Students of the Way. Many of you seem perplexed about the idea of Buddha-nature. I know that a number of you come from other Zen centers which teach the doctrine of Dogen Zenji who believes that “all beings are Buddha-nature”. And perhaps, using Dogen’s words, you also believe that a “donkeys’ jowls are the Buddha-nature”.
Tonight, I will enlighten you with the truth of Buddha-nature. Then you can set aside the belief that a donkey’s jowl is the Buddha-nature, thereby coming to learn, for the first time, where to begin your search for the authentic Buddha-nature which is within yourself.
First, you should realize that the term “Buddha-nature” refers to the very mind of the Buddha. Next, it is important to understand that sentient beings have the potential to attain Buddha-nature, but have not yet actualized it.
For what is potential, in the example of an acorn, must still develop itself into an oak tree which is its actuality. Keep in mind, too, that the little acorn, more than likely, will be eaten by a squirrel or will be taken away by a woodpecker. What I am driving at, is that many of you will not actualize your Buddha-nature, even though you have the sentient potential to do so.
Hopefully, I can help most of you become oak trees!
To realize our Buddha-nature, two general conditions must be met. First, we must be sentient beings. Looking around, I think that we all qualify! The Buddha calls this the “direct cause”. It is analogous to milk from which cream can be derived.
Next, it is important to know what a sentient being is. A sentient being is, roughly speaking, “spirit”. Don’t be confused and just assume that a sentient being is an animal or a plant, or even the five aggregates. It isn’t. Your thoughts, for example, are sentient beings–but not a common fence post.
The second condition you must fulfill in order to realize Buddha-nature is the “indirect cause”. The indirect cause refers to the six paramitas according to the Maahaparinirvaana Sutra. By means of the six paramitas you will surpass the confines of the mortal body, in addition to all levels of attainments, including those of the Hearers and the Solitary Buddhas.
What does the term “indirect cause” mean? It means a cause that comes from the outside to do its work on the direct cause. This is analogous to adding the juice of the p’o-chiu tree to milk, according to the Buddha, which causes cream to be formed right away.
Turning to the indirect cause, namely the six paramitas, let me briefly outline their meaning consistent with the spiritual practice of Dark Zen.
According to our founder Bodhidharma the paramitas are the means to the other shore, namely, Buddha-nature. They are intended to help us surpass the six senses which Bodhidharma calls the “six robbers”.
The first paramita is charity. By mastering it, we surpass the robber of the visual world and thereby become spiritually wealthy. This paramita destroys our desire to cling to visual things as would a miser who clings to his property.
The second paramita is discipline. By mastering it, we surpass the robber of the auditory world and acquire good spiritual practices and concentration. It destroys our desire to cling to acoustical determinations, thus becoming free of distractions, being able to abide in stillness.
The third paramita is patience. By mastering it, we surpass the robber of the olfactory world and acquire inner peace, both for self and for others. It destroys our desire to investigates what is pleasant and unpleasant in the example of a dog tracking scents. Thus, we come to abide indifferently with regard to what is pleasant and unpleasant.
The fourth paramita is strength. By mastering it, we surpass the robber of the world of taste and acquire devotion. It destroys our desire for the appetites and various forms of flattery that come from the tongue. Acquiring this paramita, we develop wholesome spiritual states.
The fifth paramita is meditation. By mastering it, we surpass the robber of tactile sensations. It eliminates sensuous distractions. Acquiring this paramita, we are able to focus mind on a sublime object.
The sixth paramita is wisdom. By mastering it, we surpass the robber of consciousness. This paramita eliminates all false views of the absolute. Acquiring this paramita, we are able to distinguish our Buddha-nature from that which is empty of it.
From what has been said thus far, the actualization of our Buddha-nature is not easy to accomplish. Grasses and mountains, it is evident, have not actualized the Buddha-nature. What is more, grasses and mountains are not even Bodhisattvas who are the only beings worthy to actualize Buddha-nature.
I see a real danger for some American Buddhists who have been misled by deviant teachings which insist that temporal conditions are Buddha-nature itself. Make no mistake about it, mountains, rivers, and earth are not Buddha-nature. A mountain is a mountain because it is not Buddha-nature, having never completed the six paramitas. A river is a river because it is not Buddha-nature. And earth is not Buddha-nature. If earth were Buddha-nature, having completed the six paramitas, then nothing with a body made of earth would ever suffer or perish. Clearly, this is not the case.
To see Buddha-nature requires extraordinary actions. Obstructions that hamper our supreme vision of Buddha-nature must be removed by using the paramitas. In that respect, Buddha-nature does not come easily or automatically.
I beg you to surpass the six senses which are empty of Buddha-nature. Don’t imagine that Buddha-nature can be seen. Don’t search for it as if it were a sound. Do go after it like a dog tracking a scent. Don’t imagine that the tongue can taste it or speak of it. Don’t believe that it can be touched or felt. Don’t be misled and take Buddha-nature to be a mental representation. Surpass all the senses. Leave everything behind so that you might awaken to that which is the very source of all things.
Text by Zenmar, the Dark Zen mystic
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