By Daniel Scharpenburg
“I seek to cure what’s deep inside, frightened by this thing that I’ve become.”
I’m often asked by people, “Why are you Buddhist?”
The Buddha felt the unease of life, the same unease that we often feel today.
He saw the way we struggle and our discontent as a problem to be solved—he wanted to cure what’s deep inside, and was determined to help himself and to help others. We go through life with an undercurrent of unease, and we try to fix it by accumulating things, consuming mind-altering substances, or doing as much as we possibly can of the things we enjoy.
But that undercurrent is always there. It goes away for a bit and comes back.
It’s important for us to learn that this isn’t our natural state. We see this unease everywhere and we think it’s normal and natural.
Silly Mountain (Han Shan) was known for putting difficult things into language that anyone could understand. He said, “Put a fish on land and he will remember the ocean until he dies. Put a bird in a cage, yet he will not forget the sky. Each remains homesick for his true home, the place where his nature has decreed that he should be. Man is born in a state of innocence. His original nature is love and grace and purity. Yet he emigrates so casually, without even a thought of his old home. Is this not sadder than the fishes and the birds?”
Sorry for using such a long quote, but man, is it powerful. This is Buddha nature. Our true nature is good.
That’s a tough thing to wrap our heads around. We’re often taught (and sometimes shown) bad things about ourselves. We often think of ourselves as bad, or broken or weak. So when I tell you that, at your core, you’re good…that can be hard to swallow. In those moments when we’re really honest with ourselves we can see how much harm we cause, how many times in our life we have not responded in the best way to things. We all struggle.
And even if you start to believe it about yourself…what about other people? We see many example of people being unkind and sinister and just mean.
So what’s going on here?
Every person that is doing terrible things has the same good true nature that you and I do. Is that controversial? Maybe. It’s so hard to see the good in people sometimes. Picture the worst person you can think of, the one doing the most harm to the people around them.
Like us, they are by nature good, full of love and grace and purity. But they have the same issue we do. They are plagued by unease and confusion. Does thinking about the times when we’ve failed to act rightly help us avoid judging other people? Maybe it doesn’t. But what if it did?
The Buddha saw that people were struggling with unease and confusion and it was stopping them from seeing their true nature. In the analogy above we could say it was making them homesick. Some people handle homesickness pretty well, some people handle it by lashing out at the people around them and some people just fall apart.
This is heavy stuff.
But there is a solution for our unease and our confusion. The Buddha talked about it 2600 years ago and people have been talking about it ever since. The sources of our problems are greed, hatred, and delusion. These things prevent us from seeing and acting from the place of our true nature. So, the path is designed to help us deal with all three.
First we have to recognize our struggle, we have to understand the causes and then we have to be reassured that the path will help, hopefully by a community or teacher. We have to walk the path.
People ask me sometimes, “Why are you Buddhist?” And it’s gotten easier for me to answer that over the years.
Because I’m suffering. I have unease and confusion. I struggle with attachment to things and expectations and I always want more. I act from a place that’s not my true nature too often.
But I know my true nature is good, and yours is too. So come walk this path with me. It helps me and it can help you too.
Editor: Dana Gornall