Last Sunday (20th March 2001) I went to Gyuto monastery to shoot a narrative film with two young monks. On my way home I stopped by Norbulingka Institute. Although the gardens at Norbulingka are quite beautiful, and worthy of their own piece, I ended up shooting just the main temple as I was short on time.
A fundamental theory of Buddhist philosophy related particularly to Buddhist soteriology is the notion that every living being has the potential to become enlightened—”Buddha potential.” This potential is a naturally occurring and innate quality of the mind. It is not something outside of ourselves that must be venerated from afar. Becoming Buddha, in one sense, is simply waking up to who we really are—knowing thyself in the ultimate sense. But what does this mean and how can we, as ordinary people, relate to this potential as our own?
One way to bring this potential into a practical everyday sense is to empower yourself with a confidence born of empirical insight. That is, check it out for yourself. But in order to do so one must understand what it is that is being tested, and how to go about running the experiments.
To answer the more technical “what is” question first:
Buddha potential can be broken into two types: (1) Natural potential, and (2) developed potential. Natural potential in simple terms is the quality of the mind that allows change. More accurately, it is the fact that the mind does not exist inherently that allows change. If it were to exist inherently it would remain as it were, forever.
Examples of developed potential are functional, positive, and constructive minds such as compassion, confidence, friendliness, wisdom, courage etc. Together these two aspects of potential allow contemplatives to proceed along the path to enlightenment by developing compassion and so on.
An enlightened being is therefore someone who has completed the development of these minds, which as stated is only possible because the mind has an natural and innate quality that allows this development to occur. His Holiness the Dalai Lama, to my mind, is one such person and as such is a template for my own practice.
In practical terms I personally draw comfort knowing that if I put these words into action change will happen. But it is action that is really the trick here. In that regard, a close friend and senior Australia monk once remarked, “is your biggest obstacle what you do not know or what you do not do!”
For many people, however, the feeling they are incapable of change, of success, or developing genuine happiness is like a mantra…”I can’t…I can’t…I can’t.” Sometimes this attitude manifest strongly in thoughts such as, “I can’t meditate” “I can’t develop genuine compassion for myself let alone for others!” Say it enough and it will be so.
While at other times this self-defeating attitude manifests subtly (and in such a manner as to be hardly noticeable) whereby one simply assumes that the human condition is the normal working order of things. Moreover, this attitude can manifest with thoughts and assumptions such as the Buddhist path is meant to be difficult, or only people with a non-western cultural background have any chance of developing these qualities.
Relating this to the above short, Buddhist art, be they statues, paintings and whatever, reflect this optimism. Art, in the Buddhist world, serve as reminders of this potential showing us the path home so to speak.
The take-away therefore is that you do not have to look outside of yourself to find genuine flourishing. For you have everything you need right here. All you need to do is begin the process.