Layman's Minute
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 Unfortunately, my reaction to the gift was less that exemplary – in fact almost 50 years later, it is one of those “fingernails across a chalkboard” moments that make me cringe.  

 Full of myself as an easily offended twentysomething know it all, I loudly held forth that I didn’t need some book to tell me how to be a person.  I was in full control of myself, and I had a firm grip on who I was and who I was going to be!  

 I gave the book back.  Oh what a blockhead!  It was an ugly moment from the back pages of my life, and even now I can only rationalize it by saying, “I was older then, I’m younger than that now.”  

 One of the benefits of my progressive youthfulness has been a sense of inquiry about the things that I don’t know.  Since I knew little about “being a person,” I was attracted to an unpublished essay about “person” written by Father James Fredericks at Loyola Marimount University.  His essay puts the Catholic theology of “person” in the Holy Trinity in conversation with the Buddhist ideal of “person.”  It is a heady academic topic best saved for another time, but in this complex essay there were comments from a Buddhist scholar, Dōgen Kigen, from the 13th Century that caught my attention.

 Illustrative of the Buddhist doctrine of “non-self,” Dōgen writes that to model “yourself after yourself, is to forget yourself.”  Strangely stated, this argues that the nature of who we are cannot be solely held within our own “self.”  Buddhism believes that a self-contained, self-centric view is an illusion, one that leads to attachments, cravings, suffering and ignorance, and one from which we must awaken.  The path of the Buddhas requires us to “forget” … to abandon this illusion.  

 In addition Dǭgen writes - and this is my take on it - that any attempt to validate the “self” by imposing it to control the experiences or the environment of our life is a delusion.  In contrast, he believed that to openly and spontaneously allow the experiences and environment of our life to freely come to us, to affect us, and to shape the “self,” is enlightenment.  In Dōgen’s view, to be validated is to become a person who is opened up to the flow of life, a person whose “self” is conformed to what arises, and a person whose “self” is shaped by what arises.  

 It was interesting to note that separated by four centuries, Dōgen’s view on becoming a person mirrors Carl Rodger’s view – yes, I did finally read the book.  Rodgers believes that the individual in the “act of becoming,” moves to an openness of experience. That openness allows the “self” to be a participant in, and an observer of, the ongoing experience of being a person rather than being in control.  

 I was that rash twentysomething, individualistic and fully in control of my life.  I had a firm grip on things and I didn’t need no “stinking book” to illuminate my ignorance.  Experiencing and living through that ignorance, I can see that the insights of Pope Francis in Laudato Si tie the threads of Dōgen and Rodgers together.  

 Francis calls us to God’s creation, to opening our self in gratitude and caring to the gifts of our environment and the experiences that it offers.  He points out the delusion of imposing our self on creation.  He calls out the greed, waste and inequity of the individualized “self” in its response of power, profit and dominion.   

 As the Franciscan Richard Rohr has written, individually we are not important, we are only important in relationship to all that surrounds us.  It seems that our greatest challenge is to find our “self” by getting over our “self”…. I’ve been working on it for decades.

Ted Furlow is Director of Pastoral Planning in the Diocese of San Bernardino.