Questions on Confidence: How does it relate to faith, trust and conviction? What is ego-centred confidence?

A student asks:

Can you say a few words about how you use the terms confidence, faith, trust and conviction in your Discovering the Heart of Buddhism course booklet on Confidence?

Lama Shenpen responds:

In general the English words confidence, faith, trust and conviction can be used synonymously depending on the context. I have been using them to mark distinctions between various stages or states of mind. Some people might find the way I have used the words fits their own use of them and some may find they would use them differently or use other words altogether. The important point here is not what words you use that matters but that you recognise the distinctions I am drawing your attention to.

I notice for myself confidence can be used as a general word to cover all forms of faith, trust or conviction and so can be used as a catch-all term for them all.  For example if I have confidence in myself I have faith in myself, can trust myself and have conviction about my own self-worth and so on.

In the context of Discovering the Heart of Buddhism, I stress the difference between conditioned confidence and inner confidence and then go on to talk about faith, trust and conviction making subtle distinctions between them.

If we have inner confidence we have found something within our own being or experience that we can trust and it is on that basis that we can trust our own discernment when it comes to placing our faith or trust in another person or the Dharma. We need inner confidence in ourselves and our discernment in order to do this– that is to say our ability to discern the truth and to learn from our mistakes.

By placing our trust in another person or the Dharma while at the same time maintaining our trust in our own power of discernment we can gradually develop deeper and deeper faith.

I tend to use faith for a deepening ability to let go into our experience – the more faith we have the more willing we are to take the next step and when that works out well our trust strengthens giving us the faith to take the next step and so on.

By this process our conviction (yiche, Tibetan) strengthens which means our doubts and hesitations start to fall away until there are so few that we arrive at certainty (ngeshe, Tibetan) which is genuine knowledge – on the basis of this we are able to rest one-pointedly within this knowledge base (Mahamudra*) until all veils and prapancha** cease (in other words we be become proficient in the four yogas of Mahamudra).


Is ego-centred confidence the same as the term ‘conditioned confidence’ you use?

Lama Shenpen:

Yes.  When we seem to be self-confident but it is all based on identifying ourselves with our ego-mandala, when the conditions that prop up the ego-mandala collapse so does its confidence because it is conditioned and constructed from false assumptions and the thoughts built up on them.

Non-conditioned confidence is what is left when we rely solely on our qualities of openness, clarity/awareness and sensitivity – these qualities are always there as the basis of all our experience and so if we can trust them we are never let down – our confidence grows as we gain in experience… ultimately this confidence becomes liberation – liberation from suffering – another name for it is Awakening.


Would you say that one way of describing the path of Awakening is to go from having confidence in an experience (an insight) to having confidence in experience itself?

Lama Shenpen:

Interesting question. We use experience in these two ways don’t we?  You could say that experience itself is what we are – we are openness, clarity and sensitivity and all experience is these three qualities. We can also, as you say, use the word ‘experience’ for an experience.  So you could say you could have an ‘experience’ of the true nature of all experience.

Gradually, by gaining confidence that openness clarity and sensitivity are the true nature of our experience, every glimpse (or insight) into that, which one could say was an experience of it, affirms us in this confidence until eventually that confidence is constant and complete.

Lama Shenpen Hookham

Lama Shenpen’s students are all studying the Living the Awakened Heart Training – a structured, comprehensive, supported, distance learning programme in Buddhist meditation, reflection and insight. The training, which is open to all, brings the profound Dzogchen and Mahamudra teachings to a Western audience in an experiential, accessible way, through spiral learning. Find out more and how to join at

*Mahamudra – Skt – literally translates as ‘Great Seal’ in Tibetan.  Although it is a term used in the Dzogchen tradition for a level of realisation that falls short of Dzogchen, it is used by the Kagyu tradition, synonymously with Dzogchen, for Reality or Awakening itself.

** Prapancha – Skt. refers both to mind’s action of creating and then grasping at concepts as well as the things (concepts) grasped at (including fundamental concepts that underpin our view of reality such as time, space, size, distance, self, other etc.), Synonymous with  ‘conceptual mind’ in certain contexts.

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