When we are young, we are implored by those older than us to make something of ourselves, to become something remarkable. In part this admonition is a counsel to personal responsibility, that we should work hard to provide for ourselves and our families. But there is an element to our hopes and dreams that points towards a more profound dissatisfaction.

The trouble is that the attempt to heap up praise, attention and wealth for no other purpose than to demonstrate meaning actually binds us tighter to the material world and all the regrets and fears that are inescapable in a life driven by ego. The irony becomes that the more we acquire in a material or mundane sense, the more we realize that we can never satisfy the ego and hence the emptiness seems all that more vast.

The Buddha famously described his accomplishments not in terms of what he had acquired but rather in terms of what he had left behind. The actual word he used to refer to himself is the Pali word, Tathāgata. Typically, the word is translated to mean “one who has gone forth” or thus gone, the term “gone” evoking a sense of leaving something rather than a sense of arriving some place. The Budddha chose to emphasize that the meaning of his life was defined by the fact that he had escaped from the clutches of greed, anger and delusion rather than attempting to describe what he became when that happened.

But beyond this, there is a sense in which the word can also mean arrival albeit without the concept of self. Taken literally, the word could be stripped of the personal pronoun and simply refer to the concept of arrival at reality as it is (thatā = “thus” or “reality-as-it-is” and gatha=”gone to” or “come to”). I believe the Buddha wanted us to know that when we point the mind towards the truth of how things are, we are liberated from the requirement to service the ego. There is a tremendous freedom to be experienced once we understand that we do not have to become something or make something of ourselves in order to live a satisfying life.

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