I am not a Buddhist, I am a Christian, but I read your blog post “The Ultimate Failure of Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life,” which directed me here. It is indeed a wonderful, inspiring book. And I have been able to implement many aspects of the purpose driven life that it sets forth. But I have found it impossible, although I have surrendered myself to God, to love all others regardless how difficult they may be or what they have done. Even within my family, although I certainly love them, I find myself acting in ways which don’t manifest that love. Given the importance of loving others to fulfilling God’s purpose for us, I am at a loss as to what to do. The book doesn’t really offer any further help. Where do I start?
Trying to Live the Purpose Driven Life
Dear Trying to Live the Purpose Driven Life,
Thank you for writing. As I stated in that blog post (http://PreservingAmericanGreatness.blogspot.com), the barrier to loving others, treating them as you would wish to be treated yourself, is your ego. The problem is not the Devil, it is our ego.
Since you are not a Buddhist and probably have not read Buddhist texts, let me back up here for a minute. In our culture, the ego is generally considered to be who we are. the expression of ourselves. It is thus looked at positively, except if one has too big an ego.
In Buddhism, the ego is not who we are; it is not our true self. Instead, it is the result of the accretion of all of our learned experiences ... from family, peers, and our culture. We act and think as we act and think because of our ego-mind, because of these experiences. The ego is the home of all our neuroses which are at their core formed by the insecurities we have learned from our experiences. It is the source of all our frustration, anger, greed, envy ... the source of all our suffering.
If we are not our ego, you naturally will ask, then who are we? In Buddhism, the teaching is that we are all born essentially perfect with the true Buddha nature inside us. That remains constant throughout our lives. That is who we truly are. But it becomes buried beneath all of our learned experiences. They are like the clouds that hide the sky, which is always blue and sunny, even on a grey day. As so we lose touch with our true self.
Buddhism is about finding our way back to our true self. Of making contact with it and allowing it to guide our lives rather than our ego.
For a Christian, I don’t think the distinction between ego and self exists. But you can be saved by turning your will and life over to the service of Christ and God. As Rick Warren puts it, “If not to God, you will surrender to the opinions or expectations of others, to money, to resentment, to fear, or to your own pride, lusts, or ego. [Actually, all these things are manifestations of the ego.] ... You are free to choose, what you surrender to but you are not free from the consequence of that choice.”
Whether Christian or Buddhist, there is indeed a choice. But it is far from a simple one. Neither by just surrendering your will to God nor to your true Buddha nature will you be free of your ego’s habit-energies. The ego is far too strong, being the principal source of the self-image that you have been developing throughout your life.
So how then do you free yourself from your ego? My books and the various posts on this site all speak to this issue and its challenge. But stated most simply, in terms that relate to your background:
1. You must discern that your ego, not the Devil, is driving you in directions that are contrary to the lessons of The Purpose Driven Life. This acknowledgment of your ego's nature and its control of your life is central as it is an acknowledgment of responsibility.
2. You must understand that your ego habit-energies are all learned. They are a product of your environment. There is nothing inherent or natural about them, even though they seem very natural to you and are supported by the culture around you.
3. You must learn to accept your life as it is right now because it’s just the way it is, and love yourself unconditionally and have compassion for yourself and others. Without true acceptance, you fall into our culture’s trap of always wanting what you don’t have and of being beset by insecurity and fear.
4. You must make a decision to surrender your ego to God and turn your will and your life over to His care ... totally.
5. You must be aware when your ego-mind arises, acknowledge it, have compassion for it, but say clearly that your have given your life over to the service of God and take your guidance now from His teachings.
6. You must become increasingly present, free of the intervention of thought, because only when you are in that state can you see things as they really are as opposed to how your ego, your thinking-mind, sees them. Only then can ego-centered strivings cease. Only then will your mind rest undisturbed and you will find true peace and happiness, free of fear and anxiety. Only then will you know directly, from your heart not some teaching, that your only purpose in life is to offer others joy and to help relieve the suffering of others.
Surrendering your ego does not mean that you will live a life with no direction and with no accomplishments; that you will not be engaged in life. Instead, it means that your direction and your actions will come from your heart, your purpose driven life, not your ego.
Our egos will always be part of us, but we do not have to allow them to control our lives. There is another way. We do have a choice. Although my books, with the exception of Raising a Happy Child, are written for Buddhists I think you would find them helpful.