Buddha Nature: The Dazzling Toy
Dealing with Desire and Self-Cherishing
- Raj Thokar , currently MA BS student from Nepal
I find myself fortunate to have the chance to study the Ratnagotravibhāga aka Mahāyānottaratantra Śāstra by Maitreya. In the Ratnagotravibhāga, it is said that Buddha Nature (Tathāgatagarbha) is beyond the reach of ordinary beings, Arahants, Pratekyabuddhas, and even Bodhisattvas. Its meaning is so profound that only the perfect and complete Buddha can truly comprehend it. Having said that, people have not given up on trying to understand Buddha Nature. Many commentaries and explanations have been written on Buddha Nature. Here is my attempt in trying to understand the Buddha Nature, not in terms of its actual meaning, but in terms of its functionality.
There are seven great parables in the Lotus Sutra, each covering different topics—the Buddha Dharma, enlightened activities, and so forth. The parable of the burning house is one of the famous parables, where a father uses “skillful means” to lure his children out of a burning building—by promising them beautiful toys. In this parable, the Buddha is portrayed as the father; the burning house as Samsara; children as ordinary sentient beings; and toys signify different teachings or paths.
Likewise, I think that the Buddha Nature teachings can be better understood as a toy; but, unlike others, it is a luminous or dazzling toy endowed with lots of excellent qualities. I regard it as a toy to avoid any kind of grasping to the extreme of eternalism—i.e., Buddha Nature as a truly-existing phenomenon. There are various features of Buddha Nature; however, I find Buddha Nature (teachings) has two major usages in terms of pedagogy. It directly addresses one’s mundane desires and it can easily assist one to develop compassion toward others.
Buddha Nature teachings skilfully utilize one’s very desire and shift one’s attention toward this internal perfect state, rather than striving to fulfil one’s mundane desires. Desires are mainly built upon two crucial founding pillars: the state of incompleteness, and the belief that something or someone external to oneself possesses the ability to fulfil one’s desires. On the other hand, Buddha Nature teachings are designed in a way to counteract both pillars. In the Third turning of the wheel of Dharma, Buddha Nature is defined as the nature of the mind of all sentient beings—luminous, perfectly pure, primordially present, and endowed with inconceivable Buddha qualities. Buddha Nature is said to be the best and perfect ‘thing’ that beings ever need to be content with. Importantly, it is not to be found external to oneself, but within oneself. So, knowing that the greatest treasure is in us, the pursuit of acquiring material things (like wealth) or craving for non-material things (like fame, respect, love, and so forth), that once seemed so important, will become completely futile.
Similarly, Buddha Nature can be the basis to resolve the distinction between self and others and develop effortless compassion. The tendency to self-cherishing and harm others is mainly due to a false distinction between self and other. However, by knowing all beings (including insects, animals, and so forth) have the luminous Buddha Nature, it is much easier to develop compassion towards even those beings who engages with non-virtuous activities based on temporary afflictive emotions. Also, it counteracts our tendency to self-cherishing; eventually, the effortless compassion (i.e., Bodhicitta) awakens extemporaneously.
In summary, from the perspective of functionality, Buddha nature has two major roles. It shifts the focus of beings to one’s own true nature from the tendency to search for external fulfilments. Likewise, it establishes the fundamental common basis for all beings to be able to break all the boundaries (like gender, ethnicity, social class, etc) that we have created to distinguish among each other. From the ocean of good qualities of the Buddha Nature, these were only two drops.
May all wandering beings arrive home—the recognition of their true nature—Buddha Nature.