But it is not simple at all, primarily because of the hold that our ego-mind has on us at all levels of our conscious, and probably subconscious, thought. It's all we've ever known of ourselves; what we've identified as ourselves. But before I address how one surrenders your ego, let me mention something that I related in an early post about turning your will and your life over to the care of your true Buddha nature.
The monk, who was (and I assume still is) a great and powerful teacher, used the image of standing on the precipice and jumping. That is a very scary image. And I think that that image is part of the reason why I found it so difficult for so many years to surrender my ego to my true Buddha nature. And so, when I realized several months ago that the concept of turning my will and my life over to the care of my true Buddha nature ... a central concept of 12-step programs ... had been missing from my practice and my writings, I knew that this would provide a helpful adjustment to the message I had received and had been passing on.
By incorporating the concept of turning our will and our lives over to the care of 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.
But even with this important change, it is no easy matter. The first thing to realize is that you cannot just will the surrender of your ego to your true Buddha nature and turn your life over to it. In 12-step programs, one is taught that addiction is “self-will run riot.” This is not something we can “will” away. It needs to be approached in a more organic manner.
So how do we implement this step? There two parts. The first is making the decision, the second is implementing it.
Even making the decision, having the intent, is difficult. Regardless if you have faith in your true Buddha nature, and acknowledge that your suffering is caused by your cravings, by your ego, the idea of turning your ego, your will and your life over to the care of your true Buddha nature, your true self ... the idea of your ego playing no role in your actions and thoughts ... is an unsettling one for many if not most, because for most of your life you’ve only known yourself as your ego.
What is necessary in order to make this decision is an accumulated experience of your true Buddha nature that goes beyond abstract faith. As you follow the path, meditate, observe yourself, you will increasingly discern the difference between what your ego is whispering, or yelling, in your ear and what your true Buddha nature is telling you. The more you have conscious contact with your Buddha mind, the greater will be the ease, the greater will be your determination, to make this decision and follow through on it. It will no longer be a venture into the unknown. There will be no question in your aware mind that that is in your best interest.
But even then, what is of critical importance is that you are ready and willing to make the decision. It is not enough knowing it is in your best interest. It is not enough being aware of the suffering caused by your emotions, judgments, and attachments. You must be ready and willing to let them go. If you are not truly ready and willing, then you will go through the process without much impact on your life.
There is no secret method to being ready and willing. It's one of those thing where the only teaching is, "Just do it." You have all the facts, all the awareness, but are you ready and willing? Is finding peace and happiness what you value most, what's most important to you? If not, you may say you have made a decision, but you really haven't.
But once you’ve made that decision, humbly and honestly, that’s far from the end of it. Implementing your decision will be a constant challenge, as you will not be surprised to hear if you’ve been reading this blog. As I’ve recounted, it has certainly been a constant challenge for me.
And the simple reason again is that our ego-mind, our ego habit-energies, are so deeply ingrained. The thoughts and actions that flow from the ego are virtually automatic responses to everything we experience. The only way to implement your decision is to find ways to increase your awareness, your mindfulness, your conscious contact with your true Buddha nature each day. Only when you are not on auto-pilot do you have a chance to turn your will and your life over to the care of your true Buddha nature.
And so each morning when I meditate, I state my intention, which is to turn my will and my life over to my true Buddha nature and thus return home to my unborn Buddha mind and, most recently, open my heart and have it embrace all aspects of my being.
As I've only recently learned, (I know!!), the heart's embrace is a central aspect of turning your will and your life over to the care of your true Buddha nature. It perfects that intent. When you feel your heart's embrace, all internal struggle ceases, you are one with the way, true faith pervades your life. (See my post, "The Heart's Embrace.") Although this sounds very similar to having compassion for yourself, the impact is quite different.
Once you have perfected your intent to surrender your ego and turn your will and your life over to the care of your true Buddha nature, the other parts of implementing your intent will flow rather easily, as related in Steps #6-8.
At first this may happen for just short periods each day and in certain areas of your life. But as time goes on it will cover more and more areas and more hours of each day. The instantaneous enlightenment that one reads people having during the time of the Buddha or other masters such as Zen Master Bankei just doesn’t occur anymore. In my book, Scratching the Itch: Getting to the Root of Our Suffering, I discuss this and posit several explanations for why this is the case.
In any event, you will find that the more you are able to embrace all aspects of your being, the more you will be able to experience peace. The more you will be able to be aware of your feelings arising, not engage or react to them, and watch them subside.
Do not expect perfection. That is not the Buddhist way. Just do the best you can and have faith that if you live each day, each moment, well, the future will take care of itself.