Freedom From Buddha Nature by Thanissaro Bhikkhu & Zen Master Dogen

Exploring Theravāda's connections to other paths. What can we learn from other traditions, religions and philosophies?
Santi253
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Freedom From Buddha Nature by Thanissaro Bhikkhu & Zen Master Dogen

Post by Santi253 » Fri May 19, 2017 8:27 am

I am reading this article by Thanissaro Bhikkhu, and I don't think it applies to Buddha-nature as understood by Zen master Dogen. Please forgive me if I'm wrong:
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... ature.html

Dogen understood Buddha-nature, not as an innate nature of individual beings like a soul or spirit, but instead as Being itself:
…the continental Chinese doctrine that holds that all beings possess Buddha-nature is completely transformed and radicalized in conformity with Dogen’s attempt absolutely to overcome all dualisms, such as those of acquired and intrinsic enlightenment, Buddha and ordinary beings, practice and enlightenment, and the like.

Dogen’s point, and it is one of the hallmarks of his brand of Buddhism, is that all beings are Buddha, and by “beings” Dogen means both sentient and insentient—everything without exception. On one level, distinctions remain and are significant; however, on another level, all distinctions are united and resolved, insofar as all things are merely the presencing of things as they are, or the presencing of reality.

In Dogen’s well-known reading of the passage from the Nirvana Sutra that says that all sentient beings possess Buddha-nature, the meaning comes to be “All are sentient beings and the total being is Buddha-nature.” This means that the total being just as it is is Buddha…
https://journals.ub.uni-heidelberg.de/i ... /8591/2498
For Dogen, Buddha-nature is nothing other than impermanence. To realize Buddha-nature is to realize the truth of impermanence:
If one can train oneself through diligence, one can see the impermanence of all things, including the lack of a permanent self. This very existence is Nirvāna. "Birth and death, coming and going, are the real body of the Buddha." In this way, the metaphysical truth of impermanence provides the solution to the problem of birth and death. It is because all things (including oneself) are impermanent that one is not "stuck" permanently in a state of suffering. It is because all [p42] things are impermanent that Buddhahood is possible. In other words, the very impermanence of things is their Buddha-nature. [54]

Since impermanence is Buddha-nature, Buddha-nature is also a metaphysical characteristic of reality as such, always and everywhere present. However, to call Buddha-nature a metaphysical characteristic of reality as such may suggest that Buddha-nature is some special kind of being or entity, and Dōgen works hard to oppose such interpretations. He spends a great deal of time distinguishing his teaching from empirical and supernatural interpretations of Buddha-nature, and one could fairly say that Dōgen's primary goal is deconstructing this idea, rather than stating a position about it.
http://www.thezensite.com/ZenEssays/Dog ... Dogen.html
This is Dogen's chapter on Buddha-nature in its entirety:
http://www.thezensite.com/ZenTeachings/ ... bussho.pdf
Last edited by Santi253 on Mon May 22, 2017 5:04 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Freedom From Buddha Nature by Thanissaro Bhikkhu & Zen Master Dogen

Post by BasementBuddhist » Fri May 19, 2017 11:25 am

Hmm. Interesting. I always thought that everyone looked at Buddha nature from Dogen's P.ov. The Dhamma is pretty clear about the nature of souls and their variants.

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Re: Freedom From Buddha Nature by Thanissaro Bhikkhu & Zen Master Dogen

Post by binocular » Fri May 19, 2017 4:18 pm

Santi253 wrote:Dogen understood Buddha-nature, not as an innate nature of individual beings like a soul or spirit, but instead as Being itself:
What is the purpose of the concept "Buddha nature"?

Why should we take the concept "Buddha nature" to heart?

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Re: Freedom From Buddha Nature by Thanissaro Bhikkhu & Zen Master Dogen

Post by Santi253 » Sat May 20, 2017 8:56 am

Buddha-nature is simply the potential of sentient beings to attain enlightenment through Buddhist practices. It would have been unfair for the Buddha to teach the Dharma if he didn't think people had the ability to practice it and realize enlightenment.

For Dogen, attaining enlightenment, coming to the realization of Buddha-nature, is simply realizing the truth of dependent origination, impermanence and non-self. The experience of realizing Buddha-nature is transcending the false sense of separation we feel between our "self" and all impermanent things.

This is why he said that the entirety of Being is Buddha-nature, rather than Buddha-nature as some sort of atman or spirit that individual beings possess.
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Re: Freedom From Buddha Nature by Thanissaro Bhikkhu & Zen Master Dogen

Post by chownah » Sat May 20, 2017 12:45 pm

Santi253 wrote: For Dogen, attaining enlightenment, coming to the realization of Buddha-nature, is simply...........
Dogen may hold this view but I don't think there is anything in the pali which indicates that coming to the realization of anything much less the realization of a fabrication like "buddha nature" is the same thing as enlightenment.

In other words, you are saying here that dogen equates attaining enlightenment with coming to a realization of buddha nature and I don't think the pali scriptures are consistent with this.

I know that you are trying to show common ground etc. but I don't think this is common ground etc.
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Re: Freedom From Buddha Nature by Thanissaro Bhikkhu & Zen Master Dogen

Post by binocular » Sat May 20, 2017 5:31 pm

Santi253 wrote:Buddha-nature is simply the potential of sentient beings to attain enlightenment through Buddhist practices. It would have been unfair for the Buddha to teach the Dharma if he didn't think people had the ability to practice it and realize enlightenment.

In which case, the concept of Buddha nature is redundant.
For Dogen, attaining enlightenment, coming to the realization of Buddha-nature, is simply realizing the truth of dependent origination, impermanence and non-self. The experience of realizing Buddha-nature is transcending the false sense of separation we feel between our "self" and all impermanent things.
Since you often emphasize that Mahayana and Theravada teach the same core concepts, and that the both have common roots in the Pali canon:
Can you support what you're saying in the above quote with the Pali canon?

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Re: Freedom From Buddha Nature by Thanissaro Bhikkhu & Zen Master Dogen

Post by binocular » Sat May 20, 2017 5:44 pm

Santi253 wrote:Dogen understood Buddha-nature, not as an innate nature of individual beings like a soul or spirit, but instead as Being itself:
Whether Buddha nature is taken to mean 'innate nature of individual beings like a soul or spirit', or as 'Being itself' -- either way, the person is considered as not having any choice in the matter of enlightenment.

From Thanissaro Bhikkhu's essay you referred to in the begining:
/.../
What's striking about the Buddha's knowledge is the implied "if": If people want to gain Awakening they will have to follow this path, but the choice as to whether they want Awakening is theirs. The Buddha's knowledge of the future didn't mean that the future was preordained, for people are free to choose. They can take up a particular course of action and stick with it, or not, as they see fit.

The Buddha thus based all his teaching on freedom of choice. As he said, if everything were predetermined by the past, there would be no point in teaching a path to Awakening. The number of people who would reach Awakening would already have been set a long time ago, and they would have no need for a path or a teacher. Those preordained to awaken would get there inevitably as a result of a long-past action or an essential nature already built into the mind. Those preordained not to awaken wouldn't stand a chance.

But these things are not preordained. No one is doomed never to awaken, but — until you've had your first sight of the deathless at stream-entry — neither is Awakening assured. It's contingent on intentional actions chosen in each present moment. And even after stream-entry, you're constantly faced with choices that will speed up final Awakening or slow it down. Nibbana, of course, is independent and unconditioned; but the act of awakening to nibbana depends on a path of practice that has to be willed. It happens only if you choose to give rise to its causes. This, as the Buddha noted, involves determining to do four things: not to neglect discernment, to preserve truth, to develop relinquishment, and to train for peace.
/.../
This is why the Buddha never advocated attributing an innate nature of any kind to the mind — good, bad, or Buddha. The idea of innate natures slipped into the Buddhist tradition in later centuries, when the principle of freedom was forgotten. Past bad kamma was seen as so totally deterministic that there seemed no way around it unless you assumed either an innate Buddha in the mind that could overpower it, or an external Buddha who would save you from it. But when you understand the principle of freedom — that past kamma doesn't totally shape the present, and that present kamma can always be free to choose the skillful alternative — you realize that the idea of innate natures is unnecessary: excess baggage on the path.

And it bogs you down. If you assume that the mind is basically bad, you won't feel capable of following the path, and will tend to look for outside help to do the work for you. If you assume that the mind is basically good, you'll feel capable but will easily get complacent. This stands in the way of the heedfulness needed to get you on the path, and to keep you there when the path creates states of relative peace and ease that seem so trustworthy and real. If you assume a Buddha nature, you not only risk complacency but you also entangle yourself in metaphysical thorn patches: If something with an awakened nature can suffer, what good is it? How could something innately awakened become defiled? If your original Buddha nature became deluded, what's to prevent it from becoming deluded after it's re-awakened?
/.../

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... ature.html

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Re: Freedom From Buddha Nature by Thanissaro Bhikkhu & Zen Master Dogen

Post by Santi253 » Mon May 22, 2017 5:00 am

chownah wrote:
Santi253 wrote: For Dogen, attaining enlightenment, coming to the realization of Buddha-nature, is simply...........
Dogen may hold this view but I don't think there is anything in the pali which indicates that coming to the realization of anything much less the realization of a fabrication like "buddha nature" is the same thing as enlightenment.

In other words, you are saying here that dogen equates attaining enlightenment with coming to a realization of buddha nature and I don't think the pali scriptures are consistent with this.

I know that you are trying to show common ground etc. but I don't think this is common ground etc.
chownah
While the term "Buddha-nature" is not found in the Pali canon, Dogen's understanding that enlightenment is the realization of emptiness or dependent origination and non-self is the same:
Now, what is Absolute Truth? According to Buddhism, the Absolute Truth is that there is nothing absolute in the world, that everything is relative, conditioned and impermanent, and that there is no unchanging, everlasting, absolute substance like Self, Soul, or Ātman within or without. This is the Absolute Truth. Truth is never negative, though there is a popular expression as negative truth. The realization of this Truth, i.e., to see things as they are (yathābhūtaṃ) without illusion or ignorance (avijjā),[104] is the extinction of craving ‘thirst’ (Taṇhakkhaya), andthe cessation (Nirodha) of dukkha, which is Nirvāṇa. It is interesting and useful to remember here the Mahāyāna view of Nirvāṇa as not being different from Saṃsāra.[105] The same thing is Saṃsāra or Nirvāṇa according to the way you look at it – subjectively or objectively. This Mahāyāna view was probably developed out of the ideas found in the original Theravāda Pali texts, to which we have just referred in our brief discussion.
https://sites.google.com/site/rahulawha ... oble-truth
For Dogen, "Buddha-nature" is nothing more nor less than impermanence, and realizing Buddhahood is awakening to the truth of impermanence.
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Re: Freedom From Buddha Nature by Thanissaro Bhikkhu & Zen Master Dogen

Post by Santi253 » Mon May 22, 2017 5:03 am

binocular wrote: the person is considered as not having any choice in the matter of enlightenment.
No, Dogen clearly did not teach this. Please read Dogen's chapter on Buddha-nature in order to be informed of his actual teaching on the matter:
http://www.thezensite.com/ZenTeachings/ ... bussho.pdf

Dogen understood Buddha-nature simply as the whole of reality just-as-it-is, and the realization of Buddha-nature as the realization of the truth of reality which comes from Buddhist practices.
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Re: Freedom From Buddha Nature by Thanissaro Bhikkhu & Zen Master Dogen

Post by Santi253 » Sat Jul 08, 2017 9:32 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 Reeves' 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.
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Re: Freedom From Buddha Nature by Thanissaro Bhikkhu & Zen Master Dogen

Post by Caodemarte » Sat Jul 08, 2017 1:24 pm

Santi253 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 Reeves' 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, 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.

Buddha Nature is not really taught as an underlying principle that is running around giving rise to anything, giving or taking anything. Just as you say "a dog has hair because it is a mammal;" It is a mistake to read this "Mammality" as a metaphysical principle that causes hair. It definitely should not be reified. Buddha nature is not a thing as the Reeves quote notes. Buddha Nature is everything's nature (which is empty). This is why enlightenment is possible. It is already there. That is why it is a mistake to think that enlightenment is not something outside of you to be earned or achieved or bought by sacrifice. (Nevertheless effort and sacrifice are still good.)

Anyway that is how I understand the concept is taught in Mahayana Buddhism. Dogen does not add anything new (although it may be new to us), but uses bright, clear, powerful language to express this.

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Re: Freedom From Buddha Nature by Thanissaro Bhikkhu & Zen Master Dogen

Post by lostitude » Sat Jul 08, 2017 7:45 pm

Why was it needed to invent the term 'Buddha nature' if it is synonymous with 'impermanence' or 'nirvana'? And why did they name this concept using a term which refers to a human being?

Thanks.

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Re: Freedom From Buddha Nature by Thanissaro Bhikkhu & Zen Master Dogen

Post by Caodemarte » Sat Jul 08, 2017 8:32 pm

There is a long textual history. I would think it was invented to explain and make clear that there is not a separation between appearance over there and reality (which is empty ) over here. Regard it as a teaching metaphor like all Buddhist philosophy.

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Re: Freedom From Buddha Nature by Thanissaro Bhikkhu & Zen Master Dogen

Post by Santi253 » Sun Jul 09, 2017 2:28 am

Caodemarte wrote: Anyway that is how I understand the concept is taught in Mahayana Buddhism. Dogen does not add anything new (although it may be new to us), but uses bright, clear, powerful language to express this.
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: Freedom From Buddha Nature by Thanissaro Bhikkhu & Zen Master Dogen

Post by Santi253 » Sun Jul 09, 2017 2:29 am

lostitude wrote:Why was it needed to invent the term 'Buddha nature' if it is synonymous with 'impermanence' or 'nirvana'? And why did they name this concept using a term which refers to a human being?

Thanks.
One can read Dogen's Chapter on Buddha-nature to better understand what he was getting at:
http://www.thezensite.com/ZenTeachings/ ... bussho.pdf

As for myself, I've moved on from focusing so much on metaphysical speculation. I'd rather accept that beings have, for whatever reason, the innate potential for enlightenment through Buddhist practices, and move on.
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Re: Freedom From Buddha Nature by Thanissaro Bhikkhu & Zen Master Dogen

Post by chownah » Sun Jul 09, 2017 2:34 am

lostitude wrote:Why was it needed to invent the term 'Buddha nature' if it is synonymous with 'impermanence' or 'nirvana'? And why did they name this concept using a term which refers to a human being?

Thanks.
I think that one of the things about 'buddha nature" that appeals to people is that it supports the idea that the buddha is omniscient. Notice how you capitalize "Buddha" in the term "buddha nature". I think that this is because there is an association of "buddha nature" with "the Buddha". If "the Buddha" is in everything then this suggests that he has "psychic powers"....he can see everything etc. etc. etc.

In short it is populars because it seems that it bolsters the personality cult of the Buddha.
chownah

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Re: Freedom From Buddha Nature by Thanissaro Bhikkhu & Zen Master Dogen

Post by bodom » Sun Jul 09, 2017 4:15 am

Though best not to get caught in the trap in the first place, I guess the idea of Buddha Nature could be seen as upaya (skillful means) for some in the beginning. But as we know, all concepts, even skillful ones, must be let go of in the end. I think as long as there is this realization, and one doesn't take it to be enlightenment itself, it shouldnt be much cause for concern.

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Re: Freedom From Buddha Nature by Thanissaro Bhikkhu & Zen Master Dogen

Post by Aloka » Sun Jul 09, 2017 5:00 am

A comment from one of the previous topics here about "Buddha Nature" (9 pages):
Like Nagarjuna, buddha-nature notion is something the Theravada does not need, and it is something the Buddha did not teach.

https://dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f=16&t=3878
...and a link to one of the others:"What is wrong with Buddha Nature" which begins with a link to Bhikkhu Thanissaro's talk on the subject.(11 pages).

https://dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f=16&t=7716

Maybe the various threads should be merged together as with the vegetarian and rebirth topics?
.

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Re: Freedom From Buddha Nature by Thanissaro Bhikkhu & Zen Master Dogen

Post by Santi253 » Sun Jul 09, 2017 5:40 am

bodom wrote:I guess the idea of Buddha Nature could be seen as upaya (skillful means) for some in the beginning. But as we know, all concepts, even skillful ones, must be let go of in the end.
I agree with you on this. What you are saying sounds very Zen-like.
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Re: Freedom From Buddha Nature by Thanissaro Bhikkhu & Zen Master Dogen

Post by Phena » Sun Jul 09, 2017 12:54 pm

Santi253 wrote:
bodom wrote:I guess the idea of Buddha Nature could be seen as upaya (skillful means) for some in the beginning. But as we know, all concepts, even skillful ones, must be let go of in the end.
I agree with you on this. What you are saying sounds very Zen-like.
Letting go of the "raft" is not exclusively Zen-like, it is just a natural consequence and progression of the Dhamma.

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