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You, the richest person in the world, have been laboring and struggling endlessly, not understanding that you already possess all that you seek.

I saw this quote on Instagram and the caption accompanying this quote says it's from the Lotus Sutra. However, I couldn't find any analysis of it online. I had interpreted it as the person in question not knowing that he had already achieved nirvana, and is laboring and struggling endlessly to achieve it, but that didn't sit right with me. I also thought that it might've meant that he was working towards material goals, despite having all he needed to find happiness, but that seemed very hedonistic and contrary to Buddhist views to me.
What does this quote mean?

  • Pls. provide source of your quote, or from which chapter of the Lotus Sutra. The quote appears not a translation from the text of Lotus Sutra, but a different write-up, heavily coated with New Age icing – Mishu 米殊 Dec 31 '19 at 16:23
  • If you can't (provide a source) and want to ask, then it might be a good idea to read a more formal/complete translation of the Sutra (than a phrase on Instagram) and then ask about that. As you might see e.g. here there are many rather loose (albeit popular) translations on the internet. – ChrisW Dec 31 '19 at 16:53
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    Thank you @ChrisW and Mishu. After reading your other comments, I believe the quote is heavily doctored. – Nico Damascus Jan 1 at 1:36
  • The quotation seems to state the central message of all mysticism. When we find out who we are we find out we have everything we'll ever need or want, but prior to this we labour endlessly for what we believe we need and want. – user14119 Jan 1 at 12:05
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I suggest caution when analyzing quotes like this before seeing nirvana for the first time. It is extremely easy to be misled and fall into a "trap" when you hear any quote that says something along the lines of "you already possess all that you seek." If you have not awakened yet, do not read my interpretation of the quote as a call for you to stop your practice or stop seeking the truth. That being said, this is my interpretation.

You, the richest person in the world,

The first time "You" is being used in this sentence, it is referring to the illusory self. The human being we all believe we are when we first begin experiencing this world. This you is referring to a small part of your experience, the concept that you currently identify as what makes up your identity.

have been laboring and struggling endlessly,

This is referring to the struggle of Samara. Laboring is referring to the endless cycle of wanting something putting in effort to try to obtain it. Struggling is referring to the difficulties we encounter, as well as the suffering we feel when we do not get the things we want.

not understanding that you

Now this part of the sentence is where things get confusing, because the speaker is no longer using the word "you" to refer to the illusory self. The speaker has now (in a very confusing way in an attempt to be poetic) switched the meaning of the word "you" to refer to the inexplicable. Although it is incorrect for me to say, the clearest explanation I can give of the "you" that is being referred to in this context is the "you" that is "one with everything". Understanding that, things become a little more clear.

already possess all that you seek.

To fully explain this, a small explanation of desire and the process of forgetting is needed. This all comes from my personal experience, so take what I say with the normal amount of skepticism. Don't believe what I say, for unverified statements are what keep us trapped in the cycle of Samsara. Verify what I say in your own experience. It is through observing my own experience without belief that I was able to be whole.

It is impossible for one not to be themselves. I have been my true self forever and always, but there was a time where I forgot who I was. When one believes they are a human being, they are blinded by that belief. What happens is, a being who is infinite and eternal, suddenly believes that it is small and mortal. This process of forgetting can be said to be a process of exclusion. At first you are everything. Then, we begin to say, "I am not this, I am not that," etc. until we have come to the conclusion that we are not most things, but are something very small and insignificant in comparison to the universe. We know, deep in the core of our being, that we are not meant to be small and mortal. This instinct, the feeling of lack that permeates our experience, is what gives rise to desire. We only desire what we lack. We think, "I am not this, in order to be whole, I must attain this. Once I get this I will be fulfilled." But because we are everything, and it is impossible for a human being to attain everything in their lifetime, we are stuck in the endless cycle of Samsara.

So to quickly summarize: We only desire because we feel like something is missing. We feel like something is missing because we believe we are a limited number of things. We feel like we are a limited number of things because we have forgotten what we truly are, which is "one with everything".

Now, to finally explain the last part of the sentence: It is not saying "you the human being already possess everything you need in your life." It is saying that "you", the ultimate you, are everything that you seek. The speaker is talking past the illusory self, the human, and saying "You, the real you that is there, you are everything in the universe. Everything this human desires, is simply a part of your identity. The human does not understand that it, and the object of its desire, are both you."

It is attempting to describe the amazing plight of being human. It is like a wave in the ocean, chasing another wave. The wave says, I need to reach the other wave! I want to merge with that wave and become an even bigger wave, and then I will be whole! When the irony of the situation is, the wave is already the entire ocean.

I hope my words have been helpful to you in some way. I pray for nothing more than your liberation this lifetime.

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  • Now this part of the sentence is where things get confusing, because the speaker is no longer using the word "you" to refer to the illusory self. This is the kind of time when I'd want to inspect the original text -- for example, I don't know but perhaps it's possible that "you" here is an artefact of a translation into standard English grammar (which insists on verbs with subjects i.e. nouns and pronouns -- which I think Chinese can but doesn't always). I wonder what the original line of text is? – ChrisW Dec 31 '19 at 15:16
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    @ChrisW nailed it. The closest I could find is this: ... 以無價寶珠繫汝衣裡。今故現在。而汝不知。勤苦憂惱以求自活。甚為癡也。汝今可以此寶。貿易所須。常可如意。無所乏短。But the original text is completely different from the quote, the translation/quote almost like a new eassy writing belonged to the genre of that "New Age" voo... I suggest the forum/moderator to act on duty of the guardsman, a quote of other genre pretended to be from a Buddhist sutra must be refuted – Mishu 米殊 Dec 31 '19 at 16:18
  • @Mishu米殊 It's a reasonable question if someone doesn't know the answer (I can't say that the question isn't allowed). I can't answer the question either, I don't know the Lotus Sutra well. Occasionally someone has posted a question which I respond to by referencing that it's one of the Fake Buddha Quotes i.e. kind of New Age and not a close translation, but that site is only for references to Pali suttas, or anyway this particular quote isn't there. If you know better (about what the Lotus Sutra does say and how to interpret it) maybe that's for you to answer. – ChrisW Dec 31 '19 at 16:26
  • I happen to like literal word-for-word translations -- close translations or explanations -- but those are rarely published, people usually try to make translations sound like English. – ChrisW Dec 31 '19 at 16:35
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    Let's hope that this answer was, at least, a good explanation of the meaning of the English text, – ChrisW Dec 31 '19 at 17:18
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Put simply - the unenlightened person strives to find satisfaction in external things not realizing that he has the root of all satiety within. Buddhism directs us to find that root.

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I also thought that it might've meant that he was working towards material goals

I kind of doubt that but who even knows, I would want to read that in context before venturing to answer. There are several ways in which it doesn't sound like the kind of theme you'd find in suttas, but I don't know the Lotus Sutra.

Speaking of material aspirations, and even being the "richest person in the world", I remember reading a quote from someone a long while back, and I don't remember who it was, but it might have been the Dalai Lama, talking about museums -- that he doesn't want to personally "possess" riches, that he's content instead to visit the riches in a museum, to see them there -- which is the proper place to keep them, where (according to my understanding) they might be secure and beheld by everyone occasionally.

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