Lotus of the Heart > Path of Spirit > Transformation of Self

 
 

The Exhausted Self... Release is Relief

Nov 15, 2021


A Sunday Seaside

A Sunday Seaside

Old Orchard Beach, Maine

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The "self" is a thought believing itself absolute and personal. It sees itself, being its own mirror, apart from other selves. The self is an individual among individuals ("individual," lit., "not divisible") - self-enclosed, living in personal enclosures and looking out onto other isolated selves. Even among others, the self is partitioned off in itself.

The unenlightened state, or state of ignorance, is the self experiencing life, including other beings, as reflections of itself, not able to honor the other as expressing its own version of the diverse Life. Liberation is in the self recognizing its delusion: all is not its reflection. Self-awareness is a larger Self, not conditioned in time and space but totally here, shining its light. This light reveals the facade and fantasy of the self. The self sees this as a threat to itself - it is.

In theistic terms, the self is lost; it cannot be saved (justified, found, redeemed), unless it sees God; it does not see God, for it finds itself in the seeking. This fantasy surveys the surroundings, seeing only itself in all directions. The self sees the Divine in and as its self-revelation, shaping its creator to fit its fancy. The apparition must be shown from outside that it is a delusion, and all it projects is dream-like; a light must enter from somewhere else. This self, therefore, is truly an island to itself, regardless of how many it sees living alongside it. No other delusion can free it; it can free no other delusion. The liberation arises as a spontaneous Self-liberation, initiated by the light of Grace.

Many refer to this fleeting, insubstantial phantasm as the False Self. Spiritual paths speak of another Reality by differing terms: Self, True Self, Atman, Buddha Nature, the Son of God, etc. Below, I keep with the words "I' or "self" to speak of this illusory self-idea.

Self-belief is one with self-sense: when the self thinks of itself as an individual self, it feels itself to be a separate self. The alliance of idea and feeling is why theory and practice go hand-in-hand - knowing conceptually is not sufficient; insight arises from intuitive knowing. This experiential basis for liberation is posited with an apt metaphor by the Tibetan poet and yogi, Shabkar Lama Jatang Tsogdrug Rangdrol (b 1781).


Milk is the basis of butter, but the butter will not separate until the milk is churned; likewise, human nature [self] is the ground of buddhahood, but without existential realization sentient beings cannot awaken.

*Keith Dowman. The Flight of the Garuda: The Dzogchen Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism.

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We accept the self: the butter is in the milk, the milk in the butter, one in potential, the other the fruition. The self at enmity with itself is not a resolution. The self is an expression of Life, though guided by a lack of insight and compassion. If we touch this self deeply, with awareness, we find Grace there. Hence, exposing the self need not lead to dualistic thinking, that there is an individual False Self and an individual True Self, or that there is self and God set apart. The potential of the arising of the True Self is possible, for it is already present in the False Self. All of the Whole expresses the Whole, so all is imbued with the Light of the Whole.

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As to the use below of the term "suffering," this is misery, mild or pronounced, consequent of the delusional self; this suffering is not pain in a general sense. Arthritis or a headache is not suffering, though it is painful, for example. This suffering has a tone of emotional distress, even subtle unease, and it can include how we respond to pain. An illness can lead to despair, for example, adding to the pain. The same illness might lead to an opening of compassion for others and oneself, so not being suffering. And suffering is of many varieties - discontent, anger, greed, jealously, malice, greed -, and people are often habituated to their menu of misery, and they may excuse themselves of being its cause by blaming others for it. The blaming is an outgrowth and sign of the suffering.

This blaming is a ploy of the self, a means by which the self defends itself. Religious confession is, when engaged rightly, a means to expose this self-righteousness that points outside itself to accuse the other, even its God or a devil. Meditation practices in nontheistic sects provide a means of confession, here being the clarity of seeing what is. This seeing includes becoming aware of the deceptions of the illusory self in the light of Awareness. Religious and non-religious confessional practices can lead to honesty in how the self plies its trade of criticism of others for its failings. These practices can expose, also, the futility of living in self-blame and how such blame can be a means to avoid changing the harmful behavior.

Hence, in Buddhism we are taught insight and compassion arise together. With clarity, the delusional clouds depart, and the light of compassion, or bodhicitta, shines in its natural brightness. Blame dissipates in the spontaneous brilliance of Love. This compassion shines both on others and ourselves equally.

Self-blame is another form of suffering, sustaining the centrality of the self in a guise of guilt often promoted among those religious. In fact, inducement of guilt can be a means of control by adherents of religion, as well as anyone within any group demanding unquestioned allegiance and compliance. Virtue is replaced with moralism. In this instance, the group or leadership becomes the super-ego, reminding everyone how it has failed and needs to mend its ways. Yet, shame is not transformative, while insight and love are.

The True Self is not interested in others feeling guilt-worn, and it knows no god who controls and reforms by shrouding its devotees or non-devotees in guilt and embarrassment for their failings. Instead, this Self, being of love, seeks to uplift, not put down. The humiliation is the karma of action, while compassion entering such self-deprecation is transformative - grace trumps karma, love vanquishes sin.

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A student of Suzuki Roshi's [Soto Zen, 1904-1971], a publisher of Beat poetry, saw his teacher of a year and a half in a private interview. He said that he couldn't continue, that every time he sat zazen [sitting meditation] he started to cry. "I can't take it," he said. "I'm leaving. I can't be here anymore."

Suzuki didn't tell him to stay. He merely said, "You try and you try and you fail, and then you go deeper."

*Suzuki Roshi. Zen is Right Here. Ed. Samuel Chadwick.

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There is no separation between spiritual practice and the rest of life. Life - our entire life - is spiritual practice. If I say I am failing at spiritual practice, I am saying I am failing at life.

The I inside and outside specific spiritual practices is the same. If I go to worship with others, that is the I that leaves after. That I may wish to divide life into sacred and secular, religious and profane, the saved and unsaved, the enlightened and unenlightened, but it cannot do so. That I is a relative I; yet, it is an I, and it tends to see itself as successful or not habitually.

Spiritual practice includes specific means to expose the I that sees itself as right or wrong, productive or not, efficient or not, pleasing to others or not, and deserving or not. We likely enter spiritual practice to ease the pain the self feels, not to expose the self as the cause of the pain. That is a good starting motive, yet it will prove insufficient to sustain us. Indeed, practices like prayerful silence enhance awareness of the self's distress. This awakening may not feel like a blessing; it is.

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Recently, I spent several weeks in pain from a reaggravation of a shoulder injury during a move. And I was upset, for I had moved to the beach for a month after a stressful time, hoping it to be an emotionally uplifting and healing time before transitioning to a new living space. Rather than enjoying the time as planned, life, again, revolved around trying to manage pain. Finally, I admitted the futility and insanity of the false hope of the shoulder getting better on its own. I got an appointment with my primary care physician, and we set in place a plan for assessment, rehabilitation, and pain management. The suffering was how the body kept reminding me of a need to seek a resolution of the pain. Emotional suffering works likewise, exclaiming, "Take action!" Our existential pain is good news, urging us to act to find a way out of the misery caused by egocentricity - that egocentricity is the I at the root of suffering, even by seeking a way out of the suffering.

The Buddha recognized a way out of this existential distress. He presented this in the Four Noble Truths; Suffering, the Cause of Suffering, Freedom from Suffering, the Way out of Suffering. While a person may choose another path, the Buddha's wisdom reminds us we need a practical way to address our suffering and just praying to our God to take care of it is avoidance. I prayed about the shoulder pain, but that did not excuse me from seeking practical God-given means to alleviate the pain. Our relationship with the Sacred, however we name or understand that, is not one of mere passive dependence but co-creation. Grace does not limit responsibility but invites one to be more wisely participatory.

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So, we engage in specific spiritual practices to see into ourselves. Seeing into ourselves, we see into life. The way the mind works in silence, for example, amplifies how the mind works outside silence.

The mind and the I are a relative unity; they cannot be separate. The I is an idea arising in the mind. We see this through disidentifying ourselves with that dream-like self. We can look for a mind, too, and we discover perceptions come and go. But there is no mind to be found. At the moment the I is not held in mind, action continues as before. If the I were absolute, substantive, it would remain, but it cannot sustain itself. In sleep, for example, the relative I, with its stories, hopes, self-criticism, faultfinding of others, oft-arrogant claims, disappears, and we wake up knowing we did not disappear, even though that self did. Hence, the I is as effervescent as smoke. Likely, we feel relief from sleep partly from the disappearance of the self. And how many of us look forward to sleep, knowing it is a refuge.

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As Suzuki Roshi realized, failure in our spiritual path is essential. We see how we did our best, and our best was not good enough. Then, the I can release with this sense of failure, exhausted from bouncing off its limitation. The failure is a success for that we truly are. The body feels the relief.

In this space, after recognition of the failure to liberate ourselves, we can say, "Your will be done." This prayer attributed to Jesus, a request within the Our Father, or Lord's Prayer, in the Christian Scriptures, is a pointer. It is not a definition or explanation; it is inclusive, not exclusive. "Your" is something we are all part of, not simply an object some worship. "Your will" indicates the deepest, subtlest longing of our hearts. We all know home is more than we often experience, and we desire to enjoy home fully. So, we keep churning the milk.

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Last, I often speak of Grace as essential in spiritual realization. What is Grace? When we reach the limits of self-effort, realizing, not in theory but experience, the truth of "Your will be done," we know Grace by Grace. We see beyond what anyone has said Grace is or is not. At the moment of release of the self seeking to free itself from itself and its angst, we know Grace, even as we know the wind blowing upon the face. Such is Grace demystified and disrobed of religious conceptualization. Grace becomes known as assuredly as that wind blowing upon the skin. Our skin is designed to recognize the wind blowing upon it; the heart is designed to recognize the manifestation of Grace, not as religious or non-religious, spiritual or not-spiritual, but as Grace.

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* Brian K. Wilcox, 2021

*Brian's book, An Ache for Union: Poems on Oneness with God through Love, can be ordered through major online booksellers or the publisher AuthorHouse.

 

Lotus of the Heart > Path of Spirit > Transformation of Self

©Brian Wilcox 2021