Shambhala Sun | September 2013
Editorial: "Our Original Goodness"
Here’ s a Mahayana Buddhist truism: we are a mixture of
wisdom and neurosis. Everything we think, feel, perceive, say, and do has both
an awakened and a confused aspect.
we are a mix of good and bad. This we all know. The important question is which
we really are, which is the deeper reality of human nature. Which is more
original, as it were, the sin or goodness?
we answer that question will define our path to becoming better people—whether
we are struggling against our basic nature or trying to realize it. “You Are
the Sun Not the Clouds,” the title for our cover story in this issue, sums up
the Mahayana Buddhist view.
Buddhist path to becoming a better person is about being who we really are.
That’s our buddhanature, our inherent wisdom and compassion that are always
present, never fundamentally diminished or sullied.
the perfect part Suzuki Roshi talks about. But let’s not be naive about it.
That would be the least Buddhist thing we could possibly do. We have lots of
problems—all we have to do is look at the world around us to know that. So, as
Suzuki Roshi says, we need improvement. But because our stains, confusion, and
neuroses are merely temporary, we can do it. There is no better news than that.
Buddhism, this is called the view, the basic insight into the nature of reality
that informs our practice. One place we can start our path, as
Zen teacher John Tarrant says in our lead teaching on this subject, is with the
wanting itself, with our fundamental longing to be a better person. This too is
a mixture of wisdom and confusion.
is our deepest, most heartfelt wish to be better people—wiser, kinder, more
skillful, more virtuous, more awake, and full of life. In Buddhist terms, we
could say this is the primordial pull of enlightenment. Or we could just say
it’s our simple human desire to be who we really are—to be all we know we are
capable of being.
is deep wisdom and truth in this longing. But what happens when we lose the
view and don’t know where that beautiful wish is trying to lead us? Then, we
seek happiness and a sense of self in externals and dualities: success and
failure, gain and loss, pleasure and pain, and that great plague of our life,
praise and blame. For all its occasional pleasures, this endless pursuit of
external meaning only makes us suffer, and makes us cause others to suffer too.
In fact, one could argue that our very wish to be better people, when
misunderstood and misdirected, is the cause of samsara, of all our suffering.
But when we direct it toward the realization of our true nature, then it is
the path to the home we long for.
don’t have to change who we are—is that even possible?—and there are many
proven techniques to help us deal with those temporary things that need
improvement. One place to start is meditation. Sitting there doing nothing, at
least we’re not making anything worse. In fact, if it’s true that fundamentally
things are perfect as they are, then maybe all we really need to do is stop all
the ways we make things worse.
a simple path, but not an easy one (or we would have done it long, long ago).
It takes a lot of courage to just be who we are. Society has given us so many
reasons to feel bad about ourselves, and so many ways to distract ourselves
from experiencing the tenderness of our human heart and the spaciousness of our
basic being. Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche said a true warrior is someone with the
courage and confidence to really be themselves. You are already the better
person you long to be. You are the sun, not the clouds.
by Megumi Yoshida