Are Buddha nature and Original enlightenment different, or identical?

So, when a sastra says "Since the essence of Mind is grounded on the Dharmakaya, it is to be called the original enlightenment", is the exact same the case for Buddha nature?

When a Soto monk says "manifest buddha nature", do they mean "manifest original enlightenment"?

2 Answers 2


Yes. The difference in terms just highlights a difference in emphasis. All zen teachings basically point to the same thing. The difference is dependent on what obstacle the teacher is pointing too. For someone who is always striving, a teacher might call it original mind to emphasize that he is already in possession of what he's striving for. For someone who thinks zen is about rarefied states or accomplishments, a teacher might call it ordinary mind. For someone who is caught up in intellectualizing, he might simply hold up a flower.

Its all the same shit - namely the shit you are caught up in.


You can answer "yes" based on the following reasoning:

  • Essence of Mind is grounded in Dharmakāya
  • Dharmakāya is the unmanifested, "inconceivable" aspect out of which Buddhas arise
  • therefore, Buddha Nature arises from Dharmakāya
  • therefore, Essence of Mind = Buddha Nature

However, you can also answer "no" based on the equally valid reasoning:

  • Dharmakāya is the unmanifested, "inconceivable" aspect out of which Buddhas arise
  • Essence of Mind may be grounded in Dharmakāya, but does not necessarily equate it
  • Buddha Nature may be grounded in Dharmakāya, but does not necessarily equate it
  • therefore, Essence of Mind is not necessarily the same as Buddha Nature

So linguistic/logical reasoning isn't helpful to answer the question. In Zen the answer would probably be: they are simultaneously different and identical.

The Chan/Zen schools (of which Soto is a branch) maintain a stance of “not one” and “not two,” that is “a position-less position,” where “not two” means negating the dualistic stance that divides the whole into two parts, while “not one” means negating the nondualistic stance occurring when the Zen practitioner dwells in the whole as one, while suspending judgment in meditation. The free, bilateral movement between “not one” and “not two” characterizes Zen’s achievement of a personhood with a third perspective that cannot, however, be confined to either dualism or non-dualism, neither “not one” nor “not two”. This is expressed in Koans like:

Master Suibe was asked, “What is the secret teaching of Buddhism?”

Suibe said, “Wait until there’s no one around, and I’ll tell you.”

Later in the day the monk accosted him and said, “There’s nobody around now. What is the secret teaching of Buddhism?”

Suibe went into the garden with this monk, and he pointed at the bamboos, and the monk said, “I don’t understand.”

Suibe said, “What a tall one that is. What a short one that is.”

“What is the secret teaching of Buddhism?” is a stylized, literary way of asking "what's the essence of the teaching?"

Suibe's answer is to be realized from his "third perspective": he doesn't mean the inherent Buddha nature is manifested through the difference in length of the bamboos, nor does he mean that the difference in length is not a manifestation of Buddha nature. He means both.

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