During last week’s dharma talk, the sensei at the zendo I have been attending shared a quote. I wish I could remember it exactly, but it was something like, “We do not sit zazen to attain enlightenment. We sit zazen to express our innate enlightenment.” In other words, the purpose of sitting zazen is simply to discover the perfection, the spark of wisdom and compassion, that is already within all of us.
You know how sometimes words come together in just the right way, so that something you’ve heard a million times suddenly makes sense? This was one of those moments.
I grew up in the Lutheran church, and I’m sure it’s no different from other Christian traditions in that it teaches Original Sin. We are born sinners and we need to work to overcome our sinful nature. In the words of Martin Luther himself:
But what, then, is original sin? According to the Apostle it is not only the lack of a good quality in the will, nor merely the loss of man’s righteousness and ability. It is rather the loss of all his powers of body and soul, of his whole outward and inward perfections. In addition to this, it is his inclination to all that is evil, his aversion against that which is good, his antipathy against light and wisdom, his love for error and darkness, his flight from and his loathing of good works, and his seeking after that which is sinful.
But what if we replaced Original Sin with Innate Perfection? What if we are actually good people trying to find ways to express our goodness? How would it change the way we see ourselves, the way we see other people, the way we relate to each other, the way we operate in the world? How would it change the way we raise our children? What if we saw our jobs as parents not to break our children of their tendency towards badness, but to nurture the expression of their inherent goodness?
It would be an interesting experiment to notice how often in one day we chose to operate from a different paradigm. What would that kind of day look like?
- When we get cut off in traffic, instead of thinking, “What a jerk!” we think, “Wow, that person is really in a hurry! I hope everything is okay.”
- When we feel taken for granted by our children, instead of thinking, “They don’t appreciate all the work I do for them!” we think, “I’m so glad that my kids feel like they can count on me to take care of them. I guess I’m doing something right.”
- When someone at work snaps at us for no reason, instead of getting defensive and snapping back, we say, “It seems like something is bothering you. Do you want to talk?”
- When we meet someone new and he starts listing his credentials and accomplishments, instead of thinking, “Egomaniac!” we think, “It sounds like he’s looking for some respect.”
- When we are feeling manipulated by a friend, instead of thinking, “Does she think I don’t see what she’s doing? I’m not an idiot!” we think, “It seems like she feels like she can’t trust me enough to be honest with me. I wonder what that’s about for her.”
- When someone bumps into us on the street, instead of thinking, “Hellooooo! There are other people on this planet, you know!” we think, “Wow, it looks like she has a lot on her mind.”
Try it. I dare you. Take one day, and assume positive intent and inherent goodness in everyone you meet. Let me know how it goes.