Coming Home to Our True Selves

Coming Home to Our True Selves

Discussion date: Thu, Oct 30, 2014 at our weekly Thursday evening practice

Dear Still Water Friends,

Last week in our sharings about Speaking from the Heart, several people talked about a shift in consciousness that occurred when they were fully present in a challenging conversation. Their emotional hooks released and they experienced clarity, ease, and a feeling of harmony. In Zen circles that shift is often spoken of as coming home or returning to our true selves.

Thich Nhat Hanh suggests that when we hear a temple bell, or even a telephone ringing, we say a gatha (meditation poem) to remind us that we can choose at any moment to change our consciousness.

Listen, listen.

This wonderful sound brings me back to my true self.

For Zen Master Dogen, the great 13th-century Japanese Zen Master, finding our true selves was at the core of his teachings:

To attain the Way of Enlightenment is to attain one’s True Self.

To attain one’s True Self is to forget oneself.

To forget oneself is to realize one’s unity with the whole universe.

In a 2006 interview Melvin McLeod asked Thich Nhat Hanh about the difference between the true self we come home to and how we normally think of ourselves. Thich Nhat Hanh answered:

True self is non-self, the awareness that the self is made only of nonself elements. There’s no separation between self and other, and everything is interconnected. Once you are aware of that you are no longer caught in the idea that you are a separate entity.

McLeod followed by asking what happens when one come home to the true self, when one realizes that true nature of the self is nonself? Thich Nhat Hanh replied:

It brings you insight. You know that your happiness and suffering depend on the happiness and suffering of others. That insight helps you not to do wrong things that will bring suffering to yourself and to other people. If you try to help your father to suffer less, you have a chance to suffer less. If you are able to help your son suffer less, then you, as a father, will suffer less. Thanks to the realization that there is no separate self, you realize that happiness and suffering are not individual matters. You see the nature of interconnectedness and you know that to protect yourself you have to protect the human beings around you.

That is the goal of the practice—to realize non-self and interconnectedness. This is not just an idea or something you understand intellectually. You have to apply it to your daily life. Therefore you need concentration to maintain this insight of non-self so it can guide you in every moment. Nowadays, scientists are able to see the nature of non-self in the brain, in the body, in everything. But what they have found doesn’t help them, because they cannot apply that insight to their daily lives. So they continue to suffer. That is why in Buddhism we speak of concentration. If you have the insight of non-self, if you have the insight of impermanence, you should make that insight into a concentration that you keep alive throughout the day. Then what you say, what you think, and what you do will then be in the light of that wisdom and you will avoid making mistakes and creating suffering.

McLeod asked whether, fundamentally, the practice of mindfulness is the effort to maintain the insight of nonself and interconnectedness at all times. And Thich Nhat Hanh replied:

Yes, exactly.

This Thursday evening, after our meditation period, we will explore how we can come home to our true selves as a daily practice. What is it we can do so that true self is there when we walk, when we sit, when we speak, when we type out our emails?

One small daily practice I began this summer is to periodically imagine a button in front of me. When I press the button I send my energy into the universe. Like sunlight it goes everywhere, touches and in some minute way transform everything. When I am calm and centered, I am able to send out love and compassion. When I am agitated or scattered, I am more likely to send out fear and indifference.

Of course, it is always true that I am sending my energies into the cosmos, with every thought, word, or action. The button-pressing practice just makes it more vivid for me.

You are invited to join us this Thursday evening. In what ways are you able to come home to your true self? When is it a great challenge?

Several more exchanges from McLeod’s interview with Thich Nhat Hanh are below. The whole interview is available at

Please note also that Still Water’s four-session Mindfulness and Simple Living class begins on November 7th. If you would like to join, please register by Monday, November 3rd. Our Still Water Mindful Families Retreat is November 14-16.

Warm wishes.

Many blessings,

Mitchell Ratner

Love, Happiness, and our True Selves

from "This Is The Buddha’s Love" Melvin McLeod interviews Thich Nhat Hanh

Melvin McLeod: We human beings say that above all else we want love. We want to give love; we want to be loved. We know that love is the medicine that cures all ills. But how do we find love in our heart, because often we can’t?

Thich Nhat Hanh: Love is the capacity to take care, to protect, to nourish. If you are not capable of generating that kind of energy toward yourself—if you are not capable of taking care of yourself, of nourishing yourself, of protecting yourself—it is very difficult to take care of another person. In the Buddhist teaching, it’s clear that to love oneself is the foundation of the love of other people. Love is a practice. Love is truly a practice.

Melvin McLeod: Why don’t we love ourselves?

Thich Nhat Hanh: We may have a habit within ourselves of looking for happiness elsewhere than in the here and the now. We may lack the capacity to realize that happiness is possible in the here and now, that we already have enough conditions to be happy right now. The habit energy is to believe that happiness is not possible now, and that we have to run to the future in order to get some more conditions for happiness. That prevents us from being established in the present moment, from getting in touch with the wonders of life that are available in the here and now. That is why happiness is not possible.

To go home to the present moment, to take care of oneself, to get in touch with the wonders of life that are really available—that is already love. Love is to be kind to yourself, to be compassionate to yourself, to generate images of joy, and to look at everyone with eyes of equanimity and nondiscrimination.

That is something to be cultivated. Nonself can be achieved. It can be touched slowly. The truth can be cultivated. When you discover something, in the beginning you discover only part of it. If you continue, you have a chance to discover more. And finally you discover the whole thing. When you love, if your love is true, you begin to see that the other person is a part of you and you are a part of her or him. In that realization there is already nonself. If you think that your happiness is different from their happiness, you have not seen anything of nonself, and happiness cannot be obtained.

So as you progress on the path of insight into nonself, the happiness brought to you by love will increase. When people love each other, the distinction, the limits, the frontier between them begins to dissolve, and they become one with the person they love. There’s no longer any jealousy or anger, because if they are angry at the other person, they are angry at themselves. That is why nonself is not a theory, a doctrine, or an ideology, but a realization that can bring about a lot of happiness.

Melvin McLeod: And peace.

Thich Nhat Hanh: Sure. Peace is the absence of separation, of discrimination.

in: Dharma Topics
Discussion Date: Thu, Oct 30, 2014


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