A Student writes:
I find it very helpful to feel good about myself by wearing the right clothes, seeing flattering photographs of myself, having others praise my achievements, and so on. I think this helps me to be confident and relaxed, and therefore to deal better with others. At what point does that tip over into narcissism and the Eight Worldly Dharmas*? Or maybe you think I already have?
Lama Shenpen Responds:
Well, we all tend to tip over into narcissism and the worldly dharmas all the time don’t we? You are making an accurate observation here when you notice how looking good, being praised and so on leaves us feeling confident and relaxed. The confidence and relaxation are the qualities we are seeking but if they are dependent on how we look, what other people think of us and so on then it is conditioned confidence.
Therefore, when we get falsely accused, blamed, criticised, judged, labelled and so on, in ways we don’t like then that confidence is shattered. It’s worthless. All we have left then is our innate confidence – our knowing that we are by nature indestructible and so we can relax even when criticised and so on. We can notice our feelings and express them to ourselves and others and link them to our genuine values that are universal values that we are willing to embody and stand up for.
The Living the Awakened Heart Training links us into a genuine confidence in what is intrinsic to all human beings – all beings in fact – this is not to say that it isn’t fun and even meaningful to dress well, to be liked, to be praised for what we do and so on. That could all be thought of as positive feedback that helps us communicate and be effective in the world.
But if our confidence depends on things like that then sooner or later we are going to come unstuck. Things aren’t always going to go our way. We have to recognise that our worth and the worth of any being doesn’t depend on how they look or how well they can perform tasks.
Our worth is our actual being, our presence, our openness, clarity and sensitivity and all that is the same in everyone however bad their situation. It is really important to reflect deeply on this point. It is the whole point of the Dharma. It is the whole point of love and compassion.
Lama Shenpen Hookham
*The Eight Worldly Dharmas are classes of experience that are a major cause of suffering, traditionally grouped into four pairs: pleasure and pain; praise and blame; fame and disgrace; gain and loss.
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