6.5 mins read.
In this last article, Identifying with our Buddha nature, I suggested why it’s a good idea to identify with our Buddha nature from the very outset of our meditation practice and just in general.
Where, some people want to know, does Geshe Kelsang say you’re supposed to identify with your Buddha nature every time you meditate? Where is it explicitly explained?
The most famous place is probably the gold nugget bit quoted in that last article. As Venerable Geshe-la says in The New Eight Steps to Happiness:
Whenever we meet other people, rather than focusing on their delusions we should focus on the gold of their Buddha nature. … Recognizing everyone as a future Buddha, out of love and compassion we shall naturally help and encourage this potential to ripen.
This has to apply to us as well, given that we’re a person. “Whenever we meet” ourself we also need to focus on the gold of our Buddha nature, and in that way bring out all our good qualities.
An experiential approach to Buddhism
I’m gonna share something from a wise friend who has gotten a long way in his meditation practice and used it to overcome a lot of problems. (He also wrote this very popular article, The meditation game-changer.)
The essence of the experiential approach to the path is captured in the following:
Whilst acknowledging that we have delusions we should not identify with them, thinking ‘I am a selfish, worthless person’ or ‘I am an angry person’. Instead we should identify with our pure potential and develop the wisdom and courage to overcome our delusions. ~ The New Eight Steps to Happiness
What is our “pure potential”? Our potential for the permanent peace of liberation and enlightenment – which is the limitless potential for peace, love, compassion, kindness, and happiness. Our essential nature, our Buddha nature, is pure gold. Indestructible and eternal, it is the ground in which we need to root our sense of self in order to flourish.
The only way to attain the permanent peace of liberation is to cultivate and increase our present peaceful minds. ~ How to Understand the Mind
Therefore, any present peaceful mind (no matter how small) is our pure potential. If we are not cultivating these experientially, we are not yet on the path. Practically speaking:
We should try gradually to increase the frequency of our peaceful minds until they remain with us all day long. ~ How to Understand the Mind
To do this, and to stay on the path, we need to ground our practice in meditation experience and live from that experience. As Venerable Geshe-la says:
Unless we make some time every day to meditate we shall find it very difficult to maintain peaceful and positive minds in our daily life and our spiritual practice as a whole will suffer. ~ The New Eight Steps to Happiness
How do we do this?
… we should identify with our pure potential and develop the wisdom and courage to overcome our delusions. ~ The New Eight Steps to Happiness
Centered in the peaceful good heart of our Buddha nature, “our pure potential,” every time a limiting belief or delusion arises we have the “wisdom” of experience to understand that this is not who I am essentially, it is just how I’m feeling at the moment, so I can let this go. This is how we stop identifying with our delusions thinking “I am a selfish worthless person”. Then, “courage” is the natural expression of the confidence that knows through experience that I am not my delusions, so I don’t have to be afraid of them and can let them go. This courage and confidence are expressed in Shantideva’s Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life as:
I shall overcome all delusions and none shall overcome me.
We can only make this confident or courageous statement when our experience is of deeply identifying with the peaceful good heart of our Buddha nature. Also:
The Bodhisattva vow, for example, in which the Bodhisattva promises to overcome all faults and limitations, attain all good qualities, and work until all living beings are liberated from the sufferings of samsara, is an expression of tremendous self-confidence, far beyond that of any self-centered being. ~ The New Eight Steps to Happiness
This indicates the natural and “tremendous self-confidence” of someone who has moved beyond identifying with the “faults and limitations” of a “self-centered being’” to identifying with their pure potential, confident in their ability to “attain all good qualities”.
All possible samsaric achievements come with some kind of boundary or glass ceiling, so I think we need to have at least a little faith and feeling for what enlightenment is in order to understand what limitless potential looks like. That understanding grows over time, but it can be helpful to imagine it right from the outset.
I think it goes both ways – believing, admiring, and wishing faith in Buddhas necessitates faith in our own potential for enlightenment. For how can we wish for something that we cannot attain?
Genuine experience is required
Identifying with our Buddha nature means that we are in fact happy with ourself! The sackcloth and ashes approach is not Buddhist. We don’t do guilt.
If we are not happy with ourself, or foolishly neglect our own well-being, we shall have neither the confidence nor the energy to effect such a radical spiritual transformation. ~ The New Eight Steps to Happiness
But, as explained more here, to change our self-identity we have to base it on some genuine good experience, not on dry intellectual understanding that doesn’t touch our hearts. The simplest way into this experience, especially as we are starting out, is to start by feeling some peace inside — allowing our delusions to subside into the peace of our own mind by simply focusing on our breath. If we do that, this happens:
When the turbulence of distracting thoughts subsides and our mind becomes still, a deep happiness and contentment naturally arises from within. ~ The New Meditation Handbook
Notice that word “naturally”. Our mind is by nature peaceful, we don’t have to add anything to make it peaceful. And when our mind is peaceful, we are happy.
An incredibly important insight by Buddha is that if it wasn’t for our delusions, we’d be peaceful all the time!!! I don’t know about you, but this knowledge changed my life. Without it, the future would seem unbearably bleak.
So we can allow this peace to fill our mind and then recognize two things.
- Firstly, this peace is our actual nature, and that it is therefore only our delusions that are obstructing and disrupting it. As Geshe Kelsang says:
If we did not have delusions we would experience only peace and contentment. ~ How to Understand the Mind
And in Eight Steps:
Our mind is like a cloudy sky, in essence clear and pure but overcast by the clouds of delusions.
… as soon as anger, jealousy or desirous attachment arise they destroy our peace of mind like a sudden storm destroying the tranquility of an ocean.
- The second thing we can recognize is that, however slight or relative it is, this peace is the tip of the iceburg, indicating our capacity for lasting peace if we purify and master our minds.
Just as mud can always be removed to reveal pure, clear water, so delusions can be removed to reveal the natural purity and clarity of our mind. ~ The New Eight Steps to Happiness
Pride with respect to our potential
And then we can think,
“This is me. I am a peaceful person with limitless potential.”
It’s true. We are. Another scriptural reference to identifying with our Buddha nature is Shantideva’s teaching on “pride with respect to our potential”, where we think:
I can and will attain Buddhahood. ~ How to Understand the Mind
And what does a peaceful person with limitless potential feel about life? What do they want to do all day long? What DO they do all day long?! Especially compared with an unhappy and discouraged person who believes they can’t do anything and that the future is hopeless?
The final installment is here. I’d love to hear from you in the comments below, and I’m sure the other readers would too 😁