Self improvement

The first thought to come to mind when I wrote the title, and I chuckled, is that some aspiring Buddhists would stumble over the words, self improvement. In attempting to understand the Buddhist concept of non-self, they seek to understand a doctrine instead of experiencing a teaching. It is a movement away from a subjective self towards an objective awareness and it is an obstacle for everyone of us.

However, self improvement, especially from a Zen Buddhist perspective, isn't what we usually think of when we hear the term. Self improvement usually means that we have a set idea of how it is that we want to be. We want to be more friendly, more compassionate. We want to "keep" the Buddhist precepts or the Ten commandments or some other such list of moral values. Perhaps we observe things that we don't like about ourselves and set about with the task of trying to discipline ourselves.

Often, we find ourselves "falling short" of our goals and in frustration we dig down deeper and resolve to try harder. This is like putting the cart before the horse. It doesn't work. When it does seem to work, it leads to a subtle sort of self righteousness, a feeling of accomplishment capped by pride and not born out of compassion.

Some schools of Zen Buddhism approach the issue of self improvement from an entirely different direction. It begins with the idea that we are, at this moment, already perfect; enlightened. There is nothing that needs to be fixed only discovered or perhaps, uncovered. (We will explore this in another blog post, if you wish) We only need awaken to this fact.

This awakening is rooted in compassion.

To quote teacher Cheri Huber, "If you see something you don't like about the way you are and you beat yourself up for it, pretty soon you will have trained yourself to stop looking. Congratulate yourself whenever you see something hard. It means that you're growing." When we discipline ourselves, reject ourselves, and beat ourselves up over what we see and don't like about ourselves, we are led farther away from the goodness we seek, not closer to it.

Our practice is to find compassion in all that we do; beginning with ourselves.


Don Iannone said…
This is great, Tim. Thank you. Yes, compassion does start at home. One I need to remind myself of often. Hope you are well.
"James" said…
Very well said and something that I needed to hear right about now.