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Jewel Ornament of Liberation Chapter 4 - Transitoriness

by Sangharakshita

Jewel Ornament of Liberation seminar

Chapter 4: Transitoriness of the Composite
Present: The venerable Sangharakshita, Dhammadinna, Marichi, Punyavati, Sulocana, Joan
Graham, Sue Lawson, Verne Barrett, Liz Bisson, Janet Martin, Kaye Roberts, Noel Lehane,
Bonnie Quirk, Michelle Johnson, Marion Cohen Paloma.
S: In this study group we will be going through Chapter 4 of The Jewel Ornament of
Liberation which is on the instruction in The Transitoriness of the Composite and I hope we
will be able to get through the whole chapter. It is quite a substantial chapter as I expect you
already know. And we will so what we usually do, we'll just have people going around the
circle reading a Paragraph or shorter passage at a time and then we'll just stop and go into it as
thoroughly as we can or as thoroughly as is necessary. Perhaps we could start with Marichi.
"The Instruction in the Transitoriness of the Composite
(d) 'The method are the instructions of spiritual friends.'
Since we have Buddha-nature as our driving force, as our working basis the precious human
body which we have obtained from beginningless time in the course of generations, and as a
contributory cause (of our development) the spiritual friends we have met, how is it that we
have not already obtained Buddhahood? The fault lies in people like ourselves having come
under the power of four obstacles by which the attainment of Buddhahood is prevented. They
are: attachment to sensuous experiences during this life, to sensual pleasures in this world, to
self-complacency and ignorance about the means of realizing Buddhahood. Who, then,
dispels these four obstacles? He who listens to the instructions of spiritual friends and takes
them to heart. They are summarized below:
There are four topics of instruction:
Concentrated attention to transitoriness and
To the vicious state of Samsara as a result of our own actions;
The development of benevolence and compassion;
And those factors which set up an enlightened attitude.
S: So, "since we have Buddha nature as our driving force, as our working basis the precious
human body which we have obtained from beginning less time in the course of generations,
and as a contributory cause of our development the spiritual friends we have met, how is it
that we have not already obtained Buddhahood? This is quite a pertinent question in a way.
We could perhaps step it down a bit and say, "How is it, when conditions are so good, when
facilities are so abundant, how is it that we haven't made greater spiritual progress?" Here it is
pitched in the highest possible sense, "How is it that we have not already attained
Buddhahood?" It is as though we have done less than might have been expected of us. We
have all these advantages, all these opportunities; but we have done so [2] little. And the
particular advantages and opportunities are mentioned here. There are four of them. "Since
we have Buddha-nature as our driving force." Buddha nature. In Sanskrit, that is usually
(Buddhat?) That in the depths of our being we are as it were well not just as it were, we are
literally Buddha already, but of course we don't realize that, we don't see that. I have
mentioned more than once before that this whole, as it were, metaphysical way of looking at
things and making such statements as "Thou are Buddha", as some of the Zen, or allegedly
Zen people do from time to time, isn't always very helpful; because very often it discourages
people from actual practise because they understand the statement "Thou art Buddha" as an
intellectual proposition, they think that is enough. "I'm Buddha already, what do I really need
to do?" It tends to inhibit practice. But you notice there is a difference here in this case. This
statement doesn't say "since we have' Buddha nature as our ultimate metaphysical constituent.
So what do you think is the significance of that? That implied distinction?
Noel: We have the Buddha seeds within us.
S: Yes, it is not just an abstract metaphysical theory, it is a living thing, it is as you say a seed,
seed represents actual potential, it is a sort of driving force. The fact that you are Buddha, as it
were (out of time means that in time) and your experience is entirely within time, you
experience that as it were abstract potential as a sort of living potential that impels you to
grow and develop. So that if you simply make this statement that you are Buddha already in a
sort of abstract metaphysical way that is of no significance at all. But if you make the
statement, or rather - if you experience yourself as living and growing, well then in a way,
yes, you are asserting that you are Buddha, do you see the distinction? The fact that you are
here and now trying to grow is evidence of the fact that out of time, so to speak, yes you are
already, in a sense, that towards which in time you are trying to grow and develop. In other
words the significance of the statement as it applies to you metaphysically as you exist
outside time is demonstrated in time by the fact that you are making an effort to grow at all.
So that Buddha nature is not an abstract metaphysical (theory?) that you have, or which your
present personality can claim as an already existent possession. Buddha nature is your driving
force! it is what makes you grow and you know that you have the Buddha nature ultimately
because you are trying to grow, that is the proof, that is the demonstration. Just as in the case
of the little plant you know that it has the potentiality to be a flower, being a flower is, as it
were, it's true nature because you can see it from day to day growing and growing and
growing. It isn't that the plant [3] settles down and says 'I'm a flower I needn't bother to
grow". This is what you find with some of these Zen people... "I am Buddha so I don't need to
do anything about it". The fact that you are Buddha is proved by the fact that you try to
become Buddha.
Dhammadinna: Could this be concentrating on the thing rather than the process?
S: Right yes.
Dhammadinna: Making it 'something'.
S: Yes.
Paloma: What about people who are not consciously trying to become Buddha?
S: Well what about them?
Paloma: Well you said that the fact that we sit here and make an effort to become Buddha
proves that it is within our nature already. But what about the people who aren't sitting here...
S: Well they don't have Buddha nature then do they.
Paloma: Well that is what ...
S: That is if we want to be quite logical about it but Buddha nature as our driving force ...
Yes? So can one say that then? That there are some people without Buddha nature?
Dhammadinna: It is that they haven't realized it, that they have the potential, it is not that they
will never have it
S: Buddha nature here is defined as a driving force.
Sulochana: It is more a direction ... Maybe we find that these direction ...
S: So to further crystallize it what does one mean by this driving force? Is it necessarily
Noel: Is it connected with the arising of the Bodhicitta?
S: Yes, one can certainly say that in a more specifically Mahayana sense. Well, it really
amounts to asking what is the connection between the lower evolution and the higher
evolution. This is what one is asking, because the higher evolution by very definition must be
a conscious process. What about the process of the lower evolution? It has brought you to that
point where it is possible for the higher evolution to begin. That must be an unconscious
process, the process of nature at large. You as a human being come to that point, or perhaps
you are not a human being when you come to that point, but as a rational animal you come to
that [4] point, you become self conscious and then the process of the higher evolution can
begin. Buddha nature comes into play there as the driving force of that higher evolutionary
process. In Buddhism traditionally speaking it is not said that the Buddha nature is the driving
force of the lower evolutionary process; that connection is not made. There is as it were a sort
of hiatus between the wheel of life and the spiral. So one can therefore say in traditional
Buddhist terms, that if you are not making a conscious effort to evolve, Buddha nature in the
sense of that driving force is not there. You have of course the potential to become aware of
that driving force but one perhaps could not say more than that.
So we have the Buddha nature as our driving force, and this is the most important advantage
that we have. That we are able to grow that we are able to develop, even to the fullest and
highest possible extent of becoming enlightened human beings. This is the first great
advantage and then the second ... 'as our working basis we have the precious human body
which we have obtained from beginningless time in the course of generations'. The traditional
Buddhist perspective sees this human body as having been acquired in the course of hundreds
of lives in this or that animal form, in a more modern a more scientific perspective we can see
it against the background of the lower evolution, that evolutionary process as ordinarily
understood which has brought us to this point where we find ourselves as human beings,
individualized, equipped with senses, with minds, with rational minds, with emotions etc. etc.
Here we are with ...

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