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Gene Reeves on the Concept of Buddha-nature

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Gene Reeves on the Concept of Buddha-nature

Postby Boatman Bodhisattva on Sat Jul 08, 2017 9:31 am

It's a common theme or teaching in East Asian Buddhism that universal Buddha-nature is a single underlying principle to the universe that gives all beings the potential for enlightenment.

Rather than having this metaphysical interpretation to Buddha-nature, I tend to prefer a more pragmatic approach to the concept. This is from Gene Reeve's introduction to the Lotus Sutra:

The idea in this sutra that everyone has the ability to become a Buddha gave rise to the association of the sutra with the notion of Buddha-nature as found in somewhat later Mahayana sutras.

The term “Buddha-nature” is another powerful expression of the reality and importance of the one Buddha in many embodiments. One’s Buddha-nature is both the Buddha’s and one’s own. Consequently, anyone can develop an ability to see the Buddha in others, their Buddha-nature. Thus, to awaken is to see, to see the Buddha, or as the text often says, to see countless buddhas.

It would be a great mistake, I think, to reify this notion, turning it into some sort of substantial reality underlying ordinary realities, something that is easy to do and is often done. In the text itself, it seems to me, Buddha-nature has no such ontological status. It is mainly a skillful way of indicating a potential, a potential with real power, to move in the direction of being a buddha by taking up the bodhisattva way.
http://www.wisdompubs.org/book/lotus-sutra/introduction


Rather than seeing Buddha-nature as some underlying cosmic principle, which may or may not exist, I tend to just see it as every being's innate potential for enlightenment through Buddhist practices and leave it at that. There’s no need to complicate it.
Last edited by Boatman Bodhisattva on Sat Jul 08, 2017 10:42 am, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: Gene Reeves on the Concept of Buddha-nature

Postby TigerDuck on Sat Jul 08, 2017 9:55 am

One of the misunderstanding regarding buddha-nature is buddha-nature is seen as a potential.

Buddha-nature is not a potential that can grow or can diminish.

Let's say we see a mirror. The reflection of the mirror is not a potential. Whether it can reflect more or not, it depends on how many dirt it have on the surface.

Another example is space. Space is unobstructive. How to improve the unobstructive of space? How to decrease it?

Buddha-nature is simply there all the time, like space all the time is there.

Through nonconceptuality, he is immovable.

[Nagarjuna]
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Re: Gene Reeves on the Concept of Buddha-nature

Postby macdougdoug on Sat Jul 08, 2017 10:17 am

Boatman Bodhisattva wrote:
Rather than seeing Buddha-nature as some underlying cosmic principle, which may or may not exist, I tend to just see it as every being's inner potential for enlightenment and leave it at that. There’s no need to complicate it.


For sure complication is a danger inherent in our analytic habit/karma as human beings. Always judging, discriminating etc. When listening to most teachings, I reckon its best to remain fearless and open hearted : if the teachings hit the spot or have a liberating effect, now or later, then so be it. The danger is always in analysis and conclusion, as these are always self centred; and only contribute to building up our already complex/confused/conflictual world view.

I'm far from knowledgeable re the Lotus sutra, but methinks it does touch upon the idea of 'skilful means' ie. that what is spoken by the buddhas should not be given definitive form as real things.
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Re: Gene Reeves on the Concept of Buddha-nature

Postby Boatman Bodhisattva on Sat Jul 08, 2017 10:39 am

TigerDuck wrote:One of the misunderstanding regarding buddha-nature is buddha-nature is seen as a potential.


Seeing Buddha-nature as a potential simply means that all people, without exclusion, can attain enlightenment through Buddhist practices. It doesn't need to be complicated or mysterious. Buddha-nature, in simplest terms, is just a trait that people have, like red hair or green eyes.
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Re: Gene Reeves on the Concept of Buddha-nature

Postby Caodemarte on Sat Jul 08, 2017 1:24 pm

As I understand it, Buddha Natute in Buddhism is not really a potential or a cosmic principle in Buddhism, although these terms may used be as similes as the Reeves quote says. Buddha Nature is not a thing. It is your nature. It is the nature of the afflictions. The water in the waves is not different from the waves or the waves from the water. Perspectives may shift from focusing on the waves to focusing on the depth of the ocean, but the water does not change.
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Re: Gene Reeves on the Concept of Buddha-nature

Postby Boatman Bodhisattva on Sat Jul 08, 2017 1:46 pm

On a Zen Buddhist forum, we might need to be mindful of how our understanding of Buddha-nature might be influenced by a particular Zen teacher or tradition. Zen master Dogen's understanding of Buddha-nature, for example, was different from previous understandings of Buddha-nature:

Eihei Dogen (1200-1253) "made a paradigm shift when he translated a phrase rendered in the Chinese version of the Nirvana Sutra from 'All sentient beings have Buddha nature' to 'All existents are Buddha nature,'" wrote Buddhist scholar Paula Arai in Bringing Zen Home, the Healing Heart of Japanese Women's Rituals. "Moreover, by removing an explicit verb the whole phrase becomes an activity. The implications of this grammatical shift continue to reverberate. Some could interpret this move as the logical conclusion of a nondualistic philosophy."
https://www.thoughtco.com/buddha-nature-doctrine-450001


When Gene Reeves presents his understanding of Buddha-nature, it's intended for a general audience, not a specifically Zen audience.
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Re: Gene Reeves on the Concept of Buddha-nature

Postby Caodemarte on Sat Jul 08, 2017 2:40 pm

Boatman Bodhisattva wrote:On a Zen Buddhist forum, we might need to be mindful of how our understanding of Buddha-nature might be influenced by a particular Zen teacher or tradition. Zen Dogen's understanding of Buddha-nature, for example, was different from previous understandings of Buddha-nature:

Eihei Dogen (1200-1253) "made a paradigm shift when he translated a phrase rendered in the Chinese version of the Nirvana Sutra from 'All sentient beings have Buddha nature' to 'All existents are Buddha nature,'" wrote Buddhist scholar Paula Arai in Bringing Zen Home, the Healing Heart of Japanese Women's Rituals. "Moreover, by removing an explicit verb the whole phrase becomes an activity. The implications of this grammatical shift continue to reverberate. Some could interpret this move as the logical conclusion of a nondualistic philosophy."
https://www.thoughtco.com/buddha-nature-doctrine-450001


When Gene Reeves presents his understanding of Buddha-nature, it's intended for a general audience, not a specifically Zen audience.


I would never say that Dogen intended a paradigm shift or even a change in East Asian thought (perhaps a change in stress). It is a clear restatement of what is in the sutras as understood in East Asia and Madyamaka/Yogacara thought which forms the basis of East Asian Buddhist thought. It is no sense meant as an addition to Mahayana, but only intended as clarifying language. I don't think the Reeves' quote, which clearly states that Buddha Nature has no ontological status says anything different from this. Please don't confuse what the OP says about how Buddha Nature was taught in East Asia and what Reeves says. They are different.

In fact, the traditional criticism of the Buddha Nature concept as teaching device (that is what Buddhist philosophy is) was that it was too easily mistaken for a metaphysical or cosmic principle, an atmam, or something people actually had or possessed like a purse.
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Re: Gene Reeves on the Concept of Buddha-nature

Postby jundo on Sat Jul 08, 2017 5:53 pm

Caodemarte wrote:
I would never say that Dogen intended a paradigm shift or even a change in East Asian thought (perhaps a change in stress). It is a clear restatement of what is in the sutras as understood in East Asia and Madyamaka/Yogacara thought which forms the basis of East Asian Buddhist thought. It is no sense meant as an addition to Mahayana, but only intended as clarifying language. I don't think the Reeves' quote, which clearly states that Buddha Nature has no ontological status says anything different from this. Please don't confuse what the OP says about how Buddha Nature was taught in East Asia and what Reeves says. They are different.

In fact, the traditional criticism of the Buddha Nature concept as teaching device (that is what Buddhist philosophy is) was that it was too easily mistaken for a metaphysical or cosmic principle, an atmam, or something people actually had or possessed like a purse.


Sallie King has an interesting little book, now a few decades old, called "Buddha Nature", which looks specifically at a 6th Century Chinese text called the "Buddha Nature Treatise" (Fo Hsing Lun 仏性論) traditionally attributed to Vasubandhu.

https://books.google.co.jp/books?id=e6T ... navlinks_s

To make a long story short, such treatise also uses language that might anticipate "are Buddha Nature" when the meaning of "Buddha Nature" moves from merely the potential for enlightenment to being equivalent to tathagatagarbha itself. However, in good Mahayana fashion, it play both sides of the streetless street to step beyond the reification of Buddha Nature as thing. I cannot pull up the discussion from the book, but she covers some of the same ground in a paper.
http://seattlebetsuin.org/wp-content/up ... nature.pdf

At the simplest level, Buddha nature thought may be summed up in the phrase, 'all sentient beings possess the Buddha nature'. This means that everyone has the potential to achieve Buddhahood or full enlightenment. ... On another level, the Buddha nature is identified with the tathagatagarbha (ju lai tsang ya ) As garbha may mean either womb or embryo, tathagatagarbha may stand for either womb of the Buddhas or embryonic Buddha. In other words, it can be seen either as the potential to realize enlightenment which we all possess or as perfect enlightenment itself. It is said that everyone possesses the tathagatagarbha (just as everyone is said to possess the Buddha nature). In tathagatagarbha theory as such, however, we encounter the additional notion that the tathdgatagarbha is covered up by adventitious defilements' (Jgantukakle&a, k'o ch'en iri). These defilements are such things as greed, anger, ignorance, etc. and it is they that account for our ignorance and suffering. They cover up the reality of the tathagatagarbha, which is enlightenment, and conceal it so that we only know ourselves as greedy, angry, ignorant, etc. However, these defilements, unlike the tathagatagarbha, are not really real; ultimately, it is said, they do not exist. Buddha nature is identified with the tathligatagarbhand thus represents our originally given, perfectly enlightened nature.

In other words, the reality is that we are all already enlightened, but we are under the illusion that we are unwise or ignorant. This delusion itself is what makes us ignorant. However, there is nothing essential about it. If we can just free ourselves of this delusion, we will realize that we are and always have been, in reality, enlightened. This is basic Buddha nature thought.


...

The text points out that the heterodox conceive of the existence of self where there is none: in persons and in all of ordinary reality. It completely agrees with the andtman teaching that there is no self to be found in these things. However, it continues, it is the true, essential, eternal nature of things to lack a self. Therefore this lack of self is real; it is the real nature of things. Therefore it may be called 'self'. In order to distinguish it from the ideas of self that the unenlightened non-Buddhists hold, it is called 'perfection of self'. In other words, the perfection of self is no different from the lack of self. In realizing that all things lack self, one realizes their true nature - or what they are in themselves. Thus the idea of the perfection of self is not in conflict with the old anaitman teaching, but is said to be the fulfilment of it. The very lack of self, when thoroughly comprehended, is the perfection of self. Thus when it is said that the Buddha nature is the perfection of self, there is no conflict with the anatman teachings.


There is also an aspect of Buddha Nature in the Treatise that appears to foreshadow Dogen's "Practice Enlightenment" as one aspect of Original Enlightenment ...

We have seen how the Buddha nature concept is reconciled with the anaitman teaching in the Buddha Nature Treatise. Now we shall look at Zen in the light of this understanding. A key element in Buddha nature thought, as mentioned above, is the idea that the tathagatagarbha or Buddha nature is real, while the defilements (ignorance, greed, hatred, etc.) which encase and conceal it are utterly unreal
and non-existent. Since the defilements are unreal, there is no question of having to destroy them; they don't exist, therefore there is nothing to be destroyed. The understanding of practice is formulated accordingly. Since the defilements don't really exist, the only thing necessary is to become aware of one's own true and pure Buddha nature which is already enlightened, but concealed by the unreal defilements. ... ome in the past and present have feared that the Buddha nature doctrine would result in an attitude of disregard for Buddhist practice, the feared attitude being that since one already is Buddha (or possesses the Buddha nature) there is no need for practice. However, this attitude is not possible in a context in which the teachings of the Buddha Nature Treatise are understood. The Buddha nature is identical with Buddhist practice and, to say the same thing in other words, the on-going act of realization. The Buddha nature concept is meaningless outside the context of Buddhist practice. Thus it would seem the Zen school
was a natural place for the continuation of this tradition.

Again, the Zen saying that everyday mind or ordinary mind is Buddha mind closely fits the Buddha nature theory pattern. For example, the 8th century Chinese Master Ma-tsu says, 'All or you should realize that your
own mind is Buddha; that is, this mind is Buddha's mind.' As in Buddha nature thought, since the defilements are not real, there is nothing to inhibit the immediate identification of the present, deluded mind - just as it is - with the perfectly enlightened mind of the Buddha. Let it be noted, however, that this mind is Buddha - or Buddha nature - not as a thing which sees and
knows, but exclusively in the seeing and knowing - i.e. the acts - themselves. Again, Ma-tsu:

Those who seek for the Truth should realize that there is nothing to seek. There is
no Buddha but Mind; there is no Mind but Buddha ... Thoughts perpetually change
and cannot be grasped because they possess no self-nature. The Triple World is
nothing more than one's mind ... What are seen as forms are the reflections of the
mind. The mind does not exist by itself; its existence is manifested through forms.'

The mind or Buddha nature is not a thing which perceives, but the act of perceiving itself.


This presentation of Buddha Nature was a positive image meant to balance the negative felt by some to exist in Emptiness ...

The author of the Buddha Nature Treatise argues that though there is no such thing as a Buddha nature (no self; no such entity), one may rightly say that the not-self is the perfection of self. It is in the very reality of not-self or emptiness that we find the key to the perfection of self, or realization. The truth of not-self is real: it must be realized. Hence the crucial role of practice in both the Buddha Nature Treatise and Zen. If there were mere emptiness, understood (wrongly) in a purely negative sense, realization would not matter. But emptiness is the truth; it is reality. Hence it should be realized. This subtle, final step in Buddha nature logic is the heart of the proof of the importance of practice, so central in both the Buddha Nature Treatise and Zen. It is in the active (and in this sense positive) realizing of the emptiness of self that is found the perfection of self or Buddha nature. The act of realization is the crucial step which accords the Buddha Nature Treatise its positive tone and affirms the value of the Buddha Way. There is this realization; that is
why we may speak of a Buddha nature. The perspective of the Buddha Nature Treatise may perhaps be summarized in this quotation:

Buddha nature is the Thusness revealed by the twin emptiness of person and
things... If one does not speak of Buddha nature, then one does not understand
emptiness.'



Anyway, it is a very subtle presentation of Buddha Nature that seems to step right through and beyond many of the interpretations presented above, and which also might anticipate Dogen a bit.

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Re: Gene Reeves on the Concept of Buddha-nature

Postby desert_woodworker on Sat Jul 08, 2017 7:17 pm

BB,

Good to leave literature and "claims" aside, after a point, and take up a teacher's and sangha's way, and practice together.

Then, if one awakens, one may make one's "own" claim about who's "right" about the potential for awakening to our Original-Nature, by un-covering it.

Discussions via "literature" alone are impoverished, ...very sickly.

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Re: Gene Reeves on the Concept of Buddha-nature

Postby Caodemarte on Sat Jul 08, 2017 8:00 pm

Nice stuff Jundo.

I agree with the OP that we should not reify these concepts, and just want to point out that mainstream traditional East Asian Buddhism did not.

As I understand the Tathāgatagarbha sūtras include the Tathāgatagarbha Sūtra, Śrīmālādevī Siṃhanāda Sūtra, Mahāyāna Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra and the Aṅgulimālīya Sūtra. Related ideas are in found in the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra and Avataṃsaka Sūtra. All apparently came out of Inda but became more stressed in Central Asia and China With The Awakening of Faith, probably composed in China, and the Mahāyāna Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra, probably extended in Chin, these texts played an important role in the Zen school.

Yes, Joe, all this points back to actual practice. It is a pragmatic teaching in that sense. The more we refine our intellectual understanding the less we are caught up by it (if we do it right).
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Re: Gene Reeves on the Concept of Buddha-nature

Postby desert_woodworker on Sat Jul 08, 2017 8:07 pm

C.,

Caodemarte wrote:Yes, Joe, all this points back to actual practice. It is a pragmatic teaching in that sense. The more we refine our intellectual understanding the less we are caught up by it (if we do it right).

Thank you! Best wishes for strong practice,

(the more we refine our actual correct practice, the less we are bewitched by merely intellectual assertions of others),

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Re: Gene Reeves on the Concept of Buddha-nature

Postby Caodemarte on Sat Jul 08, 2017 8:10 pm

desert_woodworker wrote:C.,

Caodemarte wrote:Yes, Joe, all this points back to actual practice. It is a pragmatic teaching in that sense. The more we refine our intellectual understanding the less we are caught up by it (if we do it right).

Thank you! Best wishes for strong practice,

(the more we refine our actual correct practice, the less we are bewitched by merely intellectual assertions of others),

--Joe

:thumb r:
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Re: Gene Reeves on the Concept of Buddha-nature

Postby Boatman Bodhisattva on Sat Jul 08, 2017 11:17 pm

Caodemarte wrote:In fact, the traditional criticism of the Buddha Nature concept as teaching device (that is what Buddhist philosophy is) was that it was too easily mistaken for a metaphysical or cosmic principle, an atmam, or something people actually had or possessed like a purse.


Rather than worrying about whether or not Buddha-nature is a cosmic principle, I instead see it as each being's potential for enlightenment through the Bodhisattva way, and leave it at that. I used to be very focused on metaphysical speculation, but now I am more concerned with the practical application of Buddhist teachings.
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Re: Gene Reeves on the Concept of Buddha-nature

Postby jundo on Sun Jul 09, 2017 2:24 am

Boatman Bodhisattva wrote:
Caodemarte wrote:In fact, the traditional criticism of the Buddha Nature concept as teaching device (that is what Buddhist philosophy is) was that it was too easily mistaken for a metaphysical or cosmic principle, an atmam, or something people actually had or possessed like a purse.


Rather than worrying about whether or not Buddha-nature is a cosmic principle, I instead see it as each being's potential for enlightenment through the Bodhisattva way, and leave it at that. I used to be very focused on metaphysical speculation, but now I am more concerned with the practical application of Buddhist teachings.


Let each person reveal one's own way of "Buddha Nature"!

I believe that encountering Buddha Nature as the transcendence of the self-other divide, and the flowing Wholeness which is the Emptiness of all things, is not mere "metaphysical speculation", but the most practical of practical applications. Simultaneously, such is the potential for enlightenment through the Bodhisattva way and the realization (making real) of such through each word thought and act.

But that is just me (and just not me :) )

Gassho, J

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Re: Gene Reeves on the Concept of Buddha-nature

Postby Boatman Bodhisattva on Fri Jul 21, 2017 8:20 pm

According to Zen master Dogen, all Buddha-nature is one. This is because, according to Dogen, the whole of existence itself is Buddha-nature:

It is said that Dogen Zenji gave a unique interpretation to Buddha-nature by writing the following paragraph.
"The “all” is none other than sentient beings and living beings. Thus, all are Buddha
nature. One form of all beings is sentient beings. At this very moment, the inside and
outside of sentient beings are the “all are” of Buddha-nature."
It is said that Dogen Zenji denies Buddha-nature as an intrinsic essence, which is implied by the
statement that “all have Buddha-nature,” by interpreting that sentence as “all are Buddha-nature.”
http://global.sotozen-net.or.jp/eng/lib ... erms13.pdf
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Re: Gene Reeves on the Concept of Buddha-nature

Postby Caodemarte on Fri Jul 21, 2017 10:50 pm

Boatman Bodhisattva wrote:According to Zen master Dogen, all Buddha-nature is one. This is because, according to Dogen, the whole of existence itself is Buddha-nature:

It is said that Dogen Zenji gave a unique interpretation to Buddha-nature by writing the following paragraph.
"The “all” is none other than sentient beings and living beings. Thus, all are Buddha
nature. One form of all beings is sentient beings. At this very moment, the inside and
outside of sentient beings are the “all are” of Buddha-nature."
It is said that Dogen Zenji denies Buddha-nature as an intrinsic essence, which is implied by the
statement that “all have Buddha-nature,” by interpreting that sentence as “all are Buddha-nature.”
http://global.sotozen-net.or.jp/eng/lib ... erms13.pdf


Thank you for the referenced article. It is very good. As the rest of the referenced article continues on to point out out the impression that well trained Dogen gave a unique interpretation in terms of content is mistaken. He was criticizing a popular mistake (at least a mistake from the common othodox Mahayana view).

"But that subject was already carefully treated in Mahaparinirvana Sutra by the discussion on the self. We should understand that Dogen Zenji, following the sutra, simply criticized the popular theory of Buddha-nature in those days that interpreted Buddha-nature as some actual substance within sentient beings. The sentence “The inside and outside of sentient beings are the ‘all are’ of Buddha-nature” may imply that the beings called “sentient beings” are only a part of Buddha-nature which is all beings. Sentient beings are Buddha-nature itself."

Please note that I am not telling anybody (least of all Dogen's heavily armed contemporaries :ninja: ) what "Buddha nature" actually is or is not, but just discussing how the concept was, AFAIK, historically taught and defined and used in mainstream Mahayana.
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Re: Gene Reeves on the Concept of Buddha-nature

Postby fukasetsu on Sat Jul 22, 2017 1:34 pm

Boatman Bodhisattva wrote:According to Zen master Dogen, all Buddha-nature is one. This is because, according to Dogen, the whole of existence itself is Buddha-nature:


It doesn't matter much to me, when I use the word I mean "dwelling place or containing place"
Because I have Buddha-nature dwelling in me, I can potentially recognize true nature from which ofcourse I'm never seperate from like sunlight is not seperate from the sun. My cup of coffee and the coffee within is all dharmakaya, yet saying if I drink coffee I'm drinking the dharmakaya could be a ridiculous statement, for someone else (or in a different circumstance) I am drinking the dharmakaya is a valid statement.
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Re: Gene Reeves on the Concept of Buddha-nature

Postby TTT on Sun Jul 23, 2017 5:42 am

Boatman Bodhisattva wrote:It's a common theme or teaching in East Asian Buddhism that universal Buddha-nature is a single underlying principle to the universe that gives all beings the potential for enlightenment.

Rather than having this metaphysical interpretation to Buddha-nature, I tend to prefer a more pragmatic approach to the concept. This is from Gene Reeve's introduction to the Lotus Sutra:

The idea in this sutra that everyone has the ability to become a Buddha gave rise to the association of the sutra with the notion of Buddha-nature as found in somewhat later Mahayana sutras.

The term “Buddha-nature” is another powerful expression of the reality and importance of the one Buddha in many embodiments. One’s Buddha-nature is both the Buddha’s and one’s own. Consequently, anyone can develop an ability to see the Buddha in others, their Buddha-nature. Thus, to awaken is to see, to see the Buddha, or as the text often says, to see countless buddhas.

It would be a great mistake, I think, to reify this notion, turning it into some sort of substantial reality underlying ordinary realities, something that is easy to do and is often done. In the text itself, it seems to me, Buddha-nature has no such ontological status. It is mainly a skillful way of indicating a potential, a potential with real power, to move in the direction of being a buddha by taking up the bodhisattva way.
http://www.wisdompubs.org/book/lotus-sutra/introduction



Rather than seeing Buddha-nature as some underlying cosmic principle, which may or may not exist, I tend to just see it as every being's innate potential for enlightenment through Buddhist practices and leave it at that. There’s no need to complicate it.


I have hade a copy of Gene Reeve´s Lotus Sutra, i my home.

Its a plea to all beings to Wake up!

When a Think of this Great Sutra i remember a vers about karma and interdependens conected the the Buddha-nature.

I can not remember the verse now, but its an intresting verse.


Seeing the Buddha in one - self and seeing the Buddha in others, is the same thing.

In the sutra as stated above, by Gene Reeves. "One’s Buddha-nature is both the Buddha’s and one’s own"

/magnus
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Re: Gene Reeves on the Concept of Buddha-nature

Postby TTT on Sun Jul 23, 2017 5:48 am

macdougdoug wrote:
I'm far from knowledgeable re the Lotus sutra, but methinks it does touch upon the idea of 'skilful means' ie. that what is spoken by the buddhas should not be given definitive form as real things.


What do you mean?
When
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Re: Gene Reeves on the Concept of Buddha-nature

Postby TTT on Sun Jul 23, 2017 5:51 am

Boatman Bodhisattva wrote:
TigerDuck wrote:One of the misunderstanding regarding buddha-nature is buddha-nature is seen as a potential.


Seeing Buddha-nature as a potential simply means that all people, without exclusion, can attain enlightenment through Buddhist practices. It doesn't need to be complicated or mysterious. Buddha-nature, in simplest terms, is just a trait that people have, like red hair or green eyes.



Can i have it, the Buddha nature?
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