Realizing Your True Nature
The Buddha taught that your true nature is emptiness and when this true nature is realized, the divine states of loving-kindness, compassion, empathetic joy, and equanimity emerge.
By Phillip Moffitt
Who are you? Never mind all your fears and insecurities or all the things you have or would like to have. Forget that you want to be a better person. I don’t want to know your gender, nationality, age, family situation, ethnic background, and certainly not what you do for a living. My question is this: What is your true nature? Do you know? Do you ever ask yourself? Do you use your yoga and meditation practice to explore this question? I’m not asking who you believe yourself to be, but rather what you experience in those moments when you are not caught up in your wants and fears. What do you rely on to give meaning to your life? These are hard yet essential questions for those who wish to consciously experience life’s fullness.
Even if you never consciously grapple with these questions about your true nature, certain circumstances will require you to pay attention. Life delivers you a series of challenges in the form of small and large good fortune, as well as petty and great misfortune. In the struggle to learn how to respond to the resulting joy, pain, and confusion, you are repeatedly challenged to seek and to act from your essence.
Sometimes it’s easier to grasp the importance of knowing your true nature through hearing the story of someone else, particularly if that person’s story is larger than life. One clear example of this can be seen in a recent New York Times article about how Germany has renamed a military base to honor a World War II army sergeant. This particular sergeant, Anton Schmid, an Austrian serving in the German army, saved more than 250 Jews from extermination. He disobeyed his superior officers and helped these men, women, and children escape by hiding them and supplying them with false identification papers. Sergeant Schmid was executed by the Nazis for his acts.
Sergeant Schmid’s actions reveal the wonderment and pain of what it means to realize one’s true nature. While in prison waiting to be executed, Schmid wrote to his wife of the horror of seeing children beaten as they were herded into ghettos to be shot: “You know how it is with my soft heart. I could not think and had to help them.” These words capture the sudden blossoming of spiritual maturity brought on by a challenge we would all rather never have to face.
In one of life’s many paradoxes, witnessing the Nazis’ acts of inhumanity was the gift that opened Schmid to a deep, spontaneous realization of his true nature and led to his self-sacrificing actions. I don’t mean something extraordinary by this, but rather the ordinary humanness of his act.
What he did was simply help people who were being brutally mistreated. This impulse to spontaneously help seems to arise out of the essence of human nature. It happens millions of times each day among family members, friends, and even between complete strangers. But Schmid’s story stands out because so few others came to the aid of Germany’s Jews in those terrible years, and because it not only meant his death but also that he died a traitor in the eyes of his government.
“I merely behaved as a human being,” Schmid wrote in his last letter to his wife. Each of us can only pray that we too can “behave as a human being” when we encounter the challenges that lie in our life’s path.
It was Schmid’s ability to meet an extraordinary situation with an ordinary human response that reveals a critical point about finding your true nature.
So often there is a feeling that spiritual growth means achieving some extraordinary, other-worldly, blissed-out state where you are somehow transported out of daily life.
This view leads you to constantly search for the next spiritual high. Or you feel that with all your commitments and responsibilities you have little opportunity for developing your inner nature. Both of these views reflect an error in perception.
It is your daily life that is the raw material for your spiritual development. The fight over who washes the dishes, the desire to make more money, the jealousy over what another has, the pain of losing loved ones, or the discomfort of one’s own aging or ill health are not impediments to inner development. Rather they are the grist for the mill that will slowly grind up your ignorance and all else that hinders you from knowing your true nature. But like Schmid you must be willing to submit to the process.
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