The Dalai Lama says that nothing can ever be accomplished without confidence in yourself, but which ‘self’ should you have confidence in? Your personality, your abilities, your intelligence? Or is there something greater to put your trust and confidence in?
There is plenty of information around about the ‘law of attraction,’ where you can achieve all your dreams and desires through setting your intentions, attention, and states of mind to ‘attract’ what you want easily. Also, modern psychology can ‘pep you up’ with solutions of a healthy ego that sets reasonable goals. Or maybe you’re a Tony Robbins fan, so belief in yourself becomes almost religious and the sheer power of single-pointed motivation to obtain what you want is all that is necessary.
I do not want to misrepresent any of these systems of confidence because they all have their relative value and benefits, but they all contain the seeds of their own demise. Why? Because they all require effort; the maintenance of your ‘vibration’ or the feeding of your ‘healthy ego’ or the sustaining of your enthusiasm. Eastern philosophy upholds the idea that nothing you build can last; everything that is created will be destroyed and nothing in this world will bring you any lasting satisfaction. You can just keep setting new goals and adjusting your attitude again and again… but is there another way?
Another Way to Confidence
Maybe there’s something more ultimate, like God, Allah or Buddha that can be relied on with perfect confidence? There is a good case that people who have faith and confidence in these things have lasting happiness and peace that is more sustainable and reliable than worldly egos or enthusiasm. But I contend that most of this is based on a ‘healthy religious ego’ (another type of ego which is just more beliefs; a construction of fake confidence built on the foundations of concepts and ideas). This is why in Zen there is a saying:
…if you see Buddha in the street, kill him!
This popular Zen saying points to destroying any concept of something outside of yourself that can be relied on.
So this brings me to what I would like to introduce you to that can be relied on, that can bring a fearless confidence and a way of being that is available to everyone, regardless of what country you are from, what religious background you have or how much money you earn; this is the universal confidence of discovering your own consciousness with all its miraculous qualities.
Since I have just somewhat criticised religions, I would like to mention these teachings–referred to as the ‘perennial philosophy‘–are found, sometimes hidden or secret, within all the major religious teachings of the world, and discovering or uncovering this hidden truth is the key to unshakable confidence and the goal of meditation.
Perennial Philosophy and the True Self
The perennial philosophy points to a ‘true self’ which, when contacted, heralds the dawning of a new identity, a new understanding of who you are and an unshakable confidence. This is not an arrogant type of confidence that believes it can achieve all goals or have whatever it wants; on the contrary, it is a humble confidence that realises deeply the futility and vanity of reaching for fulfilment within the temporary appearances of the world. A humility built on a grandmother-like wisdom that knows the temporary and fleeting nature of things. This is not depressing, instead it is liberating, and deeply realises the value of each sunset, each smile from another human being and the richness of every day. Each day is seen as more precious than ever and should never be taken for granted because it simply will not last.
It is a confidence in the already complete eternal present moment–the only place happiness and fulfilment can ever be found.
The type of confidence I am alluding to ironically starts with a giving up or surrendering. This surrender is called renouncing worldly affairs, which is giving up the temporary and unreliable fluctuations of ‘goal achieving’ happiness for the lasting and greater happiness available from knowing who you really are in the present moment.
So who are you? The first thing I can say is who you are not and very simply this means you are not who you think you are. Thoughts are just ideas in your imagination; they are not real. Thoughts about who you are as a person are usually based on arbitrary things like your job, sexual orientation, country of birth or particular talents–all these things are temporary conditions labelled by thought with no lasting truth to them. Surrendering these thoughts of yourself is the first stage of meditation–when you are taught to just watch your breath and not take your thoughts seriously, let them come and let them go, they are of no significance to your real and lasting identity.
Try it–pause right now and contemplate–who are you in this moment, if you do not believe your thoughts?
Ok, so this blog is going a little bit longer than I hoped so I will ‘cut to the chase. Who are you really? Spoiler Alert:
You are an eternal unbounded consciousness that is the primary and fundamental source of the universe
That means, from this perspective, our bodies, brains and everything else comes out of this consciousness like a wave coming out of the ocean, rather than the other way around. Before you argue; you must understand that modern science, including neuroscience, has not yet explained their theory that consciousness arises from the brain and nervous system. It is still a mystery to them and known as the ‘hard problem of consciousness‘.
Mystics and contemplatives, on the other hand, have been telling us for millennia that our true selves are an unbounded consciousness imbued with intuitive intelligence, unconditional love and immeasurable bliss and joy. In Buddhism, it is called ‘Buddha Nature’ and it is taught that this nature is already perfect, enlightened and complete with positive qualities. The goal of all Buddhist schools is to realise this nature.
A Universal Self
Self-realised beings have told us that worldly happiness pales in comparison to the self-realisation of consciousness, and the East’s ideas of liberation and enlightenment are founded on realising this universal truth for yourself. Unfortunately, this realisation is ego’s biggest disappointment. It is not a personal self but a universal self, shared by every living being. You are not better than anyone else, you are just a reflection of this divine self within the conditions of the world. The term ‘Namaste’–the divine light in me recognises the divine light in you–is a great way to remember this when you meet others.
This consciousness, or open awareness, I am pointing to is fearless, what Zen Masters call indomitable–which means it is not moved or swept away by present circumstances. It is indestructible, like the sky, and contacting this inner space can bring tremendous courage and fortitude into our lives. The realisation that the passing weather can never harm the sky is just like how passing thoughts and emotions, no matter how strong, can never harm your true inner sky-like conscious self.
Your true self or open awareness does not come and go; you do not create this awareness in meditation, you cannot make it better and you cannot harm it either, it is at the heart of all experiences, it is here right now, it is the open space that is allowing you to read this blog. It is the effortless ground of your being, the unchanging presence that has been with you all your life. As Deepak Chopra explains:
Meditation is not a way of making your mind quiet. It is a way of entering into the quiet that is already there–buried under the 50,000 thoughts the average person thinks every day.
The Unstable Confidence
Zen Master Bankei calls it the great ‘Unborn’ because it does not arise newly or from causes, it has always been there–it is what the ‘big bang’ emerged from. It has never been born in the normal sense and therefore, it can never die, it is the only ‘thing’ like it. Everything else will be born and will die and cannot be relied on. If you try and gain confidence in anything else, it will be unstable and unreliable.
Another metaphor is–your true self is like the calm stillness in the centre of a storm or tornado, even when chaos is swirling around us, there is a calm centre, a quiet place within that always has a cheeky inner smile, a knowing that this too shall pass.
Consciousness has a quality of watching and noticing without reacting or being affected. We could simply call this awareness. Being aware of things without reacting is a doorway into this consciousness and a major style of meditation, as taught by many traditions. As Osho says:
…just keep on being more and more aware and you will be amazed at how your life will transform.
There is so much philosophy to discuss regarding this unbounded consciousness. Hopefully, I have pointed toward it enough to give you a glimpse just by reading my words. But there is no substitute for the self-realisation of contacting this naturally clear and unbounded consciousness through meditation. I would like to conclude with a meditation method for discovering your true self. This method points to and notices three qualities of consciousness as the ultimate refuge for everyone. The three qualities are stillness, silence, and space. This is a very simple and effective method to contact this ever-present consciousness, however, there are many different paths to self-discovery.
Contacting Unbounded Consciousness
A simple technique:
1) Sit still
2) Be quiet (no matter what noises are around–the practice requires that you be quiet)
3) Allow thoughts the space to move through your mind without reacting to them
Notice these three things: being still, being silent and being spacious. Notice they are qualities that are already present within you. They ARE YOU. Contacting these three qualities allows you a refuge from fear and suffering at all times, even when you are moving, making noise and thinking. The underlying fabric that allows these things to happen is inner stillness, silence, and space.
This empowers an incredible self-confidence. You don’t have to do anything or avoid anything to be confident, simply find confidence in being you. Sit still and silent and just be for a short while. Just be, without trying to change anything. Just sit. Just breathe. And just be your natural self. You are already complete and fulfilled and this can never be taken from you. What is there to fear?
This is what can be relied on–being relaxed in the now, with unshakable confidence in your natural self–unbounded consciousness.