It’s not about ME

When a person realizes the mind of non-discrimination,  

That attainment is the “state of regarding each being as one’s only child”

This is none other than Buddha-Nature;

We will awaken to it on reaching the land of peace.

     Shinran Shōnin

     Hymns of the Pure Land, Verse 97

     The Collected Works of Shinran, Vol. 1, p. 350 

Or put more simply, “It’s Not About ME!”

One of the key philosophical principles of Buddhism is ‘an-atman’ or ‘non-self,’ the rejection of the idea of a ‘soul’ or ‘essence’ or a “me” that is eternal, unchanging, or fixed in any way.

In Brahmanism, the dominant religion in India 2,600 years ago during the time of Shakamuni Buddha, the assertion of the existence of ‘atman’ a soul, an unchanging essence of self, that cycled through countless births and deaths in the same social class or caste, was a means of social control.

Born a slave = you die a slave = you are reborn a slave.

Born a king = you die a king = you are reborn a king.

This cycle of births and deaths is endless.

Obviously, as Mel Brooks once said in a movie, “It is good to be the king.” 

And if you’re a slave, well, just shut up and do your work because there is no hope of changing the situation. 

And, hey! Look at those untouchables, yuck, disgusting! Let’s hate on the untouchables!

If we view our modern world from the perspective of Kings and Slaves, the drivers of conflict, anger, and anxiety become clear. 

Buddhism is a path to breaking free of the cycle of births and deaths, a path to Awakening to reality-as-it-is, not reality-as-we-want-it-to-be, living a True and Real Life.

Buddha taught that Life comes with pain and suffering, ups and downs, heartbreak and disappointment, and moments of happiness, pleasure, love, and joy.

Buddha further taught there is a cause of suffering; that the cause of suffering can be eliminated; and that the Buddhist path breaks the cycle of births and deaths. Becoming Enlightened is Awakening to True and Real Life, Nirvana, Enlightenment, Perfect Peace.

One of Buddha’s key insights into the human mind is that what we think of as “ME, My Self, and I” is “empty,” an illusion created by our mind and senses, which are constantly changing, not permanent, totally dependent upon others, and infinitely limited.

Thus, there is no Self, no eternal soul, no unchanging essence of “ME, My Self, and I.”

In Western psychology, the Ego is “the self, the part of the mind that reacts to reality, and has a sense of individuality”…

Individualism, the assertion of ME, MY EGO, is a key part of American culture.

“I am a self-made gazillionaire” = The American Dream, to be richer than others.

Taken to an extreme, individualism leads to personal exceptionalism = I am the exception, I alone am right, I am special, I am entitled, the world should revolve around ME. 

The assertion of “ME First” leads to conflict, anger, rage, violence, unhappiness, constant dissatisfaction with what we have, the insatiable “thirst” for MORE, and MORE, and MORE.

And precisely because we delude ourselves into thinking, “I am the exception, I am special, I am entitled,” the Death of ME is inconceivable and terrifying, the secret dark fear of kings and slaves alike. 

We believe that an after-life, something after death, must exist because “I” must continue in the after-life.

This assertion of Ego, expressed as the moral dualism of Good and Evil, reinforces our sense of entitlement, and leads to discrimination, judgement, bias, racism, nationalism, and inevitably to conflict, violence, and war.

“Good” people like me go to heaven; it’s those other guys, those “Bad” people who go to hell.

This dualistic view of the world = us vs. them = is a force for social control. 

If the elite, super-rich, powerful class can induce the lower classes to hate the “other,” to believe, “we” are better than “them,” then less-advantaged people hate the most-disadvantaged people and no one realizes about who’s really taking advantage of both.

Us vs. Them 

Winners vs. Losers

“Real Americans” vs. “Immigrants”

Labels like these are the Mind of Discrimination that divides people and nations. 

My mentor, Rev. Senmou Yamamoto of Kyoto, Japan, taught me that horizontal discrimination is naturally how our instinctive brain works = safe/danger; hot/cold; good to eat/poison. 

Horizontal discrimination is necessary for survival.

But vertical discrimination, using labels to make ME superior and “Others” inferior, this is how MY EGO works.

The mind of “vertical discrimination”—the need to feel superior—is the heart of MY EGO and the cause of my suffering.

The need to feel superior is one of 108 bonnō or blind passions.

The need to feel superior disconnects us from our heart of humanity, and separates us from the rest of humanity, pushing away the great ‘ohana of Life.

This disconnection is what leads to suffering in form of sadness, loneliness, and depression.

The need to feel superior is very subtle—easy to see in others but almost impossible to see in ourselves—and thus it is one of the most difficult spiritual challenges to overcome.

Paradoxically, the more we feel superior to others, the more we suffer.


Because there is always someone superior to us.

And even if you are the richest, most powerful, most feared—even if you’re the King—the winds of impermanence: aging, decay, and death come to all people equally, without discrimination or judgement.

Buddhism is Awakening to the Truth of Non-Self: 

It’s not about ME, It’s never been about ME, “I” am the problem!

The Bondage of Selfishness is ME = MY EGO!

Liberation from the Bondage of Selfishness = True and Real Life

True and Real Life is not about ME, MY EGO, it’s not about “I” this or that.

True and Real Life is about awakening to the emptiness of My Ego, the non-importance of My Ego, the realization that it is my attachment to ME, My Ego, that is the cause of my unhappiness and dissatisfaction with life.

Through intense meditation under a Bodhi, the tree of Enlightenment, like the one we have growing in front of the temple, the Buddha awakened to the illusion of Self, the “emptiness of Self.” 

Buddha taught letting go of “Self” or realizing the mind of non-discrimination is the Path that leads to Awakening, Enlightenment, Nirvana, perfect peace of mind, True and Real Life.

To realize Enlightenment in this life, some Buddhist paths recommend a monastic way of life: shave your head, renounce the material world: minimizing one’s possessions to only three pieces of cloth as robes, a begging bowl, and a razor to shave one’s head; living by the precepts of non-violence, celibacy, self-denial; constant study of the Buddha’s Teachings; intensive meditation and ritual practice…total discipline and commitment for the rest of one’s life.

By letting go of the Ego-driven, self-centered way of life, Awakening becomes possible.

This is the Path of Sages, the Theravada tradition of Buddhism, which aims to extinguish the insatiable self-centered thirst for existence of the Self, the craving for sensory pleasures of the mind and body, and the burning need for ME to continue after death.

The Path of Pure Land, a branch of the Mahayana tradition of Buddhism, seeks birth into the Pure Land, the Buddha-world created by Amida, becoming Enlightened, then returning to this world to help guide others to the Truth.

The Pure Land way is based on the Truth of Non-Self, and living this unrepeatable life without MY EGO in the service of others.

The paramita of Dana, the perfection of ego-less giving is the first of the Six Paramita, the six perfections that lead to the spiritual stage of Bodhisattva in the Mahayana tradition.

How ironic that a Makawao Hongwanji Preschooler taught me the expression, “Caring is Sharing,” which allowed me to see clearly the deeper meaning of ego-less giving.

Caring is Compassion.

Understanding is Wisdom.

Love is caring and understanding.

Love is Compassion and Wisdom.

Amida’s Heart of Great Compassion and Wisdom, the Primal Vow to save all beings without discrimination, is Perfect Compassion and Pure Wisdom = Truly Unconditional Love = the “state of regarding each being as one’s only child” = “Caring is Sharing!”

Intellectually, we understand this—after all, even a preschooler can understand “Caring is Sharing” but how many of us actually are able to practice “Caring is Sharing” without discrimination, judgement, or conditions. I know that I cannot.

The Teachings of Shinran, Jodo Shinshu Buddhism, the Hongwanji tradition, assert that ordinary human beings—born with all-too-human flaws and weaknesses—are unable to escape from ME, My Ego, on our own.

Try as we might, relying only on our own self-power and limited understanding of reality-as-it-is, we are unable to realize the Mind of Non-Discrimination, the “state of regarding each being as one’s only child.”

In Shinran’s quote, Buddha-nature—the potential in all people to become Buddha—is the “state of regarding each being as one’s only child.”

Shinran teaches, “We will awaken to it on reaching the Land of Peace,” when we are born into the Pure Land. 

Shinran teaches the Mind of Non-Discrimination will be realized when we pass from this world, and are liberated from the bonnō blind passions of this human mind and body.

That may sound a bit pessimistic, especially to our American “I WANT IT NOW” minds.

But thanks to a preschooler, I came to see the Primal Vow of Amida’s Great Compassion to save all people working in my life right here, right now.

The first step to overcoming addiction to ME, MY EGO, my selfishness is recognizing I have a problem. In fact, “I” am the problem.

The solution is listening to the Dharma, studying the Teachings, cultivating compassion, and becoming aware of the true nature of Self.

The second step to overcoming addiction to ME, MY EGO, my selfishness is accepting MY problem creates my suffering and negatively affects others, especially the people I love.

The solution is truly Hearing the Dharma, internalizing the deeper meaning of the Teachings, relentless self-reflection leading to true self-awareness, seeing ME, MY EGO as-it-is not MY EGO as-I-want-it-to-be, and accepting ME, just the way I am.

Sharing the Dharma is Living the Dharma = trying to be kind and gentle, trying to think pure and beautiful thoughts, trying to protect all those weaker than my self, trying to say pure and beautiful words, and trying to do pure and beautiful deeds.

More concretely, living the Dharma is in the thoughts, words, and actions we take in our interactions and relationships with other people.

How? Here’s Three Things To Do Today.

  • Give the gift of a smile, kind eyes, and gentle words to everyone today.
  • Respond in gratitude to everything, convenient or inconvenient, as life unfolds today.
  • Just say Namo Amida Butsu in gratitude for your life, just as it is, today.

In this way, you begin to hear the voice of Amida Buddha calling to you, “Take refuge in Amida’s Compassion! Amida will save you without fail!” 

Namo Amida Butsu!

Amida Buddha, Namo Amida Butsu, the Nembutsu becomes you.

Namo Amida Butsu!

Namo Amida Butsu is you, just as you are.

Namo Amida Butsu!

In this way, one day you wake up and truly realize that you are alive, given the chance to live life to the fullest, in this moment, right here, right now.

Namo Amida Butsu!

Do you hear Amida calling to you, “Wake up! What are you going to do today?”

ME, of all people, who is not worthy of yet another second chance to become who I truly am, just as I am.

Today, I am given the choice of being selfish or living for others!

Do you hear Amida calling to you, “Wake up! What are you going to do today?”

Waking up in the morning, not dead, is all the proof you need, to know without doubt that Amida’s Compassion and Wisdom are real, and working in your unrepeatable life, right here, right now.

Do you hear Amida calling to you, “Wake up! What are you going to do today?”

When you awaken to the Mind of Non-Discrimination working in your life, when you begin to “see each being as one’s only child,” this is when you discover Buddha-nature inside of you, Shinjin comes to you, when your birth into the Pure Land is assured.

Awakening to the working of the Mind of Non-Discrimination in your life, to Great Compassion and Wisdom in your life, this is when you hear the Voice of Amida calling to you … this is Shinjin, the heart of true entrusting, the heart that can fall in love, the heart that loves all beings without discrimination, judgement, or conditions!

The myōkōnin Saiichi said,

Shinjin comes to me, 

Amida becomes me, 

I don’t do anything, 

Amida does everything!

Namo Amida Butsu!

Awakening from the dark night of ignorance, you realize “I have been saved from ME = I have been saved from MY EGO!” Namo Amida Butsu!

Shinjin is the heart and mind of Amida, embracing all and abandoning none. Do you hear it? Namo Amida Butsu!

Shinjin is the heart that can fall in love with all beings, just as they are. Do you hear it? Namo Amida Butsu!

Shinjin is the heart that joyfully entrusts all that you are, just as you are, in Amida’s Great Compassion and Wisdom. Do you hear it? Namo Amida Butsu!

Shinjin is the heart of Buddha-nature, beating inside of you, just as you are. Do you hear it? Namo Amida Butsu!

Listen! Do you hear the voice of Amida calling to you?

“Take refuge in Amida’s Compassion! Amida will save you without fail!”

Namo Amida Butsu! Namo Amida Butsu! Namo Amida Butsu! 

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