Glossary of Spiritual Wisdom
Excerpts about True Nature's Nature
Many Faces of True Nature
What I mean is that true nature doesn’t have only one way of presenting itself. You can experience it as a crystal or a stone, which is how the alchemists talked about it. And you can experience this stone as either outside of you or inside of you. When outside of you as the ground that contains you, the stone seems to be the magical divine hermaphrodite—creating all possibilities—that carries the secrets of all existence. Inside you, the stone feels like you awakened to yourself. But true nature can also manifest as warm compassion—tenderness that affects you, impacts you in such a way that you are aware of other people and feel inclined to do what you can to be of service. It can manifest compassion with an emerald-green hue or with no color at all. True nature can expand, appearing as compassion of the heart or compassion that pervades everything. True nature can also appear as a diamond-like form in the center of your forehead that allows you to perceive and understand everything clearly and precisely. Or true nature can appear along your spine as a platinum column that supports you to be yourself. And true nature can even appear as an apple in the hand of a Zen Master.
The Alchemy of Freedom, pg. 144
Questioning: What is It?
True nature, however, can also manifest as total spaciousness, total emptiness, no presence or light, nothing at all. The question then remains, “What is it?” Is true nature something? Is it something that is manifesting different things, or is it something that changes into different shapes? And if it is something, how can it appear in so many places in so many different ways? Are there many true natures or are all these manifestations the same true nature? And if it is the same true nature, how can one thing appear differently in different people at the same time? Or is this difference simply people’s subjective, relative experience? And if there actually is the experience of awakening to reality, what does it mean, then, if this awakening is subjective experience? Is subjective, relative experience even related to reality? And if awakening is waking up to reality, waking up to how things are, how can there be so many kinds of awakening, so many different possibilities?
The Alchemy of Freedom, pg. 145
True Nature Can be both Existence and Nonexistence at Once
It confounds our mind when we try to find out what true nature is. The question “What is it?” implies both the what and the that: that true nature is a what—a something—and that it is. It assumes that true nature is a something that exists. But is it something that exists? We know that true nature can appear as pure existence—solid, complete, and certain, like molybdenum. This pure existence—immense, powerful, and the nature of all and everything in the universe—is absolute is-ness, more solid than anything else in the whole material world. But we can also experience true nature as pure nonexistence, as pure nonbeing. And the truth that appeared as much more solid than the physical universe can suddenly appear ephemeral and phantasmagoric because its nature is nonbeing. When we experience this nonbeingness, it is spacious, open and transparent to everything. The transparency can become fluid like air or it can appear crystalline, faceted, and precise. We see that true nature can be both existence and nonexistence at once. And many teachings agree that it is inseparably both being and nonbeing, both presence and absence.
The Alchemy of Freedom, pg. 146
True Nature Doesn’t Actually Exist Apart from an Individual
And true nature is also what we are. It is what we are regardless of how we experience ourselves—whether as pure presence or as pure awareness or as pure emptiness or as essential identity or as personal presence. So when I say that we are true nature, I mean that we continue to be the individual we are and that we are also this mysterious philosophers’ stone that can be everything at one time or another. This language is tricky because when I say that we as individuals are this stone that can take any of these forms or formlessnesses, it seems to imply that true nature is something that exists on its own. But it doesn’t actually exist apart from an individual. That is to say, it doesn’t exist apart from the thing that it is the nature of, because it is its true nature, the nature of everything. Is true nature something on its own? Is there true nature apart from all the things that true nature is the nature of? If we eliminate all manifestation, would there still be true nature?
The Alchemy of Freedom, pg. 147
True Nature has no Spatial Characteristics
To say that true nature transcends space means that it cannot be thought of in spatial terms. True nature has no spatial characteristics: extension, distance, shape, or size.
The Inner Journey Home, pg. 250
True Nature is Freedom, is What Frees and Cannot be Narrowed Down to Anything in Particular
The mystery of the philosophers’ stone is that it is the true nature of reality—the nature of Total Being, which is reality in all its possibilities in all times and all spaces—and, at the same time, it is nothing in particular. It is the purity and the freedom of Total Being to manifest all these realities and to live as all these realities. And we experience this life of Total Being as our personal life, as the preciousness of human life. True nature is freedom, is what frees, and is what we are, and yet we cannot narrow it down to anything in particular. To be free, we have to live in fundamental innocence.
The Alchemy of Freedom, pg. 181
True Nature is what Gives Everything Being
Because of the various properties of true nature, we don’t only recognize true nature as our beingness, as what makes us be what we are. True nature also reveals itself as the awareness and luminosity and goodness of what we are, as the openness and lovingness and kindness of what we are. We see heart in a pure way, and mind in a pure way, and existence in a pure way. We can see them as the nature of everything; we can see everything as love or everything as awareness or everything as existence. Everything has the characteristic of being more transparent than we thought. Even the physical, the emotional, and the mental things that we experience appear as spiritual manifestations. This experience of spirit is not outside of the physical, mental, or emotional realm of experience. When we recognize that true nature is what gives everything being, all these things begin to show what they really are, begin to show that they are all manifestations of the same truth, of the same reality.
The Alchemy of Freedom, pg. 168
When the Master and the Lama Look at the Situation Differently
So what is the philosophers’ stone? I’ve said it is our true nature. But what is true nature? It is not easy to find out or say what true nature is. This reminds me of the story of the Zen Master who presents an apple to a High Lama and asks him, “What is this?” The Lama answers, “It’s an apple.” Unsatisfied with the answer, the Zen Master persists, “What is this?” And the Lama keeps responding, “It’s an apple.” After a few rounds of this, the Lama finally exclaims, “This guy has never seen an apple before?!” As I understand it, for the Lama true nature is clarity and
emptiness that is everywhere, including the apple, the Lama, the Master, and all of reality. For the Zen Master, the apple itself is all of reality. Even though everything that the Lama is seeing is there in the apple, the Master and the Lama don’t see eye to eye, because they are looking at the situation differently. This happens a lot; people don’t understand each other because they use different languages and metaphors and they have different backgrounds and history, but also because they have different views of reality.