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Buddha Nature: The Seed of Enlightenment

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Buddha Nature: The Seed of Enlightenment

The great classical pianist Vladimir Horowitz once described a typical morning: he began by listening to a symphony, and at some point would be interrupted by a call to breakfast, the arrival of the mail, or the day’s first phone calls. Eventually, distractions behind him, Horowitz would go back to the symphony, and in his mind return to the exact note where he had left off hours before. Chogyam Trungpa’s teachings on buddha nature in 1975, going into 1976, followed a similar pattern. He began the year with a five-talk seminar on buddha nature in New York City in January, and from there launched into one of the busiest teaching schedules of his entire career in North America. 

Crisscrossing the continent at least four times, Trungpa Rinpoche taught seminars from Boston to Vancouver to Los Angeles, Austin, Boulder, Mendocino, and New York, on topics as wide-ranging as The Life of Marpa, the tantric yanas, and Tibetan Buddhist iconography. But when he took up the subject of buddha nature again in October in Northern California (“The Discovery of Buddha Nature on the Mahayana Path II”), it was as if nothing had transpired between this and the first seminar in New York. Trungpa Rinpoche picked up the thread exactly where he had left off. And five months later did the same thing when he re-commenced in Vermont, giving the seminar “Buddha Nature: The Seed of Enlightenment.” The three seminars presented here thus comprise an almost continuous teaching on the foundational but sometimes elusive subject of buddha nature. From one seminar to the next, nothing is repeated in the same way — a hallmark of Trungpa Rinpoche’s teaching style overall — with each adding another dimension to the subject, bringing the principle of buddha nature into brilliant focus. Something like a symphony.

Buddha nature is the ground of the mahayana path (“Path of the Bodhisattva”): that an awakened, imperturbable state of clarity exists within us, and it is only a matter of uncovering it. This teaching is often repeated, but for many it remains abstract: in trying to pinpoint it, one can’t quite grasp what it is experientially. These seminars provide an effective antidote to that conundrum, offering an accessible, practical pathway for uncovering our buddha nature, and working with it as the basis for further progress on the path. As always, the starting point is ourselves, and not avoiding but instead looking directly into our confusion. This is the paradoxical route to our buddha nature. Trungpa Rinpoche then describes the approaches we need to engage — generosity, openness, discipline, and warmth — to further awaken and integrate buddha nature in our everyday lives. Meditation is of course the binding factor in all these teachings. In the first seminar (“Discovery of Buddha Nature on the Mahayana Path I”) he also gives a rare description of what enlightenment is.

Using the specific subject of buddha nature, Trungpa Rinpoche manages to conjure in each of these seminars a three-dimensional picture of the mahayana path altogether. This series is also an outstanding example of how Chogyam Trungpa built a bridge, through his revolutionary use of language, that makes these ancient teachings completely alive and accessible to our contemporary lives.  

Buddha Nature Playlist

The Discovery of Buddha Nature on the Mahayana Path I (1975, New York)

The Discovery of Buddha Nature on the Mahayana Path II (1975, Padma Jong)

Buddha Nature: The Seed of Enlightenment (1976, Karme Choling)