OWIE! Self Knowledge Alert

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The Buddha

In his estimable book, Yoga and the Quest for the True Self, Stephen Cope uses the metaphor of a bird to describe traveling the path. Well, it’s not exactly the Buddhist path, it’s the path of yoga, which is close enough. The bird metaphor is what we’re after.

Birds have two wings. In Cope’s metaphor, one wing is wisdom and the other is compassion. He is very clear, as all good dharma teachers are, that one’s compassion has to include one’s self.

Cope elaborates on this elementary point by noting that the path necessarily involves learning a lot about yourself, which genuine wisdom requires. He does not put the point quite this baldly, but he does convey the sort of bad news that self knowledge can be pretty unpleasant, at least at first.

Remember that the Buddha’s diagnosis of our constitutive problem as humans is ignorance, which is especially distressing for us intellectual types. Meditation is the cure for this ignorance, and it is a good cure precisely because it is gradual. As you meditate, compassion should arise automatically.

You need to have compassion for yourself because you are going to notice things about yourself you don’t much like. You’re just human. We all have junk in our brains and meditation makes it float.

Just be nice to yourself and keep meditating.

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Written by

Uppity gay, Buddhist, author, historian.

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