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Buddhadharma : Fall 2016
38 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly fall 2 0 1 6 “self,” before long we find ourselves drowning in a whirlpool of dualistic concepts. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard successful, prominent people tell me that they live in fear that others will find out who they “really” are. And students, after gain- ing some kind of worldly success, will tell me that they’re suffering from the feeling of not deserving it, fearing that they will lose what they’ve worked so hard to gain. In the West, we tend to dismiss this as an issue of self-worth, low self-esteem, or, more recently, “impostor syndrome”—but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The real problem is believing in the exis- tence of a worthy or unworthy self in the first place. Worthy/unworthy or perfect/imperfect are equally false narratives. From the Buddhist point of view, there is no worthy or unworthy self. Instead, some- thing else is taking place—the pervasive presence of bodhichitta as our intrinsic goodness, our natural propensity for compassionate action. AT FIRST, BUDDHIST TEACHINGS on no-self sound destabilizing. How can we develop confi- dence without building up a strong ego? Actually, the nonself principle skillfully disarms all our self- concepts, turning us away from the actual source of our suffering. This doesn’t have to lead to nihilism, but it could, hence Dzogchen’s emphasis on positive frameworks such as identifying with our buddha- nature or resting into presence of awareness. We are directed instead to a deeper force within us that is more trustworthy and more powerful than mere concepts of self. To reliably locate that deeper force, we must deliberately cultivate bodhichitta: an enlightened mind-set, the wish to realize awakening in order to be of greatest benefit to all beings. In Tibetan it is called chang chub sem, the mind of enlightenment held by an “awakened mind warrior.” This power- ful idea annihilates the dualism between being and doing. Being and doing can be united. When we act from the depths of being, the actions themselves arise organically from our ultimate nature. Imbued with presence, we can show up and help our world. The life story of Yeshe Tsogyal, the female bud- dha of Tibet, offers an extraordinary example of this process. Her progress toward the highest realization is described in terms of her blossoming capacity to help others; when she transcends anger, she gains the capacity to work for others “in seven universes of the ten directions.” This capacity expands even further when she transcends grasping and eliminates the habitual tendencies of her mind stream. In the same way, each time we transcend a mind poison, we become available for a greater purpose. We tend to think that there is a large divide between the great Buddhist masters and our own minds. But throughout Yeshe Tsogyal’s life story, even her identity continually alternates between a highly realized buddha and an ordinary being expe- riencing the problems of the world. In one scene, she proclaims herself Vajradhara personified, the primordial Buddha. And yet at that same stage in her development, she also says that she is a timid woman with scant ability and serious doubts that she has what it takes to accomplish the path. The Dzogchen teachings Yeshe Tsogyal mastered reveal that each of us possesses this same begin- ningless buddhanature. It is hidden from us by the mind-set that clings so tightly to self-concepts. How this plays out may be hard to predict. What does it mean to be a buddha and confused in one and the same body? What we see in the female buddha’s life story is that the path to buddhahood is not a perfect linear progression from a totally ignorant, karma- covered being to a fully awakened buddha. One’s identity oscillates along the way. What does not oscillate in Yeshe Tsogyal’s story, what remains con- stant throughout her training, maturity, and fully