While there is no question the we live in a very egocentric culture, the key is the base word “ego.” Feeding the ego, satisfying its needs/desires does nothing to nurture your true self, your heart, your soul. Often it is actually counterproductive.
And as for incongruity, the essence of Buddhism is to aid us in ending our suffering. It is about taking care of ourselves spiritually. All the emphasis on helping others and offering joy to others is to be seen in this context. It weens us away from our egocentricity; if we can learn to find joy in other’s joy, that benefits us spiritually.
The main context of all the Buddha dharma is the end of our suffering. This is the point of the Four Noble Truths and everything else that follows.
As for selflessness, the point is often misunderstood. The point is not to not do things that benefit your true self, it is about not doing things primarily because of what’s in it for you, meaning your ego. If one thinks of others, whether something will bring them joy or be in their best interest, this frees you from your ego. So “egolessness” would be a better word than “selflessness” in talking about this aspect of Buddhism, since “self” means the ego in many contexts, but there is also one’s true self.
The other point regards the teaching to offer others joy. You can’t offer someone joy if you can’t offer yourself joy (and I mean in the spiritual sense). Likewise, you can’t truly love someone unless you love yourself. I use the word “truly” because the word “love” is bandied about so carelessly that it has almost no meaning anymore. So self-nurturing is critical to implementing this teaching.
The topic of this post is therefore both much needed and definitely appropriate in the Buddhist context. So what is the art of self-nurturing?
First of all, as is clear from what I’ve already said, you can’t nurture yourself unless you are free of your ego and all it’s emotions and judgments, especially fear, guilt, and shame. I have written much on this topic, actually most of my posts, but for a concise presentation of becoming free of the ego and finding inner peace, see my book, How to Find Inner Peace.
In an important sense, my use of the phrase “first of all” in the previous paragraph is a misnomer. It is actually the whole ball game. For once one is free of the ego-mind’s control and you have reconnected with your true Buddha self which is your heart, you will only do things, and do them in a manner, that nourishes your heart, your soul. As the poem says, when you reach this point in your practice, “all’s self-revealing, void, and clear without exercising power of mind.”
But before one reaches the point when one is truly free of the control of your ego-mind, understanding that this is no easy matter, what are the things you can do to nurture your true self, your heart?
Simply stated you do things or surround yourself with things that are uplifting to the spirit. Things that are beauty, harmony, intelligence, love, equanimity, truth.
We also nurture ourselves by offering ourselves joy. How do we do that? By taking pleasure in each passing moment regardless what is going on. By being in touch with the positive energy in our heart. By releasing all desire that our life be different in any way from that way it is right now at this moment. By being aware of all that we are grateful for. By loving ourselves unconditionally and having compassion for ourselves. (For more, see my post, “Offer Myself Joy!”)
Living in this world, we have no choice but to come into contact each day with things or people which are the opposite of these qualities and even antagonistic to them. We must approach them with dispassion and equanimity, noting that things are the way they are because it’s just the way it is. If we feel in our humility that we can in some way improve the experience of these things for someone or many, whether by spreading the dharma or in some other way, then we practice what is called engaged Buddhism.
But as to the immediate world around us which we create, which we choose to inhabit, there we do have a choice. And we must exercise that choice with great care so as to nurture ourselves, provide us with the sustenance to withstand the challenges of living in our culture,