Is it Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, or Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma? Perhaps you are thinking that it’s none of these, or maybe thinking it is someone like Gandhi or Einstein that was the greatest teacher.
While all of these have influenced millions of people over the millennia, I believe the greatest teacher is you.
We have each been blessed and benefited greatly from so many World renowned religious icons, but ultimately it is our own experience that cultivates whatever wisdom and virtue that we develop. This can be verified simply by looking at the amazing contributions of so many people from so many religions throughout time. And I am equally sure that there are those who have had no religious training or exposure in their lives, yet are extremely wise, compassionate and loving human beings. We each hold the key to our own awakening.
Buddhism is not different from any other religion, in that our awakening can never occur by simply following instructions. Our lives must be lived and experienced for any of us to understand anything. This is why a small child is not capable of having great wisdom, because they have not lived any life yet or experienced things enough to gain any wisdom. At the same time, if we observe children carefully, we can see the obvious innocence, gentleness and kindness that is inherent in all of us. But life quickly changes us as we grow and become exposed to other people and situations. Slowly become increasingly conditioned and brainwashed in a way. And depending on the individual circumstances, this can accumulate into so many light or dark qualities in our character. And breaking free of this conditioning as an adult can appear daunting, if not impossible sometimes. But we need to remember that inner child which contained a purity and innocence that we believe is lost.
All of us develop patterns that we unconsciously perpetuate day after day. This is actually not a loss of innocence, but an absence of mindfulness. With mindfulness being always available, yet often untapped or significantly underutilized. Over time it becomes exceedingly easy to accept this numbness of mind. And with todays increasingly technology driven society, there is always an abundance of distractions so that none of us need to awaken to anything more than the electronic device in front of us.
To become the greatest teacher, we must first become aware of this habitual behavior. This is the first step in mindfulness, and the beginning of becoming a great teacher. Remembering that being the greatest teacher to yourself is a prerequisite, and tantamount to awakening. But please understand that awakening is not a Buddhist ideal here, but an opportunity to love yourself unconditionally with complete acceptance. Awakening is the seed of wisdom, virtue, kindness and impartiality. Religious belief or disbelief hold no relevance here, as all dogmas can be dropped. Walls crumble, language is no longer a barrier, and we can each smile at our neighbor without expecting a smile in return.
Studying the Torah, Koran, Bible or Tripitaka can be all well and good. But real growth and wisdom can only occur when we stop for a moment and become completely present. Forgetting what you have been taught or told, letting go of the things in your mind which have been embedded through repetition and the influence of others. Understanding that we each have a uniqueness and innate goodness that is still untapped. And I think there are many examples of human beings who have discovered this and left an indelible mark on the World because of this understanding. Just a few that come to mind are Mother Teresa, Desmond Tutu, the Dalai Lama, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Oskar Schindler, and so many more.
I don’t think any of these amazing individuals started out with the idea to change the World. They simply opened their hearts and minds to the realities of this life. They became increasingly mindful and aware of this over time, and listened carefully to their own inner voice of goodwill and compassion. They became their own greatest teacher.
It all begins with loving yourself in the most unconditional way. The rest will unfold naturally and lovingly, but only if you allow yourself to be fully present. Which means letting go of all preconceived notions, habits and prior training. Being “born again” so to speak in this very moment. Seeing the World through the eyes of your inner child, there is no need to cling to any judgements’ or aversion. Let everything be a curious wonder to observe and enjoy. Smell the air, see the flowers and trees, listen to the birds, all as if it’s the first time in your life.
This is the awakening that is here and now for all of us, if only given the chance. The World is your oyster, just open it up and discover the pearl within.