Buddha nature is one of my favorite Buddhist topics. After I took my refuge vows and precepts, one of my Dharma friends let me borrow a book by Maitreya. It’s famously known as Mahayana Shastra Uttaratantra, translated into English as the Sublime Continuum or Buddha Nature. I’ve had to study this topic for several years just to get tiny bits of understanding of it because it’s a difficult topic. However, the implications of the topic are mind-blowing.
Interpretations of Buddha Nature
Different schools have views on what Buddha nature is. Some schools believe it’s our innate potential to become Buddhas. The potential is there, however that potential is shrouded by our afflictive emotions. Other schools believe we’re already Buddhas, but it’s shrouded by ignorance and other afflictions. It’s a matter of allowing that Buddha to get through.
While I’m not going to argue which view is right or wrong, the main takeaway is that there is something innately amazing within all beings. If you have mind, you have Buddha nature. This means everyone, from earth worms to the terrorists people demonize.
There are 9 examples given to describe Buddha nature. The first four I find to be particularly profound and helpful in my practice. The remaining 5 are supposed to be more easily understable from the viewpoint of an Arya being.
A Buddha Statue Covered by a Dirty Lotus. This refers to our Buddha nature being obscured by attachment. When something is beautiful like a lotus, we generate attachment and try to grab hold of it. When that object changes and decays, we develop aversion for it. Similarly, a lotus can be an object of attachment, but when it decays, it becomes ugly and we want to throw it away. These feelings of attachment and aversion obscure the innate purity of our mind.
Honey Covered by a Swarm of Bees. This refers to our Buddha nature being obscured by anger. The bees are flying around the honey, flying aggressively, keeping anyone from getting near. What they protect is a sweet essence, the honey, but no one can get to it. When I’m angry, this is how I feel. The innate purity of the mind is shrouded by an aggressive energy, like a swarm of bees.
Grain Enclosed in a Husk. This refers to our Buddha nature being obscured by ignorance. Within the husk is a grain that can sprout and grow into something that can cover a whole field, and provide for a whole village. That potential is shrouded by the husk, and common people never see its potential. When I’m ignorantly grasping false realities, this is how I feel. The innate purity of the mind is shrouded by a thick veil.
Pure Gold Covered in Filth. This refers to the three poisons of anger, attachment, and ignorance. These afflictive emotions sometime sit as potentials, as seeds in the mindstream. Other times, they’re active. When they’re active, they’re dirty and stink. In the same way, filth covers a piece of gold and makes it smell. The gold itself has its own purity, but the filth makes it worse than it actually is.
Request a free copy of Dzongar Khyentse Rinpoche’s commentary on Uttaratantra here.
Audio recordings on Uttarantra by Geshe Tashi
Explanations on Buddha Nature based on Indian Commentaries, Geshe Tashi
Buddha Nature explained by Alex Berzin