Though I posted this elsewhere, it likely will have something to say in this thread as well:
Something of interest concerning visions of the Buddha from Paul William’s BUDDHIST THOUGHT, PAGES 108-111. There is, in this discussion on meditative aspects of the origins of the Mahayana that are of interest when looking at claim by Maha Bua about himself and Ajahn Mun.
One, and perhaps one of the few defining dimensions of Mahayana Buddhism is a vision and understanding of the Buddha as not really dead but still around. When stated and accepted this understanding entailed that Buddhism itself had the potential to change in the light of a continuing revelation.
It is indeed possible that the suggestion that the Buddha is still around may have been (in part) a response to particular visions in meditation, perhaps associated with meditation practices involving visualising the Buddha and known as buddhanusmrti (‘recollection of the Buddha’). We know that such practices were popular from a very early period, and that one of the results of these practices is that the meditator feels as if in the presence of the Buddha himself (Williams 1989:30, 217–20; Harrison 1978). In the Pratyutpanna Sutra, translated into Chinese by Lokaksema and studied by Paul Harrison, we find details of a visualisation practice in which the meditator visualises Buddha Amitayus in his ‘Pure Land’ (Buddha Field; q.v.) in the West, for twenty-four hours a day, for a whole week. After that, the sutra says, the meditator may have a vision of Amitayus, and receive new teachings not before heard. Moreover these new teachings the meditator is exhorted to transmit and expound to mankind.
It seems certain that a text like the Pratyutpanna Sutra (and perhaps other early Mahayana texts associated with Pure Lands and buddhanusmrti) describes practices which can lead to revelatory visions, and the Pratyutpanna Sutra itself advocates the promulgation of the teachings thus received. But while visions can occur in meditation, the occurrence of visions—messages apparently from a Buddha—does not explain why someone would take those messages seriously. Indeed the Buddhist tradition in general has tended to be very cautious, even dismissive, concerning visions seen in meditation. Of course, if it is correct that for many centuries there were very few followers of Mahayana in classical India, then the problem becomes less acute. But certainly some people took these revelations seriously, and those who took them seriously were sometimes great scholars. It is often said that the standard view of early Buddhism is that after the death of a Buddha he is beyond reference or recall, significantly and religiously dead. From such a perspective the idea of seeing a living Buddha in meditation is problematic. One way round this would be to claim that the Buddha visualised is simply a Buddha who has for one reason or another not yet died.
That would be to adopt a strategy of doctrinal reconciliation. As we shall see, this is indeed a strategy commonly adopted in Mahayana sources. But recent work by Gregory Schopen suggests that the atmosphere in Buddhist circles in Ancient India may have been at least emotionally more receptive to the idea that a dead Buddha is still around than was previously realised. Schopen has argued on archaeological and inscriptional grounds that the Buddha’s relics, preserved after his death in stupas, were felt to be the Buddha himself. The Buddha was thought in some sense to be still present in his relics and even in spots associated with his life (Schopen 1987a, 1990, 1994). Through his relics the Buddha was also treated as if present in the monastery, and was treated legally by the monastery and apparently by the wider community as a person with inalienable property rights. Schopen has shown that in day to day life the Buddha was felt very much to be present among the monks, if invisible.
Perhaps it was little wonder, then, that certain monks, inspired by the common meditation practice of ‘recollection of the Buddha’, buddhanusmrti, felt the genuineness of their visions of him and what had been revealed to them. Thus they arrived at the possibility of a continuing revelation and of course new sutras. Little wonder too, then, that eventually we find in some circles forms of religiosity developed centred on the supremacy of Buddhahood above all alternative goals. This religiosity focused too on the great compassion of one who remains present, transcending even death, helping sentient beings. It encouraged the need to attain a palpable immortality through becoming oneself a Buddha. In becoming a Buddha Sakyamuni, after all, is said to have triumphed over the Evil One, the ‘Devil’, Mara. The etymology of this name shows him to be the personification of death. Little wonder then that we also find in the meantime participation in ‘Pure Land’ cults, a need to see the Buddha if not in this life in meditation, then after death through rebirth in his presence in the Pure Land where he still dwells.
Thus it seems clear from early Mahayana texts that through meditation it was felt to be possible by some Buddhist practitioners to meet with a still-living Buddha and receive new teachings, receive perhaps the Mahayana sutras themselves. That some people actually took this possibility seriously may well have been prompted by a feeling on the one hand of sadness that the age of the living presence of the Buddha as a physical being had passed. But it was also prompted by an awareness of his continuing if rather invisible presence in the monastery, as relics imbued with the qualities of Buddhahood, the dharmakaya. These are themes that we shall meet again.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.
Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.
dheamhan a fhios agam
Damned if I know.
"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson