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Living Fully
Shyalpa Tenzin Rinpoche : Free From The Notion of Self

Free From The Notion of Self

Excerpted from Living Fully by Shyalpa Tenzin Rinpoche

Being genuine, which means being true to who we are, is possible only when we are free from the illusion of an independently existent self. Ordinarily, as human beings, we do not actualize our highest potential, our buddha nature. Instead, we embrace our confusion. When we recognize that this limited and confused self has no foundation at all, we can embrace what is clear and empty as our true self. Embracing our true nature, nothing can obscure or limit us in any given moment. This is who we are: limitless and complete in our existence.

We think we are free, but we are bound by our fears and delusions—by all of our self-made constraints. We do not have trust and confidence in our true nature, and therefore we are incomplete.

If the nature of the self is empty, does that mean that nothing exists? Have you ever looked at a lotus flower in full bloom? You might be intoxicated with its radiant beauty. At the height of its freshness, you cannot find a single speck of impurity, imperfection, or decay. It is flawless and pristine. This is what emptiness is: empty of all defilement and obscuration. Be clear about this: emptiness is not a state of blankness, darkness, or nothingness. The natural state of emptiness is replete with good qualities. It is free of all distortion, so one can see everything exactly as it is.

When the mind is empty of obscuration, it is lucidly clear and open. With a clear mind, all of your expressions will be genuine and your communication will be natural—free from hesitation or holding back. Your bearing will always have the mark of authenticity. If you try to wear a mask, your diamond-like awareness will shatter it, right on the spot. The diamond is a symbol of indestructible clarity, which eradicates all deception. The mind can perceive clearly when not obscured by discursive thinking and disturbing emotions. This clarity is an intrinsic and natural quality of the mind. It is not created by conditions; therefore, it can never be destroyed.

Examine your mind and attempt to discover the nature of this so-called self. Can you find an owner of your experiences, a thinker of your thoughts who is truly there? Does such a self exist? Or do you merely find intangible thoughts, feelings, and perceptions that are fleeting and impermanent?

While everything appears in the mind, neither the mind nor what appears in the mind comprise objective or substantial reality. All of our thoughts and perceptions are ephemeral. If we believe that our projections are real, we will view everything in our world as truly existing, just as it appears. Whatever occurs in our lives is like a dream. All experience is intangible and beyond our grasp. For the most part, we mistakenly view this dream as real, but the appearances of this life are like the conjuring of a master magician. We are fooled by appearances that are dreamlike and fleeting. Indeed, it is time to wake up!

Consider a young child looking at the reflection of the moon in a lake. The child will think that the moon exists in the water, and it is difficult to convince the child otherwise. When the child grows older and wiser, you can point your finger and explain, "That is the actual moon, and this is a reflection in the water." However, from the Buddhist perspective, the appearance of the moon in the sky is insubstantial, and so is the person pointing at the moon. This is not so easy for us to accept, but it is essential to understand. It is our misconception to believe that our perceptions, thoughts, and emotions have substantial existence. This confused view of things becomes our enemy. For instance, feelings of anger and hatred can become entrenched in our minds, lasting for days, months, or years.

Inwardly we feel impoverished, so we crave many things. Engaging in business, we work hard to make a profit, and in the short term, we may feel that we have succeeded. But we do not realize that the profit we make is like an illusion. In other words, when we solidify our notion of self, we solidify our notion of profit. We think the "I" exists; therefore "I" must make a profit. This "I" is ego. Working hard to satisfy the ego, we corrupt our natural energy with selfish thinking. It is better to let the energy release and flow naturally. If we think we have gained something, what does it matter? If we think we have lost something, what does it matter? We create notions of gain and loss, but in truth, they have no substantial basis. It is all dreamlike and illusory.

When we awake from a pleasant dream, we might cling to our dream experience, but we know it is not real. If we develop insight into the nature of self and appearances, we will clearly recognize that this life is like a dream. Whatever we envision is like a mirage, and in the end, we cannot hold on to anything. This moment is like an appearance of the shining moon in the water; it is vivid, but it is merely a reflection. We cannot hold on to this moment, but we can value and experience this moment fully, while knowing there is nothing to cling to.

Next: Living Fully Introduction »

Shyalpa Tenzin RinpocheHis Eminence Shyalpa Tenzin Rinpoche is the spiritual guide of Shyalpa Monastery in Kathmandu, the founder of the Tibetan Refugee Children's Fund, and the heard of Ranging Yeshe, Inc., a nonprofit that organizes teachings and retreats throughout the United States. More »

Updated 1/20/14