Buddhism Chan Train the Mind

Non-self Esteem

The interesting thing about the attitudes of inferiority and superiority is that they are two sides of the very same coin. We call this coin "lack of self-confidence". Mentioning anything that has the word 'self' in it as a positive can be seen as a big no-no in Buddhist circles, but for the sake of our personal and collective sanity, I think a clarification of this matter would be highly useful.

One of the hardest parts in both Musical training and Buddhist training is developing Great Confidence. One has to deal with much uncertainty and doubt, and it is hard to know what is dependable and what isn’t. Be it a teacher or an instruction manual, the only way to distinguish charlatan from sage is by trying things out and verifying for yourself. On the way you get burnt many times. One teacher, with utter certainty, showed me the “best, most perfect” way of holding the bow in the right hand. I did the proscribed exercise for six months, only to develop tendinitis. I carry this reminder to this day.

In Buddhist circles I spent years hearing many a sectarian demon call their specific Buddhist school “the highest”, “the unexcelled”, “the pinnacle”, to the chagrin of all other practitioners, who were actually surprisingly satisfied with their own paths, albeit the fact that by the above evaluations they should have been “inferior”. High-Horse-09-18-13-400x400

The interesting thing about the attitudes of inferiority and superiority is that they are two sides of the very same coin. We call this coin “lack of self-confidence”. Mentioning anything that has the word ‘self’ in it as a positive can be seen as a big no-no in Buddhist circles, but for the sake of our personal and collective sanity, I think a clarification of this matter would be highly useful.

Already Good Enough

The Buddhist Perspective on self-confidence is rather simple. Just like self-love, it is absolutely unconditional. Sometimes we don’t act that way, but that’s because we are confused about a basic point- we’re already perfect. As opposed to the prevailing idea that in order to become good we have to accumulate something, like riches, knowledge, power and the like, we look at it completely differently.

We already have everything necessary to be fulfilled, content and helpful to the fulfillment and contentment of those around us. This is what is known as our Buddha-Nature. The only problem is that this Pristine Nature is covered over by countless tons of habits and conditioning.

Caligraphy by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche

Every trauma, every reinforced negative behavior pattern and/or thought pattern and every other kind of negativity and affliction that we’ve picked up along the way obscures the shining of the bright nature. But just as the sun itself doesn’t change when there are clouds in the sky, so does the Basic Nature remain whole and untouched underneath the layers of habits and vexations.

You see, confidence in Buddhism is easy- you just have to be absolutely convinced that this is so beyond any doubt. Through various meditative practices one starts of by glimpsing this nature, and the unconditional confidence to carry on on the path is thus born. This is what the Chan Masters call Great Confidence, and it is a prerequisite on the path to total freedom.

Anything you can do, I can do better

The competitive mindset is the guiding hand that spins our superiority/inferiority coin. As I know well from my musical education, there is indeed such a thing as healthy competition, but it is very rare. As the composer Bela Bartok said, “Competitions are for horses”. friendly-competition-memeSimply put, you’ll always find someone who’s better than you and someone who’s worse than you at any given skill. If you happen to be at either end – enjoy your 10 minutes of being so special, it won’t last. It is not our mastery of a narrow specialized skill that makes each of us unique, it’s the specific package of skills and experiences that we happened to have acquired. And the emphasis there is on ‘happened to have’.

It’s not personal

Think about it: everything you’ve ever learnt or achieved, or anything you haven’t, is entirely up to circumstances. You didn’t choose your genes, you didn’t choose you family or the society you were born into, and everything that happened afterwards is a result of those things as well as countless other causes that you aren’t even aware of. What’s there to feel proud or ashamed for?

Acting wisely

The seventh Bodhisattva precept, which you take on when you receive any level of ordination in a Mahayana Buddhist school, states: “A disciple of the Buddha shall not praise himself and speak ill of others, or encourage others to do so. He must not create the causes, conditions, methods, or karma of praising himself and disparaging others. As a disciple of the Buddha, he should be willing to stand in for all sentient beings and endure humiliation and slander — accepting blame and letting sentient beings have all the glory. If instead, he displays his own virtues and conceals the good points of others, thus causing them to suffer slander, he commits a major offense.”

Being aware of your strengths and weaknesses clearly is something that becomes ever more clear as you begin to see things-as-they-are better and better with practice. Trying to make ourselves look good and putting on all sorts of airs and masks in public won’t work anyway, as we all know how to spot the posers in seconds. mind like a mirrorRather, by learning to be more vulnerable and open to being hurt and being seen for what we really are, with all our faults and merits, we can get a real chance at a profound and most satisfying relationship with the society, world and reality we are all a part of.

That’s basically it- be a profound mirror to all of reality, and you won’t have to belittle yourself or others. When you know things as they are, you can stop fighting reality, and truly, deeply take part in this life of yours.


*If anyone has a story to share, a conversation to start, a question to ask or something to teach me, do get in touch or leave a comment.

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My first major influence was my grandmother Chaviva Dimenstein, who taught me violin. Even when I switched to guitar, because the violin was annoying to me, and finally to double bass, she still spent many hours every day helping me get better at music. In addition to her, I was blessed to study with many more great teachers, a rare thing to find. Most of them were not bass players at all, but supreme musicians who showed me the most important thing- we don’t learn music in order to play an instrument; we learn an instrument in order to play music. When I started to study Buddhism, I soon found out the same principle applies. Meditation cannot stand apart from daily life. I have been practicing Buddhadharma since about 2008. I started out in a Theravada context, again learning from outstandingly inspiring teachers, then I practiced some Zen, and now I study and practice Vajrayana (Kagyu) and Chan Buddhism (Linji Lineage of HsuYun). My highest aspiration and greatest inspiration is the actual pursuit of happiness- that means my own happiness as well as that of all others.

2 comments on “Non-self Esteem

  1. This is wonderful, Mark.
    Thanks for writing and posting.


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