Bhagavat is one of the titles of the Buddha and often translated as “Lord.” This word has the connotation of sovereignty, authority, mastery. So who is the true master of our lives? Is it the Buddha? The historical Buddha is however, a teacher, and not a literal ruler or master, though in East Asian the Buddha was considered to embody the three virtues of parent, teacher, and sovereign.

Now here is an interesting thing – one of the ways the Buddha taught his doctrine of non-self, was to point out that  none of the things that make up our existence are really totally under our control. We cannot really control our body, because if we did we could live forever and would never feel hungry, thirsty, or tired, or so much as catch a cold. We cannot really control our feelings, because if we did then we would never feel pain and we could cause our pleasant feelings to last forever. We cannot really control our perceptions, because if we did we would never have to perceive unpleasant people, places, events, feelings or ideas. We cannot really control our mental formations, because if we could we would predetermine every thought and feeling that arose in us. Finally, even conscious awareness is not really in our control as we can lose it when we fall asleep, through accidents, and ultimately through death. So there doesn’t seem to be any real controller, master, or self as a fully in control determining agent. Therefore, the reality of our form, feelings, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness is that they are all non-self, and those five categories include everything that constitutes life as we experience it. So we seem to have a self, but we really don’t. We just have a conglomeration of factors that are provisionally designated and related to as a self. Developmental psychology and neurology corroborate this.

In Mahayana, however, the “self” is seemingly rehabilitated. Since all conditioned phenomena (such as form, feeling, percpetions, mental formations, and consciousness) are impure, ultimately unsatisfactory (i.e. suffering), impermanent, and non-self; then the unconditioned (whether called nirvana, the Dharma-body of the Buddha, or buddha-nature) must be the opposite – pure, blissful, eternal, and the true self. It is that which is authentic and not a falsely identified self, it is that which is truly in control (and would anyone dare say the Buddha is not in control of himself?). Now nirvana is the impersonal way of relating to the unconditioned. The Dharma-body of the Buddha is to view all of reality as expressing buddhahood (or conversely, what is ultimately true about the Buddha is the ultimate truth about everyting), and buddha-nature is that aspect of the true reality of all things which is necessarily our truth as well and therefore something we can realize and actualize. As buddha-nature, it would seem that true selfhood or lordship is a secret and ineffable part of our lives (though not to be confused with all the conditions we falsely identify with, and not as something substantial that we can grasp).

Let us consider the Dharma-kaya for a moment. One way of personifying the Dharma-body, the universal aspect of buddhahood, in Mahayana Buddhism is as Mahavairocana, the Great Illuminator. In East Asian Buddhism this was translated with Chinese characters that mean Great Sun. In scientific terms all of our atoms came from the sun, and ultimately will return to the sun. In Buddhist terms, the Dharma-body is the truth about all causes and conditions, including those that directly and indirectly support what we experience for a time as our life.

This of course also means that as the personfication of the ultimate truth about causes and conditions, the Great Illuminator, is manifest in the fire of all generative creative power and the very air that nourishes all that breath. Here it is worth remembering that Shakyamuni Buddha pointed out that it is naive to measure life in terms of years and more realistic to measure it in terms of the moment it takes to inhale and exhale.

The Dharma-body is not only like the sun, or a generative organ, or fire, or air, but also like a womb, a great sea, and the earth. The Dharma-body when thought of in respect to the buddha-nature is called the tathāgata-garbha, which means “womb of the one who thus comes [from the real of truth].” Enlightenment is sometimes compared to a great ocean which contains and reflects all things and therefore is called the Ocean Mirror Samadhi. When the Prince Siddhartha required a testimony before the demon Mara as to his worthiness to attain buddhahood, he touched the earth and it was the earth goddess Pṛthivī who provided that testimony, and the bodhisattva became Shakyamuni Buddha.

Because of the buddha-nature, even every potential life is a potential buddha. Soon after the Buddha attained his awakening he was protected from an unseasonal monsoon by the naga (sometimes called a dragon but really more like a giant supernatural cobra) Mucalinda, who coiled around him seven times and spread its hood over him. When the Buddha taught, his teaching was called the “lion’s roar.” When the causes and conditions that cause life to arise come together, it is this kind of power, like a serpent or a lion, that may be brought forth if it is only realized.

The Buddha’s teachings are for the purpose of realizing true knowledge (in Sanskrit jñāna), of which there are many kinds such as the “knowledge and vision of things as they really are” or the “six higher knowledges.” In any case, it is the assembly (Sangha) of the noble ones who are able to accomplish their vows (or aspirations or pure will) and bring forth what is truly light, life, love, and liberty.

Those who follow their path to fruition, across all times and places, compose the noble Sangha (or assembly, note that the Greek word ekklesia translated as “church” also means “assembly”).

Everything that nourishes us, including but not limited to everything that we eat and drink, then becomes a part of our practice, and part of the expression of buddha-nature. In this way, as it is taught in East Asian Buddhism, even grasses and trees attain buddhahood.

It is therefore our aspiration to receive the supreme anointment or empowerment (S. abhiṣeka) from the buddhas so that we may accomplish our vow and also attain buddhahood.

Considering the teachings deeply, we should realize that we are one with all beings, because we are empty of any self-nature that would separate us from an other. And yet, provisionally we are an expression of a particular convergence of causes and conditions, embodying the all that is as a unique individual. At the same time, this unified convergence that embraces in one manner or another all time and space necessarily includes all that was, is, and is to come.

Many Buddhist chants begin and/or end with Om (or Aumgn). It signifies, among many other things, the beginning, middle, and end of a process, and by extension the silence or stillness in between. This is impermanence, what is impermanent is empty of self-nature, what is empty of self-nature is naturally at peace. May we realize this for ourselves and helps others to do as well.