Essence of the Tathagatas

Jestsun Taranatha

Jestsun Taranatha

“So, from primordial time, all that is ultimately consumed within the exalted dimensions, types of pristine awareness, qualities, and enlightened activities abides within the essence of the tathgatas. When someone becomes a Buddha, these are not then newly acquired but are merely separated from the defilements that have eclipsed them.”

[From The Essence of Zhentong by Jetsun Taranatha]

In other words, according to this teaching the innate quality of your mind is ultimate clarity, or Awakeness. However, for most of us this Awakeness is obstructed by habitual patterns, conditioning, and various forms of obscuration. This situation has been likened to a mirror covered in dust and grime. The mirror is there beneath the dust. Wipe the dust away, and the mirror will shine forth.

According to this teaching, buddha-nature is not something you presently lack, and can later acquire. Buddha-nature is something you already have, it is the very essence of your mind. The difference between ordinary beings and fully enlightened buddhas is that the latter have removed the obstructions that prevent this Awakeness from shining forth. This is a task of Dharma practice, to remove the obstructions and obscurations. There are innumerable methods available for doing this, applicable to beings of different capacities and dispositions.


Reciting Mantras from Books



[Clarification – the following comes from the Vimalaprabha, which is a commentary on Kalachakra-tantra written by Pundarika, the second Kalki. The context of this quote is in reference to practices within the Anuttarayoga Tantra class (see this post, which includes a listing of the different classes of tantra within the Indo-Tibetan tradition). Elsewhere, in a discussion about this quote, a friend brought up the fact that there are mantras which are commonly known and used that do not require empowerment or teachings. For example, the mantra of Chenrezig. I agree, and realized my post could be taken the wrong way. Hence, this note. That said, I stand behind the idea that tantric practice requires empowerment from a qualified Dorje Lopon (Vajra Acharya), and without such, can lead to further entanglement in samsara, confusion, and other afflictive states. This is due in part to the many misconceptions that are held regarding tantric practice and teachings. I am also reminded of the analogy given of tantra, that it is like a snake in a bamboo tube. There are only two ways to go–up or down. I am ever grateful for my kind teachers who guide me on the path.]


“People who practice the sadhana with mantras read from a book and who are excluded from traditional teachings become mentally afflicted.

“What if the traditional teaching is received from a book? Then it is disclosed by the text of the composition, which has a provisional meaning.

“Those who practice the sadhana of gods and goddesses, with mantras that are read from a book, miss the true meaning of mantra and aim to eat space.

“For the adepts with the vigor of a steadfast mind or who pray with recitation of mantras, a desired mundane siddhi may arise.

“Those devoid of practice do not succeed by means of the recitation of mantras, fire offerings, and the means of worshiping shrines. These words are in accordance with the fact.

“Therefore, for the sake of the sadhana of the teachers, bodhisattvas, and gods, the wise receive this very essence of mantra with every caution.”

[From the Vimalaprabha (Stainless Light) commentary. Translated by Vesna Wallace]

A Buddhist MOOC


A MOOC is a Massive Open Online Course. Since around 2012 they have begun to flourish on the Internet. There are several platforms (e.g. Coursera, edX, Udacity, and others). The general concept is to offer distance learning, typically free of charge,  to a massive international student body. MOOCs often include video lectures, written assignments, quizzes, a discussion forum where students can interact and engage further with the material, and a final exam. On most platforms, and for most courses, if you complete the assignments and pass the exam you can earn a statement of completion indicating that you have successfully fulfilled the requirements for the course. Subjects have tended to focus on STEM fields (Science-Technology-Engineering-Mathematics), however, more and more other fields of study have been included (e.g. the Humanities).

I have completed several technology based MOOCs, and really enjoyed the experience. I began to wonder if there were any Buddhist specific MOOCs out there, so I did a search. Lo and behold, I found this:

Buddhist Meditation and the Modern World

Though my practice is much more traditional (i.e. I am not all that interested in “secular Buddhism”) this looks promising in terms of an online course. It will be interesting to see how it turns out, and to participate with other students. Buddhist Meditation and the Modern World begins January 19th 2015, and runs for 13 weeks. Enrollment is open now. This is a free class on the Coursera platform, offered by the University of Virginia.

Maybe I’ll see some of you there?