Far too many people think that they are not worthy or capable of awakening to the Truth, or living up to its demands, or that they don’t even want to give up the attachments that cause their sufferings. Every cat owner is familiar with the first version of this notion. Countering all of this is one of the great tests of Skill in Means.
Complementary to this is the delusion of adequacy, which comes forth in many forms. It can appear as the claim of understanding Buddhism better than the Buddhists, or of focusing on erudition rather than kindness and unselfishness. Among its worst manifestations is the authoritarian strongman delusion,
I alone can save you.
I alone can fix it.
But in Buddhism, we put both adequacy and inadequacy aside as manifestations of self, and of the opposites.
One of the most famous cases was the monk, Kyogen Chikan/Xiangyan Zhixian, a disciple of Isan. Kyogen decided that Zen was too hard for him, and spent 20 years as a hermit. Then, by chance, he swept up a stone that struck a bamboo, and his mind opened at the sound. The sound is, of course, bupkes. It is not the stone that opens the mind, nor the bamboo, but the mind that opens up itself, because your mind has the whole truth before it at all times.
As we say,
It takes as long as it takes.
In terms of Skill in Means, it is often said in Japan that Pure Land Buddhism, aka “Other Power” Buddhism, is for people suffering from the delusion of inadequacy, while Zen, aka “Self Power” Buddhism, is for people suffering from the delusion of adequacy. Both, however, in reality teach versions of no-self, kindness, and compassion, and aim to put both sides of delusion aside.
OK, this is a koan. What do you do about it? Same as always. It’s as hard as possible, but no harder.
- Raise the thought of awakening.
- Have faith in the Three Treasures, including universal Buddha Nature.
- Confront the koan and the thoughts surrounding it.
- Get stuck
- Get free.
- Share what you found.
Simple. Glorious. Amazing. Perfectly natural.
Inadequacy is familiar to Jews and Christians, too.
3 They have all turned aside; together they have become ncorrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.
10 No one is righteous, no, not one;
11 no one understands; no one seeks for God.
12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.
Some turn this into a whole theology of helplessness, asserting that it is only Jesus sacrificing himself to his Father that redeems us from Original Sin. I try to leave this delusion strictly alone.
Jesus himself did not teach helplessness. He said to pray
Be merciful to me, a sinner.
in order to go home justified.
Jews have their own remedy, stated in the Tree of Life prayer, which leads past the opposites of Good and Evil.
Confession is in fact the starting point for Catholic masses and Orthodox services, in the Greek language form
This is followed by confession.
Soto Zen Buddhists begin the process of taking Refuge in the Three Treasures and accepting the Precepts with our Confession verse.
All the evil committed by me is caused by greed, hatred, and delusion, which have no beginning. All the evil is committed by my body, mouth, and mind. I now confess everything wholeheartedly.
In Buddhism, this is not to say that we are inadequate. There is no “we”. There are transient states of mind and their consequences. So we can change from those transient states, without thinking that it is because of the efforts of self or other.
What are we going to do today, Buddha?
Same as we do every day. Plan to take over ourselves.