The Covid-19 pandemic and all the fallout from it-- the cratering of the economy globally, severe unemployment which has led to food insecurity and homelessness in greater numbers-- and a renewed focus on race and social inequities arising from recent events are forcing all of us to change in small and significant ways. Is there anyone who has not changed in some way? I ask myself on a personal level, is our current situation bringing out the best in me, or is it bringing out the worst in me? And how will it affect my future?
It has been a challenging time. In some ways, we are all treading in the dark, uncertain how the new normal will evolve and whether we will ever return to a pre-pandemic lifestyle. But this time has provided me with the opportunity to reflect on how I have changed and to try and understand the importance of awakening to ones true self which is one of the goals of Buddhism. As we discussed at our last Saturday Dharma Gathering and Study Class, this idea of finding oneself is not limited to Buddhism. The need to understand who and what we are can be found in many religions, as well as in philosophy and in literature, suggesting the universality of the well-known phrase, know thyself. However, as we hopefully strive to become better individuals, to bring out the best in ourselves, we quite often use a religious or spiritual path to achieve self-awareness.
In Buddhism, to be able to realize the true self can lead to enlightenment. In order to do that, we have to take a long, hard look at ourselves and honestly recognize who we are and how we are perceived by others. Sometimes I can be my own worst enemy because my ego and my false self get in the way. I need to step back and be willing to acknowledge my ignorance, change my perspectives, and accept my imperfections and responsibilities. In Buddhism, if we can get past our ego that often blinds us to our true selves, then I think we would be amazed to discover the Buddha within ourselves!
I often forget that countless numbers of causes and conditions have brought me to this very moment in my life, but the way I sense there has been a profound change in me without necessarily immediately recognizing it for what it is, I notice that my thoughts and my speech begin to change. I feel unexplainably different. I find it difficult to go back to my previous self. It is a form of enlightenment that awakens me to a truth. For me, rebirth is not limited to when you die. Rebirth can take place whenever we awaken to the reality of the circumstances and challenges we are faced with. Hopefully this transformation can develop positive change within oneself, to the benefit of others, creating a better future. We cannot make a complete transformation of course, we are still foolish beings, but slowly by slowly, our disposition changes and evolves, ideally to something bigger, not smaller. It can go both ways!
The pandemic has forced us to make many personal sacrifices, to give up certain freedoms that we have always taken for granted, and to change the way we lead our lives. But its important to keep in mind that our current situation will not last forever. We still need to listen to the experts and follow the guidelines, but at the same time not knowing how this pandemic will evolve should not make us anxious or feel out of control. If we can look deep inside rather than outside to find answers, we are closer to discovering our true selves. Uncertainty and not knowing in advance the outcome of many situations is inherent in life. Understanding the constancy of uncertainty is in a way knowing, creating a balance against the fear of the unknown. Our hearts and minds become more liberated and open to trying to grasp the true meaning and significance of wisdom and compassion. The awesomeness of self-realization has gotten through! We cant explain it, but it is something we can feel.
When we seek to awaken to our true selves we begin opening up to knowing and respecting others, and becoming less fearful of what lies ahead. The teachings of the Buddha are intended to lessen ones own suffering and that of others. Nobody is perfect. But even so, how grateful I am that by entrusting myself to The Buddha of Immeasurable Light and Life, I become aware that we are all accepted unconditionally, just as we are, to be embraced and never forsaken. How well do you know your true self?
Namo Amida Butsu.