Dogen & Buddha Nature

The question, “What is Buddha?” or, “What is Buddha Nature?” is a constant theme within Buddhism. Dōgen, the founder of Sōtō Zen Buddhism in Japan, has something interesting to say on this topic. Dōgen tells us that:

Buddha Nature and becoming a Buddha always occur simultaneously.

Paul Maloney, roshi explores in this talk, some of the implications of this statement, as it challenges many common-sense ideas we hold about Buddha Nature. In particular, the idea that Buddha Nature is some kind of substantial ground; a ground upon which we may find rest and stability.

The term Buddha means “one who is awake,” and it is this experience that is the very heart of our meditation practice, in fact all Buddhist practice. What the Buddha understood when he awoke was:

All living beings totally have the Buddha-nature
The Tathagata abides [in them] constantly, without changing at all.

Shakyamuni Buddha (Mahayaparinirvana sutra, chap. 27)

And this is echoed by Hakuin Zenji in the opening of his Song of Zazen.

All beings by nature are Buddha
as ice by nature is water;
apart from water there is no ice,
apart from beings no Buddha.

This Dharma talk was given on day 3 of the 2019 SZC Winter sesshin by Paul Maloney, roshi