This book starts with Buddha-nature, which is the primary cause or “seed” for one to attain Buddhahood.
Without that cause, no matter how much effort one made, there would not be any progress. For example, on a farm, if there is no seed, no matter how much one cultivates and fertilizes, nothing will grow. But if there is a seed, the primary cause, then the seed will sprout when it meets the right contributory causes and eventually it will bear fruit.
On the other hand, even if there is a seed, if it doesn’t meet all the required causes and conditions, it will not sprout or grow.
Similarly, even though all sentient beings are completely permeated with Buddha-nature, the seed of enlightenment, success depends on the individual.
If one doesn’t apply the necessary causes, it will take some time to manifest the desired result.
To illustrate this another way, the mustard seed is permeated by oil. There is no difference between the oil in the seed and that in the jar. One is not better than the other. But until it is actually produced from the mustard seed, it cannot be called “oil.” In order to produce the oil, all the necessary causes and conditions are required: first one must know that there is oil in the mustard seed, then know how to extract the oil, and finally know how to apply effort properly. Through that, one will get oil.
Similarly, even though all sentient beings are permeated with Buddha-nature, we cannot be called “Buddha” until we actualize Buddhahood.
So, to attain Buddhahood, we first have to know that we contain Buddha-nature, the complete potential which is no different from the Buddha’s nature.
This is a way to establish self-esteem and break the attitudes of hopelessness and discouragement. On the basis of this confidence, one should apply these progressive stages as an instrument to fully manifest the nature of perfect enlightenment.
Due to individuals’ interest and courage, some attain enlightenment sooner than others. Therefore, Dharma Lord Gampopa laid out five different families. Lord Jigten Sumgon said, “Buddha-nature is inherently pure and possesses all the excellent qualities of the Buddha.” This vajra speech is explained in further detail in his Gong Chik text.
What is the significance of the fact that all sentient beings are permeated by Buddha-nature?
It means that no matter how ruthless one may be, one still has some loving-kindness and compassion, at least toward one’s own family.
When the sun is in the sky, no matter how thick the cloud cover, some dim light still shines through. Similarly, our Buddha-nature cannot be completely obscured, so we all must have the potential to progress toward and to fully manifest Buddhahood.
To understand Buddha-nature in detail, study the Unsurpassed Tantra shastra by Buddha Maitreya. There are also several sutras and commentaries on this topic.
Source: Gampopa, Dharma Lord. The Jewel Ornament of Liberation: The Wish-fulfilling Gem of the Noble Teachings. Translated by Khenpo Konchog Gyaltsen Rinpoche. Edited by Ani K. Trinlay Chodron. Boulder, Colorado: Snow Lion, 1998.