What's In My Best Interests?

When the question “What is in my best interests?” arises in our mind – consciously or unconsciously – the instinctive, gut response is usually, “Getting what I want.”

But it is not always so. Our answer is different when we have a change of heart, when our world view is towards others and the world, not just towards fulfilling our own desires. When that is our orientation, our response becomes, “My best interest is to be selfless.” This vision is a reflection of big mind, the mind of compassion and generosity.

Suzuki-roshi, came to the United States at age 55. Just as the Buddha did ages before, he left a comfortable, safe life to share himself and his experiences with others, because he felt it would be helpful to us. Their practice and their effort was intended to have us learn that selflessness was in our best interests.

The Buddhist precepts were created 2,000 years ago. The patriarchs and teachers at the time felt that living our lives according to those ethical principles was in our best interests. When we hear them or read them, we can accept them: they make us feel good; we want to live that way. But to live according to those principles, we have to go beyond “acceptance,” that is, beyond ideas of selflessness. We have to go to the next level, which is to “embrace,” beyond “accepting” something or someone with intellect and “embrace” with feeling and conviction. Our practice is to embrace whatever comes, to embrace life without discrimination. Then there is no separation between our self and the Truth. Then there are no regrets.

Here is a story from ancient China:

In village, a man’s wife dies.
His friends come to console him,
Expecting him to be mourning.
But he is banging on pots, singing.
They are shocked, ask why:
“I am celebrating her.”

In other words, he was embracing her death as well as her life.

Zazen is silence of the mind, the only way to see things as they truly are, to see what is going on – actually taking place – without an emotional filter or distortion from stubborn ideas. Our practice is the best way to understand what is in our best interests, both in this moment and in the long run. With a quiet mind, we can see our self without protective and defensive ideas about our self. And we recognize and embrace our imperfections, the aspects of attitude that confuse what we think is in our best interests, but actually are not.

Recognition and embrace of our everyday imperfections is vital, opening the mind to discovering our inherent perfection. Even though we know we will never be perfect in the conduct of our life, we embrace our imperfections and just continue our practice. This is spiritual maturity and the expression of the authentic life. When we are authentic, we have no interest in trying to fool our self or fool others. To actualize authenticity requires maturity. As the new testament tells us:

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I felt as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: now that I am become a man, I have put away childish things.

To “put away childish things” is the recognition of our need not to remain in childhood but rather to be present in the mature world, in the Reality of the moment, not in a fantasy world. To “put away childish things ” is to put aside delusion.

In one of his lectures in the mid-1960’s, Suzuki – roshi referenced a saying of Confucius:

The most visible thing is something invisible.

Then he quoted a proverb:

The quiet firefly glows with light, unlike the noisy cicada.

Both statements have the same meaning: make a quiet effort, don’t be conspicuous or noisy. He encouraged us to do the important, fundamental work, even if other people don’t realize its value. Then, he said, our effort will not be for our self, but for our descendants. Our practice teaches us not to worry about being noticed or praised. When we bring our spiritual practice into our daily life, we discover satisfaction in making an invisible, unnoticed effort. There we have the authentic life.

In the same talk, Suzuki – roshi said:

But this invisible effort will build up your character, and you will obtain the power to be a master of the surrounding. As long as you are chasing after just visible thing, you will never understand the meaning of our life.This is how we devote ourselves to our way.