Several years ago, when I was very new to Zen practice, I was facing a difficult decision about a job. I took the question with me into dokusan, the private interview with the teacher. We're told that the interview should be about practice, or questions about dharma, and I don't know why I thought the teacher would help me make a job decision. But, I guess I figured bringing it up wouldn't hurt.
So I asked what I should do, and all he said was, "trust yourself."
It sounds so simple, right? Just trust yourself! But of course, in struggling to do that I waded into swamps and mires and bogs of confusion. How do you trust yourself when, in fact, you don't really trust yourself? And given that this same teacher was telling us the "self" is an illusion, what "self" do you trust? And who is doing the trusting? Ack!
Of course, in Buddhism this "trust yourself" is part of shraddha (in Pali, saddha), which often is translated as "faith." But instead of placing faith in a belief system or in a "higher power," Buddhist faith is more about confidence or trust in oneself and one's practice.
But that takes us back to the game of Who Do You Trust? Whatever decision I made those years ago didn't lead to happily ever after, but to new sets of problems and new decisions to be made. What I was looking for at the time was a place where there weren't so many problems. I didn't know how to find such a place, so how could I trust myself to find it? Help!
In a dharma discourse, my teacher said, "In order to trust yourself you have to let go of expectation." Oh-oh, this was even scarier. At the time the circumstances of my life were, well, let's just say, challenging. I kept myself going by looking forward to something better. But here the teacher was saying, trust just this moment, this circumstance. Very, very hard.
Of course, I was seeing myself and my life in a fragmented, one-sided say. I saw myself as a fixed thing trying to navigate a big, scary world of "other." And that perspective was, and is, the source of distrust.
There's a famous text attributed to a 6th century Chan master named Chien-chih Seng-ts'an (or Jianzhi Sengcan) called the "Hsin Hsin Ming," (or Xinxin Ming), which means "Faith Mind Inscription." Some translations render the title "The Mind of Absolute Trust."The Hsin Hsin Ming advises us to
Live neither in the entanglements of outer things nor in inner feelings of emptiness. ...
...Do not search for the truth; only cease to cherish opinions.
Do not remain in the dualistic state -- avoid such pursuits carefully.
If there is even a trace of this and that, of right and wrong, the Mind-essence will be lost in confusion.
The Mind-essence will be lost in confusion, indeed. And I'm not going to pretend I've got this issue completely licked; after all this time, it's an ongoing struggle.
Of course, this is not an intellectual exercise. You can't will yourself out of seeing dualisms. It takes dedicated practice. So, if "trusting yourself" seems too daunting, try trusting the practice.