When his words came to me while I was meditating the next morning, I realized something that had been missing from my writing. What my friend was doing is a core step in all 12-step programs ... turning your will and your life over to your higher power, realizing that only it can bring you peace. Your higher power can be Arjuna, as in his case, or your true Buddha nature, or whatever. The point is that there is an internal spiritual power within us that can lead us out of samsara if we only allow it to.
In the teaching I’ve received and my writings, the ultimate key has been to surrender your ego to your true Buddha nature. As stated, that is a very willful act. And as I know from my 12-step program background, addiction is self-will run riot. I have written that our cravings are basically addictions. And so, for example, in order to give acceptance a chance to take root, we need to do what is taught in 12-step programs and forego all desires until we can say that we truly accept our lives and ourselves as we are. Then, as I’ve written, we can have skillful desires. (See any of my books, but especially The Self in No Self.)
And so the wisdom of 12-step programs needs to be incorporated in the Fourfold Path to Freedom (see the above-referenced book) as well. When we surrender our ego to our true Buddha nature, what we are doing is taking a back seat and turning our will and our lives over to our true Buddha nature. That still is an act of will and our ego will fight mightily against it, but it is far less willful or confrontational than surrender.
Perhaps of even greater impact, surrendering your ego is a scary concept. The monk from whom I received this teaching said after we were working on this for a while that while we had come far, we were still standing on the precipice. We had not jumped off it into the land of nirvana because we were scared of the unknown. And how right he was.
By incorporating the concept of turning our will and our lives over to our true Buddha nature, it turns the surrender of our ego into a warm and comforting act for we know we have nothing to fear from putting our lives in the hands of our true Buddha nature. This may all seem like semantics, a distinction without a difference, but the words we speak or think, the approach we take, can make a significant difference in our overcoming the barriers to making further progress on the path. This is an important addendum to my previous writings.
It took me years of practice after receiving this teaching on surrender to actually be able to surrender my ego to my true Buddha nature. Interestingly, the final step came during an at-home 4-week retreat that I did (promoted by Tricycle magazine) which culminated in a day-long total immersion in my spirituality. I realize now that the reason why the retreat had such an impact was that in addition to going deeper into my meditation, that final day was in effect turning my will and my life over to my true Buddha nature. I just hadn’t thought of it in those terms before. In the future, part of my practice will be spending one day each week immersed in my spirituality and meditation
And so the reason why it took so long, besides the craftiness and strength of my ego-mind, was both that I was approaching this as a willful act as opposed to just turning my will over to my true Buddha nature and that the concept of surrender and jumping off the precipice was scary. Without any question in my mind, combining these two thoughts as I have now suggested is an improved teaching.
What also makes it a more powerful teaching is that it not just explicitly acknowledges ones belief that your true Buddha nature exists but that only it can bring you peace. I have written that belief in the teachings of the Buddha is the cornerstone on which all progress on the path rests. Without that belief there is nothing.
And so I modify my teaching on The Fourfold Path to Freedom:
Understanding that all things are impermanent and
Understanding the illusory/empty nature of all
Practicing the Six Paramitas,
Surrendering our ego to our true Buddha nature,
turning our will and our lives over to the care of
our true Buddha nature.
Another lesson in practical Buddhism.