Revisiting Ancient Buddhist India

Long ago there was a Korean monk named Hyecho 慧超 (704–787) who in the 8th century traveled from China to India and back. This was a time long before the comforts and security of modern travel, where much of the journey was done on foot, which took considerable time and energy. Like his predecessors Faxian (338-c423), Xuanzang (602–664) and Yijing (635–713), he also kept a travelogue detailing his journey, entitled Memoir of a Pilgrimage to the Five Indian Kingdoms (Krn. Wang Ocheonchukguk Jeon 徃五天竺國傳). While born in Silla, at a young age he seems to have departed his home to study Buddhism in China. At some point he had the inclination to travel abroad and like a number of other monks during the Tang Dynasty he set out for India.


In 723 he departed China from Guangzhou by ship and arrived in eastern India some time later, thereupon visiting various places such as Kushinagar, Kapilavastu and Varanasi before leaving India west via Karasahr. His journey took him north and west through modern day Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran before arriving back in China in 729.


Having personally visited several of the sites he himself went to some thirteen or fourteen centuries before I did, it is interesting for me to envision how he saw things from how I did. Furthermore, we also have the travelogues of other pilgrims from East Asia which we might consult and compare. This enabled me while travelling in India and Nepal to appreciate the historical richness of several ancient sites while also personally in a sense reliving the trip as some pilgrims many centuries had done before me.

Hyecho arrived in India by sea and then slowly made his way to Kushinagar, the site where the Buddha passed away. He describes it as follows.


《遊方記抄》卷1:「一月至拘尸那國。佛入涅槃處。其城荒廢。無人住也。佛入涅槃處置塔。有禪師在彼掃灑。」(CBETA, T51, no. 2089, p. 975, a27-29)

"After a month I arrived at Kushinagar, the site where the Buddha entered parinirvāṇa. The city is desolate and nobody lives there. There is a stūpa built where the Buddha entered parinirvāṇa. There is a master there who mops it."

Now, curiously, he refers only to what is presumably Parinirvāṇa Stūpa (pictured to the right), the site where the Buddha passed away, but not Makutabandhana, otherwise called Ramabhar Stūpa, which is where the Buddha's body was cremated. It makes one wonder why he did not mention the other notable stūpa as they are in short walking distance of each other. This might be due to the fact there were at the time many other stūpas which Xuanzang in the previous century provided detailed descriptions for.

Xuanzang also makes mention of the site which is now called Parinirvāṇa Stūpa as follows.

《大 唐西域記》卷6:「城西北三四里,渡阿恃多伐底河。西岸不遠,至娑羅林。其樹類槲,而皮青白,葉甚光潤。四樹特高,如來寂滅之所也。其大甎精舍中作如來涅 槃之像,北首而臥。傍有窣堵波,無憂王所建,基雖傾陷,尚高二百餘尺。前建石柱,以記如來寂滅之事,雖有文記,不書日月。」(CBETA, T51, no. 2087, p. 903, b14-21)

"Northwest of the city three or four li one crosses the Ajitavatī River. The west bank is not far and one arrives at the śāla trees. The tree is a type of oak (hu 槲) and the bark is greenish-white with the leafs quite glossy and smooth. The four trees are especially tall. It is where the Tathāgata passed away. Inside the great brick temple there is a statue of the Tathāgata's parinirvāṇa. The head is to the north and it is lying down. To the side there is a stūpa built by King Aśoka. Even though it has collapsed it is still more than two-hundred chi tall. In the front there is raised a stone pillar recording the event of the Tathāgata's passing away. Although there is a written record, there is not written the day or month."

Remarkably, even today you can see this statue that he describes. As one might see in the photograph, the statue is laying down with the head facing north. It was excavated in the 19th century by archaeologists and given its age it is in quite good condition. There is also indeed something remarkable about reading Xuanzang's account from the 7th century and seeing in the 21st century the same statue he laid eyes upon.



It is notable here that the stūpa had collapsed with no mention of it being repaired. This may indicate the decline of Buddhism in India at the time. Interestingly, at the same time Nālandā University was operating and perhaps even flourishing with erudite figures like Candrakīrti on the faculty. Nevertheless, according to Xuanzang sites like Kushinagar and Lumbini were being poorly maintained. This suggests that while Buddhism was thriving amongst intelligentsia, it had lost much of the popular support it once held with the common people who would otherwise tend to such holy sites. One contributing factor that is cited in Buddhism's decline in India is that over time it gradually ceased being relevant to the common people and thus came to live on only amongst intellectuals.

Xuanzang also describes what appears to be Ramabhar Stūpa, a short distance from the aforementioned statue.

《大唐西域記》卷6:「城北渡河三百餘步,有窣堵波,是如來焚身之處。地今黃黑,土雜灰炭,至誠求請,或得舍利。」(CBETA, T51, no. 2087, p. 904, b11-13)

"Crossing the river north of the city and walking about three-hundred steps there is a stūpa, which is place where the Tathāgata's body was burned. The earth is now yellowish-black with the soil a mix of ash and charcoal. With utmost sincere requests some go to obtain relics (śarīra)."

A few centuries earlier in the early 5th century Faxian seems to have come from the opposite direction.

《高僧法顯傳》卷1:「從此東行四由延到炭塔。亦有僧伽藍。復東行十二由延到拘夷那竭城。城北雙樹間希連禪河邊。世尊於此北首而般泥洹。」(CBETA, T51, no. 2085, p. 861, c1-4)

"From here going east four yojanas one arrives at the cremation stūpa. There is also a monastery. Going further east twelve yojanas one arrives at the city of Kuśinagara. North of the city there among the twinned trees on the banks of the Nairañjanā River the World Honored One laid his head to the north and [passed into] pariṇirvāṇa."

In the present day there is no river alongside this purported site where the Buddha passed away. That river is somewhat to the south. In all likelihood the course of the river has changed over the many centuries since Faxian visited said location. The present location of the river relative to the stūpa can be seen in the lower left corner of the following image.


Faxian also remarks that the city when he visited it was sparsely populated and largely deserted besides the monks and some families. Judging from the aforementioned records we can assume that Kushinagar was not a major center of learning or practice for Buddhists. In the 8th century when Hyecho visited it seemed all but one lonely master was left to do the mopping. This also perhaps indicates the slow decline of Buddhism on the subcontinent. Either for lack of resources or apathy the Buddhists at the time did not invest much resources in such a holy site.

This seems to have also been the case with Lumbini and Kapilavastu (now close to the Indian border in Nepal), where the Buddha was born and raised.

Hyecho makes the following brief comments on the state of Kapilavastu:

《遊方記抄》卷1:「迦毘耶羅國。即佛本生城。無憂樹見在。彼城已廢。有塔無僧。亦無百姓。... 林木荒多。道路足賊。往彼禮拜者。甚難方迷。」(CBETA, T51, no. 2089, p. 976, a2-5)

"The country of Kapilavastu. It is where the Buddha was originally born and the city [where he was raised]. The aśoka tree [under which the Buddha was born] is still extant. The city has been abandoned. There are stūpas, but no monks. There is also no populace. The forests are much neglected. The roads are full of bandits. Those going there to pay respects have much difficulty and become lost."

Xuanzang in the previous century recorded his observations in more details as follows.


《大 唐西域記》卷6:「劫比羅伐窣堵國,周四千餘里。空城十數,荒蕪已甚。王城頹圮,周量不詳。其內宮城周十四五里,壘甎而成,基跡峻固。空荒久遠,人里稀 曠。無大君長,城各立主。土地良沃,稼穡時播。氣序無愆,風俗和暢。伽藍故基千有餘所,而宮城之側有一伽藍,僧徒三千餘人,習學小乘正量部教。天祠兩所, 異道雜居。」(CBETA, T51, no. 2087, p. 900, c22-29)

"The country of Kapilavastu is more than four-thousand li in circumference. There are tens of empty cities, truly abandoned and overgrown with weeds. The king's city is decrepit. The measurements for the circumference are unclear. Within there is the palace, fourteen or fifteen li in circumference built of layered bricks, the remains of the foundation tall and solid. They have long been emptied and abandoned. The villages of the people are rare and scarce. There are great lords or chiefs and the cities individually elect their headmen. The land is fertile. Sowing or harvesting they are often seeding. The order of the seasons is without lapse. Their culture is gentle and kind. There are more than a thousand old foundations for temples, though on the side of the palace there is one temple with over three thousand monks who study the Hīnayāna Saṃmitīya-nikāya teachings. There are two Hindu sites and the different paths reside together."

Clearly the local society had once undergone catastrophe, but at this point it seems to have recovered. The people are seen to be secure in their agriculture and friendly in their dispositions. However, said realm was once a major Buddhist culture, but in Xuanzang's time it was largely all but ruins that remained of its former glory. This was not unlike what Xuanzang encountered in his journey through what is now Afghanistan and Pakistan - old monasteries, once thriving and active, all but abandoned and desolate.

Faxian also visited the location in the 5th century and noted the desolation.

《高僧法顯傳》卷1:「從此東行減一由延到迦維羅衛城。城中都無王民甚丘荒。止有眾僧民戶數十家而已。」(CBETA, T51, no. 2085, p. 861, a22-24)

"From here going east less than a yojana away one arrives at the city of Kapilavastu. Inside the city there is neither king nor citizens and it is quite desolate. There are only the monks and some tens of households."

Fortunately for Faxian he was able to find Lumbini, the site of the Buddha's birth.

《高僧法顯傳》卷1:「城東五十里有王園。園名論民。夫人入池洗浴出池。北岸二十步舉手攀樹枝東向生太子。太子墮地行七步。二龍王浴太子。身浴處遂作井。及上洗浴池。今眾僧常取飲之。」(CBETA, T51, no. 2085, p. 861, b6-10)

"Fifty li east of the city there is a regal park. The park is called Lumbinī. The lady [i.e., the Buddha's mother] entered the pond to wash and then came out. Walking twenty steps from the north bank she raised her hands, holding onto the branch of a tree and facing east the prince was born. The prince fell to the earth and walked seven steps. Two nāga kings washed the prince. The place where his body was washed there then was created a well [from which], along with the above pond [which the lady] bathed in, the monks now often take [water from] and drink."

As to the reason why Kapilavastu ended up in such desolation it probably begun with the assault by Virūḍhaka, king of Kośala, who laid waste to the realm and slaughtered five hundred members of the Śākyas. This was during the Buddha's lifetime. However, it is unlikely this was the sole reason for the eventual abandonment of tens of cities.

It has been a joy for me to be able to revisit ancient Indian sites that correspond to the details in travelogues written by travellers centuries ago. It is a kind of applied scholarship that I imagine archaeologists can appreciate. To read these accounts and consider how things have changed and what things have stayed the same is also an exercise in analyzing history itself.

One last thing to consider is that these travelogues are often the only witness accounts we have for many of the regions they visited throughout those centuries. If it was not for these accounts our understanding might otherwise be strictly limited to scarce references and archaeological reports. As eyewitness historical documents they are extremely valuable. This makes reliving them as a modern pilgrim all the more interesting.

Why did the Buddha prohibit alcohol?

I have often found that although most Buddhists are aware that the Buddha laid down a rule against alcohol consumption, they are often unaware of precisely why. There are plenty of treatises and writings that describe the benefits of abstaining from alcohol consumption while informing the reader about the faults of the substance. These resources generally inform Buddhists about the ethical issues surrounding alcohol consumption. However, the original reason for the Buddha prohibiting his disciples from consuming alcohol was much more practical. It should be firstly noted that prior to the prohibition the disciples were free to receive offerings of alcohol and consume them. There was no prohibition from the start against drinking alcohol. The individual rules in the Vinaya were originally formulated according to circumstances as they arose. When situations arose that required regulations to be implemented the Buddha would lay down a rule suitable to the circumstances. At the beginning, however, there were no rules at all. The disciplinary code only came to exist due to dangerous activities of certain disciples.


One other thing to note is that the original Vinaya regulations were neither precepts nor vows, but rules. They might be considered kind of house rules specifically aimed at a male community younger in age.


With these facts in mind we can then examine the original reason for the alcohol prohibition. For this purpose we can examine the various Vinaya texts that exist in translation in the Chinese canon. These were all translated in the 5th century. Preference in this context might be given to the Mahāsāṃghika Vinaya as it is probably the earliest and most reliable version. Incidentally, the issue of expanding the Vinaya was an issue that contributed to the first schism in the early sangha. See the following.


The Mahāsāṃghikas were involved in the first division of the Buddhist community in the second century after the demise of the Buddha, that is, the schism between the Mahāsāṃghikas and the Sthaviravādins. This schism was most likely invoked by the expansion of the root Vinaya text by the future Sthaviravādins, an expansion that was not accepted by the later Mahāsāṃghikas.”1


We can thus assume that the Mahāsāṃghika Vinaya 摩訶僧祇律 is the earlier version and likely better reflects the original narrative concerning the incident which led to the Buddha prohibiting alcohol consumption. We might consider the Mahāsāṃghika account in its entirety as follows.


《摩訶僧祇律》卷20:「佛住拘睒彌國。廣說如上。爾時拘睒彌界有惡龍。名菴婆羅。能使亢旱不雨苗稼不收。人民飢饉。如是種種災患。時尊者善來比丘往降惡龍。如善來比丘經中廣說降伏惡龍已。乃至國土豐樂人民感德。知恩報恩。有五百大家為善來故。各立常施幢幡施設床座。請僧供養。別請善來比丘。其所造家。則設種種美食。時有一家施食之後。因渴施酒色味似水得而飲之。還向精舍。爾時世尊大會說法。酒勢發盛。昏悶躃地。當世尊前舒脚而臥。佛知而故言。是何比丘在如來前舒脚而臥。比丘答言。善來比丘飲酒過多是故醉臥。佛問諸比丘。此善來比丘先曾晝寢不。不也世尊。復問比丘善來。未醉之時頗曾佛前舒脚臥不。不也世尊。復問比丘多飲酒已。欲使不醉可得爾不。不也世尊。復問諸比丘。設使善來比丘不飲酒時聞說微妙不死之法。當欲失是善利。不聽受不。不也世尊。佛語諸比丘。是善來比丘本能降伏惡龍。今者能降蝦蟆不。答言。不能。佛言。設使菴婆羅龍聞者生其不樂。從今日後不聽飲酒。」(CBETA, T22, no. 1425, p. 386, c13-p. 387, a4)


The Buddha was residing in the country of Kauśāmbī teaching as was mentioned above. At that time in the realm of Kauśāmbī there was an evil nāga named Āmra who had caused a drought where the rain did not fall and the crops were not harvested. The people were starving and there were various calamities like this. It was then that the bhikṣu Venerable Svāgata went to placate the evil nāga. As it is explained in the *Svāgata Bhikṣu Sūtra, after placating the evil nāga the country celebrated and the people felt gratitude, aware of the kindness bestowed upon them and wanting to repay it. It was on Svāgata's behalf that five hundred great families each offered up hanging banners and setup seats, inviting the monks for offerings. They made a special invitation to Bhikṣu Svāgata. The households which made [the offerings] provided various kinds of delicious foods. It was then that after one household had offered food that due to his thirst they offered alcohol which appeared as water whereupon he drank it. He returned to the monastery where the World Honored One [the Buddha] was teaching the Dharma in a great assembly at the time. The influence of the alcohol was all too much as he became unwell and fell onto the ground. It was in front of the World Honored One that he stretched out his legs and passed out.


The Buddha was aware of this and thus said, “Which bhikṣu is it here that has stretched out his legs and passed out in front of the Tathāgata?”


The bhikṣus replied, “Bhikṣu Svāgata drank much alcohol and thus has become inebriated and passed out.”


The Buddha asked the bhikṣus, “Has Bhikṣu Svāgata here ever slept during the day?”


No, World Honored One.”


He again asked, “Has Bhikṣu Svāgata prior to being inebriated ever stretched out his legs and passed out in front of the Buddha before?”


No, World Honored One.”


He again asked, “The bhikṣu having drank too much alcohol, if he wanted to make himself un-inebriated, would it be possible to do this?”


No, World Honored One.”


He again asked the bhikṣus, “Suppose Bhikṣu Svāgata at a time when he had not drank alcohol heard an exposition on the excellent and immortal Dharma – would he want to lose this benefit and not listen to it?”


No, World Honored One.”


The Buddha said to the bhikṣus, “This Bhikṣu Svāgata was originally able to placate an evil nāga. Now, could he placate a toad?”


They replied, “He could not.”


The Buddha said, “Suppose Āmra the nāga heard this – it would provoke his displeasure. From today onward it is not permitted to drink alcohol.”


Curiously, the accounts of this incident in other Vinaya texts differ in the details of what transpired.


The Dharmagupta Vinaya 四分律 is a much longer account of the event and the substance consumed is a “black liquor” which the monks were aware was alcohol. It also states Svāgata not only fell over at the road side, but vomited which caused the birds to be disturbed. The Buddha then tells Ānanda the ten faults of consuming alcohol.


The Mahīśāsaka Vinaya 五分律 reports the nāga was causing torrential rains and hail which destroyed the fields, in contrast to the account in the Mahāsāṃghika Vinaya which states it was a drought. Svāgata is also seen in a non-violent battle of magical powers with the nāga where the latter loses and is scooped up into the former's bowl and taken to the Buddha who gives him permission to release it. The grateful laity come to the assembly of monks and ask Svāgata if he needs anything. He replies that when he was layperson he enjoyed meat and alcohol. The laity then provided him with both meat and alcohol which resulted in him becoming drunk, vomiting all over robe and bowl, and passing out. The Buddha saw this with his clairvoyant eye from afar and went with Ānanda to tend to Svāgata and clean him up with water from the well. They placed him on a rope-bed and in a drunken haze Svāgata kicked the Buddha. It was then that the Buddha summoned the assembly of monks and spoke to them of the faults of alcohol. He then prohibited the consumption of it.


In consideration of all these differing details of the incident we can understand two things.


Firstly, all the accounts agree that Svāgata became intoxicated due to having consumed too much alcohol following festivities celebrating his placation of an evil nāga that was terrorizing the people of Kauśāmbī, which we can assume more or less reflects the actual event that took place, or at least the general hearsay concerning it, albeit with differing accounts of the details.


Secondly, the differences we find in the various Vinaya collections tell us that when it comes to knowing precisely what was said and done when the Buddha lived we are actually at a loss to safely conclude anything as matter of fact. There is a general tendency in modern Buddhist scholarship to chiefly favor the Theravāda Pāli canon as representing what the “historical Buddha” actually taught and the events of his life. However, this is problematic for the simple fact that the canons from other early Buddhist schools such as that of the Mahāsāṃghikas, who incidentally are noted as having disagreed to the expansion of the Vinaya unlike the Sthaviravāda (Theravāda) school, have differing accounts of the Buddha's teachings and the events which occurred in the early community. As noted above, in the case of the alcohol prohibition there is indeed agreement on the general outline of the incident, but the details differ. This is likewise to be expected when it comes to teachings as recorded in the various differing editions of sūtras that we have, many of which are preserved in Classical Chinese which exasperates the problem.


What this means is that essentially we only have the general outline of the Buddha's teachings and the events of his life available to us, thus we must accept this limitation rather than believing any particular scriptural record to be a verbatim record. This is important in the process of exegesis where we must not place too much faith on the fine points of scriptures which record the Buddha's words as said records are in reality quite limited as records and we have really only to rely on their general meanings. In other words, we need to rely on the spirit and general outline of many teachings rather than the letter of how it is recorded as having been presented.


Returning to the issue of alcohol prohibition, it goes without saying that Buddhism developed in most cultures to generally see alcohol in a negative light, although we need to remind ourselves that in the early sangha alcohol was not prohibited and Buddhists could and evidently did consume it. There are also a lot of secondary literature such as treatises which discuss the issue in an ethical context as well as in a practical context of how it might affect one's cultivation of mindfulness. It was thus absolutely forbidden. This prohibition also came to be included among the five lay precepts, which is a characteristic set of vows that Buddhist laypeople are generally expected to undertake.


Many Mahāyāna thinkers reacted against rigid interpretations of rules and precepts arguing that if motivated by compassion or other benevolent purposes, then committing acts that would otherwise be outright violations of one's precepts would actually be meritorious. This perhaps lead to a relaxed attitude towards alcohol consumption both in China and Japan, and elsewhere. There is an expression still favored in Japanese Buddhism to this day to refer to liquor as “prajñā soup” 般若湯, which actually originates in Song Dynasty (960–1279) China. The reasoning seems to have been that by calling it something else then, in good humor, it was not alcohol and thus did not violate any precepts.


In summary, we have reviewed the original reason for the Buddha prohibiting alcohol and we can indeed see it was not due to the beverage being inherently unwholesome and evil, but the regulation was actually a practical rule established with the disciples in mind and likely with a wish that no repeat of the incident would occur. In that sense, there is nothing holy or sacred about such a rule. This is also an important thing to note: the Vinaya regulations were rules in the beginning rather than vows. The earliest disciples were also free to consume alcohol and they did. The differing accounts of these regulations also leads us to the perhaps unfavorable conclusion that we really cannot faithfully rely on any single account for the fine details of what the Buddha said and the circumstances in which he taught things due to the various records we have differing to the extent that they do. In other words, we have the general outline of his wording and the events which prompted his declarations and statements, but no verbatim text from which fine exegesis based on the letter of the teaching might be executed.


1See Bart Dessein in "The First Turning of the Wheel of the Doctrine: Sar and Maha Controversy" in Handbook of Oriental Studies The Spread of Buddhism, edited by Ann Heirman and Stephan Peter Bumbacher (Leiden: Brill, 2007), 15.

Are nirmaṇakāyas philosophical zombies?

The nirmaṇakāya in Mahāyāna thought is essentially conceived of as a seemingly physical and tangible manifestation of an otherwise transcendental Buddha. In other words, it is a means through which that transcendental force interacts with ordinary beings in a way they can comprehend.


This might lead to the question, "Are nirmaṇakāyas philosophical zombies?" A philosophical zombie is a hypothetical entity that for all intents and purposes is identical with a living being though lacking experience, consciousness, qualia and/or sentience. This is worth considering because a Buddha fundamentally is the dharmakāya which while encompassing all beings and all reality, is not a being (sattva). The dharmakāya is the body of truth and the body of reality. It is the eternal principle of emptiness. Hence, it is free of all marks and characteristics such as physical form, consciousness or senses. It then begs the question of what a seemingly flesh and blood Śākyamuni Buddha was.


To investigate this question I think we might consider the ideas of Kumārajīva 鳩摩羅什 (344-413), the great Central Asian translator of texts in fifth-century China.


Firstly, looking briefly at Kumārajīva's ideas in his dialogue with Huiyuan 慧遠 (334-416), he explains that the dharmakāya is conventionally able to teach the sūtras with an illusory body via a relationship like the sun to sunlight. The question Huiyuan poses is why bodhisattvas are able to perceive the Buddha, which is the dharmakāya, teaching the dharma. Huiyuan's question is as follows.


《鳩摩羅什法師大義》卷1:「遠問曰。佛於法身中為菩薩說經。法身菩薩乃能見之。如此則有四大五根。若然者。與色身復何差別。而云法身耶。經云法身無去無來。無有起滅。泥洹同像。云何可見。而復講說乎。」(CBETA, T45, no. 1856, p. 122, c6-10)

"Huiyuan asks, 'The Buddha as the dharmakāya teaches sūtras to the bodhisattvas. The bodhisattvas are able to see the dharmakāya. If it is like this, then it would have the four elements and five faculties. If so, what difference is there with a form body, and why call it a dharmakāya? The sūtras state that the dharmakāya is without going and without coming. It has no arising and no cessation, always like nirvāṇa. How are they able to see it and furthermore [how is it] able to teach?'"


Kumārajīva replies to this by introducing the idea of an illusory body.


《鳩摩羅什法師大義》卷1:「什答曰。佛法身者。同於變化。化無四大五根。」(CBETA, T45, no. 1856, p. 122, c11-12)

"Kumārajīva replies, 'The Buddha's dharmakāya is the same as an illusion. It is without the four elements and five faculties.'"


The thing to note here is that the illusory bodies are described as extensions of the dharmakāya. In one sense, they are the dharmakāya, but the true dharmakāya is not actually being perceived, but just a provisional manifestation of it, just as the sunlight while born from the sun is not the sun itself. These illusory bodies, like the dharmakāya, are further described as having the quality of an image in a mirror.


《鳩摩羅什法師大義》卷1:「如鏡中像。水中月。見如有色。而無觸等。則非色也。化亦如是。法身亦然。又經言法身者。或說佛所化身。或說妙行法身。」(CBETA, T45, no. 1856, p. 122, c20-23)

"Like the image in a mirror or a moon in the water, it appears to have form, but there is no tactile [quality] to it, therefore it is not form. The illusion is also like this. The dharmakāya is also so. Again, the sūtras speak of a dharmakāya, others explain an illusionary body of the Buddha, while others explain it as a dharmakāya of excellent practices."


The relationship between the two as noted above is akin to the sun and sunlight. See the following.


《鳩摩羅什法師大義》卷1:「真法身者。猶如日現。所化之身同若日光。」(CBETA, T45, no. 1856, p. 123, a9-10)

"The true dharmakāya is like the sun manifest. The illusionary body is like the sunlight."


He also explains a difference between the "true body" of the Buddha and the innumerable illusory ones which arise from the former. The former is also beyond the three realms which ordinary beings inhabit. Again, in his words:


《鳩摩羅什法師大義》卷1:「真法身者。遍滿十方虛空法界。光明悉照無量國土。說法音聲。常周十方無數之國。具足十住菩薩之眾。乃得聞法。從是佛身方便現化。常有無量無邊化佛。遍於十方。隨眾生類若干差品。而為現形。光明色像。精麁不同。如來真身。九住菩薩尚不能見。何況惟越致及餘眾生。所以者何。佛法身者。出於三界。不依身口心行。無量無漏諸淨功德本行所成。」(CBETA, T45, no. 1856, p. 122, c29-p. 123, a8)

"The true dharmakāya pervades the empty dharma-realm of the ten direction, its light completely illuminating immeasurable lands. The sound of the dharma being taught always encompassing innumerable realms of the ten directions. The masses of bodhisattvas fully abiding on the tenth stage are able to hear [that] dharma. From the Buddha's body there provisionally (upaya) manifest illusions, there always being immeasurable and unlimited illusory buddhas pervading the ten directions, manifesting forms appropriate to the differences in dispositions of sentient beings, differing in brilliance, physical appearance, fineness and coarseness. The true body of the Tathāgata is not even capable of being seen by ninth stage bodhisattvas. How much more so those who have achieved non-retrogression (avaivartika) and other sentient beings? The reason for this is that the Buddha's dharmakāya is beyond the three realms, not relying upon karma of the body, speech or mind, having been perfected by immeasurable and untainted pure merit and past deeds."


So, as to whether these nirmaṇakāyas are philosophical zombies or not, I would say judging from Kumārajīva's ideas, that this would be the case.


A nirmaṇakāya might be better thought of as a reaction brought about from the sufferings of beings and the past aspirations of a Buddha coming into fruition. As is commonly said in Mahāyāna the Tathāgata arises where there are beings that suffer. Such a reaction is characterized as being illusory and intangible, albeit still perceived. If a nirmaṇakāya possessed ordinary consciousness and sense faculties these would presumably be a result of afflicted karma, which a Buddha is entirely free from. To say on the other hand the faculties arise due to non-afflicted karma is perhaps equally problematic because it raises the question of how that specific karma would arise when there actually is no more being to produce such action. A bodhisattva is a sentient being (sattva), and thus their non-afflicted karma and its results are reasonable because the bodhisattva is still an individuated and distinguishable being, but in the case of a Buddha which stands nowhere like infinite space, from whence would that karma arise?


From a more basic Abhidharma perspective one needs a certain set of faculties for ordinary perception and awareness. As the nirmaṇakāya is neither composed of elements or faculties, we may infer that it would not have an awareness or perception, being an illusory body of the dharmakāya. It has the quality of a moon in the water or a reflection in the mirror. Visible, but not tangible.


One might suggest the nirmaṇakāya is a non-volitional reaction (hence not karma as volitional action) spurn from the immeasurable qualities of the dharmakāya, though not relying on karma of body, speech and mind. Thus, it would qualify as being a philosophical zombie.