Uttaratantra: Detailed Presentation of Buddha-Nature


Yesterday we were speaking about the seven diamond-strong points which are presented here in the text. We saw that these seven are the Buddhas, the Dharma, the Sangha, the source (which refers to Buddha-nature), then enlightenment, the qualities of that state, and the enlightening influence of that state. We went through the discussion of Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha, the Three Gems. And we began our discussion of the source for achieving all of that, for becoming a Buddha ourselves, namely Buddha-nature. We went through the basic teachings on that about what it actually is referring to. And now let’s turn to the text.

Why All Beings Have Buddha-Nature

The text begins with a general explanation of why all sentient beings (all limited beings) have Buddha-nature. This is obviously a very important point for us to meditate upon and to try to become convinced of the truth of this. The text gives three reasons. The first has two different ways of understanding it. The first reason is that the Corpuses, or Bodies, of a Buddha radiate out everywhere. In other words, the Deep Awareness Dharmakaya radiates out everywhere because a Buddha is omniscient. And because (from the tantra point of view) the subtlest mind, which is what the Deep Awareness Dharmakaya consists of, is inseparable from the subtlest wind, then the various Form Bodies of a Buddha also radiate out and permeate everywhere. Because of that, a Buddha’s enlightening influence reaches everywhere. So that is the first reason – that these Corpuses radiate out everywhere, so the enlightening influence radiates everywhere. Another aspect of that is that the qualities of the mental activity, the minds and the mind-streams, of limited beings – these can be purified by means of that enlightening influence being everywhere so that they become, in fact, the qualities of Deep Awareness Dharmakaya.

The second reason is that the abiding nature of limited beings and of Buddhas is the same. So the voidness of a limited being’s mind and that of a Buddha’s is the same; the clarity and awareness aspect of mental activity of limited beings and Buddhas is the same.

The third aspect is that limited beings in fact do have those abiding traits of voidness and clarity and awareness. So because we all have these abiding traits – voidness of our mind, clarity and awareness of the mind – and it’s the same in sentient beings and in Buddhas, and it is something that can be purified, and likewise, the enlightening influence of Buddhas permeates everywhere to be able to influence that purification process to occur – then on the basis of that, we all have Buddha-nature.

One thing that is quite curious here, which we have to be careful about is – when we say that a Buddha’s mind radiates out everywhere, and therefore a Buddhas emanations radiate out everywhere and permeate the entire universe – is not to confuse this with the Samkhya point of view (and we find this in many of the Indian non-Buddhist schools of philosophy) that the atman, or the soul, permeates the entire universe and is the size of the entire universe. Which, as you recall, Shantideva objected to very strongly, because if the atman permeates the entire universe, then if each person’s atman has true findable existence, then everybody would be one – which is an absurd conclusion. That’s not the case; we do not have this fault in the Buddhist presentation here. Not all Buddhas are one and the same Buddha because the Buddha doesn’t have true findable existence from his own side, neither the deep awareness of a Buddha nor the Bodies of a Buddha. So if we think deeply about that we can see that avoids this fault. But it’s quite interesting how we get something quite similar here in the Buddhist assertion to what we find in the non-Buddhist assertions in Indian philosophy.

The Ten-fold Presentation of Buddha-Nature

The text then gives a ten-fold presentation of Buddha-nature, ten points.

The Essential Nature of Buddha-Nature

The first point is the essential nature of Buddha-nature. This refers to three aspects:

  • Our Buddha-nature – and remember here we are speaking primarily of the voidness of the mind, and the clarity and awareness of the mind – that this has strength is the first aspect, which means that its enlightening influence has the strength or ability to fulfill everyone’s wishes. And so this we have as well because that clarity and awareness can make any appearances, and can be aware of these appearances, and doesn’t have true findable existence, and so on; so therefore it has something which is fixed, as such, and it has this strong influence that can affect and help others.
  • The second aspect is that it doesn’t change into anything else. This is referring to voidness doesn’t change into anything else, so that’s another aspect of its essential nature. The clarity and awareness doesn’t change into anything else either.
  • It also has as its functional nature (rang-bzhin) (this is a technical term, in terms of what it does) – its functional nature is compassion this is the third aspect. This is where compassion fits into Buddha-nature; it is part of its essential nature.

Essential nature means what sort of phenomenon it is. So that clarity and awareness aspect has this enlightening influence on others; it doesn’t change; it has as its functional nature (what it does) compassion, which is the wish to remove suffering. It’s on that basis that we can make the statement that all beings want to be happy and not to be unhappy, as part of their essential nature. It also has the enlightening influence to be able to fulfill our own wishes, because it will allow us to achieve enlightenment.

Also it is quite interesting when we look at the Nyingma presentation. We find that this aspect that it doesn’t change into anything else is responsible for our achievement of Dharmakaya; the compassion aspect is responsible for Sambhogakaya; and that enlightening influence aspect is responsible for Nirmanakaya. So they derive the three Buddha Bodies from these three aspects of essential nature of Buddha-nature – of rigpa, in this case (pure awareness).

How does this strength aspect of enlightening influence fulfill all wishes of others, not only our own wishes? Because we also have the statement that a Buddha cannot take suffering away from others.

That is why I said that it acts as an enlightening influence. The influence means that it can stimulate, basically, the karma of others. So with that as a circumstance, if they have positive karmic potentials, then these will come to the fore and ripen. So it is like sunlight. Buddha-nature is always in this text made similar to the sun and sunlight, the influence is like sunlight. And so sunlight can cause a seed to grow, but only if there is a seed.

Can you say that it fulfills the wishes of others?

Well that’s the way that it says in the text, and is a general way that it is always discussed in Buddhism. But then we have to understand how it fulfills the wishes of others. It fulfills the wishes of others by acting as a circumstance for them to be able to grow, on the basis of what they themselves do and have done in the past. Stimulate. In a sense, if we look at the analogy from chemistry, it is like a catalyst – it acts as a circumstance for a transformation to occur.

Is compassion the nature of voidness?

You couldn’t say it’s a nature of voidness unless you speak in terms of other-voidness. It’s the nature of the mind, of clarity and awareness.

Is compassion already there before somebody becomes a Buddha?

In a sense it is part of Buddha-nature. It is the wish for suffering to end, so whether it is directed at oneself or at others it still has the same structure. That is why I said this is part of everyone’s essential nature, that everyone wants to be happy and nobody wants to be unhappy, so you want to eliminate suffering. You want suffering to be gone. And even if the seeds are there (we speak in terms of the seeds that have been there from beginningless time): As the example is very clear from how Asanga was able to get the vision of Maitreya. We could have a rock which is blocking that, and we need perseverance to get rid of it – like with the feather dusting the rock – in order to actually be receptive for the sunlight to be able to come in. And the strongest thing is love and compassion. Which is very clear – that we have to develop a tremendous network of positive force, even if it is samsaric, to be able to then be receptive to the teachings. And we do that through love and compassion.

The Causes for Being Able to Develop Our Buddha-Natures

The second of the ten-fold presentation is the causes, and this is the causes for us to be able to develop Buddha-nature. This is presented in terms of four factors that help us to get rid of four obstacles that prevent us from developing them, like these huge boulders preventing the sun coming into the house.

  • In order to overcome dislike, hatred, antipathy for the Dharma, then we need to develop (1) confident belief in the Dharma.
  • Then in order to overcome grasping for true existence, which would keep us very closed as well, we have to develop (2) discriminating awareness, discriminating awareness of voidness and so on.
  • Then in order to overcome having aversion (“fear” actually is the word that is used in the text, fear or dread) of only the extreme of samsara, of true existence, and not the extreme of nirvana (which is referring to just staying in a peaceful type of state of freedom) – but also we can understand this in terms of being afraid of the extreme of true existence, but also we need to not be afraid of the extreme of nonexistence, of total nonexistence, of nothingness – we need to develop (3) absorbed concentration. In other words, if we stay in absorbed concentration then we will see that it isn’t nothingness, that it is something that can go further to liberation. Although I haven’t really seen a very precise explanation of this point, so I am not completely positive on how that works.
  • Then the fourth one to overcome is having concern just for ourselves, not having concern for others; and (4) compassion is what will develop that.

So for our Buddha-natures to develop, we need not only compassion and love (as we were saying just a moment ago), but also confident belief in the Dharma, discriminating awareness, and absorbed concentration. We would need absorbed concentration, anyway, to stay with the other three. We can understand this point in terms of the evolving Buddha-nature, evolving Buddha-nature of the two networks: positive force and deep awareness. To develop those more and more, we need these four; that’s quite clear.

Regarding the third point, we need to understand these two extremes: there is the extreme of true existence and there is the extreme of nothingness. The third point of what also blocks us is not having this fear of nothingness. So, if we think in terms of absorbed concentration, for example, then we might be afraid of true existence and we do various practices with discriminating awareness. But if we are not afraid of nothingness, then when we do meditation, we may just become spaced out and just get into a state of nothingness. But if we have proper absorbed concentration, then we had that fear of spacing out; we don’t want to space out and so we develop absorbed concentration.

If you don’t have that, then you are not going to develop your Buddha-nature properly, you are just going to space out. This is just from the top of my head, as I said I have not seen a good explanation of this.

The Results Achievable on the Basis of Buddha-Nature

Then the third aspect of this ten-fold presentation is the results. In other words, what are the general characteristics of the results that we will achieve on the basis of Buddha-nature? This also has four points.

  • We will have (1) all-encompassing compassion, compassion that extends to everyone.
  • And (2) lack of true existence, which was there from the beginning anyway. All these things were there as part of Buddha-nature, in a sense, but these will be developed fully, although lack of true existence isn’t developed fully – that stays always the same.
  • Then (3) happiness or bliss. This is an interesting point in terms of the description of the resultant state, and also one aspect that we have obviously as part of our natures now – there is happiness.
  • Then (4) constancy. Constancy is explained here in terms of it being because we are able to see the equality of samsara and nirvana. In other words, we see the equal voidness of both and so on, and that, then, we have as a constant state.

In the Gelugpa presentation of the highest class of tantra, we always talk about the union of voidness and bliss, which means a blissful awareness that understands voidness. If we think about that – voidness would be deepest truth, and the blissful awareness of it would be the mind that understands that. So in a sense we can think of that (blissful awareness) as the conventional truth (well, within Gelugpa we would consider it that). But when we have the terms Tathagata and Sugata: Tathagata is the “One That Has Gone Thusly,” in accordance with voidness. And Sugata is the “One That Has Gone Blissfully,” progressed blissfully, in accordance with that blissful awareness. So these are two aspects of Buddha-nature on the basis, the path, and the result.

What is the relation between nirvana and Dharmakaya?

In a sense when we speak about nirvana, there are many different aspects of nirvana, but we can speak of the naturally abiding nirvana, which is the voidness of the mind, which is Svabhavakaya, the Essential Nature Body. And we can also speak about nirvana as the state of the separations of obstacles preventing liberation, and that is also part of Svabhavakaya. So nirvana can be included, in a sense, within Svabhavakaya. So it is true that we can include nirvana within the sphere of Dharmakaya, but here we are talking about the extreme of nirvana. We are not talking about nirvana itself, we’re talking about an extreme position which would be on the gross level – to just apathetically stay in a state of nirvana and not want to help anybody. Or we can think of it more in a philosophical point of view, of the extreme of grasping to total nonexistence. It’s an extreme of nirvana, it’s not part of Dharmakaya. But nirvana is part of Dharmakaya.

Do hell creatures have happiness?

There are many different ways of understanding happiness here. The question is do hell creatures have happiness during their lifetime in a hell? But, do we ever have happiness constantly in any samsaric lifetime? And do we all have compassion constantly? Both of those could be questionable. So then there’s a big discussion of what does happiness mean in this context, but let’s not go into that.

The Influence of Buddha-Nature

The fourth point here of ten is the influence. And the influence that Buddha-nature has, this is referring to the influence that it has on us on our own spiritual path. The influence it has is two-fold: it allows us to become disillusioned with suffering (we’re being aware of Buddha-nature), and it allows us to develop keen interest in getting release from that. So if we become aware of Buddha-nature, it helps us very much to go further on the path, so it stimulates us.

How does it allow us to become disillusioned? That it stimulates us to make progress? I can’t understand.

If you are aware that the nature of the mind is pure and that suffering is unnecessary, then you become disillusioned with it and you say, “Why do I have to deal with this?” – not “deal” with it – “Why do I have to put up with this?”

The Endowments of Buddha-Nature

Then the fifth point is the endowment, in other words what are the various qualities that it possesses. Here it basically repeats the four qualities of the cause and four qualities of the result. So from a causal point of view they are the qualities or endowments of confident belief in the Dharma, discriminating awareness, absorbed concentration, and compassion. Then again you can have a discussion – do you have this on the basis level or just on the path level? It’s hard to really decide here. And then the qualities of the result are again compassion (which is referred to as the purity that goes out), no true identity, happiness or bliss, and constancy.

Whom Does Buddha-Nature Permeate

Then the sixth point is whom does it permeate (spread through). This is the three types of beings: ordinary beings, those who have not had nonconceptual cognition of voidness; aryas, those who have had nonconceptual cognition of voidness but are not Buddhas yet; and the Buddhas. So it permeates these three.

The Phases of Buddha-Nature

That corresponds to point seven: the phases of Buddha-nature. And the phases are three-fold. (1) Those in whom the Buddha-nature is not purified, not yet purified. (2) Those in whom it is not completely purified, but purified to a certain extent. These would be arya bodhisattvas because they have – I mean aryas in general, but this is a Mahayana text so it speaks of arya bodhisattvas – who have achieved some of the third and fourth noble truths, some true stoppings and some true pathway minds. So they have purified it to a certain extent but not completely. And (3) those who are completely purified. It’s referring to the Buddhas. So that’s the basis, path, and resultant state.

This whole presentation and division of things into basis, path, and resultant levels of things is a recurrent structure that we find very much in the later presentations of the Dharma, particularly among the Tibetans (very strongly especially in the Sakya tradition).

Buddha-Nature Penetrating Everywhere

The eighth point is the point of it penetrating everywhere, and here the example or analogy is given of space. Space pervades everywhere and so does Buddha-nature.

The Constant Inalterability of Buddha-Nature

Then the ninth point is its constant inalterability (it doesn’t change, it remains constant). Here the point is that the Buddha-nature – it’s referring now to the abiding Buddha-nature of the voidness of the mind, or the clarity and awareness of the mind (depending on which commentarial tradition you follow) – it doesn’t change in the basis phase or the path phase or the resultant phase. It always stays the same – this basic nature.

So (1) the basic nature when it is not purified at all. And (2) the path phase when it is partially purified, but not fully purified. This is discussed in four parts: the arya bodhisattvas on the first bhumi (stage); then between the second and the seventh bhumi; then the eighth and ninth bhumi; and then the tenth bhumi. These are the ten levels of arya bodhisattva mind. And then finally in (3) the resultant phase of a fully purified Buddha. Throughout all of this the Buddha-nature stays constant; it doesn’t change.

What is particularly interesting in this ninth point is the discussion that we have of the Buddha-nature not changing on the basis level. Here it says that in this not-purified phase, the clear light self-nature of awareness (the mind, Buddha-nature), whether we talk about that as voidness or clarity of mind, is like space. That was from the example that we had in point eight: it permeates and penetrates everywhere. Space is a lack of impediment, if you recall, in Buddhism. And it says that it is self-begotten, without a cause, it’s always there, it doesn’t depend on anything, it always remains inalterable, without changing. But the fleeting stains that arise on it emerge like the elements emerging from space.

And so, incorrect consideration – taking things that are not truly existent to be truly existent, and so on – this incorrect consideration is like the gas element, gaseous element, the wind element. And then karma and the disturbing emotions, it’s like the liquid or water element that comes from that. Then the aggregates are like the earth element that comes out of that. Fire is not mentioned here but, in any case, His Holiness then always says that this is very interesting because one can look at this as a presentation of how a universe forms; one can also look at this in terms of pointing to tantra in terms of how we get the various stages of the appearance-making of true existence coming out of the clear light state, which is always explained in terms of association with the elements coming out one by one, and so on. So this is a very interesting section here having many levels of implication.

The Indivisibility of Buddha-Nature from Its Qualities

The tenth point, the last of this ten-fold presentation, is the indivisibility of Buddha-nature from its qualities. This is described with the analogy of the sun being indivisible from sunshine. You can’t have sunshine without a sun; you can’t have a sun without sunshine.

The Nine Examples of How Buddha-Nature Abides in the Disturbing Emotions

After this ten-fold presentation the text presents nine examples of how Buddha-nature abides or is present within the shell of the disturbing emotions and attitudes. These are very famous examples and it goes into them with a tremendous amount of poetic beauty and detail. So these are: (1) Inside an ugly lotus, a Buddha. Ugly, coming from mud. (2) Among a swarm of bees, bees buzzing around, and inside the comb is honey. (3) Inside a husk, a kernel (essence kernel). (4) Inside filth, gold. Inside a pile of excrement, a piece of gold. (5) Inside the earth, a treasure. (6) Inside a small fruit, a seed with the ability to sprout. (7) Inside tattered rags, a pile of rags, a statue of a Buddha. (8) Inside the womb of an ugly woman, a ruler of humanity. (9) Inside a clay mold, a precious metal figure. (When you make a statue you have this thing made out of clay which you fill with the molten metal.)

The Five Purposes for Indicating Buddha-Nature

And then the chapter ends with the five purposes for indicating Buddha-nature. And this is to get rid of five faults. (1) The first fault is having a discouraged mind. (2) The second one is putting down limited beings as being inferior. (3) The third is grasping onto what is not perfect (Buddha-nature is perfect). (4) The fourth is denying the existence of what is perfect (Buddha-nature). (5) The fifth one is attachment to oneself as being exceptional. If you understand Buddha-nature, then you also understand voidness and you have humility as well. It is not that we are better than anyone else, we are all the same.

That completes the first chapter, which is the chapter on Buddha-nature, which includes the presentation of the Three Jewels as well.