To see the illusory as so
is the path
to see the true as so.
We have been speaking of Buddha-nature as though it was something that could be described, as though it was similar to the “universal soul” of other teachings, which it is not. The concept of an “ego-soul” is something that has been imagined by a disturbed mind which has first grasped it and then has become attached to it, but which must be abandoned if one is to realize enlightenment. On the contrary Buddha-nature is something indescribable that must first be discovered before it can be realized. In one sense it resembles an “ego-personality” but it is not the “ego” that says “I” and “mine”.
To believe in the existence of an ego is a negative belief, that thinks non-existence is existence; to deny an universal nature would also be wrong for it would be thinking that existence was non-existence. This can be explained in a parable. A mother took her sick child to a doctor. The doctor gave the sick child medicine and instructed the mother not to let the child nurse until the medicine was digested. The mother did not have the heart to refuse the child when it should try to nurse, so she anointed her breast with something bitter so that the child would keep away from her on its own account. After the medicine had had time to be digested the mother cleansed her breast and let the child nurse. The mother took this method of saving her child in kindness of heart for she loved the child.
Like the mother in the parable, Buddha, in order to remove misunderstandings and to break up attachments to an ego-self, denies the existence of an ego; and when the misunderstandings and attachments are done away with, then he explains the reality of the true mind that is Buddhahood. Attachment to an ego-self leads people into delusion, but faith in their Buddha-nature leads them to enlightenment. It is like the woman in a story who was bequeathed a chest and, not knowing that the chest contained gold, she continued to live in poverty, until another person opened the chest and showed her the gold. Buddha opens the minds of people and shows them the pure gold of their Buddha-nature.
If people all have this Buddha-nature, why is there so much suffering from people cheating one another and killing one another? And why are there so many distinctions of rank and wealth, of rich and poor? Is it not because the Buddha-nature has been covered over by defilement and worldly passion and the delusion of their minds? There is a story of a wrestler who was accustomed to wear as an ornament on his forehead a precious stone. One time when he was wrestling the stone was crushed into the flesh of his forehead. He thought he had lost the gem and went to a surgeon to have the wound dressed. When the surgeon came to dress the wound he found the gem embedded in the flesh and covered over with blood and dirt. He held up a mirror and showed the stone to the wrestler.
Buddha-nature is like the precious stone of this story: it becomes covered over by the dirt and dust of other interests and people think they have lost it, but often after many years some good teaching brings it to mind again. Buddha-nature exists in everyone no matter how deeply it may be covered over by greed, anger and foolishness, or buried by deeds and their retribution. But Buddha-nature can not be lost or destroyed; and because all other things are delusion, sooner or later it will reappear. Like the wrestler in the story who was shown the gem buried in flesh and blood by means of a mirror, so people are shown their Buddha-nature, buried beneath their desires and worldly passions, by means of the enlightenment of Buddha.
Buddha-nature is always pure and tranquil no matter how varied the temperaments and surroundings of people may be. Just as milk is always white regardless of the color of a cow’s hide, so it matters not how differently karma may condition a person’s life or what different effects may follow a person’s acts and thoughts; Buddha-nature is always pure and the same. There is a fable told in India of a magical medicine that was hidden in the snowy fastnesses of the Himalayas. For a long time men sought for it in vain, but at last a wise man located it by the sweetness of the water that was flowing from a water pipe. As long as the wise man lived he was able to get this medicine, but after his death the sweet elixir no longer appeared in the water but remained hidden in some far off spring in the mountains, and the water in the pipe turned sour and harmful and of different taste to every one who tried it. In like manner Buddha-nature is hidden away beneath the wild growth of worldly passions and can rarely be discovered, but Buddha found it and revealed it to people, but as they receive it by their varying faculties it tastes different to each one.
The diamond is the hardest of known substances; sand and gravel can be ground to powder but diamonds remain unscratched. Buddha-nature is like the diamond. Human nature, its body and mind will wear away but the nature of Buddhahood can not be destroyed. The Buddha Dharma teaches that in human nature there may be endless varieties, but in Buddha-nature there is but one likeness, the likeness of Buddha. Pure gold is procured by melting ore and removing all impure substances. If people would melt the ore of their minds and remove all the impurities of worldly passion and egoism, they would all recover the same pure Buddha-nature.
The Teaching Of Buddha
Bukkyo Dendo Kyonkai