“The well-known motto of Ch’an [J., Zen] Buddhism is that “perceiving the true self, one becomes a Buddha.” The “true self” signifies the Buddha nature inherent in all sentient beings. The discovering of the “true self” has become the single most important pursuit of the Buddhist, especially in Sino-Japanese Buddhism. On the contrary, early Buddhism teaches that ultimately no substantial self (i.e., ‘anatman’) can be found, since the self is nothing but the union of the five aggregates. Modern Buddhologists as well as the Buddhists have been intrigued by the inconsistency that one single tradition teaches both that there is no self on the one hand, and that the goal of religious life is to discover the true self, on the other hand.” Continue reading
Commentary: For the sake of simplicity we could say that Tathagata-garbha means spiritual essence or spiritual embryo or even seed. This essence is not found in the five aggregates which are never unconditioned. It points more to our potential to realize our Buddha-nature or the same our true self. This sudden realization of our true self is called in Zen, kenshō.
In our intercourse with Zen Buddhism we have not yet conceived the Tathagata embryo or seed (bija). So how can we give birth to a baby Buddha? When we conceive this embryo we know what the luminous Spirit means. No more guessing or coming up with bonehead ideas that are only mental formations all of which are not our true self.
Some Buddhists even in Zen openly declare that there is no real kenshō or no Buddha-nature. All that there is is just sitting or zazen. This is not Zen, this is quietism. We must reject it. As long as we are engaged in forming ideas and thoughts, locked into thinking about our true self or Buddha-nature, we will never arrive. Even just sitting is not fundamental enough. How can sitting a lump of 37.2 trillion cells on a zafu attain buddhatā (the state of being a Buddha)?
Having intercourse with a Zen is necessary and good but more importantly, we must conceive the Tathagata-garbha. Only then will the baby Buddha be born who will walk the path of the bodhisattva.