Now, most of the pushback that people experience with these concepts is just an example of the ego-mind at work. Obviously the ego is threatened by such perspectives.
But even those who are relatively free of the control of their ego-mind have difficulty with these concepts; precisely because they understand that there is another self, their true self. With this broader understanding of self, these concepts are at best confusing or make no sense.
Resolution: As I’ve stated in my writings, these concepts distort the Buddha dharma. As I explain in my post, “The Misleading Teaching of No-Self,” this is not something the Buddha ever taught. What he taught is that the emotions that flow from the ego-mind are “not self.” So each of us has a self, but it’s not the ego self, it is our true Buddha nature.
Likewise, as I explain in my post, “It’s No Crime to Think about Oneself!” Buddhism is first and foremost about taking care of oneself. When the Buddha first turned the wheel of the dharma and taught The Four Noble Truths, it was about how to relieve oneself of suffering. That is the purpose of Buddhism.
We are taught to offer others joy because, besides being the right thing to do, it is one way we loosen the egocentric grip of our mind. Being selfless does not mean not thinking about one’s true self, one’s needs. Buddhist teaching would never have you do something which harms yourself or which is not in your spiritual self-interest. Selfless means not being selfish. There is a big difference. All Buddhist teaching should be seen in this context of how it aids freeing oneself from the control of the ego-mind and thus from suffering.
The ego-mind will of course still feel attacked by these concepts. As the Buddha said, “To be free of the conceit, I am, is the ultimate freedom.” But those who understand that they have another self, their true Buddha self, will no longer find these teachings a barrier.
Until now, most of my writing on this subject has been to negate common misleading teaching. But I realize that more is required. It is absolutely essential to making progress on the Buddhist path that one thinks about oneself, is there for oneself, that one has boundaries. This is not the ego-mind at work, this is necessary to make spiritual progress.
When I wrote my first book, The Self in No Self, I subtitled it, Buddhist Heresies. Because these concepts I just voiced in the previous paragraph would be taken as being heresy by many Buddhist teachers and certainly it’s the opposite of what students are typically taught.
That must end. We live in an environment very hostile to spirituality. Our contemporary culture espouses, encourages, the very opposite of The Noble Eightfold Path. To find the strength and courage to be in the world and yet keep it and your ego-mind at bay, one must think about one’s spiritual needs, one must as the Buddha taught take refuge in yourself and no one else, one must have boundaries … know where you end and the rest of the world starts.
Yes, that sounds like the very opposite of oneness. But what is oneness? To me oneness refers to the fact that we all are human, we all suffer … everyone. We have that in common and so we learn to have compassion for all people. This concept of oneness is not in any way diminished or contradicted by what I am saying about thinking about oneself and having boundaries.
So I advocate the following teaching. Know that your true self is your true Buddha nature, not your ego-mind. And be aware of the space that true self needs to grow roots and become strong. Think of what your true self needs to flourish; think of the boundaries you need to create between yourself and the world around you so that your true self is not overwhelmed by the crush of the culture’s power and your daily experiences.
Create a personal energy bubble that will always surround you as you make your way through life, protecting you from the negative energy in your environment and your ego-mind and instead allowing you to feel and project positive energy to all. (See my post, “Change Your Life by Changing the Direction of Its Energy Flow.”) Create the spiritual perspective that will enable you to greatly reduce your suffering (see my posts, “Right Attitude” and “The Heart’s Embrace”).
All of this spiritual work requires a very strong sense of self … of your true self, your true Buddha nature. It is the faith that flows from that sense of self that will enable you to have the strength not to be deflected from the spiritual path by the negative energy of your ego-mind, the surrounding culture and your daily experiences.