Part of the Buddhist path may be to come to terms with our own immaturity, having to realise that maybe we’re not always right and we’re not always kind. Sometimes in fact we’re downright foolish and unkind. Maybe we don’t mean to be, but we are. In the past we have justified our actions, perhaps, but through awareness we can notice this justification process going on. And even though it might be rather disturbing we face this reality because we want to know the nature of existence and the nature of ourselves. That wish for truth overrides our petty motives and we’re willing to look.
A moment of realisation about the way we operate in the world can open doors in our mind for the light to come in and bring insight. It may cause us to cringe a bit when we reflect on how we’ve been in the past, a very uncomfortable feeling. On the other hand, if we are resolved in wanting to know the truth of existence, we know we have to face such realities, any realities, whatever they are.
Impartial awareness about the way we operate in the world will naturally lead to changes taking place in ourselves and that will be liberating. Why liberating? Because along with our habit-tendencies we will also let go of the very idea of self, a self we try to satisfy with all its desires. Once we are willing to face the self-centredness of ourselves and our unskilful behaviour, the path will be embarked upon. Studying texts and becoming knowledgeable, in themselves, won’t set us on the path, only putting those teachings into practice will do that. We have to do something in the hidden parts of ourselves.
When we begin to notice the way the self-centred mind works, we can do something about it. If we don’t, we’re not really practising and we’re not really on the path. Treading the Buddhist path was never meant to be a soft option. We’ve decided on seeking truth, not peace and comfort, though we are told that a greater and more profound happiness is the other side of not being deluded. Treading the Buddhist path is a brave road, but for many it’s the only one, no other option exists.
As an analogy, there is a piece in an old book I picked up recently, now out of print, called Nine Mountains, which is a compilation of the Korean Son master Kusan Sunim’s teachings. In one section he likens practice—specifically referring to centres and monasteries—to refineries of man. ‘They are,’ he says, ‘furnaces which produce accomplished ones by refining the ordinary man,’ and he gives a simile:
‘Because gold is highly valued by the world, people will spare no capital in their search for it. Pure gold is obtained in the following manner. After mining ore, it is smelted in a furnace; only then can we sort the pure gold out from the other constituents. If we don’t pass through the process of cultivating the Path, it is impossible that we will be able to discover our Self-nature—the “True-I”. Thus, in the Sutra of Complete Enlightenment it is said: “As when gold ore is smelted, it is not because we smelt gold ore that gold exists . . . Once the true gold substance is extracted upon completion of the smelting process, it cannot become ore again.” Thus, though all sentient beings originally possess the Buddhanature which is the great truth of the universe, without the effort to awaken to that nature through practice, it is impossible to change an ordinary man into an accomplished one. Nevertheless, once we have realised the fruit of Buddhahood we cannot become sentient beings again.’
First published in the May 2006 Buddhism Now.
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