How to Be Who You Want to Be

Within a Buddhist context, deciding who you want to be and how to achieve that, is very little discussed and might seem a bit too worldly. It might even seem inappropriate for someone on a transcendent path. I thought about this subject for days, and realized that I had no idea what this meant until I finally realized that perhaps we were asking the wrong question. Then we can proceed with several steps and questions to the discovery of how to be what we want to be or become.

My first question is: By what criteria did you decide who you wanted to be? The obvious answer to this question of who you want to be is enlightened, isn't that so? However, before we can even explore that, let's look at some fundamental dynamics already alive in you. Later we will turn to spiritual goals, but in order to understand spiritual goals, it is good to understand strategies used to create the flow of logic that influences your decisions. So, I ask you, by what criteria did you decide who you want to be?

Rinpoche: You wanted to be just like your mom. You had a role model to emulate. In fact that was my first answer: Parents. I meant it in a different way, though. You meant it as an inspiration. On the other hand,  I meant that mom and dad told you what you were going to be. This is a little different read. Parents have a profound and far-reaching influence on their children, While you received that from your parents, you influenced your children by pushing, pulling, and prodding them to make them into someone that you could be proud of in your old age. There are dynamics alive in you that are your parents still telling you what you are supposed to be doing.

Student: Well, in the West, enlightenment is a fairly new concept and not well understood, and there are lots of ideas about it, so we really just wanted to be the best that we thought was achievable given the possibilities. It may have been our parents that said what was the best possible, and it could have been our schoolteachers, friends or television.

Rinpoche: Schoolteacher. Okay, let us take those one at a time. One of my answers was teacher encouragement. Maybe you had a teacher who was enthusiastic about watercolor painting. Let us say, one of your English teachers is enthusiastic about watercolor painting. Perhaps he or she wanted to mold you into an English teacher/ watercolor painter, in the future or something else that reflects their efforts toward you. This could be a high school teacher or college professor seeing something in you and wants to draw out a talent.

I have seen movies where someone with long fingers is steered toward playing piano. If someone is tall, you are destined to become a basketball player.

Student: If you see students in nursing, and maybe they are not particularly great in science, but they are really good at communicating with patients, then we might encourage them to go toward psych nursing as opposed to intensive care nursing.

Rinpoche: So teacher encouragement definitely affects decisions about who you want to be. Now, remember back to your childhood. Some of you are just barely out of it, so this is not so bad, and others of you are going to have to take a while to go back. Think back to some teacher who encouraged you to be something, or for your life to go in a certain direction. Sometimes it was something that you did not do or something that changed your mind, isn't that so? This could be strong criterion in molding your decision about who you want to be.

Student: I am thinking it through, and I have not settled on the criteria, per se, but I remember that the process had two components. One of them was that I wanted to be of help, and the other one was I felt that there was some discrepancy between who I thought I was and who I really was. I wanted to know who I was so that I could be who I wanted to be.

Rinpoche: The criterion that you used was a dynamic between who you thought you were and who you were, as well as? You wanted to be of benefit, so this is coming from an inner motivational idea, good. What are some of the other criteria?

Student: One of mine was school peers or classmates. Everyone was going to become a veterinarian, or a rocket scientist.

Rinpoche: Everybody in your group wanted to be what?

Students: A movie star. Mountain climbers. Religious leader and teacher.

Rinpoche: okay. Who else remembers in high school at the age of 15, 16, or 17 years old, what you wanted to be? Another one of my answers is role models, such as sports heroes. These are strong, determining influences at a formative age when young people are deciding who they want to be, even if they are not capable of being a sports hero themselves. For example, these black ladies, two sisters called Williams, who wear beads in their hair. How they hit the ball with these strong beads, I do not know. I worry for them, but this is okay because they are very good. Even though you do not play tennis, still you have the beads. The decisive factor is acting like a sports hero.

Many of my students are involved in men's groups, such as New Warriors where this standard has not had happy outcomes. It makes you want to be like a sports hero, but you actually make a living doing drywall, or fixing computers. However, inside you are a sports hero. When you go home, the family had better know that you are a sports hero. These are early influences often used to mold the personality into personal identity. Inside, you want that feeling of being worshiped as that sports hero, true, true. To be continued


  1. I have noticed that "to be liked by others" seems to be a criteria for me. This sense of needing to please others. If they do not like who I am, then the issue comes up, can I still be it. It causes all kinds of difficulties. I think it needs to be discarded carefully.

  2. Who I do want to be?
    Perhaps just to reach this question is already a nice advancement in the direction of your life. This is a very profound matter and I beleve that the answer should be non-conceptual but an inner perception instead.
    First, to be free, liberated, to be able to direct my life. All these should be non-conceptual. If you can do it, they you ARE what you are. Its a sort of !the magic! of life. Just be!
    By the way, women are better to "love" (as an state of being) and "be". It is better, perhaps, not "to think" but perceive, instead.


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