You could say that when Nagarjuna explains the Prajnaparamita, he concentrates more on its empty aspect, whereas when Maitreya explains the same thing he concentrates more on the “-ness” aspect. This “-ness” is buddhanature. You might wonder why the Buddha taught in the sutras that all phenomena are like clouds—unstable, naturally illusory, and empty. Why is it that even though we can experience them, they are without essence, like a dream or mirage?
Why is all this taught as emptiness in the Madhyamaka teachings and the Prajnaparamita Sutras? And as Mipham Rinpoche’s commentary on the Uttaratantra Shastra asks, why in this third turning of the wheel of dharma does the Buddha say that this buddhanature exists within all sentient beings? Isn’t that a contradiction? Furthermore, since buddhanature is very difficult to understand, even for sublime beings who are on the path, why is it taught here for ordinary beings? Let’s go to Maitreya’s text:
He had taught in various places that every knowable thing is ever void, like a cloud, a dream, or an illusion. Then why did the Buddha declare the essence of buddhahood to be there in every sentient being? (Stanza 156)
First of all, there is no contradiction between the second turning of the wheel of the dharma, where the Buddha taught that everything is emptiness, and the third turning of the wheel, where the Buddha taught that all sentient beings have buddhanature. In the Prajnaparamita Sutras of the second turning, the Buddha emphasizes that nothing is truly existent. So here, when Buddha says there is buddhanature, he isn’t saying that buddhanature truly exists. Rather, he is emphasizing its clarity aspect. When we talk about the union of clarity and emptiness, it’s important that we understand both aspects, not only the emptiness aspect.
Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche
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