As we are not totally trapped in Samsara,
we can be totally liberated from Samsara.
If we all have Buddha-nature, how did we fall, to become unenlightened?’ In several ways, this question is wrongly asked. First, there is attachment to self when we ask in terms of’ ‘we’, while we have no fixed ‘selves’. If we have fixed selves, we wouldn’t change, rise or fall. Second, there is attachment to Buddha-nature as a fixed ‘self’ too – as if it is something we really are, that doesn’t change. Again, if we have fixed selves, we wouldn’t change, rise or fall. Third, there isn’t any fall, as we were not Buddhas in the first place – though we always have Buddha-nature, as the potential to become Buddhas. As a example, all puppies have dog-nature – the potential to grow up to become dogs – despite not having been dogs before. Fourth, one cannot ‘become unenlightened’. If it is possible to fall from enlightenment, there would be no point in gaining enlightenment, as it would still be part of cyclic existence that entails suffering. Enlightenment wouldn’t be true spiritual liberation.
Sometimes, the question is phrased as so – ‘How did we become spiritually defiled in the first place, if we have Buddha-nature?’ Once again, this question is wrongly asked. First, it assumes there is a ‘first place’, a beginning, while the Buddha already realised that we have been reborn countless times since beginningless time, evolving and/or devolving to be the way we are karmically. Just as it is possible to become spiritually and physically better or worse within this lifetime, it is also possible to rise and fall from life to life. Second, the question still presupposes that we were already undefiled but fell from this state. Some might feel that the idea of a beginningless past evades the question, but insisting there is a beginning creates more questions – such as ‘What happened before the beginning, and why did everything have to begin?’ It also doesn’t fairly answer how we ‘fell’ or came to be the way we are. Beginningless constant change of interdependent combinations of mind and matter makes more sense.
As gathered aggregate ‘sets’ of forms, feelings, perception, mental formations and consciousnesses, we came to develop and habitually sustain the false sense of self, which prompted the questions above, that centre around self. The very fact that we ask the questions wrongly shows that we are unenlightened. However, because we have Buddha-nature, we are able to advance from being unenlightened towards complete enlightenment by becoming Buddhas. This is so as the state of being unenlightened (deluded) is itself part of change. Like all defilements, it is impermanent and unsubstantial, while the potential to become Buddhas is permanent and substantial – always there, just as Buddhahood is when realised. It is impossible to retrogress from Buddhahood as it is the attainment of perfect wisdom, with which one is able to fully vanquish the illusion of self, which is the root of the problem, that keeps us becoming Buddhas now!
‘You’ are not really unenlightened because there is ultimately no ‘you’.
‘You’ can be really enlightened only when ‘you’ realise so.