Enlightenment really consists of recognizing the Buddha nature that is within us already.
Our Buddha nature is our true self. It’s the self that is one with everything and realizes that fact. It’s the self that is fully enlightened and perfect. In reality, it’s who we are right now, even if we don’t realize it.
It’s not some goal to be achieved—each and every one of us is fully enlightened already. We just have to awaken to that fact. We just have to conquer the delusions that prevent us from realizing the fundamental truth of our being. It’s not an easy goal, but there are special methods and practices that are designed to help us on the path. Few choose to be on the path and many give up.
When we have enlightening experiences that help us start to recognize our true nature, they help us stay motivated to remain on the path. As long as we don’t forget and become deluded again, the motivation will remain present.
Buddha nature is a key concept in Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism. It simply means that we are all enlightened already. It is just because we are suffering from delusion that we don’t realize it. We don’t think of enlightenment as something to be achieved, like a trophy. If we contemplate this deeply, it is very significant.
I am enlightened and so are you. Stop and think about that for a minute.
If I am enlightened already, then I can celebrate my success right now. I certainly don’t need to feel bad about not getting enlightened sooner. If I am enlightened already, then the Buddhist path doesn’t seem nearly as daunting. If all I am doing is clearing away delusion, that seems a lot more achievable than getting some high spiritual goal.
My daughter is interested in Buddhism and gets very excited about the whole thing. Meditating, chanting mantras, and listening to dharma talks are very exciting to her. She inspires me to want to be a better Buddhist.
And she makes me ask the question: why aren’t we more excited about Buddhist practice?
She doesn’t say, “Om mani padme hum”—she shouts it. Children yell Buddhist mantras because they get excited. And they should be excited. The Avalokiteshvara mantra is supposed to awaken great compassion within us. That should be exciting.
So why aren’t people more excited? I can’t answer that, but I think they should be. I think we can be excited about Buddhism, especially if we have confidence and faith. Not faith in something ‘out there’ that will help us—faith in ourselves.
Our delusions are deep seated and difficult to remove. But our true nature is enlightened already, so there is a reason to have confidence in our ability. We just have to put in the work. We have to take steps to awaken ourselves through the paths of conduct, insight, and concentration. These three things are very important to the path.
How do we unleash our Buddha nature? Our main tool for this is meditation. Our minds are full of constant distraction. Our true nature is right there for us to recognize, but we don’t because our minds keep us deluded with nonstop mental chatter and noise. We get caught in our ego, which falls into the delusion that we aren’t enlightened very easily.
We meditate to deal with this.
Meditation is a method of quieting the mind, of getting the mind to the point ‘before thought,’ where we are just observing what’s going on instead of getting caught up in distracting thoughts. When we meditate we can start to bring our awareness to our true nature.
A daily meditation practice is recommended. Just 20 or 30 minutes a day. As we start to meditate, we will realize that we are one with everything. Our delusions will slowly start to be stripped away. We will become better people naturally.
If we try to act as though we are enlightened already, that helps. It’s easier to meditate when we are kind to others. It’s also easier to clear away delusion. Selfishness and anger cause us to accumulate more delusion, so working hard to manage these negative emotions is very helpful too.
Meditation is the cornerstone of Buddhist practice. We can have an intellectual understanding of Buddha nature and other spiritual concepts, but it’s meditation that allows us to actually experience it. Without meditation, we aren’t really experiencing anything.
Knowledge without experience is not what Buddhism is about. Buddhism is not so much a belief system as a path. It is more something we do than something we believe. Meditation is the most crucial tool to clearing away our delusions and unleashing our Buddha nature.
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Assistant Ed: Ben Neal/Ed: Brianna Bemel