Noticing the Difference Between Conditioned and Unconditioned Confidence

A student writes:

I’ve been reflecting about confidence. I’ve been unemployed now for a while and looking for work, which has brought up all kinds of feelings of insecurity, restlessness etc.

At some level I don’t have much ordinary, conditioned confidence at the moment. Or let’s say I’ve been surprised at how easily that disappears.

Lama Shenpen responds:

That is such an important lesson to learn because that is how you come to realise that only unconditioned confidence counts in the end – our confidence in Openness Clarity and Sensitivity – our own True Nature is all we are going to have in the end so best get used to that right now, ASAP!


Also, how much my mind wants to find a secure place, job, occupation, whatever.

Lama Shenpen:

It’s okay to want all that as long as you know that you could be happy even without it.


So, is there anything that I could call unconditioned confidence? I would like to think there is, but how do I know? Even my open moments seem conditioned somehow…

Lama Shenpen:

Yes, they seem to be conditioned because they are so fleeting and we start grasping again so quickly! There’s a moment of freedom realising you don’t need anything other than to just be and rest in your own true nature and then the panic! Oh no – what now!?! Help! Give me some security!

We have to train ourselves to not panic, to let the doubts and worries go or at least let them arise and cease freely in the space of awareness. There they are – there they are not – they come and go. The spaces between ARE our non-conditioned confidence but most of the time we don’t notice them. They just seem to be the prelude to the next panic attack and don’t seem anything in themselves.

So, we need to learn to notice the spaces between as having a reality and power in their own right. When you feel relaxed and unworried, when you are not anxiously seeking to get something or to hold onto something, how is your awareness and your being at that time?

It is always the same and is always tremendously resourceful, it yields and yields, one good quality after another. All good qualities come from those times when we are at peace with ourselves resting in our own true nature and not trying to force things, make things happen, stop things happening.

Just being with the situation and responding naturally – when we are in a confident space like that – open to everything, ready for anything – it’s always the same – it is always so alive and wonderful. So, you know that that is it!

Conditioned confidence depends on conditions but then as you noticed, clinging to conditions obscures our unconditioned confidence.

Usually there is a mixture going on, a whole lot of unconditioned confidence that is hiding behind conditioned confidence. When we have a good job we feel great, we feel successful and secure and it feels like we had unconditioned confidence.

When the change comes, that is when you can tell how much of it really was unconditioned confidence. If you are knocked sideways but quickly recover in spite of losing conditioned confidence, then you know you are not doing too badly – non-conditioned confidence is winning!

Sometimes you can do mind experiments to see how you are doing. Ask yourself how you would feel if you lost your job, wife, health etc., and if you feel that you could work with that then you are on the right track.

If you realise you would be completely devastated by that then you need to keep working on it. Try to give up that sense that you absolutely need any of the conditions you are clinging to. Really try to lighten up!


If I’m thinking open moments are MY open moments, it must still be conditioned?

Lama Shenpen:

The ‘my’ is the grasping and clinging that comes after the genuine moment of unconditioned confidence. We can learn to separate the actual experience from the grasping mind that cuts in almost immediately afterwards.


Maybe the important thing really is to be able to distinguish between different kinds of confidence?

Lama Shenpen:

That is right. It’s the key to the whole thing – deep and subtle – this is the point that liberates.

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