The Buddha nature: the Original Source of All Living Beings
There can be endless births and infinite transformations in the world, all because of the Buddha nature.
In the very beginning, the universe was nebulous and indistinguishable. When Heaven and Earth were created, there were no people and no living beings. You can't really say that there was a world or there wasn't a world. There was basically nothing at all. Later, during the phase of becoming, living beings came into being bit by bit. Ultimately, where did human beings come from? Some people say they evolved from apes. But what did the apes evolve from? If it was possible for apes to turn into people in the past, why can't they change into people now? Strange! Ignorant people who were trying to be different invented this unusual theory that people evolved from apes. Why don't they just say people evolved from mice, or from caterpillars? How do they know that mice didn't evolve from people?
Who is the original ancestor of all the flying, swimming, and roaming creatures and the plants--the birds in the sky, the fish, turtles, shrimp, crabs, and other creatures in the water, the people and other creatures endowed with blood and breath, and the flowers, grasses, trees, and all the plants? The Buddha nature is.
There can be endless births and infinite transformations in the world, all because of the Buddha nature. If the Buddha nature did not exist, everything would cease to be. The Buddha nature alone endures without perishing for thousands of ages, and exists eternally through myriads of generations, and so the Ten Dharma Realms are transformationally produced from it. The Ten Dharma Realms are not apart from a single thought. That single thought is the Buddha nature--it's another name for the Buddha nature. Thus, people are evolved from the Buddha nature, and animals come into being when people fall lower in the cycle of rebirth. The theory of the Ten Dharma Realms explains it very clearly.
Ultimately, how did people come into being? Let's look at how chickens came into being. Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Without a chicken, there's no egg. Without an egg, there's no chicken. That's the "chicken question," which has no final answer. Regarding people, did the man or the woman exist first? If you say the man was first, a man is born from a woman's womb. If you say the woman was first, it takes a man for there to be a conception. Because it was so long ago, people have forgotten just how humans came into being.
The myriad phenomena fundamentally come from the Buddha nature, coming into being and returning to nothingness, in an endless series of births and transformations, ever increasing in number like bugs born in rice, which is a case of something insentient producing something sentient. By the same principle, the Buddha nature can transform nothing into something, producing all living beings and humankind.
The theory that humans evolved from apes is totally groundless. You can see that the people of different countries have different appearances--there are black, yellow, white, and red-skinned people. What did they evolve from? You can talk about it this way and that, but you'll never find an answer. If we return to the Buddha nature--which can transform nothing into something, and something into nothing, in endless births and transformations --this is a theory which can explain it, but few people have the wisdom to reach that level of understanding.
People came into being from nothingness, and all other living beings are that way, too. Cultivation is just turning existence into nothingness, returning to the origin, and going back to the inherent Buddha nature. "What use is that?" you ask. Well, what use is your being a person? If you can return to your inherent Buddha nature, you will quickly be able to accomplish the Buddha Way. The Buddha nature exists eternally. Even if all living beings die, the Buddha nature will never perish. Why am I talking about this? It's because today is the anniversary of Earth Treasury Bodhisattva, and his vows urge me to speak some truly fundamental principles about being a person and handling affairs, that is, about the principle of "nothing turning into something, and something turning into nothing." If you don't believe that principle, then how do you explain bugs being born in rice? People in the world are also like bugs, except that they have a higher level of perceptive ability and a soul. But they are still a long way from the Buddha. Comparing people to the Buddha is just like comparing bugs to people.
If you understand this, then you will be able to cultivate. In cultivation, you must be as steady as a balance, calm and peaceful, with no waves in your own nature. If you truly understand Buddhism, then I can discuss the Buddhadharma with you, and together we can investigate how to cultivate. If you do not truly understand, and you are still involved in seeking name and gain, and you cannot put down wealth, sex, fame, food and sleep--you can't put anything down--then how can I tell you about the true Buddhadharma and cultivation of the Way? All of you should wake up and be alert!
A talk given on September 13, 1982