One of the false core beliefs that many of us have is that there is something wrong with us, that we are failures in some elemental way. We learn this first at the hands of our parents. Every time we are told we are bad, or stupid, or are scolded for something we did, we receive this as meaning that there is something wrong with us. That for some reason we do things which aren’t acceptable and displease our parents. We don’t quite understand what that something is, but we have no doubt that it is true.
Yet in truth, there is nothing “wrong” with any of us, with the exception of those who are so traumatized that they turn to evil, become the devil incarnate, and lose their humanity. Instead, we are what we are. Neither good nor bad nor sick in some way.
Let me explain. Yes, we may do things that harm others. We may do things that harm ourselves. We may be different. But to say that there is something wrong with us, that we are bad, that we are sick is to apply a label and Buddhism abhors labels.
Instead, we are the way we are because our life experiences have programmed us to act in a certain way. We do not have the breadth of free will commonly assumed, certainly from a legal perspective. Instead, we have a very narrow range of action that our programming allows us. We did not cause our life experiences nor did we choose to respond to those experiences in a truly volitional way. Instead, our ego-mind decided how to respond, not our heart, and unfortunately we have little if any control over our ego-mind.
As I’ve written when applying this theory to the criminal justice system, this does not mean that we are not responsible for our acts. In any society, one must be responsible for one’s acts. But we not guilty, because guilt assumes that one has the ability to choose between right and wrong. And while the law assumes that we all have that ability unless we are insane, that just is not the case.
The significance of this distinction lies in how we deal with someone who either violates the law or some social convention. Indeed how we deal with ourselves. It means that we realize and have compassion for why people do what they do and have faith that everyone has the possibility of returning to their true self, their unwounded heart, their true Buddha nature, leaving their ego-mind and the person they thought they were behind.
There is something else that is important to remember when looking at ourselves. When I was meditating the other morning, I became aware, perhaps for the first time, that while I have been controlled by my ego-mind for most of my life, and that has caused others and certainly myself suffering, I have always offered others joy and made a difference in their lives. I have acted out of loving kindness. When I look at the past objectively, that is where the balance lies.
Even during the years that were darkest for me, I was offering others joy. So my Buddha nature was always there expressing itself; it was just in many circumstances overwhelmed by my ego-mind because I didn’t know how to connect with my Buddha nature and how to protect myself from my ego-mind. That’s probably why I responded so strongly the first time I went to a temple and was exposed to Buddhism.
The point is that it is the habit of our ego-mind to always looks for problems, for what is wrong. It is far more likely to remember negative things than positive ones. So not only is nothing wrong with you; there have always been sparks of loving kindness that have emanated from you and that have offered others and yourself joy.
So if you have always believed that there is something wrong with you, free yourself from that negative energy. Breathe it out. Affirm in your meditation that this belief is “Not me!” Open your heart to embrace all aspects of your being and experience, including this aspect of your ego-mind, and so that aspect will cease to disturb you and the internal struggle with yourself will cease. You will know that you have everything within yourself to be at peace and happy, and you will allow nothing to disturb that peace and happiness.