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Author of this essay:

Yao Xiang Shakya
(October 7, 2013)

Emerging Buddha
by Yao Xiang Shakya

OK. You've Made Mistakes.

You Feel Like a Failure.

Small comfort, you're not alone!

Who are YOU?

I can't say for certain, but maybe even the religious leaders of the world find themselves wondering how to respond when they face the question, "Who are YOU?" Are you an emerging Buddha, or a fallen sinner? According to the BBC there are 1.2 billion Catholics worldwide; a sizable number of adherents. When the new leader of this prodigious religion, which claims 18% of the world's population was recently asked in an interview:

"Who is Jorge Mario Bergolio?" In other words, Pope Francis, who are you?

He responded,

"I ​​do not know what might be the most fitting description.... I am a sinner. This is the most accurate definition. It is not a figure of speech, a literary genre. I am a sinner." Pope Francis, 2013

Pope Francis' announcement to the world is a proclamation of a disciple of Jesus Christ, the redeemer of sinners. The word ‘sin' however, often brings chills down our spine leaving us with an impulse to shake off this nomenclature. Many of us in the modern world would not respond to this universal question as did this world religious leader who announces to the world, "I am a sinner." There's no hesitation, no pious cover-up, just a simple admission, "I am a sinner."

Most likely, Pope Francis understands the depth and spiritual poignancy of such a personal and public admission. It is unlikely it was said with any sense of regret before other men, but rather a piercing sense of personal recognition that accompanies those who realize the resolve and commitment as a disciple on a spiritual quest. Perhaps Pope Francis in his own terms is saying to the world ‘the ego-self of Jorge Mario Bergolio is not in control and is ill-equipped to leap the illusions and lures of the world.' It may be his simple admission of the Truth.

Yet, in the 21st predominantly, scientific and technological zeitgeist, the word "SIN" does not easily find a place in our personal lexicon; it is not understood and is often misunderstood. It renders an indictment against us that often leads to a feeling of fearful condemnation: ‘Man the sinner is no good and will go to hell unless he is saved.' The word "sin" brings to mind images such as a pointed finger jutting out of the heavens scolding us. It tends to carry with it the old dogma of a moralistic cabal. Taken as such, it is not much help, since it tends to drive us away from the more important and essential shake-up of realizing the ego of man is plainly unable to make it to the peaks of spiritual awakening. We feel queasy with the guilt, shame and blame which often accompany the word "sin." The ego-self latches on and is wounded by these accusers, giving birth to the identity of a victim. We fail to see it as a condition and like all conditions it is subject to change.

The ego, time and time again, overtly and covertly seeks self gratification and being a victim is as much a self-seeking gratification and elevation as any other identity. The higher altitude of spiritual realms is abandoned to any ego identity. But the ego doesn't care since it is both surreptitious and blatant in the pursuit of personal gain and comforts. And those of us who study the ego-self easily see the ego self-centered position as predominant. And yet, this profession of "sinner" does have an aim, doesn't it. Pope Francis is not suggesting he is a "victim" or that he is riddled with guilt, shame or blame. He is confessing some interior reality which he describes with language from his tradition. Using the word "sin" is rooted in the historical context of his membership in the Roman Catholic enclave.

Sin is a reality, however, even for an emerging Buddha. But it requires an understanding of ‘how' it is not a label of the ego-self but a motivation. A label merely irritates as a small stone does when it is stuck in our shoe. "I am a sinner" is a declaration of Pope Francis' spiritual condition. "I am a sinner" is recognition of our spiritual condition as well as a motivation to change without guilt, shame and blame. Motivation, as a necessary requisite for a spiritual awakening, is a matter of life and death. Pope Francis' "I am a sinner" fits the bill.

Our dear and late Dharma brother, Da Shi Yin Zhao, captures the same spiritual significance of motivation in his reflections on an Aesop fable. After his own personal reckoning with his suffering he wrote:

One day a hound, out hunting alone, flushed a hare from a thicket and gave chase. The frightened hare gave the dog a long run and then escaped. The hound was disappointed, but he held his head up as he trotted home. His attitude irritated a passing shepherd. "You're supposed to be such a fine hunter," he sneered. "And you couldn't even run down a hare that's a fraction of your size."

"You forget," replied the hound, "that I was only running for my supper. The hare was running for his life." Whether hare, hound, or human being motivation is everything. What is the goal... and how badly do we want it? The rabbit wanted to live more than the hound wanted to eat. He tried harder.

The Zen disciple drops the nonsense of a lazy hound and is invigorated by the hare's understanding. Zen, for the disciple, is a matter of life and death. It's not a hobby. Much like any disciple we need to reckon with this matter within ourselves in order to stick with it, see and experience the potency of the Dharma and to try our very best to climb to the pinnacle. It's what Zen disciples know.

There is little doubt that another definition of "sin" may be worth considering. Sin is in reference to an archer failing to hit the target. The archer draws back his bow, takes aim and releases the drawn bow only to see his arrow in flight fall short of the intended target. The archer, no doubt, feels a prick of disappointment when he sees his spent arrow lying on the ground before the mark. He may even be red-faced and feel embarrassment by his inability to strike the anticipated bull's eye. This missing the mark does not send the archer of any merit or resolve into a place of damnation or sinking into the mire of unworthiness. It is not a dishonor or a disgrace to fail; it is a recollection, a reminder to the archer of two of Zen's spiritual requisites: 1). A fallen arrow points to a need for discipline and training and the enigmatic reminder 2). The archer is not in control.

The first of these requisites is easy to understand for the archer who is sincere in his spiritual pursuits will keep going despite his fallen arrows. The arrow that misses is not a claim against the archer in terms of guilt, shame or blame it is merely spiritual feedback from a spiritual condition. It tells the archer, as any good messenger does, continue. This archer is a disciple and continues to train.

The second requisite, at first glance, seems to mitigate the first, that is, the archer might lose heart to train if he thinks he is not in control. He may sense a feeling of "Why bother?" Any Master worth his salt knows when a disciple is despondent from a fallen arrow he has not yet seen his true condition but continues to rub and buff the crestfallen ego-self. The despondency is yet again another messenger. This disciple needs help. It may mean that he needs to reflect on his commitment and resolve. Something continues to block his emerging Buddha self. It's not a time to give up; it's a time to reflect.

"...The person who hears the call to discipleship and wants to follow, but feels obliged to insist on his own terms...is no longer (in) discipleship but (in) a program of our own to be arranged to suit ourselves. - Dietrich Bonhoffer, Cost of Discipleship

If the disciple is more interested in arranging things to suit his own desires, it is unlikely that he is resolute about his conviction for spiritual ascendancy. He merely wants to be in charge. In all fairness, he may not be considered a disciple. He's a seeker with an ego-centered attitude. Seekers need training. Often strong and fierce compassion needs to be offered to awaken those who want to be in charge and who want to be a so-called ‘disciple.'

Arrogance and pride are often the main culprits prohibiting the seeker from entering the Dharma gates of an emerging Buddha Self.

The amount of time spent seeking spiritual heights does not matter a tittle when it comes to spiritual awakening. The conversion of the mind and heart is what matters. The disciple needs to be willing and able to see the death of the ego-self as essential to his spiritual awakening otherwise he will spend his time polishing his illusionary ego-brick.

A careful understanding of the word "sin" as the spent fallen arrow is useful when we understand it in the light of the ego-self. It does not mean to give up, to crack up or pile up excuses of ‘why' the arrow failed. It is to recognize our inner condition as blocking the emerging Buddha. We need to train, to discipline the mind, to stick with a method with devotion until the emerging Buddha shows up.

If we find we are in this predicament, don't give up! Get ready to work; to drop all the nonsense of the ego. We need to remember we are an emerging Buddha despite the miserable sense of disappointment we may cling to in our ego identity. STOP! We need to stop going over and over the mistakes and failures we've made as though it is a canker sore in the mouth. We need to clean-up our act. There is no shame in cleaning things up. It is a worthy and often necessary spiritual activity. Don't shun it.

Most of us know the story of Angulimala, who was also known as the "Finger Necklace" monk. After killing his victim he would remove a finger and thread it onto a string of other fingers and hang it around his neck. He allegedly killed close to a 1000 villagers during the Buddha's lifetime.

Angulimala's great fortune was that he encountered the Buddha directly and stopped his murderous lifestyle, repented and became a devoted disciple. He didn't quibble or complain or bargain with the Buddha. He didn't whine. He stopped. He dropped his old ways. He gave up his criminal identity. He devoted himself to a method. His emerging Buddha arose within him.

He was struck by the Dharma. But it wasn't easy for this former killer. He had made lots of enemies. He had to face the consequences of his unseemly conduct. We'd expect his previous crimes to catch up with him which they did. An angry mob of villagers who knew him before his noble birth of his Buddha Self found him and ostensibly stoned him to death. The Buddha, however, reportedly explained that although Angulimala killed many and was killed violently himself that he had died a converted man, an emerged Buddha self.

He "cleaned-up" his act and faced the consequences of his dreadful actions from his past. There was no shame, no pride, no "yes, buts" from Angulimala. He accepted willingly the Dharma gates of his life. He stopped the ego-finagling. It was for Angulimala, as it is for us, a matter of life and death.

Again our own dear and late brother, Da Shi Yin Zhao, in his own words sums up what needs to be done:

One day, with tears in my eyes, I sat on my pillow and prayed. I knew at that point that I couldn't cope with the world without the Buddha's help. I also realized that I had to help myself by approaching Zen with an honest effort, with a Right Effort, that in all ways I had to "live out the life of the Buddha Self."

I picked a meditation method, worked hard to get the method right, and stuck with it. I changed my attitudes towards the material world. I began to see what was important and what wasn't. So, finally, I began to approach Zen as the hare being chased by the hound; I approached Zen knowing that my life depended on it.

This is what must be done whether we see our interior condition in terms of "I am a sinner" or as a ‘hare being chased by a hound.' When we know it is a matter of life and death, we approach Zen with an honest effort to "live out the emerging Buddha Self" with no blame, shame or guilt.

Humming Bird