I am so frustrated. Like others who have written you, I have been practicing, meditating daily, for years and in general feel good about my practice and the peace and happiness I have discovered. But like the others, and as you describe yourself, as soon as I’m not aware, my ego-mind grabs hold of me and leads me to a place of frustration, anger, or anxiety. It is a constant challenge.
I read your post to “Frustrated.” I understand the advice you gave. But my question is, why does this never end. When you read about ancient Buddhist masters or the Buddha himself, there are always many examples of people who experience almost instantaneous enlightenment, at least at the level of stream-enterers. Why don’t any of us seem to have that experience and instead struggle endlessly.
Why Does This Never End
Dear Why Does This Never End,
You raise a very interesting and relevant question. Obviously something has changed in the intervening centuries … you are correct that we, at least in the West, do not hear about and we certainly haven’t personally experienced this type of instantaneous enlightenment. Some might say that what has changed is the absence of truly great, holy teachers with whom one has the opportunity to have direct contact. While that is certainly true for most of us, I don’t think that’s the critical part of the answer.
Rather, the main barrier modern man experiences in walking the path, following the teachings of the Buddha, is the increased strength of our ego brought about by the changes in our culture, which has also manipulated us into having uncontrollable cravings.
The ego of course has always been a problem … witness the Buddha’s struggles to find enlightenment and the ongoing temptations presented by Mara, his spiritual tempter. But in modern Western culture, man has evolved from a being subject to certain basic fears and desires that are part of the human condition into a being subject to an incredibly complex and strong panoply of fears and desires formed by the prevailing culture and our learned experience.
We have also gone from a communal to an individualistic culture where everything comes back to “me.” We have morphed into something almost totally out of control … which is to say with our ego-mind in full control … and without any awareness of that fact, out of touch with our true Buddha nature.
And so we find that even the gate to following the Noble Eightfold Path is closed to us because in order to practice the Noble Eightfold Path one must first be free of our ego’s influence. One cannot practice Right View or Right anything … becoming a stream-enterer … if ones ego, ones learned experience, is still a controlling force in one’s mind, because the ego will intervene by generating thoughts/obstructions which commandeer our mind and obscure our true Buddha nature, from which flows the various Right activities.
For modern man, at least modern Western man, the essential task thus becomes one of freeing oneself from one’s ego, to the extent possible. To approach that task, we must first have clarity about the cause of our craving and the role of our ego. I do not mean here an individualistic psychoanalytical view of our cravings and our ego, but rather a more macro generic view of these forces
Since our minds are not open to the kind of spiritual conversion seen in the past, we must approach the process first from an intellectual perspective. Once we have understood the truth of the teachings on an intellectual level, we will begin to see evidence of this truth in our lives and our being and heart will be open to taking the truths the further step and embracing them fully, internalizing them, bringing us in contact with our true Buddha nature. That is the basis of my teachings.
But as I have frequently written, our egos are a part of us and will remain lying in wait, even if we do surrender our ego to our true Buddha nature and turn our will and our life over to the care of our true Buddha nature. It is that entrenched.
This is not to say that one should throw up ones hands in defeat. One can achieve huge changes in ones life by walking the path, even with the inevitable unsettling episodes caused by the ego arising when we are not aware. Indeed, it is important to have compassion both for oneself that we are not able to completely free ourselves from the influence of our ego and also for our ego because we know what has caused it to have the perspective that it does.
And so I fear that the challenges we face in walking the path are inescapable. We are listening to the sound of a different drummer from that of our fellow man who is mesmerized by the drumbeat of the larger culture. That is why taking refuge in the Buddha, the dharma, and the sangha is so essential. We need support in what we are trying to do. We need to know that we are not alone.