Tuesday, April 10, 2012


Buddhism has been around so long that it is hard to recall the locus—the essence from which it grows. But by recalling the condensed teaching of the Buddha, the essence is the very first point: life is Suffering. Everything else about Buddhism is centered around that locus. So whenever we become overwhelmed with the multiplicity of the branches springing from this ancient practice all we have to do is remember the root: life is Suffering. This is why Buddhism has such an enduring appeal—Everyone suffers and nobody wants to. And no more thorough practice has ever been conceived to understand suffering and to provide a means for overcoming it than Buddhism. Suffering springs from our mind and begins with how we perceive and understand ourselves and the world in which we live. And this is why Buddhism is a full exposition of our minds.

Master Hsuan Hua writes about this matter in the opening section of The Shurangama Sutra. He points out two aspects of our mind: One aspect superficial but unreal, the other hidden but real. He says that the hidden part is like an internal gold mine which must be excavated in order to be of value. This gold mine is everywhere but not seen. The superficial part is also everywhere but seen and it is this superficial part that lies at the root of suffering. He says,

“ The Buddha-nature is found within our afflictions. Everyone has afflictions and everyone has a Buddha-nature. In an ordinary person it is the afflictions, rather than the Buddha-nature, that are apparent...Genuine wisdom arises out of genuine stupidity. When ice [afflictions] turns to water, there is wisdom; when water [wisdom] freezes into ice, there is stupidity. Afflictions are nothing but stupidity.”

The use of the word stupidity may sound harsh and uncaring but sometimes stark truth is more effective than placation. The important point of his statement (and a message of the Sutra) is that there is a key relationship between suffering and wisdom and both of these rest on a fundamental principle of faith—That at the core of our being there is a supreme goodness which is ubiquitous. Many people get confused with words, especially this word Buddha-nature.” When the uneducated hear that word they start thinking about a ghost which they imagine looks like some ancient Indian person. What we think makes all the difference. But instead of the label Buddha-nature we could call it “Mind-nature” because Buddha means awakened. When we awaken to our true primordial minds, our world is transformed. Buddha-nature is the unseen gold mine which inhabits all of life. Without accepting that core we are incapable of accessing wisdom and without wisdom we are all trapped in suffering. The flip side of suffering is bliss, just as the flip side of up is down, but when we are immersed in down it is most difficult to “pull ourselves up from the bootstraps” and rise above misery. During those down times it seems that everything is down.

We have all had conversations about the essential nature of people. Some say that we are rotten to the core—that there is no essential good there. Such people have given up on their own human family. This voice is split between those who believe in God and those who don’t. On the one hand if there is to be any essence of good it is purely the result of that good coming from an external God. The “non-believers” hold no hope at all—Just rotten to the core. Neither of these voices acknowledge intrinsic worth. To one the worth is infused, to the other there is none.

The eternal presence of Buddha-nature is a contrary voice of faith: the recognition of intrinsic, essential worth, present in all of life and it is this gold mine, which when accepted in faith that manifests in wisdom in the midst of affliction and turns ice into water.
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