Sherab Namgyal / March 1, 2013

Our True Nature and What to Do With It


To realize our true nature is not easy. In the Buddha’s case we hear myths about his many lifetimes of struggle, to accumulate positive imprints to his mind, before he finally became the enlightened one. We are in luck though; the Buddha’s teachings give us a guide on how to realize our true nature and that is what this article is about. This article is partly based on teachings given by H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama in 2009 and those of the Vimalakirti Nirdesa Sutra.


(C) by Teresa Maltez

Readers might also be interested in reading  What the Buddha taught on Emptiness – A Commentary on the Golden Light Sutra which give the philosophical explanation for the view below.

Our True Nature

The true nature of living beings is described in numerous metaphors in order to illustrate their non-inherent-existing nature. These allegories also attempt to clarify how a bodhisattva sees livings beings:

“A Bodhisattva should look at living beings like an illusionist does at the illusory men (he has created); and like a wise man looking at the moon’s reflection in water; at his own face in a mirror; at the flame of a burning fire; at the echo of a calling voice;” – Vimalakirti Nirdesa Sutra

As the conditioned self is no more real than an animated character in a movie – or cartoon – it should be given no more importance than such; and so exists only as a playful existence in the mind, similar to that of a movie on a theatre screen. When we watch ourselves in the mirror it is obvious that we are not the face in the mirror and exactly like this we are not the self and our true nature is the mirror and not the reflection. Our true nature is that which make it possible to happen, not the play itself. It is said that we are not the waves but the ocean underneath. Hence, identifying with the “I” is like identifying with a cloud in the sky instead of the sky itself, in which everything materializes, or as a great poet put it:

“We are not a drop in the ocean; we the ocean in a drop.” – Rumi

Indeed believing the “ego” to be our true nature would be similar to:

“… a blind man seeing things; … the tracks of birds flying in the air [being real]; or a smokeless fire.” – The Vimalakirti Nirdesa Sutra

Hence, our true nature is that which is seeing and the sky where the birds fly. Realizing that our true nature is radically different from what we ordinarily assume must impact our everyday actions in an immense way. That is what the next section is about.

What to Do With It

As we are the ocean – and not the lonely wave – kindness to others is the same as kindness to self and so universal compassioned action is the only logical step.

One realizing his true nature “…generates the love that is firm, its high resolve unbreakable, like a diamond; the love that is pure, purified in its intrinsic nature; the love that is even, its aspirations being equal; the saint’s love that has eliminated its enemy; the bodhisattva’s love that continuously develops living beings; The Tathagata’s love that understands reality; the Buddha’s love that causes living beings to awaken from their sleep; the love that is spontaneous because it is fully enlightened spontaneously; the love that is enlightenment because it is unity of experience; the love that has no presumption because it has eliminated attachment and aversion…. “- The Vimalakirti Nirdesa Sutra

This is a truly boundless love and is both unbreakable as well as pure from any grasping or aversion unlike the mixed love we ordinarily experience. One holding a love with this magnitude has no longer enemies and consequently works to develop all livings beings to realize their true nature. This view and action is the bodhisattva ideal practiced by the Buddha’s. A bodhisattva will give with great joy and without any regret in giving, knowing this benefits both self and others – as there is no difference. This may seem a lofty goal for us mere mortals but as Robert Thurman puts it:

“Within the limits of our spiritual capacity, we continue to engage in our social requirements and responsibilities. If it is beyond our capacity, we exercise restrain through precepts. In either case, we are in constant full awareness and control over our minds, never letting astray. Thus we are conscientious on our cultivation, but not to the extent of seclusion; we engage life, but not be distracted by life. This is the middle path of the middle path.”

Having had a glimpse of our true nature or at least understood it on a mental level we practice according to this in everyday life, thereby coming one step closer to perfection moment by moment, day by day.

Wisdom & Compassion

Our true nature is boundless and this we can remember always – even if our mind is still impure. This gives us the freedom to act accordingly in daily life – a life practicing compassion toward others. Faking it until we make it will gradually diminish our self-cherishing ways and so makes any action, no matter how small, into the path for realizing our true nature.

This concludes Our True Nature and What to Do With It. If you would like to read more Pure Teachings by Sherab Namgyal follow this link: or for Dream Yoga