I read not too long ago that when the first Tibetan lamas came to North America to teach Buddhism, they were first astonished, then horrified, at the degree to which we North Americans deeply disliked ourselves. Apparently, the lamas had never before encountered such a degree of self-hatred.
That doesn’t surprise me much, since appreciation for who we are, as we are, is the last thing the movers and shakers in our consumer economy want us to feel. There is no economic benefit at all to a population of individuals who are content in themselves and who feel little need for more and more or bigger and better.
Rather, it is important to instill in us the conviction that we need to be thinner, more muscular, more beautiful, have more hair, buy a bigger car, grow greener grass, have more erections, show a whiter smile, get rid of dandruff–the list is truly endless.
With such overt and subliminal conditioning coming at us from the time we’re old enough to toddle to the television set, is it any wonder that we tend not to consider ourselves okay as we are?
It strikes me that with all the messages coming at us every moment of every day, it could be the work of a good part of a lifetime to dig down through the imposed standards in order to discern who we really are and who we choose to remain in spite of the influence of a society that can sometimes make us feel like Dr. Doolittle’s Pushmi-pullyu.
Ego seems to work both ends of the street, at one end helpfully attempting to overcome insecurity and self-hatred, and at the other, bloating into self-importance and egotism.
Yet somewhere in the middle, is there a set point where ego has overcome its down side and not yet degenerated into self-indulgence?
Or is it now too late? Have we already become a population of narcissists?
A recent post by Dharmavidya, the head of the Amida Order, tells us where that set point might be located:
Thinking ourselves most important in the universe, we might suddenly take note that in relation to the cosmos we are less than a dew drop to the ocean. Thus we swing from inflation to deflation, wondering which is correct.
Is it hugely important what I do, or is it a matter without the least significance in the greater scheme of things? Are the year gone by and that to come great steps, or are they nothing much?
Thus, obsessed with the insoluble question of weighing our own importance, we make confusion reign.
A dew drop cannot do very much by its own power, and powerless is how we often feel. Between bouts of elation we plumb the chasm of despondency.
However, as Dogen says, every dewdrop, no matter how small, reflects the full light of the moon. The whole moon is seen therein.
The dewdrop is in no way ruptured or harmed by the fact that the whole moon enters into it and appears in its depths. Indeed, the reflection appears as deep as the moon is high, although the dewdrop measures less than half a centimetre.
It is not our part to rival or displace the great orb above, but simply to appreciate its light bathing us and passing through, becoming apparent to others; and, in like manner, ourselves to see that same light in them.
Indeed, if we look closely, the reflection in the dewdrop is not limited to the moon, glorious as it is. In one drop is reflected the whole cosmic extent, to which no limit is knowable. Infinity reigns in each of us without making the least demand upon us.
Thus looking deeply into another, one sees the meaning of all being, one is touched by what is most personal because it is universal.
One’s concern with self-assessment is forgotten, at least for a moment, and in that moment the whole freedom of awakening is known.
The moment passes, but the trace remains; and in the remembering, we find peace.
It makes sense that the set-point might be nothing more elaborate than the act of putting aside our concern with self-assessment–in other words, with ourselves. We are both humble and noble; both of these realities are inextricably bound into our natures.
To paraphrase a quote from C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity, “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.”
And therein lies true nobility.