stands for all things,
even for those things that don’t flower,
for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;
though sometimes it is necessary
to reteach a thing its loveliness,
to put a hand on its brow
of the flower
and retell it in words and in touch
it is lovely
until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing”
~ Saint Francis and the Sow
BY GALWAY KINNELL
“Luminous, monks, is the mind. And it is freed from incoming defilements. The well-instructed disciple of the noble ones discerns that as it actually is present, which is why I tell you that — for the well-instructed disciple of the noble ones — there is development of the mind.”
~Pabhassara Sutta: Luminous (AN 1.49-52), translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight (BCBS Edition), 30 November 2013).
“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself you have built against it.” ~Rumi
I am writing this evening about something I’ve encountered in both young and not so young individuals. It’s what we call self-hatred. At this moment you may be nodding with understanding. You may know the voice that criticizes, the numbness around receiving admiration, and the constant feeling that somehow people will see that you aren’t quite right—not put together properly and barely holding yourself together. Or, perhaps, the words self-hatred are something beyond your reality—something you have heard of, but due to either your own work or the blessing of having a supportive, connective upbringing, you can clearly see yourself as ultimately lovable and worthy of being loved. If you fall into the second category, that’s wonderful—and if you fall into the first category, you have a great opportunity to learn how to suffer less.
In our country, we have a robust culture of self-improvement. Beyond the healthy desire to create wellbeing and integrate healthy habits into our lives, some of us come from a deficit where we believe we are less than. One of the most telling aspects of this belief is the inability to believe we are worthy of receiving help—and the inability to believe we are loveable. If we were raised to be seen and not heard, to be a helper and not ask for much…attention, affection, understanding, or consideration, we may have the mistaken idea that needing some care makes us a burden and we are a problem to be solved, an interruption in other people’s lives.
This belief in our smallness belies our true nature as beings who carry a lineage of connection to the past and are connected to all things in the present. This is the understanding of “interbeing.” That not only do we carry the genetic information, the love, and teaching of our blood and spiritual ancestors, we are also part of this Earth. We belong on this planet as much as the stones, the trees, and all living things.
Something that I love about the Buddhist way of thinking is the belief in our basic goodness. In the West, there is a cultural belief that we are fundamentally sinful and if we trusted our own wisdom, we would become some sort of greedy Godzilla monster wrecking everything with our unskillfulness. The Buddhist path teaches us that we are pure luminous light. We are love at our core, and when we get out of our own way, we can trust this awakened heart-mind to be a presence of love and compassion for ourselves and others. We don’t have to be afraid of what is in us because it is purity. Our true nature is holiness.
It may be frightening for some of us to consider who we would be if nothing were wrong with us—if there was nothing to fix, to strive for; what if everything belonged? What would it be like to believe we were a Buddha in the making for a day, an hour, five minutes?
A well-known story from Dharma teacher Sharon Salzberg recounts how she spoke to the Dalai Lama in 1990, at the Mind and Life Institute Conference and asked him what he thought of self-hatred. He was absolutely baffled by this concept. He explained that this was wrong thinking because we all have Buddha-nature. Buddha-nature is part of the Mahayana lineage and includes the belief that all sentient beings, even insects—contain the seeds of awakening and all beings can become Buddha. The Mahayana Uttara Shastra from the 4th Century, C.E. declares, “This clear luminous nature of mind is changeless as space. It is not afflicted by desires and so on, the adventitious stains, which are sprung form incorrect thoughts” (Arya Asanga, recorded by Arya Maitre, translated by Rosemarie Fuchs, 1999). If we believe that we all contain the seeds of enlightenment and are descendants of the Buddha, how is it possible to hate and denigrate that inheritance?
One practice I’ve found that can help us connect with our own ability to see ourselves as worthy is through visualization of our beloved. This visualization works equally well utilizing a visualization of someone who is alive or someone who has passed. Our beloved can be a teacher, a grandparent, a dog, a cat, or a child. Holding the image of someone dear to us, someone who is delighted to see us, we can see their face and their happiness, feel their delight at our being with them. This is an opportunity to investigate what arises in the presence of a beloved. How are our shoulders, our hearts, our minds? What is the quality of our consciousness at this moment?
Holding this image of a beloved one, we can meet their gaze and radiate our own happiness and appreciation back to them. For some of us, it may be helpful to hear that this being totally understands and forgives us. We may want to offer our forgiveness to this being as well. Touching into a relationship of love, practicing receiving love and consciously noting what it feels like in the body/mind to actively receive it, can help removes some of the protection and defense we have built around our hearts.
When we practice opening our hearts to ourselves and the loveable qualities we possess, we learn to be unafraid to offer this love to others. Our hearts become more radiant and fearless. We can begin to believe that we are made of an unstainable purity of mind and believe it is our birthright. When we allow ourselves to experience the inherently loveable qualities in ourselves through another’s eyes, we can gradually fill the void of unworthiness in ourselves and trust that we are worthy of love, worthy of care, a Buddha to be.
May we all trust our light,