We are not our armor. We are not the protective layer that covers up our essential goodness.
Yesterday I wrote about a huge clay Buddha in Thailand. For centuries it had sat in various temples, moved around as people saw fit. One day, stories differ as to why, the enormous clay Buddha cracked open. It cracked open enough that the monks tending it looked inside and were astonished to find, not the hollow space they expected, but a statue of luminous gold.
Jack Kornfield tells this story to illustrate the Buddhist core belief in “Buddha nature” – the inherent nobility and goodness shining inside of every woman, man, and child.
This idea of Buddha nature isn’t only a tenet of Eastern religion, philosophy, and psychology. It’s not only expounded by those with a background in Eastern methods, such as Thomas Merton.
This idea is all over the place in Western religious and psychological thought, in various disguises.
Gerard Manley Hopkins, an English Victorian poet and Jesuit priest, described our real, true selves as an “Immortal Diamond.”
Franciscan priest and prolific author Richard Rohr uses the term “True Self.”
Life coach and Harvard-trained sociologist Martha Beck talks about our Essential Self and our Core of Peace.
Psychologist James Hollis uses the terms “Self” (with a capital “S”) and “soul.”
Rumi says, “Out beyond ideas of wrong doing and right doing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”
Oh, phooey. Rumi’s Eastern.
Our armor, the clay covering our hearts of shining light, is not the problem. The problem is when we’re confused and we believe our clay coverings are WHO WE ARE, and we strive to protect that armor.
That armor, that clay, is useful. This part of ourselves, the inevitable accretion of daily living, is variously called our small “s” self, our false self, our social self, our ego, and I’m sure there are many more labels. This part of ourselves is necessary because it keeps us safe, sometimes, and it helps us be smart.
But it isn’t US. We suffer when we think that it is.
We suffer when we try to live our lives from our armored surfaces of clay, rather than from our luminous shiny good hearts.