Enlightenment consists, really, of recognizing the Buddha nature that is within you. Your Buddha nature is your true self. It’s your self tat is one with everything and realizes that fact. It’s your self that is fully enlightened and perfect. And, in reality, it’s who you are right now, you just 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 can be excited about my Buddha nature. 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. So the concept of unleashing your Buddha nature is really exciting.
But really, all of Buddhism seems exciting to me. The Buddha explained that suffering is a fact of life. There will always be suffering in our lives and there will never be a point at which suffering is over. But there is a way to attain relief from suffering.
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 is 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. And not confidence that we will unleash our Buddha nature quickly and easily. 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 meditate to quiet our delusions. Then 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.
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. And 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 isn’t 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.