Some years ago I read a Dharma teaching in which the teacher used the slogan: “Where there is hurt, there is self.” The teacher said that this was one of the most useful “rules of thumb” that he had come across in all his spiritual training. I know what he means.

In fact, spiritual training depends upon us being willing to look at our self, not as a precious thing to be defended, but as the probable source of most of our own troubles. Of course, mostly we are unaware of it doing so. In modern parlance, we say that there are unconscious motivations. However, these subterranean rumblings have symptoms on the surface and near the surface, a bit in the same way as magma below throws up volcanoes above. Volcanoes can remain dormant for periods of time and then erupt periodically. We are much the same.

The symptoms that break the surface are apparent to others, whether they are visible to ourselves or not. We export our hurt. We dump it onto others like clouds of descending volcanic gas. Because we are all at least half-civilised, the other person probably does not tell us that we have just disgraced ourself, but, all too often does tell all our friends.

The symptoms that are a little below the surface are therefore rather useful both at the level of saving face socially and at the more profound level of spiritual training - investigating what is deeper still, and extinguishing the flames. The level immediately below the surface is usually a feeling of hurt. The ordinary person usually responds to noticing their own hurt feelings by withdrawing or retaliating. The spiritual person learns to use such feelings as a clue, a first step in an investigation.

The investigation does not need to be massive. There is always the opposite danger of taking oneself too seriously and becoming self-obsessed in one’s quest for perfect self-understanding. Usually, all that is needed is a willingness to see that one might have been in error. One might have over-stepped the mark, talked too much, seemed overly self-assured, assumed an authority that one did not in fact have any right to, or something of the kind.

If we investigate a little further, we may find that we are caught up in an unnecessary power struggle or are defending a territory that no longer exists, or feeding a resentment, or just exercising an old habit that used once to work well but is now thoroughly anachronistic.

The other day, for instance, over dinner a topic of conversation came up and I made a witticism and was told by the listener that they had already heard that joke a hundred times. Ouch! But it was right. I was being a bore. It was not necessary and also there was the slightest tinge of aggression in it. What was that all about? So, i found one or two things worth looking at a bit more. Then let it go.

The purpose of investigation on the spiritual path is to let it go. Even Freud said that when a neurosis is cured it is forgotten. Zen Master Dogen said the same thing.

There are pitfalls on both sides. On one side we defend the self and on the other side we become obsessed with investigating and curing it. These two extremes are equally forms of self-idolatry. So, the last word is, let it go.

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Replies to This Discussion

Thank you. I am just catching up on your daily teachings and found this one pertinent to our breakfast dharma discussion today. Yes I read about "where there is hurt there is self" a long time ago and it has been helpful to make me notice the rumblings within my volcano. However sharpest and clearest is when I pick up that I have offended someone or it is pointed out to me.

However I have been asked many times "how can I let go". especially afte rwe have been chanting or studying  "summary of faith and practice". I know from my own case I can't make myself let go.. And yet if I just sit with the rumblings of the volcano something magical can happen and the rumblings melt away in a way that is not denial and supressed hurt/anger etc. This brings me back to your recent teaching eightfold what? where you made it clear that the nembutsu is the third noble Truth, yes when the rumblings cause me pain the nembutsu helps me stay with it, not run away into my usual hidey holes and sometimes go beyond it and "let go". Namo amida Bu

Thank you for sharing. Namo Buddhaya.

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