What does it mean to meet the Buddha ‘face to face’?

A student writes:

What does it mean in the liturgies when it says we can meet the Buddha ‘face to face?’

Lama Shenpen replies:

Well, there are degrees of meaning to ‘meeting face to face.’ On one level, the Buddha Nature or the living Truth of Buddha is in all of us, so any encounter with any being is meeting the Buddha face to face. However, we usually are too blinded by our non-recognition of this to really appreciate it, except for occasional flashes of inspiration and a growing conviction that this has to be the case, even though we don’t always see it. In that sense, as we practise, we come to see the truth of this teaching more and more so we could think that we are moving closer and closer to the realisation that all beings are indeed Buddha.

That is one way of thinking of what ‘meeting Buddha face to face’ means and one could aspire to have that realisation even though in a sense it’s already an everyday occurrence.

Another way of thinking of what meeting Buddhas face to face means is to actually break through the limitations of our present conception of time and space. The tradition says that this is actually possible and is a genuine experience that arises for the Bodhisattva at a certain stage of his or her progress towards Enlightenment. This is a very technical matter though and not something that an ordinary person not at that level, could experience or know about first hand. This kind of teaching is a matter of those further along the path passing messages back down the line about what is opening up ahead.

We cannot know what they are talking about really until we get to where they are. Nevertheless, it could be very helpful to have this information, even while quite a long way off. It might give us all sorts of indications about what to expect and how to interpret our present experience. It might help us make the necessary preparations well in advance thus hastening our progress. It might keep us on track when we were about to veer off down some blind alley, thinking we had found the way, when in fact we were missing the road altogether.

So it could be good to have a bit of a map, as it were, telling us of experiences yet to come. On the other hand, you could argue that if we really knew how far the journey was and what it would involve, we might get discouraged, so maybe it’s better to just think of each step, one at a time without any great vision of where it’s all leading.

That is something each of us has to assess for ourselves by noticing the affect any particular teaching is having on us and whether it inspires and encourages our quest for Truth or not.

Lama Shenpen Hookham

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