Part Two: Dharma Discourses

Chapter Two: The Way of Propriety


13. The attendant asked again, “The funerary tablet placed on the altar for the Founding Master in the Yŏngmojŏn (Hall of Eternal Commemoration) uses the title Tathāgata. In traditional Buddhism, this honorific title may not be used except to refer to Śākyamuni Buddha. So, won’t there be some who might think this presumptuous?”
The Master replied, “It is true that ‘tathāgata’ is one of Śākyamuni Buddha’s ten honorifics, so it is an extremely respected title. However, if there is only a single person who holds the title of Tathāgata and no one will ever again come along who can use that title, then that means nothing more than that Buddhism is in decline. Furthermore, if even deserving sages appear and yet are unduly prohibited from holding this title, then that would be nothing less than spiritual tyranny. Reflection would also tell us that Śākyamuni Buddha must have reappeared in this world many times during the past three thousand years on behalf of sentient beings. Hence, if that same Buddha, with the same dharma power, was not bestowed the same honorific, wouldn’t that be unreasonable? Therefore, in our Order, among the six dharma ranks, we have formally established the highest as that of ‘greatly enlightened tathāgata.’ Thereby, not just in the case of our Founding Master, but whenever advanced sages give the seal of approval or many people recommend someone by acclamation, we will not restrict ourselves from bestowing the title of tathāgata on those with due qualifications. However, this is not indiscriminately abusing this weighty title or upsetting the traditional dharma lineage. When we promote someone in their dharma rank, there must be guidelines for advancement. Also, regarding the dharma lineages, there are clear records of each generation, so that ancestors are ancestors and descendants, descendants. Thus, if someone judges such practice to be presumptuous, there’s no need to defend it. But if looked at rationally, I think it is not presumption, but a great opening up of the gate of the Buddhadharma.