Looking for one’s true self and being true to one’s self

[Excerpted from a video conference, January 10, 2021]

 We have this saying in Zen, ‘to find, or discover, our true self.’ Lately, for the last year or two, I’ve been saying it’s not so much about finding our true self as being true to our self. To me that’s authenticity, that’s integrity, that’s honesty, that’s truthfulness.

 And to be true to the situation — and I know I have not always been — so when you’re with family and somebody is spilling their heart out, or their guts out, and you’re being dispassionate — I remember one time a relative, a 16-, 17-year old girl, asked me, “What is Zen?” and I made some wiseass remark, I said, “I don’t know.” The truth is, on the one hand, I don’t know what Zen is, but that was not the appropriate answer for the time, for the situation. I should have said, well, it’s a lot about finding out who you are, maybe sitting and meditating, reaching a form of calmness, equanimity. I could have responded in a lot more compassionate way. So it’s finding the appropriateness in the moment.

 But you can draw on the extremes. You have the extremes within your reach, in the palms of your hands, and you can be really compassionate, or not so compassionate, depending on the situation and the time, place and amount. And I think with what’s been going on — not just in our capitol but many capitols and many places in the world — we don’t have to be like ‘everything’s cool, everything’s good.’ There’s appropriate and inappropriate behavior too, but it depends on the situation.

 Because I used to believe, after my own opening, that right and wrong didn’t exist. And in a way they don’t from an absolute perspective. But then you have to come back and there is appropriate right and wrong, given the time, place, your position and amount. That’s what we all struggle with.

 Looking for one’s true self and being true to one’s self.

 Let’s just say you’re The Path, and you’re true to The Path. And what does The Path mean? That you’re waking up, you’re growing up, you’re accomplishing your life, you’re becoming, hopefully, more aware, more awake, more conscious, more compassionate, more loving, more all these things. And yet you’re true to yourself, meaning not to your false contracted self; you’re true to who you are. You don’t go against your own integrity.

 I find that more and more I am willing to say, “No, I can’t do that. No, I’m not going to go there. No, I’m not going to look at that or not going to do that.” Because it’s not true to who I am at this point.

 Another way to say it is what Hal Stone said to Charlotte and me the last time we were there, he said, “I’ve gotten to the point at my age,” and he was 91 or 2 at that point, “that I know what is mine to pick up, and what is not mine to pick up.” To know what we should pick up, what we should take on, and things that are not ours to take on, and being true to that.

 That’s maturity. “I can pick this up, and I can take this on and I can devote myself to this, or this is not for me, this is not what I’m going to pick up. I’m not going to go there.” And to know that, to have the discernment, the wisdom to discern what is yours to pick up, what is not, what’s true for you and what’s not true. That’s being your authentic self, or your true self, or being true to yourself.

 Think of that as part of your maturation. You’re maturing and learning what is mine and what is not mine. Because there’s so much we can take on. Also we can just be completely aloof and not take anything on, but what is it that is mine to take on or pick up, or make my practice, and what’s not? That’s part of the maturation process, I think, of growing up.

— Genpo Roshi

2 thoughts on “Looking for one’s true self and being true to one’s self”

  1. Thank you for this one Roshi. It baffles me how much I cling to the hope of finding some fixed, bullet proof and solid way that will make me respond with integrity and compassion to every single situation. A one-size-fits-all ethics if you will. Unsurprisingly this attitude has got me in a lot of trouble! I like your tempered take on it here. It reminds me to stay awake and aware and in relationship with the people around me always. Not to live inside my head and mistake my cool concepts for reality. I guess that kind of flexible and relational approach is also compassion.
    <3 B


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