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The Dalai Lama: "On Buddha Nature"

9 March 2010

On Buddha Nature

His Holiness the Dalai Lama

From Buddha’s viewpoint, a human being has—through training, through practice—has what we call the highest enlightened mental state. So through practice, a human being, through a sort of purification one’s own mental state, can eventually, finally, become an enlightened one. Even Buddha himself, in order to get final enlightenment, needed hard work.

In his previous lives, Buddha is like some others [in the] Indian tradition; sometimes as a human being, sometimes as an animal, but then gradually, his practice becomes higher and higher, deeper, deeper. And then, at last, his birth as a human being as the son in one small kingdom. At that stage, he is enlightened.

Every sentient being—even insects—have Buddha nature. The seed of Buddha means consciousness, the cognitive power—the seed of enlightenment. That’s from Buddha’s viewpoint. All these destructive things can be removed from the mind, so therefore there’s no reason to believe some sentient being cannot become Buddha. So every sentient being has that seed.

Buddha in the public eye is still a human being. He acted like a human being. So sometimes he also failed to influence some people. Then sometimes he wants to express his sort of sadness like that or disappointment. One time, one king takes some action to kill many of the Shakya clan. Buddha belongs to that clan, that tribe. So that day, Buddha, under one dry tree, remained sad, and he sees his kind as the same as hundreds of other tribes killed. So he shared their sort of sadness.

He failed to perform a miracle. So Buddha says, “these things are due to individuals' karma.” Buddha cannot change their karma like that. So Buddha can teach them how to change their own karma—show their path. So unless they themselves practice—change emotion, change action—then Buddha cannot do much. Sometimes Tibetans say, “oh, the Buddha failed to protect us,” but actually according to Buddhism, it’s very clear; unless we carry some certain discipline and create a positive karma, [then] the consequences [we] have to face, have to take.

In order to develop unbiased infinite love, you first need the practice of detach[ment]. But "detach" does not mean to give up desire. Desire must be there. Without desire, how can we live our life? Without desire, how can we achieve Buddhahood? Strong desire to become Buddha; but desire to be harmful, that’s bad—but desire to self right that also the concept of ego, I, self, itself is nature, and in fact in order to develop self confidence and willpower, we need a sense of strong self. It’s very necessary in order to tackle all these biological factors of hatred, or anger, these things [for which] you need tremendous sort of will power. So the self-confidence is very, very important, but the ego which disregards other’s right—that is bad. In other words, I think egotistic attitude based on ignorance is negative. Egotistic sort of feeling based on reasons is positive.

Then, whether Buddha’s physical [body] is there or not, Buddha’s spirit is always there. Now for example, my own case. I’m a small practitioner of Buddhism, so historical Buddha now [gone] for more than 2600 years, but to me and many other practitioners Buddha is still very much alive. Maybe [we’re] wrong. Maybe superstition, I don’t know, but of course you see although I have no such experience. Some of my friends, you see, actually have seen Buddha and receive some teaching from Buddha. So Buddha’s spirit must be there.

Buddha also stated “you are your own master.” Future, everything depends on your own shoulder. Buddha’s responsibility is just to show the path, that’s all.

These are excepts from an interview conducted by David Grubin for The Buddha.


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