Dharmata or Tathata: the essence of enlightenment


Dharmata or Tatatha: the nature or essence of fully enlightened Buddhas.  

So, what is a fully enlightened Buddha? It sounds scary and unreachable for most of us. It also may seem outmoded and unlikely in today’s modern world. How can there be Buddhas around sitting at computers, strap-hanging on commuter trains, shopping in super-markets? Yes, material life seems remote from Buddhas and enlightenment, much like it would be strange to have a vision of Christ or Allah at the laundrette.

But this is the amazing thing about Buddhism – it doesn’t date, and it is not constrained by culture or language. It is totally adaptable to any time and any place exactly because it is formless and ceaseless. It transcends our comparatively puny human conceptualization of time and space, and it embraces the mystic at the same time as being highly practical. Something for everyone we might say.

For Nirvana Buddhists, a Tatagata, a being fully enlightened to all of the Dharma, has certain qualities.  He or she trains consistently in order to attain Nirvana. The last words of the Buddha as he lay on his deathbed in the sala grove 2,600 years ago,  later captured in the Mahaparinirvana sutra, clearly describe the following 4 inspiring qualities of a being who has reached Nirvana:

First, Permanence, jo in Japanese. This is exactly as it sounds. Eternal. Infinite. In other words, we become like the Dharmakaya ourselves. The field of energy that makes us each unique is in fact indestructible, because energy is. It is recyclable, but cannot be erased according to nuclear physics. Therefore, as sincere Buddhist practitioners, we should have no fear of the death of the physical body. Of course, it is very difficult to be born human – think of the development of a baby in the womb – claustrophobic, dark, the sounds are muffled; and then the exit through a narrow birth-channel; and finally the onslaught of stimulation – bright light, huge temperature changes, clarity of sound, the cutting away of the nourishing tube which has connected the baby to its mother for 9 months, and so on.  Then after birth, there are the numerous lessons we must learn to prevent us descending into the lower realms of existence. Of course, as humans we usually suffer, and if we remain trapped in our own view of reality,  we may spend our entire life in great fear of the annihilation that death brings. We become so easily attached to our human form and life, that we cannot bear the thought of losing it.

The second is Bliss, raku in Japanese. This can be interpreted as joy, extreme joy, but is more akin to rejoicing than merely being happy. And this joy emanates from the realization that our love and compassion for others is much more important than for ourselves. In other words, if we work in our hearts and thoughts for the true happiness and comfort of others, then the great powers of the Dharma will look after us personally. This is connected to dedicating oneself to being a Bodhisattva, with a pure heart. (Bodhi  will be the topic of the next series of articles.)

The third is True-self, ga in Japanese. This means that we have to be entirely sincere, to be ourselves at all times. Of course, honesty is an important aspect of practicing any religious pathway, but it sometimes takes courage and needs grace to execute so that others are not hurt in the process. This also refers to working to polish our intrinsic Buddha Nature, the natural pure loving core that every human being is endowed with, which in turn will allow us to realize all our potential. We are capable of anything if we become balanced and uncover our basic goodness and gifts. And add to this a deepened focus on our mission.

Finally, the fourth is Purity, jo in Japanese. This perhaps speaks for itself. We are actually pure, but that quality may become covered over with negative karma, which we fail to purify. This quality is difficult in the present conditions of samsara where the power-crazy run riot with the result that bullying and cheating often drive purity underground. Remaining pure is a challenge today, but we have to find the courage to let our True-self shine through. The Buddhas are pure, the Dharma Protectors work hard to keep that so, and as we each have the potential to become a Buddha this purity is also our True nature. These four qualities make up Nirvana, which literally translated means ‘the extinction of delusions.’ It is the goal of all schools of Buddhism.

Permanence, Bliss, True-self and Purity. It may sound easy, but the only way to attain these states is by consistent and focused training with a qualified guru; in other words, by hearing the Dharma. If one tries to reach such a state only in the mind, then there is a serious risk of careering seriously off the path altogether on to a path made by your human ego. On this web site, I have no choice but to use words and images to describe ideas and my experience, etc. But it is absolutely certain that any Buddhist practice is experiential, and as you can imagine, it takes time like anything worthwhile.

You also need the continual support of the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha (spiritual community). It is the most marvelous steady process of transformation. If you want to read in more detail about this steady process, you may be interested to read my novel, Temple of the Phoenix (see ‘works’ on the main menu at the top of the Home Page) which is about exactly that.

Next article, On Hearing the Dharma.

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