Self-Power or Other-Power?
As a Buddhist, I have seen as many different variations as there are in Christianity, with extremely different emphases. Some variations, including Pure Land (I think, but am not absolutely certain of), emphasize “other-power.” There is even a series of articles in the new Tricycle about the plusses and minuses of the self-help movement. One title is “Your life is not a self-improvement project.”
This issue may not sell well. I would easily guess that the majority of Western Buddhists are former Christians. As such, we have seen the hazards of “waiting on God” for any real change to occur in our lives. We have heard the pat answers of “you just need to pray about it and trust God” and “Let go and let God” too many times to count. Our response? “I am doing something far more radical than what you are suggesting: I am taking responsibility for my part in the situation. Your life might change for the better, as well, if you tried likewise.”
Am I suggesting that I have all the answers or that I am in charge of everything? Not at all. I just know that, for myself, I have to have as clear a conscience as I can. I need to know with absolute certainty that I have done everything within my power to change a situation for the better. I cannot take responsibility for things outside my control. I do the best I can and only then do I let go. I believe that the Universe (“God” or simply observant humans) is paying attention.
For example, I am trying to sell my house. Yes, I have prayed to the spiritual realm. And I put it on the market. And I have buried a St. Joseph statue in my lawn. And I am making improvements to my house for the past year. And I may even chant about it. This is no either/or proposition. I need to know that I have done everything in my power to move my life forward. I am doing what I can to leave Michigan. Period.
I refuse to be a good, little victim. I feel like I have spent my whole life being one.
Is my life one big self-improvement project? In some ways, yes. I do not deny it. We all need help making our lives better. Others are more likely to help us if they see us making the effort to improve our lot. I know that I am much more likely to help someone that is doing all they can to fix a situation than someone “waiting on the Lord.” None of us is perfect.
It was Shunryu Suzuki that said, “You are all perfect as you are; and you could use a little improvement.” Amen, Roshi.