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Buddha Nature


Notes from a talk by Pema Düddul.  

What is the essence of Buddhism?  

Put very simply Buddhism is a method for discovering our own true nature. It is a method for re-introducing ourselves to ourselves. Also, because all things in the universe are of the same nature as the mind, discovering our true nature, the nature of mind, means that we discover the true nature of all things.  

Buddhism begins with an ordinary human being by the name of Siddhartha Gautama 2600 years before the Christian era.  

Siddhartha had an experience of profound empathy for beings which led him to seek a method for extinguishing suffering. Everything we do MUST come from this position of profound empathy. We MUST understand that a) beings suffer, b) they do not wish to suffer yet do not know how to free themselves and c) that all beings are of the same nature as the Buddha.  

Without this profound empathy the path is a dead end. It leads nowhere.  

Siddhartha took an ‘internal’ rather than external path – he intuitively knew that if he discovered the true nature of mind (and all things) this would result in the cessation of suffering.  

Why should we bother to discover our true nature?  

The discovery of the true nature of mind, and therefore all things, leads to a complete cessation of suffering. When we abide in our true nature, which simply means to really be ourselves, no matter what occurs in our life is experienced as wisdom and therefore as joy, even if on the outside what is occurring doesn’t look so great.  


The mind is the source of our experience; every thought, feeling, mood, perception arises from mind.  

The mind is also the source of our behaviour; every action of body and speech is motivated, given motion, by the mind.  

Therefore if we wish to be free of unpleasant thoughts and feelings, and wish that our actions and speech benefit others rather than harm them, we need to understand the mind and use its potential for the mutual benefit of ourselves and others.  

Three Methods for Discussing Buddhism  

1.    It can be understood as an ethical or ‘moral’ system 2.    It can be understood as a psychological method 3.    It can be understood as an expression of wisdom or enlightened mind or Buddha-mind, Buddha-nature.  

These are described as the:  

1.    Outer 2.    Inner 3.    and Secret methods  

And correspond to:  

1.    Hinayana (sometimes called Sutrayana or Theravada) Hinayana means ‘foundational vehicle’ 2.    Mahayana Mahayana means ‘great vehicle’ 3.    Vajrayana Vajrayana means ‘diamond vehicle’  

What are the aspects of these three perspectives or vehicles?  1.    Sutrayana teaches the attainment of discipline to overcome attachment (to attraction and aversion and to ‘the self’. Attachment to the self is ignorance) 2.    Mahayana teaches the attainment of compassion (view/meditation) and loving kindness (meditation/action) to overcome anger (which is self-clinging which gives rise to anger, envy and pride) 3.    Vajrayana (Secret Mantrayana) teaches the attainment of wisdom (of emptiness, the true nature) to overcome ignorance (belief in the inherent existence of the self and things)  

We will be discussing Buddhism from within the view of the Vajrayana with some aspects of the other two as supports.  

This is because, as the Tantric saint Padmasambhava taught, to liberate the mind, to vanquish ignorance, liberates all.  

The Tibetan word translated as ignorance is marigpa. This doesn’t really mean ignorance in the common understanding of that word. It translates better as non-awareness. Awareness in Tibetan is rigpa. So Padmasambhava was urging us to conquer non-awareness of the true nature of phenomena. Phenomena is divided into two aspects – basically self and other or subject and object. The true nature of oneself is the Buddha-nature; fundamental or irrefutable goodness. The true nature of phenomena is what Buddhists call ‘emptiness’. So Padmashambhava was urging us to abide in an unwavering awareness of the nature of all beings, the irrefutable goodness, and the fundamental nature of reality and things, emptiness.  

Of course all beings, as well as being the same as Buddha, are also of the nature of emptiness. We are empty. None of the qualities we believe to be certain and solid, not even our gender, are substantial in any way. They can all change. All beings we encounter are empty. In this sense emptiness is really just a way of saying potentiality. Potentiality for what? Potentiality for Buddha-hood.  

How do we know the mind?  

We know the mind in two ways. Each is equal.  

1. We engage in MEDITATION and thus experience the nature of the mind directly.  

2. We generate a certain VIEW that cuts through our current misperception of what the mind is and what reality is. By reality we mean phenomena, the outside world and the interior world, the self.  

We turn away from the misperception of reality and all the suffering (grasping and aversion) that this brings and turn towards true perception, accurate perception by, as Dudjom Rinpoche once said, acquiring ‘a deep conviction regarding the true nature of phenomena’.  

At the same time as developing a direct experience of and knowledge of the mind we also allow this experience and knowledge to inform our behaviour, our actions.  

If this experience and understanding of the mind doesn’t flow through to our behaviour then we will quickly revert back to our old habit of misperceiving reality.  

What kind of ‘action’ are we talking about?  

The ACTION, the VIEW and the MEDITATION overlap. One action is to meditate. Another is to give rise to the accurate view of reality. The other, which has many aspects, is to abstain from harming others or ourselves.  

Each of these, the VIEW, MEDITATION and the ACTION, give rise to each other in a consecutive and interdependent fashion.  

The VIEW gives rise to profound MEDITATION.  

The MEDITATION gives rise to profound ACTION.  

The ACTION gives rise to deeper and deeper levels of VIEW and MEDITATION.  

How do we avoid harming ourselves and others?  

We avoid harming others and ourselves by refraining from non-beneficial behaviour.  

Because non-beneficial behaviour is given motion by the mind we observe the mind to see how these behaviours work.  

Where do these behaviours come from? What are the underlying thoughts, expectations and feelings that give rise to these behaviours?  

This is a process of self-reflection and self-honesty. We need to ask ourselves these questions.  

By knowing how the behaviours are generated by thoughts and feelings and what those thoughts and feelings really are we become more self-aware and less trigger-happy; less likely to fly off the handle or do something non-beneficial.  

This process is a medium term action. A short term action is simply to count to ten, to have patience and a little restraint, and to try and have empathy for others and ourselves.  

The long term action is to understand the true nature of the mind. Understanding the true nature of mind completely undermines the source of these non-beneficial behaviours, thoughts and feelings which is the misperception of reality.  

This understanding of the true nature of mind is gained through meditation and through introspection.  

What kind of introspection is required?  

We need to observe for ourselves the true nature of the mind and reality. This is done through a series of introspective self-dialogues about reality and the nature of self and mind.  

To begin with we will just discuss one aspect of this self-dialogue - the true nature of each being.  

Convince yourself that the true nature of each being is the Buddha-nature  

Each and every being has within them the Buddha-nature. Behind the veil of ordinary, confused behaviour is a brilliant, primordially luminous being.  

As Yoda once said ‘Luminous beings are we, not this course matter!’  

You are not your feelings. You are not your thoughts. You are not your behaviours. You are not your memory. You are not your history. You are not your name. You are not your skin and bone. You are not your body. You are not your job. You are not at all what you think you are.  

What you are is luminosity, compassion, clarity and awareness. Perfect compassion and profound wisdom are your true nature.  

What you really are is actually beyond conception. What you are is fluid, interconnected, vast.  

Nothing you have done, nothing you are doing, and nothing you might do in the future can stain your true nature. Nothing can deplete your true nature nor spoil or ruin it. Your nature can not be made to shrink nor be made any greater than it already is because there is nothing greater.  

The true nature of the mind is simple awareness. Behind thought and feeling there is cognizance, awareness. This is called rigpa in Tibetan. It is this simple fundamental aspect of the mind that is it’s true nature. It is without limit. Without subject and object, without self and other. It is totally transcendant. It isn’t some great mystical thing we’re looking for when we talk about the true nature of the mind. All it is, is awareness; uninterrupted, undistracted awareness that is beyond (or behind) cognition, that is beyond concepts of good and bad.  

This simple awareness illuminates everything, encompasses everything. When the train of thoughts and attendant feelings naturally subside there is just awareness which has the blissful quality of spaciousness (openness) that is uninhibited and really refreshing. It is spontaneously perfect, or perhaps it’s better to say that it’s beyond even perfection. Ultimately though, all these words point to a very simple thing that Kyabje Dudjom Rinpoche once said was ‘closer than our own eyelashes’. Which means it’s right here with us in every moment but, like our own eye-lashes, we don’t see it.  

All you have to do to realize the whole path of Buddhism is to allow that nature to show – to relax completely in this awareness.  

At the moment that inner nature, that inner freedom, is being suppressed by our misperception of reality and self and by our distractions – our habit of following thoughts and feelings and ignoring awareness.  

If we conquer that misperception and let go of those habits we can allow our nature to really shine and change the world. Because, as the Buddha said, ‘With our thoughts we make the world’. Perhaps what he really meant is ‘with our mind we make the world’.  

We need to constantly dwell on the Buddha-nature to nurture ourselves and counter our misperception of who we are.  Renunciation  

With this understanding of the nature of mind we can discuss renunciation. Without this understanding of the true nature of all beings renunciation can just be a kind of hang up, a masochistic kind of thing, or it can be a way to feel superior, or, perhaps worst of all, a way to judge others who have a different way of doing things. So, we talk about renunciation in the context of Buddha-nature.  

This whole process of discovering mind depends on two basic processes, self-nurturing – which could also be called spiritual autonomy – and limit-setting which could also be called self-discipline or renunciation.  

Spiritual autonomy arises from the recognition of your true nature. Renunciation is the display of that recognition, that nature. In this sense renunciation is not about ‘hang ups’ or conventional morality. It is about love, about joy.  

In this sense I mean renunciation of the misperception, the distortion of reality, that is our current habit. Renunciation is a turning away from non-awareness, a movement towards awareness and acceptance of reality as it is.  

Renunciation from a Vajrayana perspective means:  

1.    Accept who we are as we are and see the conditions of our life as the vehicle of practice.  

Vajrayana doesn’t require external change. You do not need to be a monk or nun and live on a mountain somewhere. You do not need to acquire anything or go anywhere in order to practice. All you need is a mind! You also are likely to need to follow the pith instructions of a qualified guide.  

Vajrayana does require much internal change. You must be prepared to abandon whatever it is that prevents you from recognizing your own nature and living from within that recognition.  

2.    Renunciation means to abandon hope for improvement and fear of devolution, fear of loss and failure.  

Again, be who you are as you are. Do not wish to be someone else or a better version of who you are. This leads to denial and hypocrisy. Just be who you are and become ever more aware of how your mind works and who you really are. Also, don’t be afraid of failure and don’t be afraid of being open about your mistakes. This anxiety will undermine your practice.  

This doesn’t mean you can do whatever you want. You must still abide by the single unavoidable rule of Buddhism – do not intentionally, or through any action of thoughtlessness or neglect, harm any being, not yourself, not another person, not a mosquito. This is Buddhism’s only dogma. Don’t harm.  

3.    Recognise the pointlessness of seeing reality as something other than it is.  

In a psychological or psychiatric framework we call someone who sees reality as something other than it is a delusional. From a Buddhist perspective we could say that we are all delusional. We see reality as somehow fixed, somehow lasting or permanent, as somehow made up of solid, separate, independently existing things.  

We need to see reality as it is:  

1.    Impermanent or fluid 2.    Interdependent or interconnected  

All things are impermanent. They do not last. To relate to things as if they last is to cause our own suffering. When things that we believed would always be there disappear we grieve.  

All things have no inherent existence. They come into being in interdependence of many things, the most important one being our own perception. To relate to things as if they were independently existing causes our own suffering – because this belief and this way of relating denies us a direct experience of reality and our own nature as it is.  

How can we be who we are as we are?  1.    Understand our self-imposed limits, our ‘laundry lists’, and our expectations of ourselves and our life.  

We all have internalised certain expectations or conditions that we want to be met before we will be happy. Understand what they are and then let them go. Usually we want to have a certain amount of wealth, a certain amount of space, a certain amount of beauty, a certain amount of respect, a certain amount of skill, a certain amount of health. While we are waiting for these conditions to be met we are denying ourselves peace. We can be happy exactly as we are right now. It is possible.  

There are two basic methods for generating happiness as we are right now. One is to let go of our expectations, our lists of conditions we believe we need to be happy. We let them go and undermine them by seeing that they are a) holding us back and b) unreasonable.  

We need to look at each expectation, each thing on our laundry list, and see that it is holding us back and that it is an unreasonable expectation or a self-belief that is not true. For example, many people believe that they have to be rich to be happy. This is clearly not true. Much scientific research has shown that once our material needs are met, and we are not suffering with poverty, any extra wealth has no positive benefit for our minds at all.  

The other method is to generate gratitude, which could be called contentment, for our current situation. Rejoice in all the great things that are currently manifesting in your life due to the positive energy (merit) you have created in the past. Open your heart and allow the merit and blessings of the Buddhas to flow into you and re-create your world.  

Traditionally in Buddhism this contentment is generated by contemplating the preciousness of our human rebirth, which is one of the Four Thoughts That Turn The Mind Towards Dharma.  

2.    Dwell constantly on our true nature, our Buddha-nature.  

Nurture yourself with information about, and an understanding of, your true nature. Remember that your nature is absolutely at one with the nature of the Buddha. Allow this to motivate you to meditate and to engage in introspection so that more and more of your true nature becomes evident to you and so that your activity in the world becomes a dynamic for positive change.  

It is our core beliefs about ourselves that inform our behaviour and, quite fundamentally, create our experience, our world. With our thoughts we make the world. Here the Buddha is referring to conscious thought, to subconscious thought, to memory, which is a kind of thought also, and to beliefs, and feelings, which are the precursors of cognitive thought.  

If you have a core belief that you are ‘no good’, even if you are not consciously aware of that thought/belief all the time, you will behave like someone who is no good – you will act without dignity, without virtue, without joy, without empathy, without generosity. This is because our thoughts/beliefs are what motivate, or give motion, to our actions.  

Therefore, by dwelling on your irrefutable Buddha-nature, on the stainless and indestructible (Vajra) aspect of that nature, you will begin to dissolve negative core beliefs and begin to act according to your true nature; with dignity and virtue, with joy, empathy and generosity. As Dudjom Rinpoche said we must become certain, totally confident, in the beauty and perfection of our own nature. We really need to know, without a skerrick of doubt, that we are fundamentally good. Good kids.  

In Closing  The discovery of the true nature of mind, and all things, leads to a complete cessation of suffering. When we abide in our true nature, which simply means to really be ourselves, no matter what occurs in our life is experienced as wisdom (and therefore as joy), even if on the outside what is occurring doesn’t look so great.  

We know the mind in two ways. Each is equal.  

1.    We engage in MEDITATION and thus experience the nature of the mind directly. 2.    We generate a certain VIEW that cuts through our current misperception of what the mind is and what reality is. This could be called INTROSPECTION.  

This view includes:  

1.    Knowledge of our true nature, the Buddha-nature 2.    An understanding of the ordinary limits we impose on ourselves 3.    An understanding of the true nature of reality and ‘the self’ which is emptiness (to be covered later).  

Once again, we engage in this process of meditation and introspection because, as the Tibetan saint Padmasambhava taught, to liberate the mind, to vanquish ignorance, liberates all. Vanquishing ignorance, or non-awareness, simply means to abide in awareness. Simple awareness, or rigpa, is the true nature of the mind and is none other than the Buddha-nature.