Training In Self Awareness: Step 2: Objectively Examine Your Discontentment

We’ve been speaking about not only the importance of recognizing the ego, and identifying it’s effects in our mind, but about the type of self-awareness that is utilized in Dharma practice to understand it, so we can begin to be free from our ego’s influence.

Once we become a little familiar with the ego, and the ways in which it contributes to our suffering, we must be careful. In order not to just react, not to become frustrated, not to get angry, not to be hard on yourself, not to lose your determination to continue working on one's wisdom mind to counteract this ego activity, and not to vilify the ego—all this takes a lot of mental and emotional skill.

If you immediately become frustrated with yourself, if you get aggressive with yourself, or if you feel like, “Oh, this is just too hard, I can't train in this way to become more self-aware of my own ego and ego attachments,” or, “I can't apply these teachings, they’re too foreign,” then you’ve already lost the battle. Or maybe you have the thought that, “Whoever tells me to apply the teachings in this very personal kind of way is a fraud or a charlatan who is just trying to fool me.”

With any of these attitudes our ability to objectively observe the ego and ego attachments, its wrongdoings, as well as the suffering in our own life and in humanity altogether, is undermined from the beginning.

So don’t allow yourself to get caught up in these kind of sidetracks. Treat this like a disciplined scientist observing a scientific experiment—clearly and objectively. In that way, your self-reflection is clean, and not emotional. When it's emotional it's never clean.

When it's not emotional, but rather when it is very much based on your discriminative wisdom (Skt. prajna), then you will see this more objectively. For example, we all want to be special. We all want to feel like we’re special. Everyone likes the feeling of being special, and feeling special. So, just observe that, observe that alone, and how much trouble this causes in your life, simply from that tendency alone. Without that element, you could spare yourself so many troubles!

When you analyze this, you can see how most of your dissatisfaction and unhappiness arise from not being able to meet that goal of being special, or feeling special. And from that you’re left with a sense of never feeling like your life is good enough as it is.

So, then we wander around in this world, hungry like a preta (Tib. hungry ghost) even though we have so many blessings and the fruit of our own good merit in this life. What do the hungry ghosts do? These pretas are always searching for food. They are constantly hungry, so they’re always searching for food to quench the burning hunger inside of them. But, due to their karma, they can never achieve any kind of situation that will satisfy their hunger for food and drink. Even when there is food or water present before them, they may momentarily see it, but as they approach, it evaporates before them, becoming just rock or  desert. So there is continually an extreme disappointment.

Just imagine the suffering of the pretas burning with hunger, yearning for food to fill their bellies and water to quench their thirst. They wander throughout the whole world like that. How would that be? And rarely, whenever they do see food or water somewhere, the closer they get, it just evaporates into a dry rock desert. How would that be? Painful, right? Mentally, emotionally, and physically it would be such a painful situation. Yet, sometimes I think we are even worse than a preta who is searching for food to fill their empty belly. At least there's a physical sensation of needing the food to survive. That is a real practical situation, a deep physical suffering of hunger, in which they feel they will die if they don't get food. They don't have the blessings that we have. They don't enjoy all the plentifulness that we have. They don't have all the practical needs that we have either, which arise out of our own good merit.

While we have all these blessings, while we have all the plentiful fruits of our own good merit, while our needs are being met, relatively speaking—in our mind we are still caught in this kind of hunger to feel special. We are so thirsty to feel special. We are always trying to look in all situations toward how we can mentally and emotionally satisfy this ego, these ego attachments. There’s really nothing but the ego and our ego attachments as the fundamental basis of our suffering. We wander about in the world, driven by our ego and ego attachments, never feeling special enough, never feeling content at all with who we are, or what we are; with what we have, and all the enjoyment available to us. Our eyes are bigger than the pretas,’ our mouths are bigger than the pretas’ mouths.

Even our desire seems much greater, and well beyond necessity. There are times when we feel, “Well, over here I'm going to feel special. Here I'll actually be able to be somebody, and that will make me feel very special.” This burning sepa (Tib. desire, attachment) is couched in that way, as something that is always there, which has been strengthened over many lifetimes, but particularly in this life.

To be a doctor will make me special.” “As a lawyer, I'll feel special.” “Becoming a model, I'll feel special.” “To be a Guru, I'll feel special.” “To be a rich man, I'll feel special.” “To be the wife of a rich man, I'll feel special.” “To become famous, I'll feel special.” “To be powerful, I’ll feel special.” And then for a moment it really does seem as though it works! But then it stops working, it evaporates right in front of you. It’s like the food and drink that just evaporates right before the preta. This new status quo that you’ve worked so hard to establish no longer makes you feel special enough. So the discontentment returns. A sense of disillusionment arises again. And it's not really the fault of anything on the outside.

There's a story of someone with a great deal of good merit. He sat right next to Indra and Brahma, to rule the three worlds. And then he thought, “This is good, but I should be a little bit higher than Indra and Brahma. But this exhausted all his merit, so he fell back down. This story is in The Words of My Perfect Teacher, where you may have heard it. And that's how everything works out for us. See? Look inside of your own mind. Where is your discontentment? Where is your disappointment? Where is your feeling of not having your needs met? Where are your complaints—about who you are, what you are, or what you have? It will be about not feeling good enough, or special enough. Good enough in terms of things, and special enough in regard to how you feel about yourself. This is the problem of the eight worldly concerns.

When the sages talk about the eight worldly concerns, they express what Nagarjuna says to his dear friend, the king. “King" he said, “don’t get involved in the eight worldly concerns. The eight worldly concerns in our day are really not for someone who is very intelligent. They’re only for fools.” Fools become fascinated in this way by the eight worldly concerns and create so much suffering in their own life, feeling continuously that their needs are never met. A wise or contemplative person, an intelligent person, sees the source of all these problems, and can then produce a remedy at the source.

Link #263.


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