The Dharma of Carl Rogers

I have been reflecting on the gifts of “ancestors” and the fleeting nature of life—mine and those around me.  My father recently celebrated his 88th birthday, I am the age at which both of my grandfathers’s died, a close friend suddenly died after a very brief illness just last month, and three of my beloved students were recently diagnosed with cancer within a few weeks of each other. Time passes swiftly.  As the Tibetan teachers like to say, “Death is real. The only question is how and when we  will die.”

I feel immense gratitude for the wonderful people who have helped shape who I am. If we are honest and generous, we can all name people we would designate as worthy role models or ancestors.  These are the people we have learned from; people who saw something in us and encouraged us; individuals we may have never met but whose work profoundly influenced our decisions about ourselves and our lives. I am blessed to have had some wonderful ancestors several of whom are honored with pictures resting on my personal altar.

As I reflected on the beauty and power of ancestors I scanned my bookshelf to see if I could identify some of the very first books I bought as a young man, when I was hungry for wisdom and guidance. I came upon the classic, On Becoming a Person, by Carl Rogers. Published in 1961, I obtained my copy about ten years later. The title intrigued me at the time. I was naive and longed for wisdom and guidance I could trust. I was curious, looking for direction. Now, over forty years later, as I re-read some of this amazing book I discover the seeds of the dharma that were planted in me by this man I never met and who would not have thought of himself necessarily as a Buddhist. I was particularly taken by the very first chapter—“This is Me: Some Significant Learnings”. Rogers presents these learnings as a list which I have included below along with a few brief notes of my own. There is much more about this in the Inquiry recording at the end of this post.

This is Me: Some Significant Learnings

"I speak as a person, from a context of personal experience and personal learnings."
In my relationships…I have found that it does not help, in the long run, to act as though I were something that I am not.

Suzuki Roshi would say, “When you are you, Buddha is Buddha.”

I find I am more effective when I can listen acceptantly to myself, and can be myself.

Zazen is our ongoing enactment of listening acceptantly.

I have found it of enormous value when I can permit myself to understand another person.

Step aside from the self-centered dream and open to another.

I have found it enriching to open channels whereby others can communicate their feelings, their private perceptual worlds, to me.

In this I hear echoes of the Bodhisattva Vows in which one is committed to the freedom and well-being of the other.

I have found it highly rewarding when I can accept another person.

The deepest nourishment comes from accepting another, not necessarily being accepted.

The more I am open to the realities in me and in the other person, the less do I find myself wishing to rush in to “fix things.”

In Zen we say, “Nothing is wrong and nothing is missing.”

I can trust my experience.

In Zen we say, “Just this is it.” This moment, this body, this experience. This where we awaken.

Evaluation by others is not a guide for me.

A quote from Sojun Mel Weitzman of the Berkeley Zen Center: “Our job is to not take offense, even when it is meant.”

Experience is, for me, the highest authority.

We chant, “Each moment, life as it is, the only teacher.”

I enjoy the discovery of order in experience.

The dharma is everywhere because that is the definition of dharma—THIS! NOW! HERE!

The facts are friendly.

The Zen teacher John Tarrant says: “There are no circumstance under which it is wise to refuse life.” We turn toward each moment, rejecting nothing.

What is most personal is most general.

We enter the universal by being intimate with the particular. Suzuki Roshi would say, “Doing one thing completely is enlightenment.”

It has been my experience that persons have a basically positive direction.

Awakening is our direction. Our nature is that of a Buddha.

Life, at its best, is a flowing, changing process in which nothing is fixed.

Inter-being and impermanence are the core teachings of the Buddha.
Samsara is being caught in reactivity. Nirvana is freedom from reactivity.
Inquiry recording: