This seminar is about how the five Buddha-family traits create our view of the universe. This is a topic that deals with what we call in Buddhism “Buddha-nature.” The word “family” in “Buddha-family” is actually the Sanskrit word for caste, a social system that has developed in India. Buddha was an Indian after all and spoke to an Indian audience, so he is talking about Buddha-caste. In India, society is divided into many different castes. What Buddha emphasized was that when we join the Buddhist community – here he specifically meant the monastic community – everyone becomes part of the Buddha-caste, and the social caste divisions no longer exist. In theory, everyone belongs to the Buddha-caste.
The significance of the Buddha-caste is that it refers 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 (or however we want to translate the word). 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 – that will allow us to become a Buddha. These are the different Buddha-nature factors.
Thus, when we talk about the five Buddha-families or whatever number of Buddha-families we want to speak about, we’re actually talking about five or more different groups of characteristics or traits that we all have that will allow us to become a Buddha. It’s like how, within a caste, there are subdivisions; for instance, we have different members of the family: the father, the mother, the grandmother, the granddaughter, and so on. Likewise, within that family, there are these groups of characteristics in Buddha-nature. If we look more specifically at the 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 they exist within us means that they are also there 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 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 develop 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 bit about the Buddhist context that it comes from.
Buddha-nature is a complex topic, like so many other things in Buddhism. But that’s because life is complex! 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 and accept that that’s the way it is. There is nothing surprising and nothing to be uneasy about. We can deal with complex things. Anyone who uses a computer knows that we can deal with something that’s quite complex.
Abiding and Evolving Buddha-Family Traits
There are different types of Buddha-family traits. The abiding traits are those 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 – our minds as an ordinary person and 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.
Another aspect is that the abiding traits could be things that 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 are potentials that can be stimulated to grow, like good qualities, compassion or kind-heartedness. Taking care of someone, whether it is taking care of ourselves or taking care of someone else, is a trait that is always part of the mind in every being; however, 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 eventually take care of everybody in an equal type of way.
There are also evolving traits that can be newly attained for the first time; they weren’t always there. For instance, bodhichitta, which is a mind that is set on becoming enlightened in order to benefit everybody; this is something that we could develop at a certain time, for the first time – we didn’t always have that. Or it could be the correct understanding of voidness of reality. We don’t have that and then we develop it for the first time. 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 the 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 the continuity of general “time,” but the continuity of our own mental continuum. That’s what we mean by bodhichitta; it 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 that 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.
So how do we know that it is actually possible to achieve enlightenment? Well, one of the ways 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 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, we’re talking about how we actually use Buddha-family material; what it entails is quieting down in order to recognize the traits that have always been there, and then 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 kind of thinking means it is very important to be able to recognize that, “I do have all these various Buddha-nature factors. I do have all these factors, all these potentials, which everybody has. I’m no different from anybody else.” It’s just a matter of quieting down our mind. We are usually so nervous and so stressed out that we don’t even recognize these things. However, if we can quiet down, then we are able to discover what has always been there. To use the analogy that we find in the Buddhist texts: “Discover the treasure that was always there beneath the surface.” This gives us some confidence that we do have the working materials to become a Buddha, to help others more and more.
Low self-esteem problems very often revolve 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 recognize what was there, there would be no reason to have low self-esteem. When we think of these Buddha-nature factors in terms of evolving – things that need to be stimulated to grow – what we understand is that these factors are all present in everybody, but there is a spectrum in terms of how well-developed they are and how much they’re functioning. In each one of us, at any given 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, it’s OK. Everybody has some level of intelligence. Also, everybody has some level of compassion, and that’s what we work with – whatever is there. In every different person, each of these factors is going to be at a different point on the spectrum. In ourselves, they will be at different points on the spectrum at different times of our life, and even at 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 at this moment in this day.” We work with it and stimulate it to grow.
We can recognize these factors in ourselves in two ways. One way is simply quieting down. The other is that a lot of these factors get mixed with confusion and become distorted, so another way is to quiet down the distortions of them. Quieting down the distortions allows us to see the underlying quality that is there. Let’s take the example of being selfish, where we are only concerned about ourselves, taking care of ourselves and our own needs. If we 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. However, if we quiet down that confusion, then that potential, ability, or quality of taking care of someone can 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 it shows the significance of working with so-called Buddha-families.
Why don’t we take a couple of 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 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 the 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: the classification 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 sub-families and sub-castes. We could also call these the different Buddha-families. The question is, how many groups are there? This topic is discussed primarily in the tantra division of Buddhist teachings. There are various ways of dividing tantra. One 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 the Sakya system of the path and its result, where we have six Buddha-families. In the Guhyasamaja anuttarayoga system, we have the presentation of one Buddha-family, or five Buddha-families, or a hundred Buddha-families. Obviously, there is no fixed classification system: one can group them in various ways. There’s no one Truth, one God here. Regardless of how many numbers of Buddha-families we discuss, they all are relevant to us. They’re just different ways of describing all the various potentials that we have.
Today, we will speak about the five Buddha-family classification system, which is perhaps the most well-known. Of course, the presentation of the 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 the five Buddha-families that some of us 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 best way to relate to this is 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: We all have a body, and 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. 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.
However, 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 we get in yoga systems that also 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; the result is good health. Then, there’s the Tibetan description of the body and its various components, which also has to do with 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, yin and yang and the Chinese five elements (which are different from the Indian five elements). It is also a functioning system that accurately describes the body, which 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 re-establish balance in the body. It’s the same thing with the Buddha-families. Even if we restrict ourselves to the 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 full, holistic system that we can work with to not only 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.
I point this out because when we work with these Buddha-families – when we 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. This is because, 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.” Nevertheless, 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, we 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 we might think, “What in the world is going on here?” It’s important not to be freaked out by that because, as we often hear in the Buddhist explanation, in any particular aspect of these five families, all the other five families could be included. Everything could be intertwined with everything; it’s very Buddhist!
This is not so weird if we think about it. The image that is used is the net of Brahma – it is in Hinduism as well –which is made of mirrors. In each little cross string of the net is a mirror, and in each mirror, all the other mirrors are reflected. It’s this type of image. We have this in science as well; for example, if we take a stem cell, anything can be developed from a stem cell or anything can be cloned. The whole body 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, we get all the characteristics of that particular Buddha-family, but that’s only according to one system. We would get a completely different picture of a Buddha-family if we looked at a different system (for instance, regarding 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, as the “one Truth” thing. When we take tantric initiations, each initiation that we take, we toss a flower into the mandala, and it comes out that we’re a different Buddha-family each time! Obviously, we can be any of them. It’s like the I Ching, we 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.
When working with the Buddha-families, rather than taking the “which one of the five am I?” approach, it’s more relevant to try and recognize all of the five aspects within ourselves. Try not to worry so much about how it goes 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. It is better – I think more helpful – to recognize that there are always five different types of awareness; there are always five different types of acting; five different types of communicating, and we have the potentials to be each and all of them. Then, we can work with them, rather than think, “I am only one.”
That’s the approach we will follow 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 type 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, as in which class do we put this insect in or that insect in, like in biology. We won’t have an exercise like that in terms of Buddha-families, but more in terms of a 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. That’s 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 a little ritual instrument. The main Buddha-figure is Akshobhya.
Those are the general names. We might as well know those, although we won’t work so much with them. As general information, it is perhaps helpful to know.
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 ourselves. Usually, we talk about that in terms of body, speech, mind, qualities and activities. They can be explained in different orders too.
These are things that we all have. They don’t change in terms of their nature. In our everyday life we have them 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 good 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 our face, what we actually look like. (4) It will have a verbal expression. We may not be talking all the time, but there is some sort of communication that is there, even a silent communication. However, if we think in terms of verbal expression, that is also 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 having 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 always have these five aspects.
These are things that 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 that is there all the time, isn’t it? It could be an appearance that is pleasant and could be more helpful for others, or it could be blank, and 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 and our muscles are always tense, that’s the way that our body is, and it definitely has an influence on us, doesn’t it? I’m sure you understand, as many of you have a yoga background and are quite aware of this aspect. The way that we communicate verbally can be with appropriate or 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 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 we 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 what is going on with these five aspects, and we can try to bring them more into harmony and work with them.
This is the whole point of how we 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 we are saying something different. That also can be out of harmony.
What I would suggest as an exercise is that we break into small groups of three people. What we would have is one person speaking to another person. There are the speaker, the listener and the observer. One, the speaker, would say, for example, “How lovely it is to meet you!” or “How are you?” We 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 they 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 your group.
Let us quiet down for a minute since many of you became quite excited during our discussion. Let’s quiet 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 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 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 pay attention at all. We’re not aware of the fact that maybe our hands are jumping up and down.
For instance, 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; however, because we have a headache or some muscular pain, 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, our feelings on an emotional level, or in terms of a physical feeling. I mean, there are all these dimensions in which we influence ourselves and others. We can be with somebody, and because they’re so nervous, it makes us nervous and 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. There are 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 or repulsion toward them, this is also influenced by the other person, and it obviously is also influenced by our own mood and disposition. One important point is to realize that all these five families, these Buddha-family traits, network with each other because also, even if we find the person sympathetic, what could affect how we feel in response could also be if we have a headache or not. That’s going to influence it as well. For instance, if we are very busy and 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, 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. However, if the message is all in harmony, then we can respond in a much clearer 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. 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; we have to accept that that’s going to be the case. 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 we have a cold?
Nonetheless, 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 concerned about me. 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.” In this way, we can smooth it over. It’s the same thing with, “I have a cold, so let’s not get too close because I don’t want to give you the cold.” Like that, we smooth it over so that it 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 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 of myself. This was pointed out to me by a good friend, something I was never aware of, which was that I tend to walk very quickly (when I’m 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 and almost run down the stairs to make sure I make the train because it often 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 or twenty minutes. I don’t like that at all, as 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 very often, and I’m not even conscious that I’m walking ahead of them; I don’t walk with them. 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, I’m just running. 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 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 was actually 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 types 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 and develop them. If we eat too slowly – well, if we’re with other people who are eating slowly, fine, but if we’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.