SELF POWER LEADS TO OTHER POWER
The objective of self power is to extinguish itself. Self power Buddhism is a kind of extinction Buddhism: by the power of the self to bring the self to a zero condition. When the self is zero, all that is not self (i.e. other) is infinite. Thus, in principle, success on the self power path would lead to other power and this is often the case in the lives of actual saints. Many of the great Pureland masters began on a self power path.
EASY AT THE BEGINNING
Self power practice is easy at the beginning, but becomes more and more difficult as one proceeds, tending to infinite difficulty as one approaches the goal. Thus self power ultimately leads to a crucially important experience of despair. On the other side of this despair one discovers other power.
Self power is relatively easy at the beginning because it is possible to train oneself and to give up unwholesome habits. Thus one sees some results. One also learns to bring some balance and stability to the mind and this is useful in a host of situations, keeping panic at bay. One learns some wisdom and it stands one in good stead. All of these gains and benefits are, however, essentially, worldly and still serve to support the self-ego. In a way the ego is polishing itself rather than diminishing itself. The practitioner is encouraged by seeing benefits but, if he or she has a sincere spiritual intention, feels an unease that they are perfecting self rather than getting beyond it. Others simply settle for a package of practices that benefit worldly life.
EGO STRIKES BACK
Furthermore, the ego strikes back in subtle ways, ways that we generally call spiritual materialism. One becomes attached to and proud of one’s practice - the practice that supposedly is about giving up attachment and pride. Issues and patterns of compulsiveness that one thinks one has dealt with reemerge in new guise. This may be experienced as a great struggle with temptation, or, more commonly, the practitioner starts to run on two tracks, taking time out from practice for indulgence.
When one is relying upon oneself to overcome oneself things get increasingly difficult as one proceeds. In order to get free of the self there has to be a fulcrum point outside the self. To break the domination of the self complex it is no good relying upon constructions derivative from it. One needs something other. This is why the great religions turn us to the spiritual world that is beyond.
IS ONE'S OTHER TRULY OTHER?
Whether one’s conception of other power is called God or Buddha or Tao does not matter very much. It has been there all along, will always be and does not mind what you call it.
The challenge here is whether or not one’s other power is truly other and truly pure. The ego will play its tricks on the other power path too, trying always to bring the other power under its control.
For the spiritual practitioner this can take the form of the belief that if one adopts this or that practice one can thereby force other power to give one what one wants. This is manipulation - the path of magic. On both self power and other power paths, the adage “Don’t manipulate” has widespread application.
To fully accept that other power is OTHER defeats the ego. This is a matter of entrustment or refuge. “I entrust myself to the Buddha; I entrust myself to the Dharma. May they do with me as they will.”
In the far eastern understanding, this is all closely associated with the idea of naturalness, that the Taoists call wei wu wei, which we could translate as “acting without posing”: to respond to the miscellaneous occurrences of daily life in a manner that involves spontaneously acting but not putting on an act. In other words, we are back to not manipulating again.
The truth will set us free. This is true in a variety of ways. Self is illusion and distortion. To live without that distortion is simply to respond to the objective situation, which is to act naturally. To do so is to move within the infinite world of otherness whose parameters are beyond one’s comprehension: a life of awe.