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The Benefit of Living a Life of Self-Introspection

This month, I would like to continue on the BCA theme for this year, “The benefits of following the Shin Buddhist path,” by focusing on the benefit of a life of self-introspection.


The great Zen Master Dogen wrote, “To study Buddhism is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be awakened to all things.” Dogen is saying that the focus of Buddhism is self-introspection and self-reflection. That is what Buddhism is. You don’t necessarily need books or texts. All you need to study Buddhism is a life of self-introspection.


Shin Buddhism is no different than these powerful words by Zen Master Dogen. Shinran Shonin’s life is a life of deep self-introspection. However, Shinran Shonin did not sit in a cave and meditate for years and years in isolation. In fact, he did meditate for 20 years on Mt. Hiei, but that meditation did not lead to any kind of enlightenment or awakening.


For Shinran Shonin, it was the light of the Dharma, great immeasurable light, that penetrated his heart, which allowed him to see himself deeply.


Our ego self does not want to see itself. I think in psychology it’s called a “defense mechanism,” which is when our ego self tries to defend itself and puts the blame on others and never sees oneself as wrong. But if we can encounter a light or a mirror, then the ego self is made to see itself. Simply put, that is how I see Shinran Shonin’s unique insight and approach to his self-introspection.


Such a life of self-introspection, deeply seeing one’s ego self, is at the same time the encounter with light, with truth, with the Dharma. A dark shadow is created only because there is a bright light that creates that shadow. Similarly, Shinran Shonin’s seeing of his ego self — his “dark side” if we are to borrow from “Star Wars” — is because the radiant, immeasurable light that we refer to as Amida Buddha is illuminating his heart and mind.


The result is that Shinran Shonin is humbled, deeply humbled. That is the spirituality that he offers the world of religion — a deeply humble life.


A humble person looks up at all people. An arrogant person looks down on people. A humble person is a grateful person. An arrogant person is never happy or satisfied. A humble person easily sees themselves, their faults, their self-centeredness. An arrogant person rarely, if ever, sees themselves. A humble person takes the blame and the responsibility even when it is not their fault. The arrogant person neither takes responsibility nor the blame, and is quick to point out the faults of others.


The ironic thing here is that Shinran Shonin is both of these persons. He is both arrogant and humble. This is the structure of Buddhist insight or awakening. One becomes humble only because of awakening to one’s arrogance. There is no humility without a sense of one’s arrogance. That is exactly what makes one humble, seeing and realizing one’s arrogance.


That is a tremendous benefit in the life of a Shin Buddhist. A humble person is really the strongest of all people. The arrogant person is the weakest person. Nothing bothers the humble person. Criticism doesn’t bother them. They simply say, “Yes, you are exactly right. Thank you for pointing that out for me.” An arrogant person never accepts criticism. They say, “How dare you talk to me like that! Do you know who you are talking to?!”


The life of Shin Buddhism is one of self-introspection, seeing oneself, because the light of the Buddha is illuminating our hearts and minds. That is a tremendous benefit for the person who follows the path of Shin Buddhism.


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