Thursday, December 22, 2011

"Buddha Nature"?

Laura Murphy, Jordan Kramer, Seven Dharmachari (Against the Stream)
Buddha in Sukhothai, Thailand, Sri Chum Temple (Roba66/

Ever try to define your "true" nature? Can it differ in different contexts? If success is more lasting when it follows our natures, why do so many desert their talents?

I am? I am that I am? I'm basically good, naturally bad? These are the questions I ask.

Pema Chodron (Tibetan nun) on "Basic Goodness"

Then there is the issue of identity, I am... what? What is there identification with? Descartes famously misspoke, "I think therefore I am." Surely, based on the evidence, all that could really be said as a foundational truth was "There's thinking so there's thinking."

Something's thinking, but it does not follow that it is some permanent, perfect, unchanging self. "Self" changes. It changes at every moment. It can identify with anything. What is it? The Buddha defined it as "materiality and mentality" or "form (body), feeling, perception, mental formations, and consciousness."

These are the Five Aggregates of Clinging. They cling to one another, and illusion clings to them. They are empty and impersonal in an ultimate sense.

In a conventional sense, here "I am" questioning what is "I," who is "self," what have I been, what will I be? The questions of fools who go on revolving in rebirth and suffering. Renewed becoming depends on this confusion. Rather than being mindful and fearlessly looking at the truth AND THEREBY BEING LIBERATED, we assume the answer and ponder in a hopeless circle.

To be fully oneself, to embody one's potential, to utilize the talents brought over from countless past lives (or given as "gifts" at birth for no reason), to cultivate skills, to move beyond personal suffering and self-esteem issues... are a few angles to investigate.

To fathom the enigma of my "true" nature -- as Christian evil and fallen, or as essentially good with the potential to be a buddha -- is something any ancient Greek could agree on: KNOW THYSELF.

Watchers of Gilligan's Island already know, "To thine own self be true." That is important. But is that enough. What is the self "I am" being true to?

The historical Buddha warned: Thinking won't get you there. If it did, he would have advocated philosophy and debating, voting for truthiness and creating consensus realities. There is a Truth beyond all that. And it is accessible. And the Buddha pointed the way. The pointer is not the way anymore than the reflection of the Moon is the Moon.

We talk about Truth. But Buddhism is a practice, not a dogma, not something to believe. "Come and see. Investigate," the Buddha bid others. You need not take anyone's word for it. "Relying on no one, depending on no other's truth, you will see." The Truth shall set us free.

Of course in our culture, this was hijacked. That famous Bible character became that Truth, that way, that beacon of light. Was that copied from the Buddha's title as the "Light of Asia"? The Buddha did not seek glory. The Truth cannot be hidden forever, whoever found it, rediscovered it, or pointed to it.

If only Western mystics had a way, a step by step way.

All thinking, none knowing
All speaking, none showing
All searching, none finding
Traveling roads that go on winding.
- Seven (unforgettable words scrawled on my philosophy class desk)

JORDAN: The Buddha never said the words, "Buddha Nature." Where did he say we are naturally or basically good? Before one again starts a sentence "I am...," it might be better to rephrase it: "For right now, it is this way..."

The mind is confused. The mind confuses. The mind, to keep itself a going concern, delights in illusion. It deceives itself. It drags us to suffering. And all the while that seems the thing it dreads. But there it is, standing in the way of Truth and freedom.

SEVEN: You know that saying, "If someone's in your way, and you kick him/her as hard as you can, your butt is going to hurt"? I identify with mind, which is changing at every moment, and stand in my own way. Maybe if I just was rather than imagining "I am this, I am that, I was this, I will be that," maybe if I followed the Buddha's advice and pondered four useful things, I could be free of all suffering.

LAURA: The solutions I come to are based on a thinking mind, which confuses me time and time again. Probably the best way to know is to go inward and experience the luminosity from within -- shining without, and actually see it and feel it, rather than thinking about it. I must pay close attention to this luminous expression, how it feels in my body, in all of my interactions with others, my actions and habits in day to day life. I think that's when -- well, there I go again!

I start to get a deeper understanding beyond mental discernment. It takes repetition -- catching the mind/myself/the Thinker is being mindful -- before this inner knowing starts to make sense, before it can be trusted, before I know that my very being is rooted in life and everyone and everything just as a tree is far larger when the roots are revealed.

It is so easy to become distracted, to forget, to lose direction, to fall off the wagon or get carried away. But I am learning to true my wheel, which can be as simple as coming back to my breath. That is the first and maybe only step in reevaluating my true nature.

I may be uprooted at times, which happens even to the healthiest of trees, so one aspect of my nature is impermanence. In the breath my true nature is revealed, and in feeling the unsatisfactory nature, in mind the impersonal nature... and in nirvana the boundless liberation free of all impermanence, suffering, and delusion.

No comments: