Buddha Nature

It has been a few days since Phakchok Rinpoche gave his teaching on Gampopa’s Jewel Ornament of Liberation on June 21 and 22 at the Forum Park Hotel in Bangkok. He began by talking about who Gampopa was, how he was an ordained monk, studying with Atisha, and how he eventually submitted himself and become a disciple of the great Milarepa. Then he talked about the work itself, which is a kind of a manual for attaining Liberation, starting from the basics and then develop further and further.

Rinpoche began by explaining the title of the work in Tibetan, which he translated word by word, at first saying that he might disagree with the standard translation, but in end accepted it as all right. I was thinking of the Sanskrit words for “Jewel Ornament of Liberation,” which are “Bodhiratnalankara”. I reflected on the meeaning of the title and tears welled up in my eyes when I did that. The meaning of the title was so profound. “Bodhi” means “Being awakened” or “Liberation”; “ratna” means “jewel,” something very precious, and “Alankara” means “ornament,” i.e., something that makes a thing very beautiful. Thus, “Bodhiratnalankara” means an elaboration or adornment of the greatly precious Liberation. Gampopa was presenting the Buddha’s teaching in a rather concise format. “Bodhi” is indeed a jewel; it leads us away from the ocean of samsara and toward the shore of freedom.

The first topic that Rinpoche talked about was Buddha nature. This was a difficult topic, especially considering that the majority of his audience at the hotel were Thai Theravada Buddhists, who would not have heard anything about this topic before in their Dharma studies with Theravada monks. Basically put, “Buddha nature” refers to a jewel inside the mind of each and everyone of us, which makes it possible that we eventually become a Buddha.

This is very important and when we realize this we all have the confidence that is needed for embarking on the journey. Furthermore, not only do human beings have Buddha nature, all beings in samsara have it too. This is logical because essentially all beings in samsara are one and the same. We may be human beings now, but perhaps a god or an animal in the next. It only depends on our practice and our true understanding of the nature of reality that will let the inherent Buddha nature shine forth.

Shantideva said that among the ordinary beings such as you and me, sometimes the light of Liberaton shines forth like a flash of lightning, enabling us to see things as they really are. This is only possible because of the Buddha nature. Sometimes we are awakened. Sometimes we see that things that we instinctively hold to be so substantial and permanent are not so. Everything just melts together, including our own sense of ‘me’. In that flash of moment, the Buddha inside of us is speaking to us. The goal of meditation is to expand this vision so that it become more than just brief flashes.

Buddha from Gandhara


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