And why do we not love ourselves and have compassion for ourselves unconditionally? It would seem like such a natural state. But we learned as a child ... from family, peers, and the larger culture ... that we were not loved unconditionally and were not shown compassion unconditionally. Our learned experience was that there was something faulty with us or something that wasn’t up to snuff; and it was our fault and we needed to do something about it. Even if as a child your parents and others gave you lots of positive feedback about yourself, you either felt that their love was dependent on your continuing to achieve or there were other things in your upbringing that caused you to feel unloved. That learned experience is the root cause of all our fears and insecurities and form our samsara.
Recently I was talking to someone who was in great psychological and spiritual pain. When I told him that the reason why he was suffering was because he didn’t love himself unconditionally and have compassion for himself, he responded, “Why should I love or respect myself? I’m a failure. I can’t change my life. Nothing I try works out.”
I responded by saying that we are all taught by our families and society not to love ourselves unconditionally and have compassion for ourselves. That is one of the core sicknesses of our culture. And it is so unfair.
We all deserve to be loved unconditionally and be shown compassion just as we deserve to love ourselves unconditionally and have compassion for ourselves. Regardless what we accomplish or don’t accomplish in life, there is no reason why we should stop loving ourselves and having compassion for ourselves. Even if we do something harmful, that is a result of our learned experience, our environment, our samsara; it is a result of how that experience and environment have programmed us. The state or others may impose punishment and we should learn from the experience, but we should not stop loving ourselves and having compassion for ourselves.
Everyone needs to be feel nurtured ... it is one of the four basic needs. (See Chapter 4, The Self in No Self.) Whether it’s through love, respect, or affection, we all need to feel nurtured. What happens when we aren’t nurtured, or nurtured consistently, is that our mind interprets this as telling us that love is conditional. And because being nurtured is a basic need, we tend to obsess about doing whatever needs to be done to win the love and respect of others and thus of ourselves.
It is that obsession that destroys our equanimity and turns an otherwise skillful desire ... such as wanting friends, wanting a loved one, wanting to achieve something ... into an unskillful desire or craving. Our culture is obsessed with self-improvement. It is one thing to learn some new relationship or job skills if done from a place of equanimity; that can be useful. It is another to strive to achieve something or seek to change ourselves in some fundamental way when that desire stems from a lack of acceptance of who we are, from a lack of equanimity.
The Buddha taught that we are all born essentially perfect with the true Buddha nature inside us. Under all the layers of learned experience that create our neuroses and form a barrier between us and our true Buddha nature, that perfect being exists in us throughout our life. Meditate on the fact that our self-perception ... the labels we apply to ourselves ... is illusory, based as it is on the perceptions of others, not on reality. Meditate on loving yourself unconditionally and having compassion for yourself. Meditate on your true Buddha nature.
Another lesson in practical Buddhism.