Well, I’m pretty pleased. This blog has been going for a couple of months now. I’ve managed to keep up the weekly posting, I’ve been getting some nice feedback, and people are subscribing to the free Buddhist teachings mail-out. It seems the idea of putting out Buddhist ideas in plain English is something that people find useful. So I’ve taken the plunge, got myself a My Buddhist Life Facebook page, and I’m in it for the long haul!
Thanks to all of you who’ve been reading so far. If there are Buddhist subjects you’d like me to cover, please get in touch. I’m happy to write about whatever people would find useful.
Anyway, onto this week’s post.
There’s been some interesting discussion going on over at About.com this week concerning the concept of ‘Buddha nature‘. I’ve certainly learned some new stuff about the ins and outs of how Buddha nature fits with some other key Mahayana Buddhist concepts. This is interesting, for me at least, from an academic/philosophical perspective. But what has Buddha nature actually got to do with living your life, here and now?
Since the ins and outs of the Buddha nature concept are covered in the About.com article and the comments (a couple of which are from me!) I’ll keep the definitions brief. Essentially, Buddha nature is the idea that everyone has within them the possibility of full and perfect awakening. Your Buddha nature’s as good as any Buddha’s Buddha nature!
Now, bringing this into contemporary western life, what does this mean?
Essentially, it means that, underneath it all, you and everyone else are beautiful, pure and good. Before all the trauma, all the crap that happened to you in your childhood, and maybe even all the crap that happened in previous lifetimes, you are wonderful!
Who said Buddhism is a pessimistic religion?!
One thing I’ve noticed, and I notice it more the more I don’t have it in myself, is that a lot of people in the west have a big pile of guilt on their shoulders. This is often compounded by a second heavy load – low self esteem.
I can totally relate to this, but for many years now, it’s not really been there for me. Or rather, it’s there in my experience, but I don’t identify with it, and as the years have gone by, it has receded more and more. That doesn’t mean I always feel great, but what I struggle with these days is not guilt and low self-esteem.
Sometimes you do bad things. Then you feel guilty. And so you should. Guilt means you have a heart, you can connect with others, and you can see that they want what you want – to be unharmed, to be treated with fairness and respect, and that sort of thing. So that’s not the kind of guilt I’m talking about.
If you feel guilty about something, and after considering it as objectively as you can, you feel you did in fact do something wrong, try to put it right. Then let the guilt go and move on.
What I’m talking about here is a kind of general, pervading, background sense of guilt. You feel like you’re a bad person, or you’ve done something wrong, but you’re not quite sure what. Or you’ve done something small, or you’re not quite perfect, and instead of shrugging it off, you have strong feelings of guilt around it. Even if, when you saw someone else do or say or think exactly the same thing, you wouldn’t give them a hard time about it.
That’s the kind of guilt that serves no purpose. Where it comes from is another (interesting and useful) story. But that story’s for another time. What I’m interested in is what you do about it.
For me, moment-to-moment mindfulness of my mental and emotional states, and the practice of loving-kindness (metta bhavana) towards myself over a few years significantly undermined this stuff. And the low self-esteem went with it. That combined with an honest, objective (as possible) analysis of what was happening and what I thought about that.
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Buddha nature for gangstas
There’s a story from the early Buddhist tradition about a really nasty scary guy called Angulimala (‘Garland of fingers’ – because he used to kill people and take their fingers!). He was a murderer and a thief. A gangster type of guy. One day he saw the Buddha walking through the forest and decided to mug him. But every time he tried to get close, the Buddha was always further away. He chased, the Buddha walked mindfully, but somehow he never quite reached him (I know, I know – far fetched but it’s designed to illustrate a point so bear with me!)
Eventually, Angulimala was pretty irritated. He shouted out to the Buddha ‘Stop!’
The Buddha replied, ‘I have stopped. You stop.’ (Meaning ‘I am no longer part of the cycle of death and rebirth but you are’ – clever, huh? Don’t you wish you could say that kind of thing to a mugger?)
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Angulimala became a great disciple of the Buddha and eventuallly became enlightened.
Moral: Anyone can get enlightened, and everyone is capable of living an amazing, positive life – no matter where they start from. No one is a lost cause.
(As a bit on aside, the Angulimala story inspired the Buddhist prison chaplaincy in the UK.)
The concept of Buddha nature came along a little later in the Buddhist tradition than this story, and it evolved over time, but it has its roots in the early tradition. It doesn’t matter how messed up you’ve lived your life so far, you are fundamentally a brightly shining, amazing being of purity and wisdom. All that other stuff is just a heavy crust holding you down.
And that crust isn’t even real – it’s mind made. You can change course whenever you are ready. It’s not easy, because habits take some breaking (there are a bunch of Buddhist and therapeutic techniques to help with this), but it can certainly be done – and is done by many people every day.
So love yourself and love others. If you can’t see a reason to do that right now, try connecting with the *potential*, you and others have, and love that. Even gangsters have Buddha nature.