Often, we talk about Buddhist training. My teacher Kennett Roshi used this term a lot. She would sometimes say that the term training was not quite right, but that she couldn’t think of a better term. Why did she say that?

When we think of training in a worldly sense, we’re generally thinking of training somebody, or training oneself, to be something or to be somebody. Thus, one might train to become a doctor or a lawyer or a bricklayer. Or perhaps, to be this or that kind of person, perhaps a more assertive one or even a more compassionate one. All these are trainings to make something of oneself.

In true Buddhist training, however, one trains to not be something. One trains in how to not make something of oneself. In Buddhism self is an illusion and is seen as the root of all delusion, the chief barrier to liberation. We speak of greed, hate and delusion and the delusion element in this threesome is the conceit of self. It covers any kind of pretension or attachment to identity. This is what we are trying to overcome.

So, this means not asserting that “I am such and such, and because of this I must be treated in such and such a manner.” “Special attention is due to me.” “Nobody must forget how I am a special case…” It might be the idea that I am somehow superior or somehow inferior. Some people are really wedded to the idea of being a victim and so deserving of special consideration because of that. Others are attached to their high status. So, Buddhist training is about overcoming both “I am” and also “I am not”.

Buddha says in the Vajracchedikā for instance, that one who has not overcome this is no disciple of his. Master Lin Chi expressed the same idea by saying that “there is a person of no rank.  Even if one occupies a position one should know that actually one is a person of no rank. One should not become attached to the role. You might be the head of this or that, but you are nobody.

In the Summary of Faith and Practice we say: Do not think that you are making something of yourself. In practice this means just doing the job, being useful without deriving from the role any sense of one’s own specialness. It means not making up the illusion of a special category for oneself.

The conceit of self soon shows up in all matters of hierarchy. The well-trained person - the bodhisattva - is equally at ease with being super-ordinate, sub-ordinate or in a position of equality. The bodhisattva can slip into or out of any of these positions with ease. Ordinary people however, tend to have difficulties in this respect. When sub-ordinate, they become resentful, but when super-ordinate they cannot handle the responsibility and become selfish. And when they find themselves in a position of equality, they become competitive or, alternatively, they abandon all sense of responsibility and leave the task to others. All of this is conceit of self and in Buddhist training this is precisely what one tries to overcome and let go of.

When we say that the Tathāgata accepts us “just as we are”, we mean that he accepts us just as we really are. That is to say: people of no rank. Not that he accepts us as we fondly like to imagine who we are: as people who need special consideration and who should be thought of in a special way. This is what is meant by Buddhist training.


Namo Amida Bu
Thank you very much


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