Since in the last podcast I talked about the value of wearing a mask, I’m sure some listeners have been thinking about the question of authenticity.

When one puts on a mask, is one not being inauthentic?

If one had a true self that was constant, then it might be that putting on a mask would represent a departure from one’s “authentic truth”.

On the other hand, if one has not such a thing as a “true self” at the core of one’s being, then things might be otherwise.

If I am the waiter who comes to your table today and I act as a waiter with the best “waiterly” manner and take your order and diligently go, collect and bring you the coffee and cake that you ordered, am I being inauthentic?

Jean Paul Satre might say so and he wrote about exactly this scenario in some detail. However, there are other ways to regard what is happening. I can surely be entirely sincere and conscientious in playing the part of the waiter. My happiness in bringing about your satisfaction as a well-served customer can be entirely genuine. My actions can be wholly aligned with an intention to do the job well and to serve you in the best possible way. That is surely not inauthenticity, notwithstanding the fact that at a different time I might be inhabiting a completely different role. Perhaps in my time off or in another job.

Authenticity has to do with being wholeheartedly behind what one is saying or doing. The sheer fact that one is performing a role does not in itself mean that one in being inauthentic.

The role is a kind of mask in that it confines me to words and actions that do not spread dismay and consternation inappropriately. But that can be something I can be wholehearted about. What makes something authentic or inauthentic is whether or not one is wholehearted about it.

When Shantideva says that if people need a boat, he will be a boat for them, he doesn’t mean: I will be a boat for them outwardly while secretly resenting compromising my true nature. He means: I will wholeheartedly do what is necessary.

The Eightfold Path is commonly rendered as Right View, Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, Right Samadhi. Now, the term here that is rendered Right could equally be translated as wholehearted. The ideal is Wholehearted Speech, Whole-hearted Action, Whole-hearted Effort and so on.

One can wholeheartedly play one’s part when one is not attached to conceit about oneself. To be free of such conceit essentially means to have faith.

Sometimes I am the Buddhist priest standing at the altar saying holy words. Sometimes I am the maintenance man cleaning out the septic tank. Sometimes I am the woodsman felling a tree. Sometimes I am an author writing a book. Some people know me in one of these capacities and maybe not in others.

When I was in Italy a few years ago, in the morning I was a rather poor student in the language class. In the afternoon, I was the internationally invited lecturer giving psychology classes. In terms of social status there is a world of difference. The challenge is not that of finding out which of these is the “real me”. The challenge is: can I be wholehearted - authentic - just as much in the one role as in the other.

In the world there are many slots. There are rich and poor, men and women, old and young, stupid and clever, good and bad, and so on. One can find oneself in innumerable different positions. For a Pureland Buddhist, what remains constant and reliable through all of these vicissitudes, is the nembutsu. The nembutsu can accompany me in every role. Each role I adopt is not a matter of compromising the nembutsu. Rather, the nembutsu helps me to be wholehearted in each role, no matter how diverse they might be.

Thank you very much.
Namo Amida Bu


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  • These podcasts are like nectar reaching my email every other day. Thank you Dharmavidya!!

    Thank you Tineke for your great work!

    Namo Amida Bu

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