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Lions Roar : July 2008
SHAMBHALA SUN JULY 2008 42 weather, one of the cracks became so wide that a curi- ous monk took his flashlight and peered inside. What shone back at him was a flash of brilliant gold! Inside this plain old statue, the temple residents discovered one of the largest and most luminous gold images of Buddha ever created in Southeast Asia (pictured on page 41). Now uncovered, the golden Buddha draws throngs of devoted pilgrims from all over Thailand. The monks believe that this shining work of art had been covered in plaster and clay to protect it during times of conflict and unrest. In much the same way, each of us has encountered threatening situations that lead us to cover our innate nobility. Just as the people of Sukotai had forgotten about the golden Buddha, we too have forgotten our essential nature. Much of the time we operate from the protective layer. The primary aim of Buddhist psychology is to help us see beneath this armoring and bring out our original goodness, called our buddhanature. This is a first principle of Buddhist psychology: see the inner nobility and beauty of all human beings. Robert Johnson, the noted Jungian analyst, acknowl- edges how difficult it is for many of us to believe in our goodness. We more easily take our worst fears and thoughts to be who we are, the unacknowledged traits called our “shadow” by Jung. “Curiously,” writes John- son “people resist the noble aspects of their shadow more strenuously than they hide the dark sides. ... It is more disrupting to find that you have a profound nobility of character than to find out you are a bum.” Our belief in a limited and impoverished identity is such a strong habit that without it we are afraid we wouldn’t know how to be. If we fully acknowledged our dignity, it could lead to radical life changes. It could ask something huge of us. And yet some part of us knows that the frightened and damaged self is not who we are. Each of us needs to find our way to be whole and free. In my family, it was not easy to see my own goodness. My earliest memories are of a paranoid and unpredict- ably violent father, a bruised and frightened mother, and four boys who each wondered, “How did we get here?” We would all hold our breath when our father pulled the car into the driveway. On good days he could be at- tentive and humorous and we would feel relieved, but more often we had to hide or cower to avoid his hair- trigger anger and tirades. On family trips the pressure might lead him to smash my mother’s head into the windshield or to punish his children for the erratic be- havior of other drivers. I remember my father’s grand- mother pleading with my mother not to divorce him. “At least he can sometimes hold a job. He’s not so crazy as those ones in the mental hospitals.” Yet I knew this unhappiness was not all there was to existence. I can remember running out of the house on painful days, at age six or seven, while my parents fought. Something in me felt I didn’t belong in that house, as if I had been born into the wrong family. At times I imag- ined, as children do, that one day there would come a knock at the door and an elegant gentleman would ask for me by name. He would then announce that Jack and his brothers had been secretly placed in this home, but that now his real parents, the king and queen, wanted him to return to his rightful family. These childhood fantasies gave rise to one of the strongest currents of my life, a longing to be part of something worthy and true. I was seeking my real family of noble birth. In these often cynical times, we might think of original goodness as merely an uplifting phrase, but through its lens we discover a radically different way of seeing and being: one whose aim is to transform JOHNSUNWOOWILLIAMPOTTER JULY 40-45.indd 42 JULY 40-45.indd 42 4/25/08 11:39:24 AM 4/25/08 11:39:24 AM