What is the difference between the heart-essence, as mentioned in some of the tantras, and one’s true nature?
The heart-essence (nyingthig) is the true nature.
There are various ways of discussing something. When looking at a jewel, for example, you could grade the color, reflectiveness, clarity, size or shape of it. There are many ways to examine it, but it’s still one jewel.
Different words can be used to describe the same thing. Although they are synonyms, a given term may imply a particular aspect. Reality can present itself in numerous ways. You can come in from any of those aspects, but it’s the same reality. Whatever aspect catches your attention can hook you into the Great Perfection and trigger your enlightenment.
An imbalanced religionist might say, “There’s God, and then there’s everything else. God is good, and everything else is bad.” This is not the teaching of the All Good One. The All Good One says there is God, and all other things are God, too. Showing how everything is connected is of utmost importance in Dzogchen.
When Westerners hear the word ‘heart,’ they think of qualities such as love and wisdom. Someone without heart is rather cold, like a robot. We should feel that loving, wise connection in the heart.
When Easterners use the word ‘heart,’ they could be talking about the physical heart or the chakra at the center of the chest, but they may be in particular referring to the operation of the mind. They are referring to the place in the body where the mind seems to reside. An esoteric Buddhist scripture will often use the term ‘mind-essence’ rather than ‘heart-essence.’ ‘Heart’ and ‘mind’ are synonyms in Eastern thought.
There are many different terms, and on some level they are all incorrect. According to the masters, words can’t explain. If you are looking for the perfect words, it is a futile endeavor because truth can’t be told. There is no way to say, “This is it!” and make everyone experience their true nature. Why? Because it’s already in everybody. It’s their natural experience. They just need to let go, and then it will happen.
The term ‘heart-essence’ is very beautiful. It alludes to something very deep within us. A Western person says, “deep within their soul,” “something innate,” “not something superficial,” or “from the core of my being.”
We have learned a lot of things in our life. One person might be a plumber, another a doctor. These are temporal occupations—they are not our essence. We might enjoy our job, or we might dislike it. These things come and go.
Our true heart-essence is something that makes us at one with the All Good One. The All-Creating King, Samantabhadra, is our own true heart-essence. There are no two heart-essences.
Someone may object, “When Easterners say ‘heart-essence,’ they only mean the mind.” However, the word ‘mind’ includes wisdom, love and interconnectedness. That interconnectedness is not just a nostalgic interconnectedness. It’s an interconnectedness wherein you feel totally complete.
Here are two opposites: on the one side is nostalgic love where you’re always trying to be connected. It feels very important, yet it is a dysfunctional connection to beings. It’s like a bad marriage, a bad family or a bad relationship. Let’s be realistic: it’s like a typical samsaric family. Then on the other side is the heart-essence where you are connected to and at one with God’s holy presence and all beings. That is an enlightened being’s interconnectedness. A buddha doesn’t cling nostalgically and lament, “Back in the old days it was much better before these newer generations came along!”
Like a magical dream, innumerable births are occurring everywhere: births of humans and animals, births of thoughts and ideas, and births of new universes and new species. In order to understand the world correctly you must understand God. You will never figure out the world. People who are trying to calculate the world won’t ever manage to understand in that way. You can only comprehend the world by knowing your true nature. And what is that true nature? It never was born. You can’t get it because you’ve got it. It was always there. How could that be anything other than God? Only God was always there.
We recognize our own true nature, God, and remaining in that meditative state is true meditation. Realize that your nature is unborn. All the forms of the world are not your true nature. Even space is not your true nature. From that position you can completely understand space and all the forms. If you leave the meditation you won’t be able to understand them anymore.
If enlightened beings merely sat around for a thousand years, that wouldn’t bother them. If they became active, gave teachings and engaged in all sorts of tasks, that would be fine, too. They don’t sweat it either way. They have a different perspective regarding activities than do samsaric beings.
The gods and goddesses, the protectors and angels naturally appear in your own heart-essence. In your heart-essence you have access to the guru and the masters. At that level you don’t need to be told to visualize intentionally a specific buddha.
When you see your unborn nature, your glamour goes away. And then you can see ‘the ten thousand things’ as they are: you no longer remain confused about how to work and act within the endless possibilities of phenomena.