The gods, men and asuras in the world think that I, Śākyamuni Buddha, left the palace of the Śākyas, sat at the place of enlightenment not far from the City of Gayā, and attained Anuttara-samyak-saṃbodhi [forty and odd years ago]. To tell the truth, good men, it is many hundreds of thousands of billions of nayutas of kalpas since I became the Buddha.
The Buddha makes this proclamation in Chapter Sixteen of the Lotus Sutra. This was the first time he revealed himself not as the temporal Siddhartha Gautama, the man who left home and became enlightened, but as the Ever-Present Buddha Śākyamuni who has been alive for innumerable eons helping beings to become enlightened and will continue that existence for twice that time into the future. This is the highest teaching of the Buddha, the purpose of all his expedient teachings that came before, and the Wonderful Dharma that is most difficult to believe and understand. When we comprehend the existence of this Ever-Present Buddha for even the blink of an eye, we gain more clarity about the world than through any of the Buddha’s other teachings.
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