Buddha-nature can be understood by using classical analogies. We may have heard teachers say that every being has buddha-nature. And yet, we remain skeptical. We don’t see the evidence of this around us most of the time, do we? But here, in this video teaching, Tulku Migmar Tsering uses some traditional examples to explain how it is possible and why this unseen essence can be gradually revealed.
Buddha-nature: Hidden Treasure
First, Tulku chooses one of many famous analogies found in Maitreya‘s Treatise on the Sublime Continuum, the Mahāyānottaratantra Śāstra (Tibetan Gyü Lama). In that text we read that buddha-nature hides undiscovered like an inexhaustible treasure buried beneath the house of a beggar. Unfortunately, the beggar remains completely unaware. The treasure does not speak to the beggar, letting him know of its existence.
Instead, the beggar may live for years in great poverty and suffering without any knowledge of its presence. However, if a wise person visits the beggar and insists that the treasure exists, the beggar may begin to believe that fact. And if this beggar digs diligently and carefully, he will succeed in uncovering that treasure. Then once he discovers his new wealth, he becomes rich and powerful.
This analogy explains how we can possess the same essence, buddha-nature as the Buddha but can still remain oblivious. And someone needs to convince us that we possess this nature–most of us don’t automatically realize it. But Tulku points out that we not only have to know that this nature is there–we also have to do the digging to uncover it.
Buddha-nature: Buried Diamond
Another example that allows us to think about our essence is that of a diamond. Imagine, Tulku suggests, that we have a beautiful and flawless diamond. But we drop that diamond into the mud and forget about it. And over the years, then decades, centuries, and millennia, the diamond remains covered my muck. Every year, more residue piles atop it and it sinks completely beneath the ground.
Then, one day, an expert in minerals comes along to the location. Because of his understanding of geology and minerals, he suspects that this area conceals a diamond. He suggests an excavation, assuring people that the diamond lies now buried beneath a hill or mountain of rubble. People begin to dig, but they don’t find the diamond immediately. Nevertheless, the expert advises perseverance, and excavation continues. And eventually, one day, he sees something shiny and he finds the diamond.
Essence: Same or Different?
After so many years is this the same diamond? The essence of the diamond has not changed one bit from the day it was dropped until it was rediscovered. Yet, for a long period of time it stayed hidden, covered with mud, and dirt, and eventually with an entire mountain. But the diamond remains the same. And all diamonds have the same essence, right? In the same way, Tulku explains, our buddha-nature is the same as that of the Buddha himself. Right now, because ours is muddied with all sorts of temporary stains, it may seem completely different. But a diamond is a diamond.
Our buddha-nature is exactly the same as this example. Even though we have ignored it for years, and accumulated lots of negative karma through unskillful actions, our essence remains pristine. But if we leave it buried under the muck of obscuration, we make the same mistake as someone leaving a diamond covered in the mud. Sentient beings are just Buddhas covered with lots of mud!
Qualities of Buddha-nature
Instead, we can begin to dig. We can wash away all the negative elements so that our natural radiance shines forth. And we can do this by listening to the Dharma, performing virtuous deeds, accumulating merit, developing compassion and perfecting wisdom. Because our nature already is perfect, it does contain all the qualities. There is no difference between our nature and the Buddha’s once all the mud is washed away. Our buddha-nature naturally has bodhicitta; it is emptiness.
During the next several weeks make a point of reminding yourself of buddha-nature. When you first wake in the morning, recall your great fortune in having a precious human body. In addition, think to yourself,
“I have buddha-nature. And all beings equally have buddha-nature”.
This doesn’t take a long time, but if you let those thoughts sink in they can have a very profound effect. We can see that this thought alone is incredibly empowering. Moreover, it is not just a hope or a wish. This IS the nature of all beings. Can you feel confidence in that?
Then, as you climb out of bed and prepare to go about your day make the firm intention to uncover the hidden buddha-nature.
Throughout your day, as emotions or problems arise (and they will!) try to touch in again with this reminder. And observe how that changes your reaction. Does it allow you to maintain more calm presence? And how does it change the way you treat others?