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Eternal Buddha

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Mahāyāna Buddhism

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Mahāyāna Sūtras

Prajñāpāramitā Sūtras
Lotus Sūtra
Nirvāṇa Sūtra
Saṃdhinirmocana Sūtra
Avataṃsaka Sūtra
{{IAST|Śūraṅgama Sūtra

Mahāyāna Schools

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The idea of an eternal Buddha is a notion popularly associated with the Mahayana scripture, the Lotus Sutra. The Lotus Sutra has the Buddha indicating that he became awakened countless, immeasurable, inconceivable myriads of trillions of aeons ("kalpas") ago and that his lifetime is "forever existing and immortal". From the human perspective, it seems as though the Buddha has always existed. The sutra itself, however, does not directly employ the phrase "eternal Buddha"; yet similar notions are found in other Mahayana scriptures, notably the Mahaparinirvana Sutra, which presents the Buddha as the ultimately real, eternal ("nitya"/ "śāśvata"), unchanging, blissful, pure Self (Atman) who, as the Dharmakaya, knows of no beginning or end.

Commenting on this sutra, Dr. Guang Xing writes:

'One of the main themes of the Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra is that the Buddha is eternal, a theme very much in contrast with the Hinayana idea that the Buddha departed for ever after his final nirvana. The Mahayanists assert the eternity of the Buddha in two ways in the Mahaparinirvana Sutra. They state that the Buddha is the dharmakaya, and hence eternal. Next, they re-interpret the liberation of the Buddha as mahaparinirvana possessing four attributes: eternity, happiness, self and purity. In other words, according to the Mahayanists, the fact that the Buddha abides in the mahaparinirvana means not that he has departed for ever, but that he perpetually abides in intrinsic quiescence. The Buddha abiding in intrinsic quiescence is none other than the dharmakaya ... This dharmakaya is the real Buddha. It is on this doctrinal foundation that the Mahaparinirvana Sutra declares:"the dharmakaya has [the attributes of] eternity (nitya), happiness (sukha), self (atman) and purity (subha) and is perpetually free from birth, old age, sickness, death and all other sufferings ... It exists eternally without change ..."'[1]

The All-Creating King Tantra additionally contains a panentheistic vision of Samantabhadra Buddha as the eternal, primordial Buddha, the Awakened Mind of bodhi, who declares: "From the primordial, I am the Buddhas of the three times [i.e. past, present and future]."


  • The Threefold Lotus Sutra (Kosei Publishing, Tokyo 1975), tr. by B. Kato, Y. Tamura, and K. Miyasaka, revised by W. Soothill, W. Schiffer, and P. Del Campana
  • The Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra (Nirvana Publications, London, 1999-2000), tr. by K. Yamamoto, ed. and revised by Dr. Tony Page
  • The Sovereign All-Creating Mind: The Motherly Buddha (Sri Satguru Publications, Delhi 1992), tr. by E.K. Neumaier-Dargyay
  • Access to Insight

See also


  1. Dr. Guang Xing, The Concept of the Buddha, RoutledgeCurzon, London, 2005, p. 89

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