Mahayana teaching includes the truth of suffering, but it does not necessarily start there. We take the enlightenment of the Buddha as our standard. In the Sutra of Complete Enlightenment, Manjushri is the first bodhisattva to speak, and he expresses our innate wisdom. Such wisdom is not really part of our direct experience yet, but we trust that one day it will be. This takes a lot of daring. We are asked to question our present observations and put our faith in something that we have failed to see. Rather than trust what we know, we have faith in what we don’t know.
Complete enlightenment is our birthright, but in order to own it we need all the help we can get – and this is where the bodhisattvas come in. You can see them as qualities within yourself or energies outside yourself; but either way, unless you surrender to their great vision and compassion you cannot become who you really are. Actually, you can do it yourself – it’s just not the self you know.
In Buddha’s own times, people found it hard really to have faith in the truth that we all are originally completely enlightened. It seems he taught “How wonderful, how wonderful!” for only about a month and then gave up because nobody understood. He turned to “How miserable, how miserable!” because it was closer to everybody’s experience, and this eventually became identified with the first turning of the wheel. But we should never forget that the word buddha means “awakening” or “enlightenment” – in other words, very good news!
Tenkei Coppens, December 2012