Harmonizing the Five Buddha-Family Traits


This weekend seminar is about how the five Buddha-family traits create our view of the universe. This is a topic which deals with what we call in Buddhism “Buddha-nature.” This word “family” in “Buddha-family” is actually the Sanskrit word for caste, the system that has developed in India. Buddha was an Indian after all and talked to an Indian audience, so he is talking about Buddha-caste. And in India the society is divided into many different castes. What Buddha emphasized was that when you join the Buddhist community – here he meant specifically the monastic community – everyone becomes part of the Buddha-caste and these caste divisions no longer exist. In theory, everyone belongs to the Buddha-caste.

The significance of Buddha-caste is that this is referring to the fact that everybody has the potential to become a Buddha, so in this sense we all belong to this one caste, or one family, or one clan (however you want to translate the word). And so, when we speak about Buddha-nature, what we’re talking about is not just one particular nature: we’re talking about many, many different characteristics or traits of this Buddha-family or Buddha-caste. There are many, many different characteristics, aspects, or potentials – which we have, which everybody has – which will allow us to become a Buddha. These are the different Buddha-natures.

So when we talk about the five Buddha-families, or however number of Buddha-families we want to speak about, we’re talking about actually five or more different groups of characteristics, or traits, that we all have that will allow us to become a Buddha. It’s like within a caste there are subdivisions; it is similar to what you have in Indian caste systems, so the same types of situations apply. For instance, you have different members of the family: you have the father, the mother, the grandmother, the granddaughter, etc. Likewise, within that family there are these groups of characteristics in Buddha-nature. If we look more specifically at these Buddha-nature factors, we see that they are factors that either transform into the various aspects of a Buddha, or are responsible for the fact that there are these various aspects of a Buddha. The fact that there are these in us means that there are these in a Buddha.

I’m explaining all of this because I think it’s important before we start to work with these various Buddha-families, as it were, to have some idea of the theory of where it’s coming from; otherwise, if we don’t put it into its proper context we can have quite strange ideas about it. Since they are called Buddha-families, obviously it has something to do with Buddhism; so we need to talk a little bit about the Buddhist context that it comes from.

Buddha-nature is a complex topic as is almost everything in Buddhism: that’s because life is complex. So in order to deal with life we need something that’s also complex and can deal with all the different aspects of life. That’s just the fact of things. Our body is complex, isn’t it? Our minds are complex. Everything is complex. We need to deal with it that way: accept that that’s the way it is. There is nothing surprising and nothing to be uneasy about that. We can deal with complex things. Anyone who uses a computer knows that you can deal with something that’s quite complex.

Abiding and Evolving Buddha-Family Traits

We have two types of these Buddha-nature traits (a trait is a characteristic). The first group is called “abiding traits”: these are things that have always been there as part of our mental continuums. Then there are “evolving traits”: these are things that grow.

Buddha taught many, many different systems: many different ways of explaining what we experience in the universe. In the West, we have a little bit of discomfort with that because we are highly influenced by our cultural background coming from Biblical thought. In Biblical thinking, we have the idea of one God, one Truth. And so, when we are presented with a Buddhist view which says that there are five different ways of explaining this, then our Western mind wants to insist: but what is really the true one that’s correct? It is hard for us to imagine that all five are correct.

We have several presentations of these two types of Buddha-traits, these abiding and evolving traits. I think that we need to approach this in terms of the analogy that Buddha used: that you could describe an elephant in many different ways. So if there were several blind people who came up to the elephant: one would touch the ears, one would touch the leg, one would the trunk, and one would touch the belly of the elephant. Each of them would have a different way of describing the elephant, but they’re all experiencing the same elephant. It’s a little bit like that. Each of the pictures or the descriptions of that elephant are valid and give us another point of view of describing an elephant.

The abiding traits can be either phenomena that never change, such as the conventional and deepest natures of the mind. They are always the same: they never change. The two different aspects of the nature of the mind – of our minds as an ordinary person and of a Buddha’s mind – remain exactly the same. They don’t change. The fact that our limited minds have a certain nature is consistent with the fact that a Buddha’s mind also has the same type of nature. Because our minds have that nature, we can also have a Buddha-mind that has the same nature.

Then another aspect is that the abiding traits could be things which never change in nature. For instance: having a body, having speech or communication, having a mind; these facts don’t change in nature, though obviously the type of body that we have may change. These are abiding traits.

Then there are evolving traits. These evolving traits can be factors that were always there but which are potentials that can be stimulated to grow: like good qualities, like compassion or warmth. Taking care of someone, whether it is taking care of ourselves or taking care of someone else, this is a factor, a trait, which is always part of the mind in every being; but it can be manifested in different ways and it can be stimulated to grow. It can evolve to be like a Buddha’s, so that we take care of, eventually, everybody in an equal type of way.

Then there are also evolving traits which can be attained new for the first time: they weren’t always there. For instance, bodhichitta: this is a heart which is set on becoming enlightened, becoming a Buddha, to benefit everybody, that one could develop at a certain time, for the first time, something new – you didn’t always have that. It could be correct understanding of voidness of reality. You don’t always have that. We develop it for the first time. But once it has developed for the first time, it can be stimulated to grow; or it can reinforce other factors that were always there.

All these different Buddha-nature aspects are things that transform into, or account for, the various aspects of an enlightened being that we will become. We’re not talking in general: we’re talking about our own specific future enlightenment further down our mental continuum. Not continuity of time, but continuity of our own mental continuum. We’re not talking general “time.” That’s what we mean by bodhichitta: bodhichitta is a mind that’s directed at our own future enlightenment further down our mental continuum, not aimed at general enlightenment – it’s our own specific future enlightenment. We have to achieve that as quickly as possible in order to help others. That’s based on being fully convinced that that exists in terms of our future mental continuum and it is possible to achieve it. Otherwise, we’re aiming for something that we’re not even sure we can achieve, which makes our spiritual development very insecure. In order to achieve that enlightenment, how do we know that it is possible? Well, one of the ways in which we can know that that’s possible is by understanding that we have all the potentials for that: the abiding factors, the evolving factors – all these Buddha-nature factors – which will either transform into the aspects of that future enlightenment, or which will stay the same and account for the fact that we have these features when we are enlightened.

Example: The Problem of Low Self-Esteem

When we work with these Buddha-family traits – now we’re talking about how we actually use Buddha-family material – what it entails is both quieting down in order to recognize the traits that have always been there, as well as stimulating them to grow. That’s an important point: quieting down to recognize them, or stimulating them to grow, or both. Especially if we suffer from low self-esteem: “I’m not good enough,” or “I don’t have the capacity. How could I ever become a Buddha? How could I ever do anything?” This type of thought. Then it is very important to be able to recognize that, “Hey I do have all these various Buddha-nature factors. I do have all these factors, all these potentials, that everybody has. I’m no different from anybody else.” It’s just a matter of quieting down. We are usually so nervous and so stressed out that we don’t even recognize these things. But if we can quiet down then we are able to, in a sense, discover what has always been there. To use the analogy we find in the Buddhist texts: “Discover the treasure that was always there beneath the surface.” That gives us some confidence that we do have the working materials to become a Buddha, to help others more and more.

The problem with low self-esteem very often revolves around the fact that we are too stressed to actually see what is really the case with ourselves. If we were less stressed and took the time to quiet down and to recognize what was there, then there’s no reason to feel low self-esteem. When we think of these Buddha-nature factors in terms of evolving – things that need to be stimulated to grow – then what we understand from that is that these factors are all present in everybody, but there is a spectrum in terms of how intense they are, how much they’re functioning. In each one of us, of course, at any time, each particular factor is going to be at a different point on that spectrum, but that doesn’t matter. Whatever point on the spectrum that it is, in terms of intensity, in terms of our intelligence, or in terms of our compassion, or whatever: everybody has some level of intelligence, and everybody has some level of compassion, and that’s what we work with – whatever is there. In every different person each of these factors are going to be at a different point on the spectrum. In ourselves, they will be a different points on the spectrum at different times of our life, different times of the day. Being at different points is no big deal, no surprise. It’s a matter of: “let’s work with what level I have now in general in my life, or what level I have now this moment in this day.” You work with it and stimulate it to grow.

Example: Selfishness

We can recognize these factors in ourselves in two ways. One way is simply quieting down. And the other one is that a lot of these factors get mixed with confusion and become distorted, and so another way is to quiet down the distortions of them. When they are mixed with confusion, the quieting of the distortions allows you to come to the underlying quality that is there. We give an example of being selfish: when we are only concerned about ourselves, taking care of ourselves, and taking care of our own needs. If you quiet that down a little bit and try to eliminate the confusion that’s there, well what is the underlying structure? The underlying structure is taking care of someone. Taking care of someone has been mixed with this confusion that: “there is only me, and I’m the most important one in the world and to hell with everyone else.” It’s been mixed with that confusion, so we only take care of ourselves. But if you quiet down that confusion then that potential, ability, or quality, of taking care of someone can then be developed and stimulated to grow, so that we take care of not only one or two others but, eventually, we take care of everybody, as a Buddha. This is a way that we work with these various Buddha-nature factors, and what’s really the significance of working with so-called Buddha-families.

Why don’t we take a couple minutes to reflect on that? Once we get the theoretical basis then this whole discussion will be clear. If we see the context then we can go into how do we actually work with this material.

The main point here is to understand the significance of the whole discussion of Buddha-families. Why is it a relevant topic and how is it a relevant topic to our lives? Why would we want to work with them? We want to work with them in order to be able to recognize our talents that we all have, and to get some idea of how to develop and grow. If that’s clear, then the next point is concerning the various schemes of these Buddha-family traits: classification systems.

Different Systems

As I said, Buddha taught many different things for many different people. These Buddha-family traits can be grouped together in various groups. It is sort of like subfamilies and subcastes. We could call these also the different Buddha-families. The question is how many groups are there? This topic is primarily in the tantra division of Buddhist teachings. There are various ways of dividing tantra. This is a system that divides tantra into four classes: in the first two classes there are three Buddha-families. In the third class there are four Buddha-families. In the fourth class, called anuttarayoga tantra, which is the highest class of tantra, there are usually five families – except in Kalachakra and in the Sakya system of the path and its result, we have six Buddha-families. In the Guhyasamaja system, we have the presentation of one Buddha-family, or five Buddha-families, or a hundred Buddha-families. So obviously there is no fixed classification system: one can group them in various ways. There’s no one Truth, one God here. But regardless of how many numbers of Buddha-families we discuss, they all are relevant to us. It’s just a different way of describing all the various potentials that we have.

Today we will speak about the five Buddha-family classification system. This is the one that is perhaps the most well-known. Of course, the presentation of five Buddha-families has many, many variations. There’s not just one way of presenting the five Buddha-families: I know of at least five different ways of explaining them and I’m sure there are many more. The system of five Buddha-families that some of you are familiar with here is from the “Maitri space awareness” system developed by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. That’s just one of those five that I know of; however, there are others.

Analogy with Systems of Medicine

How do we relate to this? The way that we relate to this is, I think, through an analogy. We could use the traditional analogy of the elephant and the blind people that the Buddha used, but I think that we can understand this also from the analogy of medical systems. This is the analogy of medical systems: We all have a body. I think that’s not different in the case of different people and so on, but there are many different medical systems that we can use for working with the body and healing the body. Each of these medical systems describes the body in a certain way and indicates a way of bringing the body into balance when it’s not in balance. We have the Western allopathic description of the body, with the vessels, nerves, digestive system, respiratory system and so on. That is a valid description of the body. If there’s an imbalance in that system then we can use various medications and things to bring the digestive system, the circulatory system, or whatever, back into balance.

But there is also the Ayurvedic description of the body in terms of the humors of wind, bile, phlegm, and various other qualities such as rajas, tamas, sattva, and these sorts of things that you get in yoga systems that also can describe the functioning of the body. That’s also accurate. When that’s out of balance, then there are some methods that we can apply to put it back into balance, and it works: there’s good health. Then there’s the Tibetan description of the body and its various components – which also has to do with this bile, wind, and phlegm, but in a different system having to do with elements and so on that also can be brought back into balance. In Chinese medicine, the description of the body includes the various acupuncture channels, the yin and yang, and the Chinese five elements (which are different from the Indian five elements). It also is a functioning system that accurately describes the body, and can be brought into balance when it’s out of balance.

We can’t say that one system is the ultimately correct system. They are all helpful and they all indicate ways in which we can reestablish balance in the body. The same thing is working here. Even if we restrict ourselves to five Buddha-families, there are different descriptions of the five Buddha-families and what fits in each family. There are many systems, but each of them indicates a holistic full system that we can work with to bring about balance; not only to bring about balance, but also to develop all these qualities to become a Buddha. Each one has its own validity and usefulness, the same as these different systems of medicine.

Potential Confusion

I point this out because when we work with these Buddha-families – read different literature and so on – it can be unbelievably confusing, because it may not at all be obvious that one book is talking about the five families according to one system and another book is talking about the five families according to a different system. Because you see what happens is that these five families, no matter which system we’re talking about, all have the same five standard names. In each system, we speak about a different type of awareness: I call it “deep awareness”; some translations call it “Buddha wisdom.” But there’s a type of awareness or wisdom, there’s an element, color, and type of activity associated with each of these families. There is a specific type of neurotic distortion of it. However, in each of these systems: which element goes with which family, which awareness goes with which family, and which color goes with which family, is different.

For instance, you have the ratna family (the jewel family) and in some systems earth is in that family; in another system, water is in that family; and in another system fire is in that family, and you go, “What in the world is going on here?” It’s important not to be freaked out by that because, as often you hear in the Buddhist explanation, in any particular aspect of these five families all the other five ones could be included. Everything could be intertwined with everything – very Buddhist!

This is not so weird if you think about it. The image which is used is the net of Brahma – it is in Hinduism as well – it is this net which is made of mirrors. In each little cross thing of the net, in each mirror, all the other mirrors are reflected. It’s this type of image. We have this in science as well: if you take a stem cell, anything can be developed from a stem cell or anything can be cloned. The whole thing of a being can be cloned from one cell, so the whole thing is reflected in each little part.

Which Buddha-Family Am I?

What is the conclusion of this? Very often the approach to Buddha-families is: what Buddha-family am I? Then you get all the characteristics of that particular Buddha-family, but that’s only according to one system. You would get a completely different picture of a Buddha-family if you looked at a different system, e.g. of the ratna family, because a different element is there. I think that it’s not so useful to try to identify what particular Buddha-family we might be if we are viewing that in a very absolute way, the “one Truth” thing. When you take tantric initiations, each initiation that you take you toss a flower into the mandala – and it comes out that you’re a different Buddha-family each time! Obviously, we can be any of them. It’s like the I Ching: you throw the coins, and at any time it can be any of the hexagrams; and all of them are applicable. Likewise, all the Buddha-families are applicable to us at different times in each of their ways of being presented.

I think much more relevant in working with the Buddha-families is to, rather than taking the “which one of the five am I?” approach, try to recognize all of the five aspects within ourselves. And not worry so much about how does it go together into one particular Buddha-family, unless our minds are quite flexible and we can work with many, many systems. If our minds are not so flexible, particularly if this is new to us, then it can often be confusing. So it is better – I think more helpful – to recognize that there’s always five different types of awareness; there’s always five different types of acting; five different types of communicating, and I have the potentials to be each of them and all of them. Then we can work with them, rather than, “I am only one.”

That’s the approach we will follow on this weekend. I will indicate some of the variations that we have in the different systems, but let’s not dwell on: this particular type of deep awareness is in this family, this system is in that family, and that system goes together with that. It can drive you very crazy unless you have a very ordered mind. I’d rather just work with all five. We won’t have an exercise in taxonomy: which class do you put this insect in or that insect in, like in biology. We won’t have an exercise in that in terms of Buddha-families, but more in terms of practical application.

Listing the Five Buddha-Families

First of all, we should name the five Buddha-families:

  • One family is called the “Tathagata family,” which is another word for a Buddha; therefore, it is often called the “Buddha family.” Each family is represented by a symbol: a wheel represents the Buddha family. There is usually a Buddha-figure that’s associated with this: it’s sort of like a representation of this Buddha-family, the form of a Buddha. This is the Buddha Vairochana.
  • Then there is the jewel family, ratna in Sanskrit. That’s represented by a jewel, and the main Buddha-figure is Ratnasambhava.
  • Then there’s the lotus family, or padma family in Sanskrit. That’s represented by a lotus. The main Buddha-figure is Amitabha, but other figures like Avalokiteshvara fit there as well.
  • Then there’s the karma or action family. It is represented by a sword. The main Buddha-figure is Amoghasiddhi, but Tara is also in this family.
  • The last one is the vajra family. Vajra is like a thunderbolt or lightning bolt – it’s actually usually a little ritual instrument. The main Buddha-figure is Akshobhya.

Those are the general names. You might as well know those although we won’t work so much with them. But as general information, it is perhaps helpful to know.

Five Aspects

Regardless of which aspect fits in which family in different systems, let’s work now with one level of the five. The most general system of the five family traits would be the five things that would develop into all the aspects of a Buddha. The five here are (1) mental activity. There’s always some sort of mental activity going on: the rising of an appearance, the knowing of things. Then there are (2) good qualities that come with that, in terms of compassion, understanding and so on. There’s (3) bodily expression. We all have a body. There’s (4) verbal expression. We all have speech. We all have (5) some sort of activity that has an influence on others or on ourselves. Usually we talk about that in terms of body, speech, mind, qualities and activities. They can be, obviously, explained in different orders.

These are things that we all have. They don’t change in terms of their nature. We in our everyday life have this all the time and we will have these five aspects as a Buddha as well. (1) We’re always going to have some mental activity: knowing something, seeing, hearing, or whatever. (2) That’s going to be with certain qualities. (3) This will have some sort of physical expression. It could have a gross expression in terms of our body: the body language, the expression on your face, what you actually look like. (4) It will have a verbal expression. You may not be talking all the time, but there is some sort of communication that is there, even a silent communication. But if we think in terms of verbal expression, that also is going to have the tone of our voice, the loudness, the softness: all these things communicate, not just the words. (5) This is going to have some sort of influence: whether our state of mind and the expression we’re doing has an influence on others, if we are with others, or even when we’re not with others. When we’re by ourselves, it has an influence on ourselves: how we feel and so on. Doesn’t it? We have these five.

These are things which can operate on different levels, but they are always there: they can be developed, in other words. At least most of them can be developed, in terms of when we are aware of something, then the qualities that are within can develop with more compassion, less compassion, more understanding and less understanding. The expression that we have on our face or the way we hold our body can be completely blank, or it could be a terrible frown on our face, or it could be a smile. The appearance that we give is something which is there all the time, isn’t it? It could be an appearance which is pleasant and could be more helpful for others, or it could be blank; that will play a role in our interaction with others. These things will have an effect on ourselves as well: if we are always hunched over like this and our muscles are always tense, that’s the way that our body is; it definitely has an influence on us, doesn’t it? I’m sure, as many of you have a yoga background, you are quite aware of this aspect. The way that we communicate verbally can be with appropriate words or with inappropriate words. We can express ourselves clearly or not clearly. The emotional tone that is there with the words is very, very important. Volume. All these things can be adjusted, can be worked with and developed.

Often what happens is that these five parts aren’t so much in harmony with each other. We might say kind words to someone, but we don’t actually feel any kindness. We just sort of say it and at the same time we have a blank look on our face. These things are not quite in harmony, and the influence it has on others is that they don’t believe us. It’s not having the influence we would like it to have. When you say, “It was so lovely to see you!” or “It’s so nice to see you again!” and we’re not actually thinking that at all – I mean, “Oh my god there’s that person again!” – but we are being very polite. We say, “Oh, it’s so nice to see you!” but the feeling or quality behind that is not quite there. Maybe our facial expression is not quite matching what we say. If we become aware and recognize that – in each moment – that we have these five aspects, then we sort of check-up what is going on with these five aspects, then we can try to bring them more into harmony and work with them. This is the whole point of how you work with these Buddha-families. Even with the mental activity aspect of it, we can be saying, “How wonderful it is to see you!” but actually with our mind we’re thinking something else. It’s not that our mind is totally focused on what we’re saying. We’re thinking, “How terrible it is to see you!” but actually we are saying something different. So that also can be out of harmony.


What I would suggest as an exercise is that we break into small groups of three people, if it divides evenly like that. It could be two if it doesn’t divide evenly into three or four. What we would have is one person speaking to another person. There is the speaker, the listener, and the observer – one or two observers. One, the speaker, would say, “How lovely it is to meet you!”, “to see you!” or “How are you?” these sort of things. You have this little sort of interaction there. Don’t just have this for one second, but say something. Then everybody – the three people – report what was going on with these five aspects here. What was going on with the mind? What qualities were there? What feelings did you have? What emotions did you have? What was going on with the body language, appearance? What was going on in the facial expression? What was going on with the tone of voice, the actual words? What influence did it have from the point of view of the speaker, from the point of view of the person who heard this, and from the point of view of the observer? Discuss it among you.

Exercise…. Let us quiet down for a minute since many of you became quite excited during our discussion. Let’s quite down by focusing on the breath before we continue. After focusing on the breath for a short while, then try to digest the experience. Think, “What is it that I have learned from this exercise?”


Would anyone like to share with the group what you learned from this experience, this exercise?

For her, it was most interesting to realize how the approach – the physical approach, the mental approach, and the verbal approach of a person – induces a movement in your own body.

What do you mean, “induces a movement in your own body”?

In the body of the listener, it gives a strong impression not only in the mind, but also in the body.

This is very true. This is in terms of the influence that we have on others. Our attitude influences them. Our body expression has an influence. What we say and how we say it will then have an influence and sometimes what’s really interesting is to see how we are giving conflicting messages to the other person: in terms of what we’re saying conflicting with what we’re actually doing. We could be saying something really very nice, but actually we’re distracted and we’re not looking at them; we are looking away while we’re talking to them and that gives quite a different message from what our nice words might be saying. Often we’re not even aware of that because we really might be focusing only on the feeling that we have and very often we don’t at all pay attention. We’re not aware of the fact that maybe our hands are jumping up and down. I know somebody, a good friend of mine, who when she’s talking is always banging on the table and making that horrible, loud, violent noise even though she is saying something very gentle and very innocent. She makes these really loud gestures that give a completely different message, but she’s not aware of it at all. Banging on the table like that makes me nervous. It’s upsetting. There’s no gentle interaction with her when she’s making such violent gestures, and she’s totally unaware of that.

In a more subtle way, she realized that the speaker was quite insecure and he accelerated. He became fast and that induced in her the impression also of speeding up, and impressions that were not fully ordered.

There are two types of influences that the interaction has on us. One is the influence in terms of the impression that we have of the other person, and the other influence is in terms of how we feel in response to that.

Her point is that the sequence is not always the same. It can change what comes first. It can differ during one interaction.

Did she give some examples?

Yes, what is in the mind shows in the body. But also the body can influence the attitude on hers. So it’s not always the same sequence.

Well, that’s very true, especially if we have some muscular pain or something like that. Although the basic feeling, that sort of concern for somebody, might be there; but because we have a headache or some muscular pain then that influences the feeling and then that communicates something a little bit different. Anyone else?

She found out that she realizes, hears, and feels more with the feeling than with a clear mind. She takes more in by feeling than by taking in with a clear mind.

Well this is the influence that somebody has on us. This aspect can be in terms of just our perception, or it can be in terms of our feelings, or it can be in terms of our feelings on an emotional level, or it could be in terms of a physical feeling. I mean there are all these dimensions in which we influence ourselves and others. You can be with somebody and because they’re so nervous it makes us nervous and it affects our feelings, or it makes us automatically have our muscles tense, or it can automatically make our muscles be relaxed being with the other person. It’s many dimensions.

There’s also the quality of our own mental activity.

Whether or not our mental activity in being with the person has the quality of feeling sympathy toward them or feeling repulsion toward them. This is also influenced by the other person, and it obviously is also influenced by own mood and our own disposition. One important point is to realize that all these five families, these Buddha-family traits, network with each other: because also what would affect if we find the person sympathetic could also be if we have a headache or not. That’s going to influence it as well. If we are very busy and we’re distracted, so we’re thinking about something else. All these things interact like a network. Yes?

To perceive somebody as sympathetic, does it mean that all the five aspects have been successfully harmonized?

Not necessarily. A person could be completely angry and screaming and yelling at us, and that could all be in harmony in terms of their facial expression, and how they’re speaking, and the anger that they feel, and so on. It doesn’t necessarily mean that we are going to find them sympathetic. The influence when all the things are in harmony is that we get one clear message. In terms of what we can be more authentic toward: I think if we get conflicting messages, conflicting information from somebody, how can we respond except with confusion? We don’t quite know what to do. But if the message is all in harmony, then we can respond in a much more clear way.


Of course, in terms of our own response, the five need to be in harmony as well; otherwise there will also be some difficulty there. That’s often the case that our body can be very tense and nervous even though our minds are more relaxed. And sometimes it’s not possible to make all of these five in harmony or congruent. For instance, when we have a cold and we are coughing and sneezing, our body is giving one message no matter what we’re saying, no matter what we’re feeling; and we have to accept that that’s going to be the case. Isn’t it? Again, it’s a matter of what’s going to be the louder message: do we want to stay in harmony with the cold and just complain to the other person, or do we want to ignore it and not make a big deal out of the fact that I have a cold?

But we need to be quite sensitive to this. This is, I think, the important point. For instance, sometimes I have asthma so I have difficulty breathing. When I’m breathing very heavily and have difficulty breathing, that could give a message to somebody that maybe something is wrong and they get a little bit worried and a little bit concerned about me. And so it’s important, at that time, to tell them, “Hey, I’ve had this since I was a baby. It’s no big deal. I can handle it. If it’s too difficult, I spray my throat. Please don’t pay attention to that.” So in this way you can smooth it over. The same thing: “I have a cold, so let’s not get too close because I don’t want to give you the cold.” Like that, you smooth it over so that doesn’t become the focus of the main information that the person is feeling: “I don’t want to catch your cold!”

What I find is the most useful with this type of exercise, and this system, is to try to become aware: and often it requires somebody else. That’s why we have the listener and observer here to point out certain things in us – let’s say our bodily expression, or the way we act and so on, that we’re not even aware of – that communicates something very different from what we would like to communicate. I will give an example with myself. And this was pointed out to me by a good friend, which I was never aware of, which was that I tend to walk very quickly (when I’m either by myself or with other people) because one of the things that motivates me is that I don’t like to waste time. For instance, if I’m going to the U-Bahn the subway and down the stairs: I’ll go quickly down the stairs, and almost run down the stairs, to make sure I make the train; because often it happens that the train is right there and it leaves because you’ve been walking too slowly down the stairs, and you have to wait ten minutes or twenty minutes. I don’t like that at all: it’s a waste of time; I’d rather get to where we’re going and do what we’re going to do, rather than standing in the U-Bahn station.

What happens is that I do that when I’m with people so very often, and I’m not even conscious of it: that I’m walking ahead of them; I don’t walk with them. And I’m running down the stairs and they’re walking slowly down the stairs and so the impression, the influence it has on them, is that I’m not interested in really being with them, and I don’t really have time for them, and I’m just running. And that’s not at all the intention that I have. They think I just want to get this meeting over with as quickly as possible so I can get back to my work.

What they pointed out was: so what if we stand at the U-Bahn station for ten or twenty minutes, because we can talk during those ten or twenty minutes and continue to visit and have a pleasant time with each other. This was a big insight that I got, that I had never realized, that my way of walking had such a contradictory impression on the other person from what actually was going on in myself. It was out of harmony.

This, I think, is the importance here, because actually most of us are not aware at all of the type of habits that we have: these unconscious habits that communicate very different messages to other people than what we actually mean, and that could be changed. That’s the important thing of these Buddha-nature qualities: they can be changed once we recognize that what we do has an influence on others – it communicates to others – then we can change it and develop it. If we eat too slowly – well, if you’re with other people who are eating slowly, fine – but if you’re with other people who have to go somewhere and they’re eating a little bit more quickly, and we’re sitting there playing with our food, taking forever to eat it because we have some other idea that we should enjoy our meal and not rush through it: it’s completely out of harmony with the situation. We’re not even aware of the disharmony because we’re used to eating slowly. This is a little bit about this dimension of these Buddha-nature families.