Recognizing Our Inherent Treasures

Ordinary people seek after the false and forget about the true.

Mr. Dachuan Hu has a few more lines in his “Fantasy Poem,” which states things quite well:

I don’t wish to be a prime minister in life,
Nor do I wish to be King Yama after I die.
King Yama is cruel in sentencing the ghosts,
And a prime minister is too busy worrying about his people.

He said, “While I am alive, I have no ambition to be a prime minister, and after I die I won’t want to be King Yama.” Why? King Yama is very cruel. When he gets angry, he dumps this little ghost into the pot of boiling oil and throws that little ghost onto the mountain of knives. I wouldn’t want the job of a prime minister either, for he has to worry constantly about national affairs and has no time to rest. It’s more practical for me to spend my time cultivating the inner nature and fostering its inherent virtues. The poem also says,

I hope to be free from illness for a hundred years,
And not troubled by grief for even one moment.

Mr. Dachuan Hu vividly portrayed those who are fond of wine, beauty, wealth, and fame in his poem.

He said that those who like beauty may wish: “Beautiful flowers should stay abloom every day. Flowers should bloom all year round and never wither." This also refers to a man wishing his wife would stay young forever, or a woman wishing her husband would stay handsome and never get gray hair or wrinkles.

People with big tempers may indulge in this wish: “Why can’t the moon be full every night? It’s so nice to sit outside and gaze at the full moon on a night when there is a gentle breeze and the stars are shining. Why can’t the moon be full every night, just as the sun is full every day?”

People who like wine fantasize: “What if all the springs on earth turned into wine? If all the water in the rivers, streams, ponds, and lakes became wine, I could just reach out and scoop up wine to drink whenever I felt thirsty. Wouldn’t that be convenient?”

People who are fond of wealth think: “What if money grew on every tree in the forests? Whenever I needed money, I could just shake the trees and money would fall. That would save me a lot of trouble.”

These thoughts are the fantasies of fools. Ordinary people seek after the false and forget about the true. They forget that their inherent true nature is an inexhaustible treasure trove. What is the inherent true nature? It’s the Buddha nature within each one of us. The Buddha nature is neither created nor destroyed; it is neither defiled nor pure; and it neither increases nor diminishes. It is perfect and bright; the Buddhas do not have more of it, and living beings do not have less of it. It is unmoving and constantly clear.

Blinded by selfishness, greed for personal gain, jealousy, and obstructiveness, our minds have become smaller than a speck of dust. We see only what is immediately in front of us and fail to understand far-reaching principles. That’s why we cannot return to the origin. As the [classical Chinese] poet Tao Yuanming said,

We should realize that while the past has gone by,
We can work on the future.
If we recognize past errors and know that we are right today,
Then we have not strayed too far.

If we realize our past mistakes, we can turn around and reform. To reform and become a new person means getting rid of selfishness, greed for personal gain, jealousy, obstructiveness, and ignorance.

The goal of a cultivator is to understand his mind and see his nature. That doesn’t mean simply saying that you understand your mind, see your nature, and are enlightened. You must have genuine achievement in your practice; don’t just pay lip service. Once you understand the mind, nothing will present any difficulties. You won’t fear any hardships. Why not? Because you will understand the essence of all things. You will have penetrated to the source of the Dharma. You will be free and at ease in everything you do. Once you see the nature, you won’t have any worries. Your mind will be like a clear mirror or calm water, reflecting states when they come and becoming still when they pass. This is the most genuine proof of skill. Once ignorance and afflictions are gone, prajna wisdom will manifest and the brightness of the inherent nature will shine forth.

What is the brightness of the inherent nature? It’s the absence of attachment to the appearances of self, others, living beings, and life span. And yet these appearances still exist. Despite the lack of attachment to them, they are not destroyed. Appearances do not obstruct nonappearances, and nonappearances do not hinder appearances. One is free and at ease between existence and nonexistence. In this state, there is no difference between mind, Buddha, and living beings.

Students of Buddhism should ask themselves, “Am I practicing giving just to make myself look good? Am I holding precepts and practicing patience, vigor, samadhi, and wisdom just to show off? Or am I really sincere about cultivating?” Cultivation doesn’t mean putting on a show for others. It requires genuine effort. For every bit of effort we put in, we gain a corresponding bit of skill. For every bit of sincerity we muster, we obtain a bit of response. We must be completely true in all we do. We shouldn’t cheat ourselves or others. Instead, we should mutually encourage one another.

A talk given on June 15, 1980