As explained in the previous post, there are three different reliable bases upon which we can build a true self-confidence, the first of which is our own virtuous actions. Virtuous actions are actions that are consistent with the way things actually are – they are in harmony with the reality that we are all interconnected at a very profound level. They are generally speaking actions that seek to help others find happiness or become free from suffering. Because they are in harmony with the way things actually are, they work and are therefore reliable. The key to cultivating this basis for self-confidence is to learn how to enjoy engaging in such actions. Normally we think virtuous actions are things we ‘should’ do, but don’t really want to. We do them reluctantly, or motivated by guilt, and so are unhappy about it. To reverse this, we need to learn how to enjoy engaging in virtuous actions. Since we naturally do what we enjoy, if we can enjoy engaging in virtue, we will effortless cultivate this basis for self-confidence.
So the question then becomes how can we come to enjoy engaging in virtuous actions? Virtuous actions are actually naturally joyful to engage in. Why? Because virtue, by definition, functions to produce the experience of inner peace within our mind – and inner peace is the main cause of our happiness. When we mix our mind with virtue, it naturally becomes more peaceful, and so we become more happy and joyful. So really our task is simply to remove the obstructions to our joy. When we remove the obstructions, joy will naturally arise.
So how do we do this? By learning how to enjoy practicing itself – to enjoy creating good causes. There are four main points which enable us to do this:
Change what you desire to be to create good causes. If what you desire is pleasant external or internal conditions, then attachment to results is inevitable, and we will be like a yo-yo. If what we want is to create good causes, then whether things go pleasantly or unpleasantly, either externally or internally, it is all good, because all such circumstances equally give us an opportunity to practice – to create good causes. What enables us to make this change in our desire? The practice of Lamrim. This is the main function of the Lamrim. Because of the importance of the Lamrim, we are so lucky to have the opportunity to attend classes at Kadampa centers on the Lamrim. Where else can we learn this?
Accepting where you are at without guilt or judgement. This is what it means to be a sincere practitioner. There are generally two extremes when it comes to where we are at: guilt and complacency. Guilt is anger directed towards our self. Because our self is a bodhisattva, guilt is actually anger directed towards a bodhisattva which is hugely negative karma. We feel that guilt is good because we think it motivates us to abandon negativity. But this is the tricky mind of self-cherishing that encourages us to abandon a small negativity by cultivating a bigger one (anger towards ourselves). So on-net, we are worse off. Guilt leads to high expectations of our self, and when we fail to meet them, we feel guilty, so it is a vicious cycle. The other extreme is complacency. This allows delusions and negativity to remain in our mind like they are no problem. Normally when we let go of guilt we go to the other extreme and become more negative because we have principally been using guilt to keep us in check. We then go to the other extreme of admitting we are negative and deluded and saying we don’t care. It allows delusions to run unchecked in our mind and we are gradually swept away (down) by them. The middle way between these two extremes is regret. Regret differs from guilt and complacency in three ways: (1) Regret accepts ourselves without judgement. It accepts the existence of the delusions in our mind, but not their validity. We will talk more about this in a later post. (2) Regret blames our delusions, not ourselves. It makes the distinction between ourselves, which are completely pure; and our delusions, which are like the cancer of our mind. It directs the energy against the delusions, not ourself, in the form of a strong wish to be free from our delusions. When we have guilt it turns into the wish to harm or punish ourselves, even leading up to suicide (a case I dealt with a few times). (3) Regret is forward looking, not backward looking. We accept our past mistakes by using them to learn what to do differently next time. It considers the horrific future we will have if we allow delusions and negativity to remain in our mind. It makes plans for what to do to avoid this future. The best analogy of regret is imagining you just drank poison. We wouldn’t waste our time beating ourselves up over making a mistake, but would actively seek an antidote and take it.
Having faith in the law of karma: if you create the causes, the results will definitely come (so the results are assured). Just as the laws of physics and science explain how the external world works, the laws of karma explain how the internal world works. These are inviolable laws of nature. If we have conviction in the law of karma that good results necessarily come from good causes and bad results necessarily come from bad causes, we will joyfully engage in virtuous actions. It is likewise useful to cultivate faith in Dorje Shugden. If we have faith in the law of karma, the only remaining question is when will the results ripen? If you rely upon Dorje Shugden, they will ripen when it is best for your practice. He is like a karma manager. If the results haven’t yet ripened, it is because he wants you to continue creating particular causes. So if we haven’t yet experienced results we will be happy because we realize that we are saving our spiritual pennies for something bigger and better.
Some people really struggle when it comes to the question of faith, so it is worthwhile to say a few words about faith. Faith in the Dharma is very different than faith in other contexts. Faith is more like confidence born from scientific experimentation. Geshe-la calls Dharma the ‘supreme scientific method.’ How can we understand this? Through understanding the relationship between faith and wisdom. It is actually a cycle. (1) Believing faith – this is faith based on a valid reason. We have some valid reason for believing that good results come from good causes. (2) Admiring faith – this admires the good qualities of whatever we believe in. We believe that good results come from good causes, and admire good causes, thinking, ‘wow.’ (3) Wishing faith – this wishes to have these good qualities for ourselves. Our admiring faith naturally transforms into a wish to have these good qualities for ourselves. (4) joyful effort. We joyfully put the instructions into practice. Having faith in good causes, we joyfully engage in them knowing that good results will come. (5) Personal experience/wisdom. From this practice, we gain personal experience of the truth of the instructions. This is wisdom – when we know something from our own side. (6) A deeper believing faith. This wisdom then serves as a new valid reason, which enables us to generate an even deeper believing faith, and so the cycle continues.
3 thoughts on “Cultivating true self-confidence: The joy of pure actions”
I did a project on confidence from a Dharma perspective and what delusions interfere with it and so on, which ones cause insecurity and so on – we worked together on that a few years back. I just wanted to add some value from my own experience, you will probably cover such parts but i just wanted to interject here:
A large part of the essence of self-confidence is appreciating cause and effect, which leads to the realization of the emptiness of the ‘I’. Selves arise and dissapear again and again, momentarily but there is/are an image/s that we refer to as our ordinary self. There are other selves that appear to contradict that self. We also have a ‘perfect’ self from how we imagine or would like ourself to be. This is sometimes rarely directly known yet hinders many of our daily actions so we never feel good enough or still grasp at doing better. So we continue to be confused about who we are due to mistaken awareness of the self.
The actions created by our previous selves and future selves are all empty. To really practice this, as Kadampa Ryan has mentioned, a great starting place is purification. I guarantee confidence improves 1000 fold! If you realize all of your actions are empty, blissful and virtuous, you can be happy, if they are negative you purify knowing that they too are empty and blissful so you can be happy. Making your day empty like this brings emptiness into all daily actions. Vajrasattva is the purest self of all living beings.
Regarding our own self evaluation in purification with Vajrasattva, it is easy to feel total acceptance. It is also easy to be at one with others. Our delusions mainly involve others so when we see them as being part of us, merely imputed by mind, we own their thoughts about us also. Thereby bypassing what others think about us, which is a real confidence slayer. And in the meditation break we remind ourself that this depends on that, like dominoes depending on each other.
Looking forward to the next installment. Good work.
Thank you RK and RK! Both of you have given true wisdom on this subject that will give myself and others a lot to contemplate upon and put into placement. Faith and Purification have always been, I would deem, the power of Dharma practice. Thank you both so much and I look forward to more post from you both. _/\_
“saving our spiritual pennies for something bigger and better” – – – what a beautiful image to hold onto when results don’t come right away!