ:

.in other texts-recessed and concealed, because he, the Buddha,
never revealed confidences. 

The height and stretch of the arms were equal:

This is a really interesting one because that is what the Vitruvian Man of Leonardo Da Vinci shows,
that the outstretched arms and the height of the figure were equal.
Vitruvius was an architect born approximately 80 or 70 B.C.E.
He was Roman.
He died 15 B.C.E.
He travelled and lived in North Africa, Spain, Gaul, Turkey.
He was writing about this ideal human being around that time,
so bits and pieces of that might have gotten talked about and spread and ended up in a description of the Buddha,
but we'll never know. 

Every hair root was dark-coloured.
The body hair was graceful and curly. 

There was a golden-hued body:

.Well that's not surprising considering the part of the world that Gautama Siddartha lived in,
and the "golden" would be on lighter rather than the darker scale,
which it's better to be, apparently. 

He had a ten-foot aura around him. 

Soft, smooth skin. 

The soles, palms, shoulders, and crown of the head were well-rounded. 

The area below the armpits was well-filled.
So this was a person who was "built", it would seem. 

He had a lion-shaped body. 

The body was erect and upright. 

There were no hollows between his shoulder blades. 

And in the Pali texts it said he was like a bodhi tree,
or like a banyon tree actually, in Pali.
So he was like a tree. 

Full, round shoulders. 

He had 40 teeth,
with those on the upper being equal to those on the lower:

So 20 teeth in each jaw.
Something terrible has happened because we have 32 teeth,
less the wisdom teeth if they're out, which gives us 28,
so he must have had quite a smile!
The teeth were white, even, and close.
The four canine teeth were pure white. 

He had a jaw like a lion, and saliva that improves the taste of all food.
So that's maybe reference to the fact that whatever he was given to eat was welcome,
and probably people were complimented for their cooking. 

His tongue was long and broad, it could reach the top of his head, his ears, and his chest.
This was said to have happened because he was always speaking kindly to others,
and treating them as gently as an animal licking its young. 

The voice was deep and resonant.

The eyes were deep blue.

Eyelashes were like a royal bull, or a cow in some texts. 

Between the eyebrows there was a white curl that emits light.
There was a hair that apparently could be pulled out so that when it was straight,
it reached a great distance.
When it was released [O-sensei makes a spring sound, as though the hair has bounced back and coiled on the forehead]
it would snap back into a curl between those eyebrows. 

There was a fleshy protuberance on the crown of the head.
And some texts say the head was shaped like a royal turban, or ushnisa. 

The 80 minor characteristics or secondary characteristics of the Buddhas are,
some say, and it seems to be the case,
simply a more detailed look and finer fabrications
based on the 32 major marks because that's what we human beings like to do.
We like to look at things,
if we're the type of person who likes to do that,
and we will pick it apart and come up with more,
become more and more detailed about it. 

So you are quite welcome to "google" this yourself and have some fun with it.
And, as I've said,
there are no representations of the Buddha extant,
and he was only represented in artistic form in roughly the second century C.E. 

Now, a scholar, many scholars in fact,
have concluded that the followers of the Mahayana,
which is where this practice springs from,
played no part in that past in developing and introducing statuary and other depictions of the Buddha.
The Mahayana seem to be only interested in becoming Buddhas. 

So here you sit in front of that wall,
fingers and toes, eyes, ears, nose, breathing in and out,
recognizing that just like that human being, Gautama Siddartha,
who sat down under the bodhi tree 2600 years ago,
you have everything that you need to wake up to that actual nature of experiencing,
to join that list of Buddhas. 

And have no fear,
you will not develop rooster feet,
your arms will not turn into elephant trunks,

and you will get wrinkles. 

So have fun with all of this! 

Any time you notice anything whatsoever,

it's a dharma,

a known, 

a moment of experience,
you're the Knowing of it,
practise the fact of that moment of clear seeing. 

Once again, the verse: 

Praising the marks of the Buddhas,
"May all beings

Unfold the body of Awake Awareness
And realize formless truth." 

Thank you for listening.