Awakening to the truth of who we really are
The ultimate goal of spiritual practices is beautifully summarized in this centuries-old zen teaching wherein Master Nanyue Huairang encountered Mazu Daoyi, who was deep in meditation, and asked him:
“Noble one, what are you trying to do, sitting there in meditation?”
Mazu said, “I’m trying to become a buddha.”
Master Nanyue then picked up a nearby piece of clay tile that had fallen from the roof, and began to rub it briskly on a stone.
Mazu asked, “What are you doing?”
The Master said, “I’m polishing this tile to make a mirror.”
Mazu said, “How can you produce a mirror by polishing a piece of tile?”
Master Nanyue replied, “How can you make a buddha by sitting in meditation?”
Shobogenzo, by Dogen (1200-1253 AD)
Oh what a wonderful little story this is! The goal of our spiritual practices is not to become something else. Our spiritual practices will never magically transform us into something that we are not. The tile will never become a mirror; that is an unrealistic goal, and an unrealistic goal will be met with failure upon failure.
The goal of our spiritual practices, such as meditation, chanting or prayer, is not to make us into something that we are not, but rather to awaken us to the truth of who we really are!
Enlightenment, awakening to our true identity, is the goal of our practices. The little self, the ego, may always remain the same troublesome little self, but the self-centered thinking of the little self is superseded by the all-encompassing intuitive knowing of our true Self, and, in doing so, the little self becomes overshadowed by a greater Self in whom we discover that we live and breathe and have our being. This marvelous change of viewpoint, the shift of the central focus of our attention from the false self to the true Self, is the ultimate achievement of spiritual practices.
Being born again means that the soul is awakened after having come on earth, and entering the kingdom of heaven means that this world, the same kingdom in which we are standing just now, turns into heaven as soon as the point of view has changed. Is it not interesting and most wonderful to think that the same earth we walk on is earth to one person and heaven to another? And it is still more interesting to notice that it is we who change it; we change it from earth into heaven, or we change it otherwise. This change comes not by study, nor by anything else, but only by the changing of our point of view.
The true Self has been patiently awaiting our attention, but we have been so occupied with the drama of the little self that we have not even noticed that there is something far greater which is our true nature. As Shakyamuni buddha once said:
I see now
that all creatures
have perfect Enlightenment
– but they do not yet know it.
This little self, the ego, the superficial aspect of each of us which is the cause of divisive ideas such as I, me, mine, yours, is the source of all of our pain and confusion. When we venture beyond this little self, we discover something far greater, something that has been given names such as Self, God, Allah, Brahma, Atman, Tao, or Buddha-nature. But no matter what we choose to call it, this is our true home, the source of the greatest bliss, the greatest peace, the greatest understanding.
How long will you keep pounding on an open door
Begging for someone to open it?
On the surface, each of us is separate and we have our own individual way of life. But, in the depth of being, we are One. The goal of our spiritual practices is to move beyond the surface, and to discover the depth. The surface of the ocean has waves, turbulence and an ever-changing appearance. The depths of the ocean are calm, peaceful and stable. Likewise, the surface of life, the ephemeral portion of life that is grasped all-too-tightly by the little self, is turbulent, upsetting and ever-changing, while the depth of life, the aspect often called divine, is peaceful, calm and dependable; it is the rock-steady foundation upon which our life exists; it is our true nature.
In the pursuit of learning, every day something is acquired.
In the pursuit of Tao, every day something is dropped.
When one becomes conscious of their own true nature, all of the old unkindness and selfishness are dropped and the true light of loving-kindness and selflessness shines forth in glorious brilliance. The one who is unconditionally loving and is empty of self does not have any further need for lists of commandments or books of rules, since such a one is living in intimate harmony with the divine and every act flows from the well-spring of divine intent.
How can one explain spiritual progress? What is it? What is it like? Spiritual progress is the changing of the point of view.
As long as our greatest ideal, that ideal which is often called Self, God, Allah, Brahma, Atman, Tao, or Buddha-nature, is something far away and much too distant to see clearly or experience directly, we will continue to suffer. But, when one’s viewpoint changes and that greatest of ideals is seen to be everywhere present and manifest in all of creation, then life truly changes. What was once far away becomes closer than one’s own jugular vein; what was once turbulent becomes calm; what was once stressful becomes a source of bliss… yet all that really changes is one’s own viewpoint.
Wishing you love, harmony and beauty,