The self. Buddhism in general teaches that we should dissolve the ego so that we can be sincerely altruistic and unconditionally loving of all beings. Accordingly, if we cease to be attached to our ‘self,’ which incidentally exists only in our minds, then we can be liberated from all suffering.
We all have ideals for ourselves, our image, our happiness and love, and most human beings naturally want to be popular and loved by those around them. But such an ideal can create conditions for unhappiness or disappointment if we become attached to it and manipulate those around us to believe we are something or someone that actually in all honesty we are not. We may exaggerate, or tell fascinating stories which are not wholly true, or worse, lie, in order to make people think well of us, respect us, like us. A common way of describing this is ‘to reinvent’ ourselves, building a new identity for ourselves, which we want to take all the credit for.
There are common misconceptions about aspiring to spiritual pathways or a spiritual life. The notion of ‘path’ tends to create the impression that we have to go somewhere moving steadily along an unknown path until we reach the end and are transformed. The idea of arriving at an unknown destination fraught with problems along the route, the travel time unknown, the certainty of arriving also unknown, appeals to the ordinary mind, which tends to become fixed and lacking in stimulation from outside. But if we accept that rather we are unique spirits traveling eternally and internally through a timeless space-less continuum until we reach the realms of the Buddhas or Gods, having learned all the lessons we need to, then it is easy to see that being born a human is difficult, and is just one small part of a process.
Our spirits manifest as flesh so that we can learn particular lessons, especially those concerning unconditional love, and so it is not a spiritual pathway we are seeking, but a human one. We are aspiring to become better, even perfect, humans, or Bodhisattvas (see previous article – https://lindenthorp.wordpress.com/2013/09/21/bodhisattva/) as Buddhists refer to them. The Nirvana Sutra teaches us that we do not have to search very far to find a perfect training ground to hone our humanity among our nearest and dearest, our professional contacts, the public at large, and in our own minds.
In the final teachings, the Buddha introduced a new goal for our training as humans: to attain ‘permanence, true self, bliss and purity.’ Three of these aspirations – permanence, bliss and purity – are fairly obvious, but ’true self’ might be more difficult to grasp. We become so attached to our likes and dislikes, our desires, even our character traits which other people take delight in pointing out to us, that our ‘self’ becomes concrete, fixed, and perhaps we are proud or ashamed of it. But this self is synthetic, and we and our close ones, families and communities, are responsible for synthesizing it. Our true self is our spiritual self. It belongs to no-one and is eternal and of the universe. It is the self, which is faultless, permanent, and intrinsically good. The self that is wise and all-knowing. Therefore, part of our lesson to be learned in pursuit of being an excellent human, is to resist proliferating this synthetic self; the self that strays from the truth and has distorted views of reality.
The human mind is a marvelous tool, but in this era of deterioration, when we have become distanced from the divine, needing intermediaries to connect us to them, we tend to use it to create in our own right dictated by our egos, instead of in line with the divine and the universe. Creativity is a gift when it comes to human creations, but it is the sacred dimensions which possess the ultimate power, superior compared with our tiny flickering minds. This tool of the intellect is adept at making concepts, ideas, formulae, etc., and all manner of mental images and contraptions, which sadly put us always at a distance to reality. The synthesized human self is a similar contraption, which we cling to, making it more and more fixed throughout our adult lives and which becomes a source of suffering.
This self we construct, supplying it amply with our chosen cultural, social and linguistic morays, is, as mentioned above, often flawed and distorted, and to make matters worse, it is a vehicle, the most recent model in the linear range, for the negative and positive karma (or actions) of all our ancestors and related spirits. Everything and everyone is connected, so what an ancestor did 300 years ago will affect you today in your life in some way. These laws of karma demand that we atone for our ancestral karma and perhaps national karma, so that all is purified and we are then in the position to help others to purify their negative karma. Some people have less negative karma and less fixed ‘selves’ than others, so this would account for why some of us do enjoy happiness, and our lives seem smooth and blessed, or ‘lucky.’
What if there was a way to know your past and your future, to step outside the human concepts of space and time? What if it was indicated in religious meditation with a spiritually evolved being that your ancestors were certain beings with certain karma: healers, cruel dictators, priests and nuns, beautiful children who died in infancy, explorers and settlers of new lands, missionaries, the devout, etc…spirits who had struggled along the human pathway, made effort to be Bodhisattvas, some of whom had succeeded, some failed. Then you could feel reassured that the human lessons had been learned by predecessors, and that in retrospect, it is easy to see that it was their unique spirit and its determination to survive unimaginable hardships and conditions which made them great. If they had not survived, then we would not be here. I am very fortunate that I can experience such unique meditation developed by my masters, Shinjo and Tomoji Ito, and so can eliminate negative karma relatively rapidly.
The Buddha’s earlier wisdom sutras, or Heart sutra as it is known, taught that we should eliminate this self, getting rid of our ego and all our self-serving desires. But then the Buddha on his deathbed taught that we should build up the self. This confused everyone assembled to say farewell, especially the enlightened disciples who had become complacent. This self is the one that recognizes its shortcomings and inadequacies, and is willing to make the effort to be a better human being. In addition, this self can learn to identify and then accept the shortcomings in others exactly for what they are – a projection of the false or worldly self, and so generate unconditional compassion and universal Bodhicitta (see previous article: https://lindenthorp.wordpress.com/2013/10/07/bodhi-mind-and-mindfulness/) for all beings.
These final teachings also proclaim that anyone, regardless of their level of negative karma produced by their ancestors or by their own actions during their lives, can be liberated and purified, and eventually find their true self. At the time approximately 2,600 years ago, the spiritually evolved gathered in the Sala Grove, Buddha’s final resting place, were shocked at hearing this because earlier in his ministry the Buddha had insisted that only the ordained monastics could reach full enlightenment, and that they must live by strict rules and give up their ordinary life to do so. But finally, in the Great Parinirvana sutra, the sutra of all sutras, universal compassion for all living beings surfaced on the lips of the Buddha. He said,
“Those who study other sutras will never be at the end of their quest. They will keep looking for something that can help them more, something that works more for them. Once they discover the wisdom of Mahaparinirvana, their search will cease, and they will realize they have come to the end of their aim. Mahaparinirvana enables all beings to free themselves of all delusions and illusions.”
So, as a result of this final teaching, lay practitioners were able to strive towards enlightenment without giving up their daily life. Today there are many lay orders, their practices designed for busy working people with families. My own sect is such, but we may be ordained and elevate spiritually while taking the fundamental principles of the final teachings of the Buddha out into our communities and families. I believe such a training in daily life is the most difficult with all its temptations and choices. Daily life is the best training of all for developing unconditional love. It is tested at every turn!
The final teachings also decreed that the lessons learned in any faith were compatible with the teachings of Great Parinirvana. All pathways of faith flow into the great Ocean of Nirvana and coalesce to create world harmony and universal peace. This collection of true selves, beings of faith, no matter which faith, must come together in one heart to rebalance the earth and its peoples.
Finally, it is interesting that few Buddhist denominations today have the final teachings of the Buddha as their core. In Japan, the Shinnyo teaching is the only one. Now is the time for these final teachings to be activated globally.