There is an extremely rare Sutra named the Angulimaliya Sutra (also known as the Mahayana Angulimala Sutra) that is one of the Tathagatagarbha class Sutras (Buddha Nature Sutras). Many Buddhists will know Angulimala from the Angulimala Sutta where he was known as a serial killer who used to collect the fingers of his victims and string them around his neck as a garland – until he tried to kill the Buddha but couldn’t. The Buddha subdued Angulimala and after diligent effort, Angulimala ended up becoming an enlightened Arhat but still had to suffer the consequences of his bad karma.
In the Angulimaliya Sutra, Angulimala is revealed to have great wisdom – enough wisdom to be able to teach the wisest of Bodhisattvas, Manjushri, a thing or two about the Buddha Nature. Now, even though Manjushri Bodhisattva is greatly wise, he is also humble – so in reality, he is just pretending not to know, asking important questions to Angulimala, in order to reveal the principles so that we, the audience, can understand more about the Buddha Nature.
The Sutra refers to the Buddha Nature as the Tathagatagarbha (Buddha embryo) or Atma-dhatu (Self Element) as well as Buddha-dhatu (Buddha element). So the Sutra starts with:
Manjushri Bodhisattva asks Angulimala, “What is this Buddha Nature you just mentioned? If the Buddha Nature exists within all living beings, then:
- Wouldn’t it be okay for them to break the 5 precepts? i.e., kill, steal, lie, sexual misconduct, take intoxicants?
- Wouldn’t they be already be enlightened? And because they are already enlightened, then it won’t lead to bad fruition of karmic actions?
So Manjushri pretends by saying, “Therefore, there is no Buddha Nature in people, because the Buddha taught that everything has no self”.
The Buddha replies, “The Buddha nature definitely exists in all living beings, but it’s like a light trapped inside a jar of millions of afflictions.”
- Your inherently enlightened nature is symbolized by the light (this nature is not different from the nature of a Buddha and is replete with all the virtues of a Buddha)
- Freeing the light from the jar symbolizes enlightenment.
So maybe people might think, ‘Buddha Nature man – we’re already Buddhas cos we all have it. So just chill, just be, do whatever gives you the greatest pleasure. You don’t need to put so much effort into cultivating’. So after learning that they have Buddha Nature, they think that can do anything that they want (even to the point of committing in the vilest crimes, the most despicable acts and hurting a lot of people around them just because they want to get the most pleasure out of life for themselves) and think that they still be liberated no matter what because they have the Buddha Nature.
What did the Buddha say about this? “But that’s like making the jar thicker and thicker around the light.”
- So the light seems dimmer and dimmer – even to the point of not being able to see the light.
- But actually, the light is unchanged – it is still at the same intensity, but the jar can get so thick that you don’t even realize that you have a light anymore – so they think that their Buddha Nature is lost or they think that they have no Buddha Nature.
So the Buddha asks these people, “How can the light get free if you keep engaging in the bad karma of harmful actions, speech and thoughts?”