Do you need to look good and be right all the time? Are you over-sensitive to rejection? Are you surviving instead of thriving? Do you find it difficult to say ‘sorry’, even when you know you are wrong? Do you get angry and defensive easily? Do you find you need a lot of praise and validation to feel less anxious? Will you do anything to avoid failure? Do you get jealous easily? I have certainly experienced all of the above during my 30 years of Buddhist practice. And yes, I have wondered if ‘my bum looks big in this?’ So if you are sometimes like this (most human beings are…), it might be time to move your ego out of the way and focus on your Big Beautiful Buddhahood instead.
By ‘ego’ I mean our smaller self, our unenlightened self, the self that is dominated by fear and anxiety and lashes out in anger. The self that may have helped you survive difficult childhood experiences, adding layers of protection to shield you from further pain. This ego has a positive intention (protection and survival), but if it dominates your life, it will slowly stifle your heart and strangle your soul.
The good news is that your Buddhahood has the answers to the ego problem. Your Buddha-self is the layer of consciousness that goes deeper than your karmic, ego-driven self. Your Buddhahood is strong enough to know that it’s OK to feel vulnerable. Your Buddhahood is as happy about other people’s success as you are about your own. Your Buddhahood gives you the courage to be yourself and the compassion to understand others. Your Buddhahood understands the one-ness of your Life and ‘other’ people, and that in the words of Daisaku Ikeda, the ‘definition of evil is the illusion of separateness’. My mentor also writes: “Each of us is born as a precious entity of life. Our mothers didn’t give birth to us thinking, ‘I’m giving birth to a Japanese’ or ‘I’m giving birth to an Arab.’ Their only thought was ‘May this new life be healthy and grow.” I find these words especially poignant, re-reading them just a few hours after the horrendous killings in Paris.
Here are some more differences between a life based on Ego and one inspired by chanting daimoku with the ‘Buddha mind of faith’: The ego protects you (based on fear), while your Buddhahood bravely trusts the Law of life. Your ego wants to control others and ‘script’ their behaviour, your Buddha-self does its own human revolution and trusts the Law. Your smaller self resents your difficult karma, your big self accepts your karma as your mission and trusts the Law. Your ego-self is ruled by self-centred anger, your Buddhahood expresses anger as a passion for justice and equality. Ego survives, Buddahood seeks and thrives. Ego uses head strategies, the mind of faith uses the Strategy of the Lotus Sutra first.
On a bigger scale, ego is the source of ‘office politics’, ethnic cleansing, destructive tribalism, religious intolerance and war. Of atrocities such as last night’s terrible events in Paris. In short, the ego is a seductive and accomplished liar, wearing the plausible mask of truth. Whereas when you infuse your life with your bigger self, you contribute to the flow of Kosen Rufu (world peace), because your higher life-state raises the life-state of the whole planet. I believe that terrorist massacres (such as the one in Paris yesterday) will subside when we all challenge our own smaller selves, because the consciousness of humanity will change.
In the words of SGI President Daisaku Ikeda, this is what happens when your Buddhahood transforms your ego: “The misfortune of others is our misfortune. Our happiness is the happiness of others. To see ourselves in others and feel an inner oneness and sense of unity with them represents a fundamental revolution in the way we live our lives. Therefore discriminating against another person is the same as discriminating against oneself. When we hurt another, we are hurting ourselves. And when we respect others, we respect and elevate our own lives as well.”
Cast off the transient and reveal the true
My conclusion from all this is that we must open our eyes to this truth: the biggest threat to our own individual happiness (and to unity within SGI) is not challenges or problems or disagreements. The biggest danger is that we underestimate the power of either our small self / ego or, equally, that we underestimate the power of our Buddhahood. In other words that we underestimate our negative or our positive potential, our ability both to destroy and to create value.
Connecting with our own Buddhahood rather than ego is of course extremely hard when we are facing challenges such as redundancy, bereavement, a relationship ending, a serious illness… or a knotty piece of karma that has stuck around for 20 years or more. It is natural to want to give up.
But in our darkest and bleakest moments we can chant, as Nichiren did, to ‘cast off the transient and reveal the true’, prepared to lose everything for the sake of the Law, for the sake of the dignity of Life. For it is here that you find everything, that you find your Buddhahood, that you transform your smaller self.
And if you win today in your life, if you defeat your darkness, your lesser self and the illusions that spring from ego, then people around you who have never fought will discover the spark of hope, people who have given up will find the strength to start again, people who are fighting will keep going, and people on the verge of victory will have a final breakthrough. In this way, if you are prepared to face and transform your ego, then your deepest and darkest karma will become your Truth and your most noble and dignified gift to the whole world.
Much more on all of this in my book, The Buddha in Me, The Buddha in You out in Feb 2016 and available now on Amazon UK.