In Buddhism we learn we each have one person to save, one person whose salvation we have the opportunity diligently to work out. Learning that that one person is our self is both a blessing and a curse. Most of us grow up believing (at least) two conflicting things: 1) There is something wrong with me that I need to fix but can’t; 2) Fixing other people is a better way to go. (We decide fixing others is better because the people who raised us worked pretty hard to fix us, which leads us to conclude that must be the better way.)
By the time we get to something like Zen Awareness Practice we’ve had plenty of experience that changing other people is no easier or successful than changing ourselves. In fact, this whole changing business has likely been revealed to be hopeless, and we’ve been left with just feeling bad.
Happily, if we stay with practice long enough, we also learn that our conditioned view of change misses the point entirely. Working out our own salvation requires something much simpler and easier than change; it requires acceptance.
There are three players and one process involved in human suffering. (Human suffering is redundant, but because of social conditioning a helpful phrasing.) The first player is That Which Is, the Intelligence That Animates, True Nature, God, Goddess—All that actually IS. The second player is an authentic human incarnation—the “eyes and ears” of the Awareness That Is. (The eye with which I see God is the same eye with which God sees me.) The third player is not a real (in the sense of actual) player at all. It’s imaginary, an illusion, made up, fabricated, assumed. Ego.
The way it works post-egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate and pre-Awareness Practice is that ego, operating as a body-snatcher, convinces the authentic human incarnation that ego is the human and the human is ego. Once that’s established the authentic incarnation will look to ego, believing itself to be “thinking,” assuming it is able to see what’s happening. A voice in the head, which the human being believes to be her/himself, gives direction, chastises, criticizes, judges, compares, threatens, promises, beats—we all know the drill.
As long as the authentic human believes the ego voice is who they are, they are stuck and bound to suffer. Nothing else is possible. Stuck in suffering is the name of that script, and there’s no way out of the script from within the script.
Practicing awareness, the authentic human being—who was drawn to practice and followed the call—begins to sense another possibility. What about kindness? Yes, I feel that. What about compassion? Yes, I feel that. What about love? Yes, I feel that. Do you care about innocence? Yes, I do. Do you wish to be kind and loving? Yes, I want that more than anything. Can you see that you project kindness, love, goodness, generosity, and innocence onto others?
At this point folks are liable to start hearing pushback because ego is going to be yelling. “NO! You are NOT those ways, not those things. You are selfish, bad, wrong, mean, judgmental, unkind—and worse!” It takes a fair bit of practice to hold steady and not buy that rant. It requires a courageous heart to listen and realize ego is projecting what it is, and that the listener is the awareness that hears it but is not saying it.
This creates an opening for the Big Clarity that the Awareness that is watching, that is the source of those “Do you feel love, compassion, etc.” questions is the Wisdom, Love, and Compassion That Animates ALL, Unconditional Love and Acceptance, your very own Authentic Nature, which we simply refer to as the Mentor.
So, how does this all hang together? Returning to the beginning: Realizing that our opportunity and our practice is to save the one human being whose struggles and suffering we know most intimately, and realizing that our Authentic Nature is the Unconditional Love that will save the authentic human being that we are, we train moment-by-moment in being the Unconditional Love and Acceptance for “our” authentic being, and in that process we are saved.
No more fighting with egocentric karmic conditioning self-hate, no more judgment or criticism of our self, no more self-improvement programs. The self that we are does not need fixing or changing and never did. When we recognize that the Unconditional Love and Acceptance we’ve been seeking is what we are, the loop is closed, complete.