T’ai Hsu (1889-1947), who played a major role in the revival of the Fa-hsiang school, said,
We achieve Buddhahood through our human natures. This is the deepest truth of Buddhism.”
Human nature refers to the characteristics of being a sentient being, a human being. For me, the key word in the quote from T’ai Hsu is through. While there are various opinions as to whether human nature is fundamentally good or bad, hardly anyone would disagree that it is imperfect. Buddhism teaches that our human nature is also prone to experience the pangs of suffering, and that by going through our human nature, or transcending it, we can also transcend suffering and arrive at a state of being that we could called ‘perfected’ in the sense that it means completed or whole. We may even find that the nature we uncover by transcending human nature is more natural.
‘Transcendent’ is a word that is problematic for some because they associate it with the classical definition of transcendence, which refers to the power of God, higher or totally removed from our human world, or referring to a state that is divine, and again, independent or far above our lives in the world.
As I use ‘transcendent’, it is in the sense of prajna-paramita or transcendent wisdom. Prajna means wisdom, and paramita means perfection or accomplished. The Six (or Ten) paramitas or perfections are qualities the bodhisattva must “complete” as he or she fares on the Bodhisattva Way. Also called ‘crossings’, they include generosity, virtue, patience, energy, contemplation, and wisdom.
Prajna-paramita is likened to the ship that ferries all beings across the sea of suffering, wisdom that transcends suffering. All human experience is an insight into transcendent wisdom. In order to transcend suffering, we have to suffer. There is no escape from this truth. No easy way out. The experience of suffering can bring us nearer to insight into wisdom.
Our fundamental nature – what we term ‘the buddha nature’, the very nature of our mind, is inherently present within us as a natural attribute. This mind of ours, the subject at hand, has been going on throughout beginningless time, and so has the more subtle nature of that mind. On the basis of the continuity of that subtle nature of our mind rests the capacity we have to attain enlightenment. This potential is what we call ‘the seed of buddhahood’, ‘buddha nature’, ‘the fundamental nature’, or ‘tathagatagarbha’.”
Dalai Lama, Dzogchen: The Heart Essence of the Great Perfection (2001)
One who follows his nature keeps his original nature in the end.”
Orson Welles, The Lady from Shanghai (1947)