We usually spend quite a bit of time worrying about whether other people like us, but it’s really much more important to like ourselves. Do you feel comfortable in your own skin? Do you even know how you feel, really?
We need to feel happy with ourselves if we’re to make authentic spiritual progress. Otherwise, it’s very easy to misinterpret some of the teachings and end up undermining ourselves. For example, we need to be constantly pushing ourselves to improve our good qualities: but we need to do so in an encouraging way, not by beating ourselves up about how badly we’re doing. To get the right balance, we have to be relating to our potential.
We all have the potential to become a Buddha, completely free from faults. Of course, at present we are full of delusions and bad habits – but we have to have confidence that that will change. We can like ourself despite our present imperfections because we know they are just temporary characteristics, not part of our real nature.
To make authentic spiritual progress we need to develop confidence in our spiritual potential, and to acknowledge and improve our good qualities. However, we also need a keen and realistic awareness of our present faults and imperfections. If we are honest with ourself we shall recognize that at the moment our mind is filled with defilements such as anger, attachment, and ignorance. These mental diseases will not go away just by our pretending they do not exist. The only way we can ever get rid of them is by honestly acknowledging their existence and then making the effort to eliminate them…
Although we need to be acutely aware of our faults we must never allow ourself to become overwhelmed or discouraged by them. We may have a lot of anger in our mind but this does not mean that we are an inherently angry person. No matter how many delusions we may have or how strong they are, they are not an essential part of our mind. They are defilements that temporarily pollute our mind but do not sully its pure, essential nature. They are like mud that dirties water but never becomes an intrinsic part of it. Just as mud can always be removed to reveal pure, clear water, so delusions can be removed to reveal the natural purity and clarity of our mind. While acknowledging that we have delusions we should not identify with them, thinking `I am a selfish, worthless person’ or `I am an angry person.’ Instead we should identify with our pure potential and develop the wisdom and courage to overcome our delusions.
This perspective is even more important when it comes to the teachings on abandoning self-cherishing. We should be training by thinking about ourselves less, not by thinking less of ourselves. We are not giving up self-cherishing because we don’t care about ourselves: we’re doing it because it will make us happy. If the practice is making us feel self-judgemental or useless, then we’re doing it wrong; stop, take a step back, and ask ‘How am I feeling about myself right now?’
We might also ask, `If I had no self-cherishing, would that not mean that I dislike myself? Surely it is necessary to accept and love myself, for if I cannot love myself how can I love others?’ This is an important point. In Training the Mind in Seven Points Geshe Chekhawa explains a number of commitments of training the mind, which serve as guidelines for Lojong practitioners. The first of these states: `Do not allow your practice of training the mind to cause inappropriate behaviour.’ This commitment advises Lojong practitioners to be happy with themselves. If we are excessively self-critical we shall turn in upon ourself and become discouraged, and this will make it very difficult for us to turn our mind to cherishing others. Although it is necessary to be aware of our faults, we should not hate ourself for them. Abandoning self-cherishing completely is not easy and will take a long time. If we are not happy with ourself, or foolishly neglect our own well-being, we shall have neither the confidence nor the energy to effect such a radical spiritual transformation.
So, take the time to connect with your pure nature, your inner potential; meditate on the clarity of the mind and tell yourself ‘This is who I really am.’