Uttaratantra: Buddha-Nature

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The Natural Purity of the Mind

The family trait that allows for the attainment of the Corpuses of a Buddha is an unaffected, static phenomenon; it is the abiding family-trait, the one that abides as our self-nature. The family traits that become the Corpuses of a Buddha are affected, nonstatic phenomena. They are the evolving traits, the ones that evolve into these Corpuses.

The mind is covered with stains, but the nature of the mind is naturally pure because it is unadulterated and unstained. The nature of the mind, which refers to its voidness or void nature, is naturally pure, totally devoid of self-established existence. Stains do not adulterate the mind itself. Here we are differentiating the mind from the void nature of the mind. The void nature is naturally pure, and the mind itself, although in its essence is not adulterated, nevertheless, is covered by fleeting stains.

Because every sentient being, every being with a limited mind, has the family trait of having voidness as the nature of their mind, they have the abiding family trait that will allow them to achieve the complete set of Corpuses of a Buddha, including a Corpus of Supreme Emanations having the clear and complete major and minor marks of a Buddha.

Everyone, then, has this family trait, essential nature, or source as the basis enabling them to become a clear-minded and fully evolved Buddha. These three terms are all synonyms for Buddha-nature and refer to the void nature of the mind. This is something that is naturally pure. As already mentioned, stains cannot adulterate the mind itself, but fleeting stains cover the mind. Since everybody has the essential nature of the voidness of their mind, everybody has the basis enabling them to become enlightened. Although this is very difficult to realize, when we gain the realization of voidness, we eliminate all of the stains that are covering the mind. In this way, we come to the pure nature of the mind that was inside all along.

The fact that the essential nature is inside and difficult to comprehend will be explained by various examples in the text. The rest of the first chapter discusses this source, this Buddha-nature that allows for enlightenment.

These are the essential points of the text. However, if I were to go word by word through the rest of the chapter, it would take a great deal of time, so I will just give the oral transmission of it. The main point to keep in mind is that everybody has the basis within them to become enlightened. It is just a matter of applying hard work and effort in order to realize it.

And keep in mind a distinction here. We say that the nature of the mind is something that cannot be stained, but we cannot say that it has fleeting stains. We need to be very precise and say that fleeting stains obscure the mind. The mind does not have fleeting stains because, by nature, it cannot be stained. So we need to be very careful in our choice of language.

The Chapter on Purifcation and Growth, Bodhi

The remainder of the first chapter, then, is on Buddha-nature, the source or the cause that allows us to become enlightened. It explains that since everyone has this essential nature, it is possible to achieve enlightenment gradually through stages, such as with the ten bodhisattva bhumi-levels of mind. The chapter presents the cause that will allow for gaining purification and the circumstances that help this purification to occur.

The next chapter is about the state of purified growth itself, called bodhi in Sanskrit. There are two aspects of a state of purification and growth. There is the state of purification and growth that refers to an actual place. This is the Vajra Seat of Bodh Gaya, the actual place where the states of purification, growth and enlightenment were achieved. Then, there is the state of purification and growth that is a realization. This refers to the state of full enlightenment with its double purity – natural purity and the purity gained by the removal of the stains. Double purity is the nature of that state of purification and growth, the nature of the state of enlightenment.

The state that can be attained refers to the meditative states of total absorption and subsequent realization. The result is that we are free from obscurations. The actualization of our own and others’ purposes is the action. The basis for this action is having good qualities.

The profound Dharmakaya, the extensive Sambhogakaya and the Nirmanakaya of Great Nature are ways to differentiate states of enlightenment in terms of a system of three aspects. This subject matter is very profound and to go into it in great detail would take a great deal of time. This state of purification and growth or enlightenment is something discussed in eight points in the text.

A Dharmakaya can only be known as an object by other Buddhas; therefore, we refer to it as inconceivable, beyond all thought. The dominant condition or basis for producing a Corpus of Supreme Emanations is the Sambhogakaya, a Corpus of Full Use. In order to be able to benefit others and to appear in a form visible to ordinary beings, we need to arise in the forms of a Corpus of Supreme Emanations. So, a Nirmanakaya comes from a Sambhogakaya. Such a Supreme Emanation Body works for the benefit of others through the twelve enlightening deeds. Once we have achieved the enlightened state of a Buddha, we never arise from total absorption on voidness.

 Twelve Enlightening Deeds

  • In the first of the twelve enlightening deeds, Buddha is born into the highest godly rebirth in the Tushita realm, which is the last place before manifesting on Earth. Before the Buddha descends from this Tushita or Ganden realm, he passes on the responsibility for teaching there to Maitreya, who will be his substitute in Tushita. When Buddha gave Maitreya full empowerment, the depression of gods in Tushita, who were sad that Buddha was leaving, was lifted. As a result, Maitreya is called the “one who dispels depression.”
  • The second deed is to descend from the Tushita realm.
  • The third deed is to enter his mother’s royal womb.
  • The fourth deed is to take birth at Lumbini.
  • The fifth deed is to become skilled in all of the arts and fields of knowledge.
  • The sixth deed is to enjoy life with his wife and entourage.
  • The seventh deed is seeing the four sights outside of the palace: old age, sickness, death and a robed renunciate.
  • After seeing these, the Buddha saw that there was no lasting essence to the life he was leading, and therefore the eighth deed is to leave the palace and princely life.
  • He traveled with his horseman to a certain stupa and there he performed the ninth deed of cutting off his princely topknot, becoming a renunciate. In his way, he performed the renunciation of the world and the determination to be free.
  • The tenth deed is to follow severe ascetic practices for six years.
  • The eleventh deed was his going to an essential place to gain purified growth, referring to the Vajra Seat at Bodh Gaya. After this, he vanquished or overcame the hosts of Maras, the demonic forces. Next, he demonstrated at dawn the full enlightenment followed by turning the Wheel of the Dharma, which means he set flowing the rounds of transmission of the teachings.
  • Finally, he demonstrated passing away into parinirvana.

If we consider the Buddha coming onto the plane of sensory objects of desire, the desire realm, we have thirteen, which includes the first deed, taking rebirth in the Tushita realm. If we take entering into his mother’s womb and being born together as one deed, then it comes to twelve. In another commentary tradition, there is a mention of another of Buddha’s deeds, his own teachings setting like the sun. Regardless, the Buddha continues to act for the benefit of beings in impure realms without any break in the continuity.

We can never tell where we will be reborn. Now, we are in a position where we can meet with the teachings, but we could be reborn in a realm where they are not found. The animals, hungry ghosts and hell beings are in realms where they cannot meet with the teachings. We can never tell where those beings will be reborn. It may be in a place where they can meet with the teachings.

Holy Pilgrimages

We can visit the holy places on the Indian subcontinent where the Buddha lived, namely Lumbini where he was born, Bodh Gaya, Sarnath, Varanasi where he first taught, and Kushinagar where he demonstrated his passing away. Visiting these places is very good, especially when once there, to offer pure prayers. For instance, if we go to Sarnath, there are many beggars and people in very difficult situations; however, there are also many people with realizations. If we go there, we should make offerings, give charity to the beggars and circumambulate the stupa. This will build up a tremendous amount of positive force.

This is the time for us to build up our positive potentials, and not the time to sit back and enjoy the results of our previous positive acts. If we recklessly sit back and enjoy the result of previous positive acts, we will quickly exhaust them all, finishing them. This is a time to build up as much positive potential as we can.

We can do that very well at the holy pilgrimage sites by making offerings and also by having a great deal of trusting belief and respect in front of various Buddha statues and paintings. Meeting with Buddha statues and paintings can be extremely beneficial for building up positive potential. For instance, it is very rare to meet an actual Buddha, and we might only meet him once. However, we can see the statues and paintings all of the time. If we were to see a Buddha, we might think he was just an ordinary person having all of the faults of an ordinary person. If we have a Buddha statue or painting and regard it with a great deal of respect and belief, then we will not regard it as something false. The positive potential built up by constant contact with Buddha images will help to develop a strong wish to actually meet with the Buddhas. Observing Buddha statues and paintings, along with the proper attitude towards them, is an opportunity to build up a great deal of positive potential.

If we meet with any representation of a Buddha, from a tiny drawing on upward, and regard it with the proper attitude, we can build up a great deal of positive potential. We can purify ourselves of all obscurations. From that point it is possible, if we have the proper attitude, to purify all of the stains that are obscuring the family trait that allows for enlightenment. In fact, we will be able to meet with the actual Buddhas with their stainless Dharmakayas and their clear, full Corpuses of Form with all of the major and minor marks. This is the reason why I made the statement of how it is more beneficial to meet with paintings and other representations of the Buddhas then to meet with the Buddhas themselves.

This completes the second chapter, which is the chapter on the state of purification and growth or enlightenment. I have received the lineage and transmission of both the root text and its explanatory commentary. You are receiving the full oral transmission which will make a big difference in the future when you study this text. The great pandits, masters and translators of the past have been extremely kind and the pandits, masters and translators of today are too.

The Importance of a Lotsawa, an Eye-opening Translator

There is a difference between a lotsawa, an eye-opening translator, and just a translator. A translator is simply someone who changes things from one language to another. However, if a translator has the quality of understanding the essential points of the Dharma teachings and a strong intention to work for future lives and beyond, this makes a huge difference. Such a translator is very rare as we can see; there are thousands of people who know languages, but a true Dharma translator is very exceptional.

The eye-opening translators of the past were those who placed a great deal of effort into studying the essence of all of the great texts, gathering them into the vowels and consonants of the alphabet. Out of these, they composed translations that were of great benefit to others. This is like a master physician who gathers together the essence of all the different types of medicinal plants and puts them together in a tiny pill that is the essence of all of those plants. These pills can then be given to others for great benefit. To be an ordinary translator is easy, but to truly be an eye-opening translator is extremely difficult.

We have great masters. If we study and work hard with all of the texts, we can gain great qualities and realizations based on the source within that makes it possible for us to attain enlightenment.