The Ven. Geshe Sonam Rinchen taught a course on Buddha nature during the latter part of 2000 to international students attending classes on Buddhist philosophy and practice at the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives in Dharamsala. He explained the topic in terms of the four main schools of Buddhist philosophy, drawing on Vasubandhu’s Abbidharmakosa (Chos mgon pai mdzod) for the Vaibhashika and Sautrantika view and on Maitreya’s Mahayanasutralamkara (Tek pa chen poi mdo sdei rgyan) and Mahayanottaratantra (Tek pa chen poi rgyud bla ma) for the Chittamatra and Madhyamika views.
It is hoped that this small book will be of special value to its readers by helping them to recognize their own hidden potential to become enlightened.
We would like to thank Linda Roman for her valuable editorial assistance.
Do all living being ultimately become enlightened? Do we have Buddha nature, the seed of enlightenment? These questions concerning an ordinary living being’s potential to become a Buddha, the purest from of existence, are the main topic of this book. Based on the views of the three major Buddhist schools of Buddhist schools of Buddhist philosophy – Vaibhasika, Cittamatrin and Madhyamaka – Geshe Sonam Rinchen explains how our minds, though stained by temporary defilements, are innately pure, luminous and cognizant and how we can become aware of the mind’s clear light nature.
Geshe Sonam Rinchen was born in 1933 in the Tehor region of Kham, Tibet. He began his religious studies at Dhargye Monastery and later entered Sera Je Monastery at Lhasa. He continued his studies in India after his escape from Tibet in 1959 and received the Geshe Lharampa degree in 1980. He is at present a resident teacher at the Library of Tibetan Works & Archives, Dharamsala, India, where he teaches Buddhist philosophy and pratice to international students.
Ruth Sonam holds an M.A. degree from Oxford University. She has acted as interpreter and translator for Geshe Sonam Rinchen since1983.
There is a commonly held western view that Buddhism is profoundly pessimistic because of the Buddha’s emphasis on the inevitability and ubiquity of physical and mental suffering and because of his insistence on the need to contemplate the imminence of our own death. His teaching is, therefore, erroneously regarded as fostering a rejection of life and a yearning for extinction. Nothing could be further from the truth, and the joy and vitality of many authentic practitioners are living proof of this fact.
The Buddha’s teaching is, on the country, supremely optimistic, for the he points to the hidden potential we possess, of which most of us are totally unaware. He is like a water diving who reveals to us an inexhaustible source of pure water. This potential, variously referred to as the seed for uncontaminated mind, the disposition or as Buddha nature, is present in every living being but needs to be activated through a constellation of positive conditions. As human beings, who enjoy all kinds of good fortune and freedom form limitations and obstacles, we are in the ideal position to create and meet with these conditions.
We are not condemned to remain as are, helplessly, governed by confusion and by our many disturbing emotions, which frequently compel us to act in destructive ways. Nor do we need to await the grace of some higher being. Through activating our inner potential or basic disposition, we can free ourselves from all faults all faults and develop undreamed of marvelous abilities, which culminate in the attainment of enlightenment. We, too, can become Buddhas. For this enterprise we need the skilled guidance of spiritual teachers, but the ultimate responsibility lies with us because it is through our own efforts that this hidden treasure will be unearthed to make us rich beyond measure.
The Buddha lays bare the different layers of suffering we experience to make us fully acknowledge it, so that we will look for a way to rid ourselves of it. He compels us to examine the turbulent states of mind act as a basic for this suffering, so that we can begin to uproot them. He stresses the ephemeral nature of our present good fortune and the imminence of death to give us a sense of urgency and the impetus to begin the process of awakening and fulfilling our potential now.
Western psychology is primarily concerned with describing unhealthy emotions and states of mind. Buddhist psychology also does this but goes further to delineate all those emotions and states of mind which can contribute to our transformation and full flowering. The Buddha’s teaching shows us how to rid ourselves of those mental activities which act as obstacles to our development and to our own and other’s well-being and how to cultivate those which are beneficial and bring true happiness.
Although at times we may feel that our negative emotions are so deeply ingrained and habitual that they seem to be an integral part of us, the Buddha’s message is that these are like pollutants in water and that our mental activity can be distilled because of the clear light nature of our minds which is fundamentally good and untainted. This is indisputably a source of great hope and optimism.
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