Beyond Archetypes

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About our stories

As Manjushri teaches us, the aim of awakening practice is to go beyond our stories, or to not get caught by our stories. We get fooled by our stories about ourselves and our world, thereby losing the true openness and wonder of our lives and our intimate connection to all beings. The experience of openness described by all buddhas and bodhisattvas involves letting all the narratives drop away, relaxing and letting go of all identification and grasping that arise as a response to our cherished stories about the world. After everybody lives happily ever after, when we return home from all the plot lines, we are simply here, present with our breathing, our bodies and senses, present with the wispy thought forms trailing by like clouds and haze in the empty sky.

If you now reflect on what that brief experience was like, you may try to verbalize it. But no account would encompass the entire reality and richness of your experience in those few minutes. The actual experience of presence can be sketchily described or discussed, but it cannot be thoroughly encompassed by any tale about what happened.

When we become intimate with this space beyond story, we might seek to abide in the realm of no story, to fashion a nice, quiet hermitage, divorced from all the stories of the world. But that would just be another story, the story about a person with no story line. As we return from the space between the dramas, reentering life and its problems to face all sentient beings and our own humanity, we find stories reemerging.

These new stories are also illusions. The truth is wider and deeper than all the stories. We can recast our stories so that we are not caught by the stories, while still relating our stories as the most beautiful expressions possible for kindly awakening everyone from enslaving stories. Our addictions, misconduct, and confusion can be acknowledged in our enactment of an account of our liberation from these failings.

Buddhist liberation is about fully knowing our stories, and not being trapped by them. Stories have their own power. We cannot ignore them. Trying to force our old stories to go away just reinforces their grasp on us. But after listening quietly and carefully to the old, worn fables we have been telling ourselves, or that we were trained to believe by our world, we can gently let them go, see that they are only a part of a greater story that includes all beings. To paraphrase Walt Whitman, we are each vast, we each contain multitudes of stories, including stories about bodhisattvas, and about awakening from stories. Awakening to the suchness of reality, to our life just as it is, we find the fuller liveliness that the bodhisattvas are ever guiding us toward. Growing into the dynamic vitality of our deep interconnectedness with all being, we in turn become guides to others, helping awaken the life all around us.