Antidotes for false pride
Pride is a conception, a way of viewing things, in which we inflate a quality we possess-physical beauty or strength, edu-cation, social class or talent-and consider ourselves far superior to others.
Such an attitude has many disadvantages. Under the influence of pride, we make sure that others know how good we are. We talk about our achievements; we seek to impress others in order to gain praise, reputation and money. Pride makes us look down upon others who we think lack our good qualities.
When overcome by self-importance, we’re actually mther pathetic. Ifwe were honest with ourselves, we would see that under the masquerade we don’t really believe we’re good. To convince ourselves otherwise, we desperately try to persuade others that we have a certain excellent quality. We think that if others believe we’re great, then we must be. Deep inside, all of us ordinary beings have poor images of ourselves. Even the person with a dignified appearance who seems to be the epitome of success according to worldly standards doesn’t feel good enough. Finding it difficult to admit our insecurity to ourselves, we mask it by being proud.
How is it possible that people who appear to be successful don’t feel good about themselves? They, like us, look to external sources for self-validation, praise and acceptance. Thus, we’re unaware of our potentials to become completely wise and compassionate. Although we look outside for happiness and self-respect, these qualities can only be truly attained by internal development.
Pride makes us act in ridiculous ways: we show off our physical appearance, often appearing silly in the eyes ofothers. We freely criticize others and then are puzzled when people don’t like to be in our company. We treat others unjustly and then complain there’s no harmony in the society. Disharmonyoccurs in any group when people are proud and neglect others’ feelings.
Although proud people demand that others respect them, respect can’t be forced. In fact, society respects those who are humble. None of the recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize is boisterous and arrogant. When His Holiness the Dalai Lama received this great award in 1989, he attributed it not to himself, but to the sincere altruistic attitude and the actions flowing from compassion.
We can respect everyone. People who are poorer, less educated or talented than we are have many qualities and abilities that we lack. Every being deserves respect simply because he or she has feelings. Everyone deserves to be at least listened to. Proud people can’t appreciate this and are condescending and intolerant. Confident people are kind, humble and learn from everyone. In this way, they generate harmony and mutual respect among others.
Pride is one of the chief obstacles to increasing wisdom and developing inner potential. Believing themselves to be learned, talented and excellent, proud people are self-complacent. They don’t want to and cannot learn from others. Their pride imprisons them in a stagnant state.
Often pride is confused with self-confidence, and humility is mistaken for a poor self-concept. However, acting arrogantly doesn’t mean we’re self-confident, and being humble doesn’t mean that we have a poor self-image. People who are self-confident are also humble, for they have nothing to defend or to prove to the world.
It’s very difficult to look at ourselves objectively. We tend to under-or overestimate ourselves, swinging between the extremes of thinking we’re useless and unlovable to believing we’re fantastic. Neither view is an accurate evaluation of ourselves, for we all have some good qualities as well as some traits that need to be improved.
We can’t eliminate our faults by concealing them or by arrogantly competing with others to prove we’re best. But we can honestly acknowledge our weaknesses and try to correct them. Similarly, self-confidence comes not from conceitedly proclaiming our qualities, but from examining our talents and abilities to develop them.
In this line, it’s helpful to remember that we have the potential to become a Buddha, one who has eliminated all obscura-. tions and fully developed all beneficial qualities. This may initially sound like an extravagant assertion, but as we begin to understand Buddha nature and the path to enlightenment, our conviction in its validity will increase. The chapter “Buddha Nature,” and the section “The Path to Enlightenment” will make this clearer. This precious Buddha nature is our birthright. It can never be lost or taken from us. Knowing this, we’ll have a stable and realistic basis for self-confidence.
We can accept ourselves for what we are and have faith in our ability to become kinder and wiser people. This balanced view of ourselves also gives us mental space to appreciate and respect others, for all beings have some qualities worthy of respect. Self-confident people are able to admit what they don’t know, and are consequently happy and willing to learn from others. In this way, their own good qualities and knowledge increase.
When we possess good qualities, others will naturally perceive them. There’s no need for us to proclaim them. Mahatma Gandhi is a good example of this. Living and dressing simply, he avoided praising himself and instead respected others. Although he avoided broadcasting his virtues, his successful work and greatness as a human being were evident to others.
What techniques can we employ to counteract pride? Since pride is a mistaken and narrow attitude, developing a broad view enables us to see the situation more realistically. In this way, we can reduce our pride.
If we are proud because of our education, for example, we need only realize all our knowledge is due to the kind efforts of our teachers. When we were born, we were very ignorant and incapable: we couldn’t even feed ourselves or say what we needed. Everything we know-even how to speak or how to tie our shoes-comes from the kindness ofothers who have taught us. What, then, is there to be proud of? Without others’ care and attention, we would know very little and would have few skills. Thinking like this frees us from pride.
Likewise, if we’re proud because we have money, we can remember the money hasn’t always been ours. If it came from our family or from an inheritance, gratitude to those people is more appropriate than pride in ourselves. Even ifwe earned the money, it still came from others-from our employers, employees and clients. Due to the employer who gave us the job, or our employees who helped the business prosper, we now have money. In this sense, these people have been very kind to us.
We may not be used to remembering the kindness of others in this way, but ifwe think about it, we’ll see it’s reasonable. Although we may feel that we succeed despite the ill will of others, in fact our own effort alone isn’t sufficient to bring success. We’re dependent on others. Knowing this, wise people feel gratitude-not pride-towards others.
We may be proud of our youth, beauty, strength or prowess, but these are changing qualities. We may feel that we’ll be young, beautiful, strong or athletic for a long time, but these are fleeting attributes. Moment by moment we’re aging. The wrinkles don’t come suddenly, the teeth don’t fall out at once; but gradually, our bodies lose their luster.
Our society tries to prevent aging or cover it up, but in fact the muscular football player is on his way to becoming an old man who will sit by the sidelines holding a cane. The beauty queen inevitably will become a bent -over old lady. Seeing that our bodies are constantly aging, what is there now to be proud of?
If our bodies are able and attractive, we can appreciate those qualities without being conceited. Similarly, we can rejoice at whatever talents, good fortune or knowledge we have, but not be haughty and smug. Instead, we’ll use whatever qualities we have to benefit others.
To subdue pride regarding our intelligence, we can contemplate a difficult subject. Doing this makes us recognize our limitations and automatically dispels pride. With a more balanced view of ourselves, we’ll use our energy to inlprove ourselves and to help others.