by Rev. Koshin Schomberg

Part VII
The Residual Buddha Nature

I ask, "Within Immaculacy, who is the true believer?"
It replies, "Your Eternal Lord."

Turning Within for Help

We take up the serious practice of meditation when we become aware at a deeply intuitive level that we need help of a kind that cannot come from outside ourselves. There is no proof or guarantee that we can find that help within ourselves. But somehow we know the help is there, and we are drawn to meditate in order to access it.

This is so very simple: an intuitive recognition of need; and an intuitive drawing within, rather than looking to external things and other people, for the help that can satisfy that need. This is the place from which one starts a great spiritual journey, a great spiritual adventure. And it is the place to which one returns again and again in order to continue the journey and the adventure.

In the beginning of that journey, we have to fly on faith. That is, we have to trust that there is a refuge to be found by turning within--a refuge that, from the more externalized, worldly point of view, can seem unreal and unattainable. After all, one cannot see it with the eyes, touch it, hear it, and so on. Or so it seems. Yet somehow we know that that inner refuge is there. It is not a "head" knowing; it can be said to be a "Heart" knowing. (I capitalize the word "Heart" because I am not speaking of the physical heart or the emotions.) This is the "knowing without knowing" of pure spiritual intuition.

The Glowing Embers

Fortunately, people who have done a great deal of contemplative training have been able to look back upon their experience with enlightened eyes. They have attempted to describe what it is that we intuit right from the beginning of our practice of meditation--indeed, what it is that brought us to that practice.

Imagine that we are in a very dark room. In the middle of the room is a brazier or hearth--perhaps just a circle of stones within which fires are made. There is no fire burning at present, but there are a few embers that softly glow in the dark. The metaphor of embers glowing in the dark has been a favorite way in which contemplative Buddhist monks have described our innate capacity to look up spiritually even in the midst of great confusion and pain. In How to Grow a Lotus Blossom this capacity to look up is represented by a beam of light that shines through even the darkest clouds. The metaphors are somewhat different, but the point is the same: there is always an inextinguishable spiritual Refuge within ourselves

In the midst of great difficulty, the refuge of our Heart may seem far away. In truth, It is always with us. And there is always a trace of It to which we can hold if we will but let go of externals and truly meditate. This "ember glowing in the dark" can be said to be a residual aspect of Buddha Nature in that, even when our brain is utterly confused and blinded to the Buddha Nature, we still have the capacity to intuit It. So it is as if there is a residue of Buddha Nature that no amount of confusion and pain can cover over and obscure from spiritual sight.

Fanning the Embers

When we practice meditation, and when we make the effort to bring the mind and heart of meditation into all conditions and circumstances of our daily life, we guard and nurture our residual Buddha Nature. It is as if we sit by the hearth in the dark and gently and continually fan the glowing embers.

What happens when we fan embers?--They glow more brightly. When they glow more brightly, the darkness is illumined, Thus does meditation and the practice of the Precepts penetrate and illumine the darkness of ignorance. For while those embers can never be fully extinguished, we can do a very good job of convincing ourselves that there is no refuge within our own Heart. When we train sincerely, we open our mind and heart to our own True Nature and allow It to remind us of Itself in all difficulty and in all need.

When the embers are fanned with Bodhisattvic willingness, the flame of longing love appears. The love that we experience as our love for the Eternal thus originates in the residual Buddha Nature. In other words "our" love is a part of Infinite Love. We can be a conduit or instrument of this Love, but we do not own It and we do not create It. The ignorance that blinds us to the Source of all love, and the confused clinging and hatred that comes from this ignorance, are the root causes of suffering. Yet even within the darkness of darkest ignorance the embers of our residual Buddha Nature softly glow and quietly wait.

The Residual Buddha Nature and Karma

The residual Buddha Nature reveals Itself amidst all the twistings and turnings of our karmic inheritance in the form of the underlying purity of intention of all actions. Beings do actions that result in suffering--sometimes terrible suffering--not because they are evil by nature, but because, in their ignorance, they act out of "greed, hate and delusion that have no beginning."

Insight into the residual Buddha Nature within our karmic past does not come from theorizing, but as a result of direct intuitive insight into the motivation of particular actions. With such insight, sympathy extends even to those who perpetrate the greatest misery upon living beings. And neither the underlying purity of intention nor sympathy prevent the law of cause and effect from functioning fully. The law of karma is inexorable: suffering inevitably follows non-Preceptual action.

This teaching that there is both an underlying purity of intention and the full functioning of the law of karma in all human action is one of the most important teachings of Buddhism. And, like all Buddhist teachings, we can prove it true for ourselves. This takes time and much training. While we are working on it, we need to remember that if we wilfully refuse to recognize the residual Buddha Nature of another person who we view as having perpetrated evil, we ourselves perpetrate evil. As the Buddha said, hatred does not cure hatred. Sooner or later, we will turn upon ourselves the very hammer of judgment that we drop on another person. No matter what anyone else in the world does, each person makes his or her own choices and will reap the consequences thereof.

The understanding of this teaching thoroughly permeates Rev. Master's wonderful Commentary on the Precepts (Plate XII; first edition, Plate VIII). As she says in one place in the Commentary, "Look with the mind of a Buddha and I will see the heart of a Buddha." It is easy to see the heart of a Buddha in a saint. It is not so easy to see it in a Hitler. Yet both saint and sinner had, have and always will have the wonderful, inextinguishable residual Buddha Nature. The actions of the saint result in a preponderance of merit; those of the great sinner result in a preponderance of misery. And there is a Path that leads to the full cessation of suffering: guard, treasure and nurture the residual Buddha Nature.


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