“Be you, everyone else is already taken,” – Buddhism and the search for authenticity
I have realised recently that whatever topic my different (and lovely) clients want to be coached on (e.g. relationships, career choices, addictions, assertiveness, leadership skills etc…) the one thing they all really want to feel is that their lives are authentic. They often realise, usually after one or two sessions, that the real reason they’re unhappy – for example in a job or relationship or town – is because they find it hard to express their true feelings. When that happens, life quickly begins to feel empty or meaningless. Or the discomfort may manifest as restlessness (what am I here for?) or anxiety (will I ever make anything of myself?) or a sudden loss of ‘mojo’, or anger (caused by cognitive dissonance.)
We learn to hide our true feelings from an early age. We do it with the best of intentions: usually to fit in, to feel safe, to gain approval or to avoid conflict. Gradually it becomes a habit, as it is easier to back down or roll over when more powerful people decide they want you to play a certain role or they use you to fulfil their own goals.
Recently I came across this great quote by author Robert McCammon: “We all start out knowing magic. We are born with whirlwinds, forest fires, and comets inside us. But then we get the magic educated right out of our souls. We get it churched out, spanked out, washed out, and combed out. We get put on the straight and narrow and told to be responsible. And you know why we were told that? Because the people doing the telling were afraid of our wildness and youth, and because our magic made them ashamed, and sad of what they’d allowed to wither in themselves.”
Wow, how powerful is that? But more importantly, how can Buddhism help with this search for authenticity? Let’s start with this quote from Daisaku Ikeda, alluding to one of Nichiren’s most famous writings: “Cherries are cherries. Peaches are peaches. A cherry could never become a peach. It wouldn’t be necessary. Even if it did, it wouldn’t be happy. We should live in a way that is true to ourselves. We could not become someone else, even if we wanted to. Our lives are precious and irreplaceable.”
In other words, treasure yourself and strive to be the shiniest and shapeliest plum you can be, rather than wishing you had been born a peach. (Or having facelifts and other cosmetic surgery until you look like a peach.) To me, this all sums up what Nichiren meant when he spoke of “attaining Buddhahood in one’s present form.” And I love this famous Oscar Wilde quote, “Be yourself, everyone else is already taken.”
So, when you chant Nam Myoho Renge Kyo, it is vital to do so without constantly judging your feelings. Buddhism is not a philosophy based on morals or on a dualistic view of good and evil. That’s why all feelings are an acceptable starting point in front of the Gohonzon – for they all contain latent Buddhahood. I have known of people who started practising with a desire to kill someone who’d hurt them and then felt their anger gradually transform into healing compassion and wisdom. When you work through your negative emotions in this brave and honest way, you discover your true self and become happy. The lotus flower blooms only from the muddy pond.
Just as importantly, other people come to see your sincerity and authenticity and they will trust you, even if they disagree with your views or lifestyle. So, instead of constant self-judgement, chant instead with a mindset of: “I give myself permission to express my feelings, for all of them contain Buddhahood.”
I tried this not so long ago during a week of depression (part of my karmic tendency) – instead of judging it or resisting it or fighting it or even wanting it to go away, I began by accepting the sadness, then slowly began to treasure it and then finally came to see how it could help me fulfil my mission. As the late great Shin Yatomi said: “Buddhas accept their innate goodness without arrogance and recognise their innate evil without despair.”
For people who don’t chant (and even if you do…) there is also an exercise that my clients find really powerful when striving to find out who they really are. It is called ‘Values Discovery’. This simply means uncovering what is most important to you. For example, if you now hate a career you used to love because you hardly laugh any more, ‘Fun’ is probably one of your Values. And if ‘Creativity’ is one of your Values but it isn’t shared by your partner, there’s a chance you will clash because you want to re-decorate the lounge more often than they do!
Most people have 8 core Values and it takes me just two or three coaching sessions to dig them out and rank them in order of importance. Then you can go off and build a life that truly honours them. An authentic, meaningful and fulfilling life.
And finally, Derek Walcott’s poem ‘Love after Love’ sums it all up for me:
The time will come when with elation you will greet
Yourself arriving at your own door, in your own mirror,
And each will smile at the other’s welcome,
And say, sit here, eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
To itself, to the stranger who has loved you
All your life, whom you ignored for another
Who knows you by heart, take down the love
Letters from the bookshelf, the photographs
The desperate notes, peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.
18 Replies to ““Be you, everyone else is already taken,” – Buddhism and the search for authenticity”
This post has allowed me to have a tremendous breakthough. I have never looked on my negative feelings in front of the Gohonzon in quite this way. It has been a freeing and insightful post. It is so difficult to practice in a country where there is no real sgi structure and support and your posts and a few others are vital to my practice. Thanks so much,Lynn
Hi Lynn, thanks so much for your kind words and great to hear it helped. I send daimoku for your continued success and happiness as a pioneer standing up courageously to spread the Law in your country. Have you read Sensei’s book ‘A Youthful Diary’ – amazing stories of early days of SG IN Japan. NMRK, David
Thank you David,
This helped me so much when I read it!
I have been experiencing anger alot lately and I was worried my faith in my Buddhist practice was leaving me!
Reading this has made me realise it is part of my faith and I must embrace it and turn it into medicine!
Hi Janina, really pleased it helped and yes, there are many positive aspects to anger if you have the faith and courage to face it and transform it. Here is a post on anger that you may find of interest.
Take care, David.
Hello David, I am a sgi Malaysian member for the 25years.
I have been following your post here for about a year, and I must say you are doing a wonder job for many people and members around the world.
I find your articles and perspectives enlightening and your explanation simple to understand and it really helps me tremendously understanding the key and crucial points in our practice and attitude.
Thank You so much and hope you have a beautiful life.
Many thanks for your very kind comments which exactly reflect what I was hoping to achieve when I began this online adventure. The way I write is mainly influenced by ‘self-help’ authors who explain complex topics in simple ways and I wanted to bring the same approach to our profound and beautiful Buddhist philosophy. Warmest wishes to you and to my SGI brothers and sisters in Malaysia.
I loved this post. I want to study it at our next Kayo Kai meeting. Thank you for sharing!
My pleasure Amanda and I feel truly humbled that you wish to study this at a Kayo Kai meeting. I will send daimoku for you all to have a fabulous dialogue. D 🙂
Just wanted to let you know that we studied this today at our Kayo Kai meeting and it was an incredible study and dialogue! We were so encouraged from this meeting. Not only that, my husband used this as the study for the general district meeting. EVERYONE LOVED IT!! Thank you again. I really appreciate you for sharing this.
Hey Amanda, thank you so much for this news! I am truly moved to hear that you studied this at a Kayo Kai meeting and I’m delighted that members found it encouraging. This in turn helps me to keep going with my own human revolution and so together we are fulfilling our mentor’s wish to warmly encourage each other, are we not? Thank you again for your kind comments. By the way, whereabouts in the world do you and your husband live? D 🙂
I’m a sgi member from california. I like your post very much, and I’m particularly intrigued by this article:
“We all start out knowing magic. We are born with whirlwinds, forest fires, and comets inside us […] Because the people doing the telling were afraid of our wildness and youth, and because our magic made them ashamed, and sad of what they’d allowed to wither in themselves.”
How can we restore our true selves? How can we find out who we are. I have been chanting for 12 years, and constantly challenged by all kind of issues.
I live in the “ten worlds” every day and feel so exhausted.
look forward to hearing from you.
Yes, isn’t that a great quote – one to read and re-read and reflect on! Our ‘true selves’ in Buddhism means ‘casting off the transient and revealing the true’, it means ditching our ‘provisional’ teachings / coping mechanisms and discovering the Buddha at the core of you. We all live in the 10 worlds every day, but if you keep going on the path of faith you will definitely reveal the positive aspect of each of them. This is what is taught in Nichiren’s gosho, ‘The True Aspect of all Phenomena’. Please also get personal guidance in faith from a senior leader – we are Bodhisattvas of the Earth who emerge dancing with joy to fulfil our vows – and guidance may help you develop this spirit. Take care, David
Dear David: What a wonderfully timed post. I read this just after I started despairing over my child’s poor school performance and wondering how to work with her to improve that performance. But then I read your post: how do I help her thrive in this real world without squashing her magic, her whirlwind, her forest fire and her comet? That’s something to chant about — strategy of the Lotus Sutra, right?
Thank you Nancy I am glad this post helped you. Yes, definitely strategy of the Lotus Sutra – your daughter will have a unique and irreplaceable mission! My own daughter struggled for quite a long while at school but motivated herself to prove all her teachers’ predictions wrong and she now has 4 offers from different universities. I don’t know where you are writing from but in the UK the school system is pretty obsessed with IQ – “How clever are you?” rather than asking, “How are you clever?” which leads to recognition of other talents. More on this in another post – see link below. I also recommend a book by my fellow Buddhist, Roy Leighton, called ‘101 Days to Make a Change’ – great for teens as is Andy Cope’s ‘Art of Being a Brilliant Teenager’ – http://www.artofbrilliance.co.uk/shop/35/the-art-of-being-a-brilliant-teenager
all best wishes
Hi David. Deepest thanks for your beautiful article. I’ve been on the most wonderful journey over the past few years — in the depths of depression, rediscovering my love of writing and running, and a gradual reemergence into the world as the woman I’ve always wanted to be.
As an American who lives overseas, I attend SGI meetings and have even had leadership roles here but find it difficult to get past the coffee club culture (Coffee has by and large replaced chanting) that has overtaken the organisation here. At times, I’ve determined to overcome my feelings and ensure my own practice is up to snuff. At other times, I despair, thinking things will never change. Thanks to your article, I’ve learned I can report it all to Gohonzon, chant to my heart’s content, and stand up again.
thank you for sharing your story with me and congratulations on rediscovering what you love doing. All my very best wishes for your future endeavours as you stand up for what you believe in. David
Hi David, I have just found this post after googling on ‘Nichiren Buddhism and feelings’ as I’ve had so many problems with negative feelings not knowing how to deal with them. This post has given me an amazing breakthrough; I feel like I’ve just cleansed my being by doing what you suggested. Thanks so much.
UK Bridgend SGI
Hi Stu, I was really heartened to read your comment and am so delighted that the post helped you have a breakthrough! Thank you for your kind comments and I send you daimoku for your ongoing journey to reveal your truest self. All best wishes, David