Tamami Hayashi told me that she had been “delving into true self, which means the ultimate good in our lifetime an in Buddhism, is called “enlightenment.” She asked me to comment on this “true self” and on what my life goals are.
The Zen master Seung-Sahn Soen-Sa was on the 100th day of a retreat once, and he was outside chanting and hitting the moktak. All at once his body disappeared, and he was in infinite space. From far away he could hear the moktak beating, and the sound of his own voice. He remained in this state for some time. When he returned to his body, he understood. The rocks, the river, everything he could see, everything he could hear, all this was his true self. All things are exactly as they are. The truth is just like this.
All things in the universe are impermanent, but they are also interdependent. If you look deeply into a piece of paper, as Thich Nhat Hanh pointed out, you can see the water cycle, the forest, the cloud that brought it into being. If you look deeply into your own body, you can see the water cycle, the plants and countless animals from the earth, endless ecosystems, chemical process after chemical process. If you look into your mind, you can see the influence of countless teachers, friends, family members, strangers, and traditions. In each moment, nothing is separate; all things are one in their relationships of interdependence. All things are your true self, for there is only one.
Realizing our true nature is moving beyond the three causes of suffering: craving, aversion, ignorance. The Buddha called these the Three Poisons. The more we deepen our understanding of interdependence, no separate self (anatman), and impermanence, the more deeply we move out of a narrowly self-centered life. We face the void of meaninglessness in our culture and emerge with meaning; we face the void of purposelesness and emerge with purpose. What purpose? To deepen understanding, develop virtue, live well, and help as many sentient beings as we can to get free of suffering.
These are my “goals” for life, along with becoming the best teacher I can be and eventually becoming the best father and husband I can be. My goal is to cultivate mindfulness, wisdom, and compassion and to live in accordance with what I cultivate. I aim to do good in the world and have a positive impact. I aim to understand true self more deeply and clarify the mind with meditation and mindfulness practice. I aim to express creativity and create music and writing.
Finally, I aim to experience and purify experience of the Three Poisons so that it can be enlightened experience in each moment. This just means living in a way that reflects our own true nature; our fumdamental awareness, what some Zen masters called “Unborn Buddha Nature” is always empty of aversion, craving, ignorance. Its nature is pure knowing and it contains the entire universe. Through it all knowledge arises.
The Buddha is your own mind’s essential nature; so to realize the qualities of awareness and merge the ordinary mind with them is to live like a Buddha. This takes practice. I am just humbly practicing along the way, one step at a time.