Vows, commitments and modern life: Avoiding arrogance

Do not be boastful.  

Our purpose in training the mind is to attain enlightenment for the benefit of all, therefore it is quite inappropriate to become conceited and boast to everyone what we are doing.

Those who suffer from pride, such as myself, often become very attached to what other people think of them.  Our sense of self-confidence and self-worth is based on an inflated perception of how great we are.  When others don’t share the same “exalted view” of us, then it threatens our self-narrative, and so we quickly become defensive.  Ultimately, of course, arrogance and pride are a reflection of deeper-seated insecurity.  Since we don’t want to confront that, we try get everyone else to likewise think we are so wonderful.

When we apply for jobs, we exaggerate our past accomplishments.  When we tell stories of particularly difficult situations we have dealt with, we almost always make it out worse than it really was.  We lie about our grades in school to our friends, we overstate the success we have enjoyed in our extra-curricular activities.  Especially among our Dharma friends, we put on a show of how we are free from delusions and are such a great Dharma practitioner.

If we check, the implicit conclusion of much of what we say when we are with others is how we are better than those we are talking about.  Many, many, conversations among work colleagues revolve around telling stories about how stupid our co-workers, clients or bosses are.  Every time we point out the faults of somebody else, what we are implicitly trying to say is that we are better than the person we are criticizing.  There is a very perverse logic in the world that thinks, “if I can criticize something good that everybody else likes, then it means I am even better.”  Rich people are praised for their “discriminating taste,” which essentially means they can’t be happy with anything but the very best of everything.  Why would we want to be like that, when the actual meaning of this is we are unhappy most of the time because rarely do we get the best of anything.  We see this dynamic all throughout our society:  criticizing famous people, disliking popular movies, judging those who eat fast food when who amongst us does not occasionally like a good burger!  Pride is so ridiculous, it can take any small personality characteristic we might possesses, and then use that as a basis for thinking we are better than everyone else.

Very often prideful and boastful people are not satisfied with knowing themselves that they are the best at everything they do, but they do not rest until everyone else agrees they are the best.  When somebody doesn’t agree, our mind is suddenly filled with an exhaustive list of all the faults of this insolent person!

Besides being absurd, what are some of the problems with such an attitude?  First, as a general rule, the more boastful we are with others, the more they dislike us and want to knock us down a peg or two.  Second, as a general rule, truly great people don’t talk about how great they are, they simply quietly do their thing.  Third, it feeds our dependency on what other people think of us, thus making us feel increasingly insecure.  Fourth, we close the door on ourselves of being able to ask for help from others, including our Dharma teachers.  I remember I used to be very attached to whether or not my Dharma teachers thought I was a great practitioner, so I actually didn’t want to go talk to them about what problems and delusions I was having because to do so might threaten their vision of me.  This makes our going for refuge impossible because we can’t admit we need help.  Fifth, pride in our contaminated aggregates makes renunciation, bodhichitta and our Tantric practice impossible.  It is only by coming to terms with the hopeless nature of our samsaric condition that we can make the decision to leave, become a Buddha and train in identifying with the pure aggregates of the deity.  Sixth, and worst of all, it makes it impossible for us to learn from anybody.  If we think we are better than others, we feel we have nothing to learn from them.  If we aren’t learning, how can we possibly progress along the path?

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