The Buddha said, If you want to understand the true meaning of the buddha-nature, you should correctly understand its momentary manifestations.
When the right time comes, the buddha-nature will manifest itself.
Many monks, both past and present, have believed that the phrase, "When the right time comes," means to wait for the buddha-nature to manifest itself in the future. They think that if they continue training in the way, the buddha-nature will naturally manifest itself at the right time. Until that time comes, they mistakenly conclude that the buddha-nature will not manifest itself, even should they visit a master in search of the dharma or train diligently.
Based on this false conclusion, they meaninglessly return to the ordinary world and vainly wait for the right time to come.
The words, "When the right time comes," means that the right time has already come. There can be no doubt about this. Even should doubts arise, they are nothing but the manifestation of the buddha-nature in ourselves. "The right time" means that we should make the most of every day.
If the right time were something which came, the buddha-nature would not come.
This is because the right time has already come; the buddha-nature has already manifested itself. This fact is quite clear, for there has never been a right time that has not come, nor a buddha-nature which has not manifested itself.
Maneesha, man is by birth a buddha – every man, good or bad, right or wrong, sinner or saint, it does not matter. As far as one’s buddhahood is concerned, it remains untouched by what you do, by what is your behavior. Because this is the case, the problem arises that if everybody is a buddha then why this effort and endeavor, this seeking and searching for buddhahood?
This question was asked not only to Dogen, it was also asked to Gautam Buddha himself, who is only one buddha in the long line of buddhas who have passed before him and after him; but perhaps the most prominent, perhaps the most recognized. To satisfy the ordinary questioner Buddha said, “It will come in its own time,” just as flowers come in their own time and clouds come in their own time and the sun rises in its own time.
In existence there is a continuity of timing. It is not that today the moon will be a little late or the sun will continue a little longer. There is absolute certainty that everything happens in nature when the right time comes, so the right time simply means the right opportunity, the right climate, the right readiness, receptivity. And then you need not be worried about buddhahood, because as far as buddhahood is concerned you already have it. What is missing is a recognition. You have forgotten your name, that is all that is missing. Perhaps a certain situation is needed in which you can be reminded about your name.
Before I talk about Dogen’s sutra I would love to share with you an incident in Edison’s life. He was such a prominent scientist, such a great teacher, that nobody ever referred to him by name. His parents died early and he was so involved in his work that he had no friends. All that he had were scientists who were studying under him. Obviously they could not call him by his name, Edison. They all called him “Professor.”
Slowly, slowly he himself forgot what his name was. If for fifty years nobody uses your name and then suddenly somebody calls you by your name, it is possible you will get a shock. You will feel that somehow you remember this fellow…a memory, a faraway echo in the mountains. But ordinarily this does not happen because every day you are reminded of your name.
It was a special case with Edison. His parents died early, and he was a genius from his very childhood. He alone was capable of inventing one thousand things which had never existed in the world. You will not be able to find anything around you on which there is not Edison’s signature.