Sunday Dharma: Original Nature of Human Beings

Tsung-mi (780-841) was an immensely important figure in Chinese Buddhism. Regarded as both the fifth and final patriarch of the Flower Garland School and a Ch’an (Zen) Master of the Ho-tse School, he was a forgotten figure until about two decades ago. Today’s post is an excerpt from the Yuan Jen or On the Original Nature of Human Beings, often used as a primer of Mahayana teachings.

Revealing Directly the Original Nature

All sentient beings have been endowed with the true mind of original enlightenment. From the beginningless beginning this mind has been constant, pure, luminous, and unobscured; it has always been characterized by bright cognition; it is called the Buddha Nature or the Womb of the Awakened.

From the beginningless beginning the delusions of human beings has obscured it so that they have not been aware of it. Because they recognize in themselves only the ordinary person’s characteristics, they indulge in lives of attachment, increasing the bond of karmic power and receiving the sufferings of birth and death. Out of compassion for them, The Awakened One taught that everything is empty; then he revealed to all that the true mind of spiritual enlightenment is pure and is identical with that of the Buddhas.

Therefore, in the Flower Garland Sutra it is said: “O son of Buddha, there is not even a single sentient being who is not endowed with the wisdom of the Awakened, but, owing to delusion, beings are unable to realize this. Once freed from delusion, then transcendent wisdom, natural wisdom, and unobstructed wisdom will arise.”

Furthermore, the Sutra states that a particle of dust contains within itself one thousand volumes of the sutras. “A particle of dust” is compared to a sentient being, and the “Sutra” to the wisdom of Buddha. Still further in the Sutra, we read: “At that time the Buddha observed all the sentient beings in the phenomenal world and uttered these words, ‘Strange, strange, that these sentient beings, who are endowed with the wisdom of the Awakened, not realizing this wisdom are being misled. I must teach them the Noble Paths and free them forever from their delusions so that they can see in themselves the boundless great wisdom of the Awakened Ones, so that they may be no different from the Buddhas.’”

For a long time we have not met with the true doctrine and have been unable to understand how to reflect upon ourselves and search for the original nature ourselves. We have been deeply attached to the characteristics which appear though our illusions, being content with our baseness and unconcerned over being born sometimes as human beings and sometimes as beasts, but now on the basis of this last doctrine, we have traced our origin and realized finally that we are from the outset Buddhas. Therefore, we should carry out our deeds in accordance with those of the Buddha, and identify our mind with that of the Buddha.

Returning to and reinstating ourselves in the root and source, we should sever the habits we had as ordinary persons. We must give up these habits and further give up even the attempt at abandonment until in the end we reach the state of “non-action” [wu-wei] wherein we can be spontaneously active, accommodating ourselves to as many situations as there are gains of sand in the Ganges. Then we will be called Buddhas.

It should be known that both non-enlightenment and enlightenment are aspects of the same true mind. How great is this mysterious gate to the source! Here ends the search for the original nature of human beings.

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