Buddha Nature

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche
Kopan Monastery, Nepal (Archive #1544)

Lama Zopa Rinpoche discussed the meaning of buddha nature, the potential to become a buddha, at Kopan Course No. 38, Kopan Monastery, Nepal, Nov–Dec 2005. This teaching is excerpted from Lecture Three of the course. Lightly edited by Gordon McDougall.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche in Delhi, India, January 2009. Photo: Ven. Roger Kunsang.

All those meditators who have attained each of the five paths to liberation have so many unbelievable qualities, especially the Mahayana practitioners, the bodhisattvas who have attained the five Mahayana paths, the ten bhumis. As each path goes higher and higher, they gain unbelievable qualities.

When a bodhisattva achieves the first bhumi, they are able to see the past hundred eons and a hundred eons into the future. At the same time, they are able to reveal the different Dharmas to the sentient beings by manifesting a hundred bodies and they are able to go to a hundred different pure lands of the buddhas. By going to the pure land, that many bodies can do prostration to the buddhas. I think there are eleven different things they are able to do in these hundred manifestations.

In the second bhumi, the number increases to a thousand. So, they can manifest in a thousand bodies and go to a thousand different pure lands and with their thousand bodies do prostrations and make offerings to the buddhas. And they can reveal the different Dharma subjects to sentient beings. So, these qualities increase more and more. I think, when it comes to the ninth or tenth bhumi, they are able to manifest in billions and billions and billions and zillions of bodies and with their billions and zillions of bodies go to the pure lands and do prostrations to the buddhas to collect merit, then to give teachings to sentient beings. The number increases unbelievably.

So, even before they become a buddha, they can manifest as a bridge or as water, whatever they want. They can even manifest those forms for the sentient beings. It is unimaginable, beyond our ordinary beings’ concept of what the mind can do if it is developed on the path.

What is this mind, this mind you cannot see with the eye? It doesn’t have color or shape, it is formless, but its nature is clear and it perceives objects. The mind has buddha nature, all the potential to become a buddha. That is not saying it is already a buddha, that it is already enlightened. Buddha nature means it has the potential to become a buddha. It is a question of developing the mind. If we develop our mind, we can do unbelievable things, like those bodhisattvas even before they become buddhas. We can offer unbelievable benefit to sentient beings, so deep, like the oceans, freeing them from sufferings and bringing them from happiness to happiness, all the way to enlightenment. Bodhisattvas can offer benefit like the oceans, like the sky. We all have this potential; everybody has, even the ants, the mosquitoes, every sentient being has this potential, this buddha nature.

As it’s mentioned in the teachings, when a gong meets a stick, the gong is able to produce sound. The gong has the potential to produce sound but it has to meet the stick. The stick is like the guru, the virtuous friend. We sentient beings meet a virtuous friend who reveals the path to liberation, to enlightenment. Then, because the potential is there, the realizations come and we are able to remove all defilements. That is because all the potential is there. It is compared to being on a road in the dark of night. We can’t see the road, the place, or where we wish to be, but then a torch gives us light to see, and we can progress without mistakes, without difficulties. It helps us go to the place where we wish to be. The virtuous friend is like the torch, showing us the path clearly, allowing us to walk to the place we wish to be.

Even before becoming enlightened, after having achieved shamatha, calm abiding meditation, which makes the mind so clear, by developing that, we are able to see very clearly even every single atom of a mountain. The mind is so clear we can see like that. Or later, as I mentioned, when we attain those higher bhumis, we can manifest our body like many atoms of a mountain to benefit for sentient beings.

Going back, everyone has this potential to have a mind so clear like that. Everyone has all this potential that can manifest to benefit numberless sentient beings. The Buddha’s holy mind can see all phenomena directly, not just seeing from afar, not seeing it from a pure land or something like that. The Buddha’s holy mind covers all the phenomena. The actual explanation is very secret, coming from highest tantra. Why the Buddha’s holy mind covers all phenomena is because the body covers all phenomena. Buddha’s holy body covers all phenomena. Experience comes from that side; not from the mind but from the side of the body. That body is not like our body, which is caused by karma and delusions and is gross. Because it is not like that, there are no obstacles, no resistance. Having removed the two types of delusions—disturbing-thought obscurations and subtle obscurations—there is no resistance, so it can cover all phenomena. With no blockage, the holy mind covers all phenomena. That is made very clear in the highest tantric explanation, which is very secret.