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Welcome to EverLife’s Wall of Symbols.

The wall of this section is embedded with some of the most significant symbolic expressions of Buddhism. Icons such as these were derived from ancient languages that date back to a time Before the Common Era (B.C.E.) [same as B.C. in the Christian calendar]. These tongues were profoundly poetic and ethereal. Like the vocabulary of dreams, they crystallized complex ideas in a set of linguistic images, rich in metaphor and numerology. As such, they particularly suited the elucidation of spiritual and cosmic insights experienced by the shamans, sages and prophets throughout the world. Sanskrit was the language adopted in the Indus Valley region (India) by those who aspired to fathom the secrets of the universe. It became the language with which the Buddha described his views of existence. To better understand the sutras he delivered, here you’ll find some of the meaningful symbols used in Buddhism.

ICONS:

• #1: Jewel

• #2: Lion

• #3: Tree

• #4: Wheel

• #5: Tower


Jewel

Symbol #1: Jewel

The jewel or gem represents Enlightenment. As such, it communicates the attributes of purity, rarity and preciousness. The sutras of Buddhism are replete with jeweled references starting with the epochal event of Sakyamuni, Sage of the Sakya clan, attaining Perfect Enlightenment and thus becoming the Buddha (Enlightened or Awakened One). Entering a trance state (Skt. samadhi) he had fixed his gaze inside a lotus blossom (symbol for Life) and saw the quintessential gem within it. From that moment on the Buddha urged his disciples to follow a path meant to show them how they may discover the jewel that revealed the Truth of the Reality of All Existence.

The jewel icon, at times used as a synonym for "diamond" (Skt. vajra), conveyed the Absolute — a sweeping reference to a singularly indestructible and greater Reality that at once transcended the relative definitions of existence, while it pervaded the mortal plane [in that it constituted the fundamental mortar from which the bricks for everything in existence were formed]. Although the gem metaphor stood for an Absolute that by its very nature defied comprehension, as the teachings of the Buddha reached their climactic phase the Buddha employed the icon in much more accessible terms.

Nearing completion of his 50-year-long teaching course with the elucidation of the Lotus Sutra, Sakyamuni unleashed a vision of wondrous beauty. In it he described the arrival of countless buddhas seated beneath jewel-bearing trees (i.e., spots where they found enlightenment), a tower covered with seven precious jewels (i.e., the treasury of enlightenment containing an infinite amount of joy and wisdom), and a destination called the Place of Jewels (i.e., land of enlightenment or buddha-land) where he had promised to lead his flock.

Finally, as they stood ready to enter this "Place," he surprised his followers with the revelation that the fabled gem of Enlightenment had been hidden within the fabric of mortality from the outset of their journey. It was a gift, he revealed, bequeathed to all mortals by the grace of the Buddha before the event of their birth; moreover, prior to the onset of time. Had he breached the secret of its universal presence to them any earlier, they would not have been ready to believe him. He then went on to predict that all those who bore witness to the Lotus Sutra would see that hidden gift rise forth from below the "ground" (i.e., mortality).

"Go you now and exchange that jewel for what you need and do whatever you will, free from all poverty and shortage," he declared.

— Lotus Sutra, Chapter 8: 500 Disciples Receive a Prediction Regarding Their Destiny.

The concept of a universally endowed jewel divulged that Perfect Enlightenment was a gift inherently possessed by mortals, although the distractions and dysfunctions of their existence had made it nearly impossible to uncover it. However, by proposing that the valuable "jewel" may be used to procure "complete fulfillment of all need and desire," Sakyamuni offered a new interpretation regarding the achievement of spiritual emancipation. In place of the traditional Indic view of liberation from desire through detachment from sentience, he offered that a mortal’s reattachment to the gift of absolute fulfillment would liberate one’s senses from the labors of suffering. Accordingly, all mortal beings innately possessed the identity of buddhahood, and as such, without exception, could revive this fundamentally enlightened essence — an innate treasure whose glow could saturate all aspects of their existence with fulfillment. In proposing that Perfect Enlightenment had been endowed to all mortals by virtue of divine grace, he suggested that all living beings were capable of transforming the realm of mortality into a buddha-land — a state of blissful fulfillment wherein all can enjoy the illumination of their senses, mind, desires and environment. To exchange the "priceless jewel" for complete fulfillment meant that the gem of Perfect Enlightenment would free the mortal being from suffering and deliver instead a state of peace, joy and wisdom.

The idea that ordinary human beings could become buddhas, because they inherently possessed the gem of enlightenment (i.e., buddha-nature) provided Buddhism with the doctrine that anyone could "return to" or "revive" their essential, enlightened nature and thus bring forth the blessings of eternal fulfillment into their present mortal existence.

 

 

Lion

Symbol #2: Lion

Throughout history the lion, King of Beasts, has stood as a universal symbol of sovereignty. Regarding the animal as majestic and powerful, nearly every ancient culture in the world had ascribed to their leaders the lion’s attributes of courage, strength and protection. This mythic designation can be found in ancient Sumer and Persia, African and Egyptian cultures, Greek and Roman empires, the Bible and Christian Crusades, as well as pre-historic tribal motifs dating back more than 5,000 years. In addition, nearly every prominent Asian culture (including Indic, Chinese, Southeast Asian, Korean and Japanese) and nearly every Asian religion (Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, Shinto, et al.) invoked the lion as a symbol of its power.

From the onset of civilization, religions employed the lion in their mythological languages. Sometimes the animal was merged with another into a fabulous mythic creature such as a lion-human (Egyptian Sphinx) or a lion-eagle (Sumerian Imdugud, Assyrian k’rub and Greek Gryphon). Or it was invested with divine power, such as encountered by Hercules when he defeated the Nemean lion, or in the lion-headed Sekmet, the Egyptian goddess, or as related in the Bible story of prophet Daniel encountering a lion. As a heraldic testament to the importance of the lion symbol the Greeks built the Lion Gate at Mycenae (c. 1250 B.C.E.) and at important crossroads India’s first great king, Asoka (c. 270 - 237 B.C.E.), a devout Buddhist, constructed pillars topped with four directional lions standing on a Wheel of Life. Moreover, Asian lions and Foo-dogs (lion-dogs) have been standing guard at the entrances of Chinese, Burmese and Japanese shrines and pagodas for centuries.

The Asian lion symbol originated in India. It was derived from a sub-species of lion, somewhat smaller than its African cousin, said to have roamed a vast terrain from Greece to central India. Indic lore predating the arrival of Buddhism vested in this animal the qualities of majesty and power. The skill to fight a lion defined the ultimate test of leadership and granted to such a one the right to be sovereign, guardian of the land and protector of his people. Hence, the custom of wearing a lion-skin robe or standing on a lion-skin rug was reserved for a king. The lion symbolized the might of his rule.

Although everywhere the lion motif had been associated with imperial rulers, Buddhism was first to adopt it purely as a religious iconograph. This redefinition of the lion symbol was conveyed through the legendary biography of its founder. As crown prince, Siddhartha Gautama lived in secluded splendor on a vast royal estate where his every whim could be fulfilled. However, this honorable young man chose a forthright and responsible course — excelling in royal duties and functions and by age 19 taking a wife and fathering a son. In recognition of his majestic demeanor and courage as a hunter, he had received the royal appellations of Lion of the Sakyas and Heir to the Lion Throne. Nevertheless, confronted by the suffering he observed among his people he abdicated the secular throne of the Sakya clan (Dynasty of the Sun) and embarked on a religious quest. Known thereafter as Sakyamuni (Sage of the Sun), a reference to his innate brilliance, eventually he had achieved Perfect Enlightenment, a state which his followers equated with his ascendancy to a spiritual throne. In conferring upon him the honorary designation of Buddha (Enlightened One), they recognized him to be sovereign of the cosmos. Consequently, they adapted the royal references of the Sakya clan and applied them to the Buddha. Hence, instead of the secular Lion Throne he had been due to sit on, as Buddha he now sat on a metaphoric Lion Throne divined as the Seat of Perfect Enlightenment.

In ascribing the lion-icon to his enlightened wisdom, Buddhism declared that the Buddha’s teachings possessed the power to repel the everpresent forces of ignorance which like vultures will tear into a mortal body that is left unprotected. Thus, the protection usually bestowed by a sovereign possessing military prowess had been reinvested in the power of the Buddha’s Dharma to vanquish the enemies of wisdom and joy.

Absent a known connection between the Sakya motifs of Indic Buddhism and earlier religiosity in Northeastern Africa, it is interesting to note that pyramidal glyphs (dated appx. 2200 B.C.E.) show the Egyptian god of resurrection, Osiris, reclining on a lion-couch. Phaeronic lore indicates that upon death the mummified remains of the ruler will achieve immortality by becoming one with Osiris. In the mythic discourse of the Buddhist sutras use of the ancient symbols indicated that Sakyamuni intended to revisit this subject, but in characteristic fashion he would present it with an entirely new twist. The climactic point of his teachings was reached when he finally addressed the themes of resurrection and immortality in the Lotus Sutra. Therein he called forth innumerable buddhas to appear from throughout time and space. Each buddha in attendance sat cross-legged upon a Lion Throne shaded by a jewel-bearing Tree of Life at ready to witness a Ceremony in which eternal beings would emerge resurrected from a sacred space hidden below the ground of mortality. The arrivals vowed to be born in a future age for the purpose of transforming the human world into a place of everlasting peace and joy. That this enlightened, immortal multitude had volunteered to appear in the mortal realm stood in sharp contrast to the Egyptian view wherein a single mortal seeks to be reborn among the gods in their immortal domain. Thus the Buddha of the Lotus Sutra illustrated that earthly existence can be transformed into a Lion Throne for all mortal beings.

The Sakya symbology also indicated an ancient link to the lion motif derived from Sumer/Babylonia — whose dominant religious class conducted the first mapping of the sky and interpreted it into the original form of astrology. Their horoscopes were based on the idea that the position of celestial bodies related to terrestrial events and characteristic human tendencies — a basic concept widely adapted in the ancient world. Among the constellations charted, Leo imparted the attributes of the lion. While the other star systems were associated with various ruling planets, Leo’s ruler was the Sun. Accordingly, the coincidence of the Sun’s position in the sky in the area of the lion constellation signaled the outpouring of generous abundance from a cosmic source of perpetual splendor.

Similarly, the simultaneous metaphoric use of the Sun (i.e., Sakya) and the Lion (i.e., Throne) in Buddhist mythology attributed to the Buddha, his wisdom and his teachings, the power to cause untold blessings to pour forth from an everlasting cosmic fountainhead. The notion that Perfect Enlightenment is a blessings-field is imparted in graphic form in the Lotus Sutra with the sudden appearance of a mammoth bejeweled Tower suspended in the sky. This lofty edifice turns out to be the funerary abode of Abundant Treasures Buddha, so ancient a being that his physical form had been extinguished eons ago. He is seen as an apparition seated on a Lion Throne inside the highest level of the Tower, when he calls out to Sakyamuni to share his seat. Accepting the invitation, Sakyamuni walks across the sky and joins Abundant Treasures. Herein, the Buddha (i.e., Sun) entered the open Tower of Abundant Treasures and sat upon the Lion Throne therein. It is from this position that the Buddha would proceed to proclaim that all human beings are endowed within their Life with the eternal source of ultimate splendor.

In 13th century Japan the Lotus Sutra’s prophetic promise of a second coming of Buddhism began with the independent revivalist monk Nichiren (Sun-Lotus). In his campaign to transform the unfathomably sublime Lotus Sutra into a practical vehicle for the enlightenment of ordinary folks, he reconstituted the metaphoric Tower in the Air into the Supreme Treasure mandala (i.e., cluster of blessings) and declared it to be the sacred object of veneration for all who revere the Perfectly Endowed Reality of Everlasting Life — Myoho-Renge-Kyo (Note: the full title of the Lotus Sutra). The simple act of pledging one’s devotion to the Lotus Sutra, Nichiren reasoned, equated the mortal being with the incarnate manifestation of the Declarer of the Truth of Everlasting Life (also, the Eternal Buddha of the Lotus Sutra). His incorporation of the Japanese character for Sun (Jpn. Ni [also, indiginous symbol of Japan) into his name inexorably linked him with Sakyamuni and identified his role as the actualized Declarer of the Truth of Everlasting Life whom the sutra divined to appear among people and extinguish their suffering (i.e, darkness) by illuminating their mortal world.

In a message accompanying his gift of the Supreme Treasure mandala to the parents of an ill baby, Nichiren conveyed the power which any ordinary human being could access by tapping into the eternal blessings-field within Life. His letter compared the chanting of Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo to the roar of a lion, as follows:

I hope that you will always cherish the Supreme Treasure which I have sent you for your daughter’s protection…I want you to believe in this mandala with all your heart. Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo is like the roar of a lion. What sickness can therefore be an obstacle?....I, Nichiren, therefore have inscribed my life in sumi (black ink), so that you may believe with your whole heart....If you consider the blessings of the Lotus Sutra, you will find the state of immortality before your very eyes.

— Nichiren (c. August 1273 C.E.).

Nichiren had conjured the ancient symbol of the lion to illustrate the inherent power embodied in the Lotus Sutra’s Quintessential Expression (Jpn. Daimoku). As only a lion can roar like a lion, the passage suggested that the body of Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo was the Supreme Treasure [of Everlasting Life] (Jpn. Gohonzon). In saying that the invocation will overpower any sickness, Nichiren has evoked the ancient Buddhist lion metaphor (i.e., Enlightened One) to refer to the Supreme Treasure of Everlasting Life as a universal elixir. He is suggesting that just as the lion rules the animal kingdom with his mighty roar, so too the majestic power of Everlasting Life rules the mortal domain with the roar of the Lotus Sutra.

In between the lines of this personal and inspirational writing Nichiren has conveyed the three primary principles he had unearthed from the Lotus Sutra. They constituted his foremost doctrine — the Threefold Reality of Everlasting Life (also known as the Three Great Secret Laws), as follows: (1) Supreme Treasure, (2) Quintessential Expression, and (3) Sacred Domain. This doctrine crystallized his practical and universal means for unearthing the enlightenment of all beings. Accordingly, the roar of Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo is the cause for abundant eternal blessings (i.e., Supreme Treasure) to appear in one’s mortal realm. One’s sphere-of-exisence may be transformed from a place of suffering into a sacred domain of eternal health and happiness, much as by preaching the Lotus Sutra the Buddha had transformed his earthly domain into the perfectly constituted and infinitely enlightened Land of Tranquil Light.

 

Tree

Symbol #3: Tree

The Tree is the world’s most widely applied mythic symbol. It has been known by many names — in general, as the Cosmic Tree, World Tree, Sacred Tree, Mythic Tree or Divine Tree, and, in particular, as the Tree of Life, the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, the Tree of Redemption, the Tree of Enlightenment (Bodhi), among others. The iconographic Tree has appeared throughout the world and heralds from as far back as prehistoric times. Its image has been found on shamanic ritual drums, artifacts and indigenous legends throughout Africa, Europe, Asia, Australia and the Americas. This primal symbol appears in parables, poems, and epics dating from the earliest civilizations in Mesopotamia, Egypt and Greece, as well as in ancient narratives of various linguistic, ethnic or religious origin, including the Bible (Hebrew/Aramaic, Christian), the Vedas, Upanishad and Sutras (Indo-Sanskrit), and the Koran (Islam) to name a few. Whether the popularity of the Sacred Tree is the result of independent but related notions of a spiritual kind, or of cross-cultural motifs making their way around the planet, as a metaphoric icon it is clearly a global thematic hit.

In its most glorious and noble expression it represents the central pillar of Existence. As the Cosmic Tree it reaches high into the Heavens and deep into the Earth to denote that mortal limitations intersect with divine powers. When conceived as the Tree of Life, it represents a nexus between the dynamic forces of birth, creation, fertility and growth and the absolute qualities of death, the divine, the essential and the eternal. The archetypal World Tree perfectly suggests the duality of Nature and the Divine, wherein Existence at once encompasses both deity and humans, the universal and unique, the harmonious and conflicted, the absolute and changeable.

Use of the tree symbol as a vehicle for profound doctrines is ubiquitous in ancient myths. On the surface these fascinating and entertaining stories were wrapped in romance, adventure and fantasy, revealed the power of divine forces, were populated with heroes and villains, and set in imaginative places. Simultaneously, these tales imparted subtexts of wisdom aimed at communicating concepts and meanings capable of deep impact on a recipient’s psyche. Hence, children and adults could enjoy them on different levels. These mythic forms had been crafted with forethought to incorporate immense visions hidden between the lines of seemingly simple but absorbing stories. Therefore, as people matured in age they could become increasingly able to fathom the valuable spiritual wisdom and experiential advice so subtly embedded within the myth. Still, even if one was not intellectually aware of their deepest meanings, these stories were designed to “connect” the listener with the underlying principle that Divine Powers and Laws governed Nature and Mortals.

The content of the myths came to sages by supernatural means. Either the information was “heard” by them from a divine voice, or “envisioned” by means of extra-sensory perception. Pre-historic shamans claimed to have the ability to enter a trance state wherein they would gain possession of an “inner eye” and with which they could “view” the world at a range that extended far beyond the distance limits of the physical eye. The long distance viewing skills claimed by such seers would be reflected in the descriptions they shared upon their return from their vision quests. As the places they “visited” in their trance journeys transcended the experience of ordinary mortals, they used symbolic imagery and poetic characterizations to communicate the relevance of what they had witnessed. The symbol of the Sacred Tree expressed the notion that the visionary had arrived successfully at the cosmic axis, also navel, of Existence — where the natural and divine meet.

Whether sages spoke of an oak, a birch, or a pipal, had to do primarily with the type familiar to them locally. Its physical bearing notwithstanding, invariably the features of the Cosmic Tree that they illustrated transcended the physical realm and possessed some magical attributes. Some told of a tree that speaks, while others described one so large and broad that it held up the sky. In addition, each physical attribute of the tree — the width of its trunk, roots, branches, limbs, twigs, sap, rings, leaves, flowers, fruits, hardness, size, strength, canopy, growth rate and direction — was used to expand the vocabulary of metaphoric comparisons that linked the plight of mortals to the “bigger picture.” Thus, the Cosmic Tree configuration would be used to:
• Pronounce universal Truths on issues such as the flow of life-energy between the divine and the natural.
• Acknowledge the psychological, emotional, physical, spiritual and creative powers inherent in all the living.
• Speak of the potential humans have for transformation, sacrifice and growth.
• Encourage human beings to adopt the noble and steady qualities of Nature: protection, nurturing, reliability and consistency.

Trees served humanity and asked little in return, it appeared. For example, they provided shelter and a source of nourishment and required little to no care. The ancients considered trees to be “compassionate” and, as such, to be divinely crafted. Hence, the Cosmic Tree would be defined in similar terms. It sheltered and nurtured the living only on a much grander scale. The ultimate tree represented the Tree of all Trees — the Universe itself. In this regard, the Cosmic Tree equated with a unified model of the cosmos, wherein everything in it was connected to everything else and everyone emerged from a single body. In other words, its branches and leaves, respectively the environment and living beings, emanated from a single trunk, namely a singularly Divine Source. Thus, the tree structure is itself the symbol for a profound universal doctrine: that all things in the temporal realm of Existence are simultaneously inseparable from a single eternal Reality. This all-encompassing Reality included:
• The physical, spiritual, psychological and emotional aspects of the mortal being.
• The entirety of the environment from the smallest particle to the furthest star.
• The divine realm from which all universal laws and forces emanate.

Accordingly, the Universe is configured like a Tree that grew from a divine seed to bear the fruit of all that exists (i.e., stars, planets, beings, etc.). Ancient sages equated the fruition of the Tree of Life with the divine creation of the mortal realm. As the Cosmic Tree represented the maturation of a cosmographic Map of All Existence, the ability to see this “Cosmic Map” came to be equated with Enlightenment.

The Tree icon as a universal map has its modern counterpart in the scientific field of evolutionary genetics. Biogeneticists tracing the molecular DNA of species have reconstructed an Evolutionary Tree of Life. It plots the increasing complexity and adaptations of life forms from the inception of biochemical evolutionary activity on this planet. While the ancients envisioned a Tree of Life that included all beings, scientists have determined that all humans share a common genetic code dating back to the beginnings of life on Earth— concluding that the entire record of evolution (i.e., Tree of Life) is inherent within every living being.

The relationship of the Cosmic Tree to evolutionary progression is evidenced in the earliest of all known metaphoric narratives (Babylonian, appx. 3-4,000 B.C.) — the Epic of Gilgamesh, featuring a hero/king and messianic figure who is half god/half mortal. In one episode he carves from a mythic Life-Giving Tree two instruments, which he intends to use to resurrect the dead. While ordinary trees bear fruit and liquid sap courses from their roots, the symbolic Life-Giving Tree produces the fruit (Effect) of human form, and the lifeblood that flows from its roots (Cause) perpetuates that form. The hidden mythic message forwarded herein is that Cause and Effect are the two instruments that drive existence to emerge and grow.

The Law of Cause and Effect is the critical focal point of Buddhist teachings (Dharma). As this principle appears to have been deduced in rudimentary form long before Buddhist doctrine was crafted shows that Buddhism did not start in a vacuum. It is apparent that Buddhism addressed and added to the doctrinal precedents established before its time before moving on to propose new concepts. Large-scale migration of peoples and cross-pollination of metaphoric stories from the Mediterranean to the Indus may have inspired the continuing reformulation of symbolically expressed themes. The connection between Mesopotamia and India is seen again in an episode of Gilgamesh wherein he embarks on a mystical journey to discover ultimate Truth and happens across a fabled land dotted with jewel-bearing trees. The Buddhist sutras often describe jewel-bearing trees, but further represent the jewels as the fruit of Enlightenment. Is it a coincidence?

Buddhist lore is replete with the Tree symbol. The birth story of Siddhartha, the Buddha-to-be, describes a jubilant scene wherein his mother Maya seemingly dances to celestial music under a bejeweled tree whose branch she holds to steady herself, while the infant leaps forth from her right side and lands on his feet. The birth scene is a prophetic reference signaling what is to come when he matures — his entry into the state of Perfect Enlightenment. Sitting beneath the canopy of a magnificent pipal tree (species Ficus religiosa of the Asian fig, also known as banyan-bo and Bodhi tree) at Bodh Gaya (near Gaya, in the west-central state of Bihar, India), Sakyamuni attains the ultimate state of profound and jubilant Wisdom. Interestingly, the tale of his Attainment of Bodhi (Enlightenment) describes a snakelike-diety (Mara, the murderer of Wisdom) who tries to entice the sage to accept entry into Nirvana (absolute peace), but is rebuffed when the Buddha announces that he will not enter without bringing all of humanity with him.

The “tree and snake” are hieroglyph symbols that appear in Egyptian pyramids, as well as Biblical characterizations of ancient Judaic origin — incidentally, a people exiled to neighboring Babylon prior to the appearance of the Buddha in India. In the Judaic Book of Genesis the fruit of the Tree of Good and Evil is equated with Wisdom or a state awakened to the true nature of Existence. The story of Adam and Eve recounts the origin of human beings and their fall from grace. In metaphoric terms, this innocent pair lives in an eternal paradise (representing a realm of purity that transcends space-time) in a state that is ignorant of mortality. Curious, they prematurely partake of the fruit of Wisdom. Their eyes are suddenly opened to the Truth of Mortality, and as they “see” the prospect of death, evil and suffering they are driven to “madness” by it. Consequently, they lose sight of their original self (i.e., their eternal identity) and, as such, suddenly find themselves outside the Garden of Eden. The reversal of the fall from grace is achieved painstakingly in the Bible’s Book of Moses, when the descendants of Adam and Eve are finally allowed to return to their homeland, the Land of Milk and Honey, after a harrowing 40 years in the desert. Their long, arduous and treacherous journey teaches that Faith is the vehicle for returning to one’s original state of purity.

Similar themes are addressed in Buddhism as Sakyamuni, the historical Buddha, leads his followers for some 40 years until at age 72 he offers them all entry into his Buddha-land (see Lotus Sutra). In this sutra he tells the story of a distant paradise where innocent children who possess eternal life inadvertently consume a poison (mortality) that drives them to madness. The parable equates human suffering with the loss of our original identity. However, the Buddha reveals that he has the antidote and if only they would accept it on faith, human beings would rediscover their original, eternal selves.

In the Lotus Sutra (chapter 11) this issue is addressed further as countless buddhas arrive in the mortal realm from every direction of the Cosmos for the purpose of bearing witness to the great resurrection of the eternal identity inherent within all mortals. The sutra states: “Each is seated beneath a bejeweled Bodhi tree and each tree is miles high and adorned with proportional branches, leaves, flowers and fruit made of jewels.” The mythic presence of jewel-bearing trees planted everywhere upon the mortal field of Existence illustrates the Lotus Sutra’s message that Perfect Enlightenment is inherently endowed within every being. Moreover, its colossal size indicates the bejeweled Bodhi trees are the equivalent of a Cosmic realm — each a Universe, each a domain of Perfect Enlightenment. This notion of the Tree as a Cosmos predates Buddhism in ancient Indic lore, whereas the Brahman treatise Maitrayaniya Upanishad (appx. 1200 B.C.) states: “The Cosmos is a tree. Its branches are [the five elements of] space, air, fire, water, and earth.”

Immediately following the initial event of his Enlightenment under the Bodhi tree, Sakyamuni revisits this traditional Indic notion and first delineates his concept of the Cosmic Tree. Accordingly, he represents the Bodhi tree in metaphoric terms as the colossal Tree of Enlightenment whose fruition is equated with the manifestation of Perfect Enlightenment. Rising as tall and as bountiful as the universe itself, this symbolic “tree of enlightened wisdom” bears abundant fruit and verdant foliage. However, in the words of Sakyamuni (see Flower Garland Sutra) the features of the Tree are described as follows: “The flowers and fruit are the buddhas and those who aspire to become buddhas; sentient beings are its roots.” Moreover, the Buddha warns that should its roots be destroyed even a tree of such bountiful magnitude would wither and die. Therein he declares the doctrine that the State of Buddhahood is an Effect whose root Cause is to be found in the mortal realm.

The Buddha returns to the Bodhi Tree symbol again and again and over time continues to upgrade its meaning. In due course he uses it to convey this superceding concept: buddhas and mortals are two facets of a single being. Moreover, in the Lotus Sutra wherein he finally defines Perfect Enlightenment as the Perfectly Endowed Reality of Everlasting Life (Myoho-Renge-Kyo), the Buddha replaces the doctrine of enlightened fruition with the doctrine of enlightened seeding. He declares mortality and eternity to be inherently and inseparably present in the seed that drives the perpetual dynamic of the Cosmos. In the Lotus Sutra’s grand cosmic plan he posits that all that is mortal is contained in and emerges from the Seed of Eternal Life, and conversely the Seed of Eternal Life is inherent within every scintilla of mortality.

Having reached the climactic portion of his teachings Sakyamuni reflected that from the standpoint of his mortal manifestation it seems that he had attained enlightenment under the Bodhi tree nearly 50 years earlier. However, he clarified, when framed from the vantage point of Eternal Enlightenment, the Everlasting Life of the Buddha has been teaching the Dharma for an incalculable time — spanning the birth and death of an infinite number of universes. As he states in the Lotus Sutra: “[All] believe that Sakyamuni Buddha came forth from the palace of the Sakya clan, and seated [under the Bodhi tree] not far from the city of Gaya, had attained Perfect Enlightenment. However, my good children, the Buddha [who now speaks to you from his eternal Buddha-land] had been the Declarer of the Truth of Everlasting Life for infinite, boundless hundreds of thousands and millions of billions myriad of eons.” Thus, the Buddha of the Lotus Sutra represents that the purpose of his quest had not been the attainment of Enlightenment, but the awakening of the omnipresent Seed of Eternal Life endowed within all mortals.

 

Wheel

Symbol #4: Wheel

 

 

Tower

Symbol #5: Tower

 

 

 

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