The Fourteenth Dalai Lama on Buddha-Nature

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The Fourteenth Dalai Lama on Buddha-Nature

Dalai Lama, 14th. "Buddha Nature." In Our Human Potential: The Unassailable Path of Love, Compassion, and Meditation, translated and edited by Jeffrey Hopkins, 92–98. Boulder, CO: Shambhala Publications, 2019.

What is nirvana? The basis due to which it is possible to attain nirvana is called the Buddha nature, or the naturally abiding lineage.[1] The individual systems of Buddhist tenets have different interpretations of what the Buddha nature is; thus, there come to be many Buddha natures in terms of their level of subtlety. The Hearer Schools do not speak of a Buddha nature because they assert that there are three final vehicles. Due to this, they speak of a Superior's nature, or Superior's lineage.[2] They hold that when Hearers or Solitary Realizers have attained their respective enlightenment as Foe Destroyers, then upon the actualization of the nirvana without remainder, their continuum of mind is severed, due to which there can be no further training, such as in the Bodhisattva path. Therefore, they maintain that there are three final vehicles.

      Although even in certain Great Vehicle sutras Buddha speaks of three final vehicles, these statements are shown to require interpretation by way of indicating the thought behind Buddha's statement, his purpose in stating that there are three final vehicles, and reasonings that damage the literal reading of such scriptures. What is posited as the basis in Buddha's thought when he taught three final vehicles? It is that temporarily people have a definiteness of lineage as, for instance, a Hearer, a Solitary Realizer, or Bodhisattva.

      The Hearer Schools, as mentioned just earlier, identify a Superior's nature, or Superior's lineage, as the four lineages of Superiors. The first three are for a practitioner to be satisfied with mediocre food, clothing, and shelter. The fourth is, in dependence upon these, to make effort at removing faulty states and at attaining advantageous qualities. These are called the four lineages—causal lineages—of Superiors in that they are what cause one to attain the level of a Superior. In the system of the Mind Only School Following Scripture, this being the branch that, following Asaṅga, asserts a mind-basis-of-all, the Buddha nature is identified as a seed of uncontaminated exalted wisdom, which is in the mind-basis-of-all. As long as it has not been activated by conditions such as hearing doctrines and thinking on their meaning, it is called the naturally abiding lineage. Then, when it has been activated, it is called the developmental lineage.[3]

      In the system of the Mind Only School Following Reasoning, this being the branch that, following Dignāga and Dharmakīrti, does not assert a mind-basis-of-all, they speak of the Buddha nature as a seed of uncontaminated exalted wisdom that is with the internal sense spheres. When the appropriate conditions of hearing, thinking, and so forth are encountered, it is capable of generating realizations of the three vehicles. This is the naturally abiding lineage.

      In the system of the Middle Way School, the Buddha lineage, in general, is identified as that which, when transformation takes place, is suitable to transform into a Buddha Body. It is divided into that which is suitable to transform into a Buddha's Truth Body and that which is suitable to transform into a Buddha's Form Body— the first being the naturally abiding lineage and the second being the developmental lineage. Based on this teaching of a Buddha nature present in all beings, the Middle Way School explains that there is only one final vehicle.

      What is the nirvana that is attained in dependence upon the Buddha nature, the Buddha lineage? If we consider nirvana in general, let us first consider the natural nirvana,[4] which is the final nature of phenomena. It, in itself, is naturally pure, and also—due to this pure sphere that is the nature of phenomena—defilements are suitable to be removed and liberation can be attained. Furthermore, the entity of liberation is just this pure nature. Hence, from these points of view, the pure nature of phenomena is called the natural nirvana.

      With regard to nirvanas that are attained, the lesser nirvana is of two types, with remainder and without remainder. The meaning of a nirvana without remainder is that, according to the systems of the Hearers, one has actualized nirvana but still has a remainder of mental and physical aggregates that are impelled by earlier contaminated actions and afflictive emotions. A nirvana without remainder, on the other hand, occurs when nirvana has been actualized but there is no longer any remainder of mental and physical aggregates that are impelled by earlier contaminated actions and afflictive emotions. The reason why these are called lesser forms of nirvana is that, from between the two types of obstructions, only the afflictive obstructions to liberation from cyclic existence have been extinguished; the obstructions to omniscience have not.

      The highest type of nirvana occurs at the level of Buddhahood. It is called a non-abiding nirvana because one is not abiding either in the extreme of cyclic existence or in the extreme of a solitary peace. Rather, one has brought to perfection one's own development as well as the capacity to effect the welfare of others. One not only has completely overcome the afflictive obstructions to liberation from cyclic existence but also has utterly overcome the obstructions to omniscience.

      The obstructions to liberation from cyclic existence cause suffering for persons who have them in their continuums, and the obstructions to omniscience, since they prevent one from knowing all objects of knowledge, cause one to be unable to know the constitutions, thoughts, interests, and predispositions of trainees, and thereby prevent one from bringing about the welfare of others on a vast scale. Therefore, when one overcomes just the afflictive obstructions, one is liberated from cyclic existence, but when, in addition, one overcomes the obstructions to all that is knowable, one attains the state of omniscience.

      Where are such nirvanas included within the two truths, ultimate and conventional? Chandrakīrti says that a nirvana is an ultimate truth; this is because a nirvana is a true cessation, which itself is identified as an emptiness. How is this? Through the power of the antidote, that is to say, the wisdom realizing selflessness, or the absence of inherent existence, the defilements are extinguished in the sphere of the final nature of phenomena; such a pure sphere of reality is called a true cessation. This is how a nirvana is an ultimate truth.

      Even though true cessations are all of the same general type, there are many different levels, beginning with the true cessation that is the abandonment of what is to be abandoned by the path of seeing. A discussion of the five paths will come later, but for the time being, these are the paths of accumulation, preparation, seeing, meditation, and no more learning. There are five each for Hearers, Solitary Realizers, and Bodhisattvas—making fifteen, three sets of five. At the time of the first two paths—accumulation and preparation—one does not have direct realization of the truth of emptiness; hence, a true cessation has not yet been attained. However, at the time of the path of seeing, one has direct realization of emptiness, and thus has a true cessation that is a state of having separated from those objects to be abandoned by the path of seeing—these being the artificial or learned version of the afflictive obstructions. On the path of meditation, one abandons the innate afflictive obstructions. In both cases, these obstructions are removed by way of their antidotes such that they will never return.

      In general, cessations are of two types, analytical and non-analytical. A non-analytical cessation is a case of an absence of something due to the non-aggregation of the causes and conditions that would have produced it, whereas an analytical cessation is a cessation of something that has been overcome forever through its antidote.

      On both the paths of seeing and of meditation, there are uninterrupted paths and paths of release. An uninterrupted path serves as the actual antidote to a level of obstructions. A meditative equipoise that then has the attribute of having been separated, or released, from that particular level of obstruction is called a path of release.

      Also, there are many divisions of the factors that are abandoned by the paths of seeing and of meditation, these being made in reference to the three realms—Desire, Form, and Formless Realms. A great many of these are set forth in Vasubandhu's Treasury of Manifest Knowledge and in Asaṅga's Compendium of Manifest Knowledge, but I will not go into them here. However, a root point is that the Consequence School considers consciousnesses that conceive inherent existence to be afflictive obstructions, due to which they consider the obstructions to omniscience to be the predispositions established by the conception of inherent existence. However, the Autonomy School considers a consciousness conceiving true existence to be an obstruction to omniscience; therefore, the Autonomists are put in the difficult position of asserting that even though practitioners have not overcome the final root of cyclic existence which is the conception of true existence, they can be liberated from cyclic existence through abandoning the conception of a self of persons, which is the conception that persons are substantially established in the sense of being self-sufficient. Therefore, the Autonomists hold that even though practitioners have not abandoned the conception of a self of phenomena, which is the final root of cyclic existence, it is possible for them to be liberated from cyclic existence. The Consequentialists, however, posit the conception of true or inherent existence as the root of cyclic existence and thus the basic afflictive obstruction; hence, they do not have this problem.

      The Autonomy School divides the obstructions to omniscience into nine cycles and explains that these are abandoned from the second through the tenth Bodhisattva grounds. However, because the Consequence School posits the conception of true or inherent existence itself as the chief afflictive obstruction and posits the predispositions established by that misconception as the obstructions to omniscience, it is not possible to begin generating an actual antidote to the obstructions to omniscience without first having completely abandoned the afflictive obstructions. Gung-tang Gonchok-den-bay-dronmay[5] gives an example that makes this very easy to understand. If you put garlic in a vessel, it deposits some of its odor in the vessel itself; thus, when you seek to clean the vessel, it is necessary first to remove the garlic. Similarly, a consciousness conceiving inherent existence, like garlic, deposits predispositions in the mind that produce the appearance of inherent existence; thus, there is no way to cleanse the mind of those predispositions, which are like the flavor of garlic left in the vessel of the mind, until one removes all consciousnesses conceiving inherent existence from the mind. First, the garlic must be removed; then, its odor can be removed.

      For this reason, according to the Consequence School, until one has utterly removed all of the afflictive obstructions, one cannot begin to overcome the obstructions to omniscience. Since this is the case, a practitioner cannot begin overcoming the obstructions to omniscience on any of the first seven Bodhisattva grounds, which are called "impure" because one still has afflictive obstructions to be abandoned. Rather, one begins abandoning the obstructions to omniscience on the eighth Bodhisattva ground, and continues to do so on the ninth and tenth grounds, these being called the "three pure grounds" because the afflictive obstructions have been abandoned.

      As explained earlier, the non-Consequentialist schools posit a selflessness of phenomena that is subtler than the selflessness of persons. These other systems also posit afflictive emotions as generated from a consciousness conceiving a self of persons, which they identify as conceiving persons to be substantially established in the sense of being self-sufficient.[6] The Consequence School, however, holds that the conception of a self of persons and the conception of a self of phenomena are equally subtle. Thus, the Consequentialists say that the other schools' presentations of the process by which afflictive emotions are generated are not complete in that they do not take account of all levels of afflictive emotions. Therefore, the Consequentialists explain that a Foe Destroyer who has overcome the foe of such afflictive emotions as explained by these systems is not a fully qualified Foe Destroyer. Thus, among our afflictive emotions, there are two levels—those induced by the subtle conception of inherent existence and those induced by a coarser conception of persons as being substantially existent in the sense of being self-sufficient.

  1. rang bzhin gnas rigs, prakṛtisthagotra.
  2. 'phags pa'i rigs, āryagotra
  3. rgyas gyur kyi rigs, paripuṣṭhagotra
  4. rang bzhin myang 'das
  5. gung thang dkon mchog bstan pa'i sgron me, 1761-1813.
  6. rang rkya thub pa'i rdzas yod du 'dzinp a