When do we give life our all? Normally we only give that 100% when other people are watching and evaluating our performance. Indeed, this is one key function of teachers and coaches; they watch and evaluate us. This tendency to live for others (1) is integral to our social nature, but our true character only reveals itself when no one is watching us. What is the quality of your effort and action when no one is watching?
How Much is Enough
Does purposeful perseverance play a major role in your life, or do you give just enough quality effort to get by? Giving the former delivers more well-being than the latter, which is why Buddha recommends us to “strive on diligently”.
Of course, it goes deeper than this. When we are alone with ourselves, we are still watching and judging ourselves from the backdrop of our tribal experience and the related baggage we have picked up along the way from infancy. Who are we really? Who preceded the tribal, social self that informs the core of our daily life experience?
The Tribal, Social Self
Perhaps you doubt the dominance of your social self. If so, consider the influences you’ve been exposed to from birth: myths, preferences, religion, politics, desires, worries, friends, enemies, loves, and hates… everything that is possible to name… and remember! All these elements connect in some way to your life-long social experience. We are social animals with our identity intimately tied to our overall social experience.
Returning to catch a glimpse of who we were before taking on all this cultural baggage (a.k.a., education and knowledge) is something many people may actually yearn for. I say that because our original self is the base upon which all our baggage rests. The baggage changes over the years, but the base is constant. You are who you are, from birth to death, and we all intuitively know that. In a way, perhaps we miss ourselves as we become increasingly overwhelmed by the baggage we lug around. We yearn to return to the Eden of our origin and the simplicity and innocence of that pristine existence.
Winnowing Grains of Truth from the Chaff
How can we get there from here? A lot of money has changed hands over the years, given by seekers to those who promise a surefire path. The promise is largely empty because the path to the original self is impossible to teach, or even point to, really. Chapter 56’s Knower not speak; speaker not know hints at this. This is each person’s private, inward journey. As chapter 64 notes, thousand mile journey beginning beneath our feet.
By even talking about this, I assume I can come across as offering a path as well. Really though, my offering is more like a cross-country route where you blaze the trail. At most, I am providing grist for your mind’s mill. You are supplying the grains of experience, stories, ideals, beliefs, and biases. In returning to original self, all your thoughts along the way are like so much chaff. Indeed, that is why chapter 1 begins with its disclaimer:
What is left will be silent, balanced truth. Both priceless and useless—you won’t be able to do anything with it! As chapter 29 bluntly reveals:
(1) The Bhagavad Gita speaks to this somewhat when it says, “And do thy duty, even if it be humble, rather than another’s, even if it be great. To die in one’s duty is life: to live in another’s is death.” (3:35).