Buddha Nature: Mirror-Like Consciousness


October, 2019

Gone to the Source – Buddha Nature

You’ve probably heard this term ‘Buddha Nature’ before. What does it actually mean in the context of awakening?

In dharma, transcendence is called ‘tathagatagarbha‘.  ‘Tathagata’ means the one who is well gone (Buddha). ‘Garbha’ means womb or source.  So the Buddha, the tathagata, is the well-gone one, the one who has gone to the source of the transcendent experience.

In other words, tathagatagarbha describes the awakened mind, or this Buddha Nature, within all beings. All beings may realize enlightenment because this seed, or potential, exists in all of us.

The quality of no qualities

Buddha Nature, or the tathagatagarbha in itself has no distinguishing qualities.  You can’t define it or describe it through the sense bases. You can’t describe it or define it through mental properties. 

With words it cannot be described, but without words it can’t be expressed”  is how Daoists shared this concept. This means that you have to talk about it in order for people to know of it, but no matter what you say, it isn’t that

In order to awaken

In order to awaken, all of your energy and all of your being must be focused on one point.  And that focal point is the Buddha Nature or universal mind, which is fundamentally transcendent to object addiction or object consciousness (thoughts).  

For a meditator with a proclivity towards bliss, your work is to transcend sensual attachments or object addictions.  For a meditator with an inquiring mind, you work is to transcend analytical intellect or thoughts. In both cases you are transcending the conditioned base of your experience.  


“In order to awaken, all your energy must be focused on one point, Buddha Nature.”

The ultimate wisdom is resting in the unknowable

Another word for this Buddha Nature is ’emptiness’.  From this spacious place of transcendental realization you can experience the sense doors and mind door functions so that it is immediately blissful, no matter what that object appearing is.  Including a mosquito bite.

Buddha Nature has no qualities of any kind including the quality of no qualities. By having no qualities this ensures you don’t get caught in a nihilistic view. 

Mirror-Like Consciousness

Tathagatagarbha is also called the ground of Buddha Nature. It functions like a mirror, which can be called mirror-like consciousness.  And mirror-like consciousness means that whatever is put in front of the mirror, reflects back.

What do you get back?  Whatever you put into the mirror.  So the Tathagatagarbha, the ground of Buddha Nature, reflects what you put in it.

Can you understand the difference?  

If you’re attached to bliss you always have to get rid of what you don’t want, and hang on to the stuff you do want, which means that your bliss is dependent upon the object.  When you let go of the object, you dwell in emptiness, and whatever object arises is blissful.

To see it another way, in relation to wisdom, you have to let go of the security of being the knower and rest in the huge ‘angst’ of unknowing.  This “unknowing” curiously produces wisdom.

This content was edited from live talks by Doug Duncan and Catherine Pawasarat. 


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