You are not the limited, anxious person you think you are. Any trained Buddhist teacher can tell you with all the conviction of personal experience that, really, you’re the very heart of compassion, completely aware, and fully capable of achieving the greatest good, not only for yourself, but for everyone and everything you can imagine.
The only problem is that you don’t recognize these things about yourself. In the strictly scientific terms I’ve come to understand through conversations with specialists in Europe and North America, most people simply mistake the habitually formed, neuronally constructed image of themselves for who and what they really are. And this image is almost always expressed in dualistic terms: self and other, pain and pleasure, having and not having, attraction and repulsion. As I’ve been given to understand, these are the most basic terms of survival.
Unfortunately, when the mind is colored by this dualistic perspective, every experience—even moments of joy and happiness—is bounded by some sense of limitation. There is always a but lurking in the background. One kind of but is the but of difference. “Oh, my birthday party was wonderful, but I would have liked chocolate cake instead of carrot cake.” Then there is the but of “better.” “I love my new house, but my friend John’s place is bigger and has much better light.” And finally there is the but of fear. “I can’t stand my job, but in this market how will I ever find another one?” Personal experience has taught me that it’s possible to overcome any sense of personal limitation.” (p.46-7)
“It’s easy to think of mental afflictions as defects of character. But that would be a devaluation of ourselves. Our capacity for emotions, for distinguishing between pain and pleasure, and for experiencing “gut responses” has played and continues to play a critical survival function, enabling us almost instantaneously to adapt to subtle changes in the world around us, and to formulate those adaptations consciously so that we can recall them at will and pass them along to succeeding generations.” (p.123)
“Among all living creatures studied thus far by modern scientists, only human beings can be said with absolute certainty to have been endowed with the ability to make deliberate choices about the direction of their lives, and to discern whether those choices will lead them through the valley of transitory happiness or into a realm of a lasting peace and well-being. Though we may be genetically wired for temporary happiness, we’ve also been gifted with the ability to recognize within ourselves a more profound and lasting sense of confidence, peace, and well-being. Among sentient beings, human beings appear to stand alone in their ability to recognize the necessity to forge a bond between reason, emotion, and their instinct to survive, and in doing so create a universe—not only for themselves and the human generations that follow, but also for all creatures who feel pain, fear and suffering—in which we are all able to coexist contentedly and peaceably.” (p.244)