[ Back to Articles ]
Means to Develop Self-Confidence
By Acharya Nyima Tsering
In Buddhism, mind is considered to be of paramount importance. While other religions emphasize the role of faith in their practice, Buddhism focuses primarily on controlling the mind. For if our mind is not under control, there can be no progress towards the spiritual path. Our mind is distracted by external circumstances and clouded by disturbing thoughts. However, if one balances the mind there arise self-confidence with which we can fulfill our aims and objectives.
There are two factors which contribute to our lack of self-confidence. The first is misunderstanding our relationship with others, and the second is misunderstanding our relationship between subject and object. To counteract these, there are two ways of balancing the mind; through the tactics of communication, and knowing the relationship between subject and object.
The tactics of communication
Most of our insecurities are related to how we view ourselves in relation to others, what others say about us and how they treat us. These affect the way we feel about ourselves. In this way we place too much emphasis on external factors beyond our control, and not enough emphasis on internal thoughts, which we can control. As a sutra says:
Self is protector
Accordingly, we must not rely on others for our own sense of well being but we must train our mind well. Though we may think that others bring us happiness and so forth, they are not the creators of our happiness and sufferings. Real happiness comes from within by adopting positive thoughts and discarding negative thoughts. As rje Gung thang( 1762-1823) says:
Without oneself abandoning faults
Thus, in order to
train the mind, we must know how to listen with a balanced mind. While
another person is speaking, we must listen to all he or she says. By giving
ones complete attention, without interjecting antithetical views
or contradictions, and we will learn all that is said, and our learning
process is not disrupted. Furthermore, it is important for us not to be
deeply affected by the conversation, but rather one should remain detached
from it. We should not take what others say too seriously, it should be
taken lightly with a balanced mind. Often people say things carelessly
without proper consideration or understanding of how the other person
may feel at the time. Also, through attachment to the words we become
overly sensitive and are easily hurt. This is due to our own imputation
to what others say. Giving too much consideration to mere words, we become
depressed and sad. How can one possibly go ahead in life, challenging
obstacles and difficulties on the way, which are a thousand times more
difficult than these words of others. The proper antidote to such a misconception
is mentioned by rGyal tsab rje( 1364-1532) in his commentary on Arya Devas
four hundred stanzas:
Therefore, we should listen to others with a sense of detachment, not allowing their words to make us feel angry or depressed. Having listened with a balanced mind, we can then scrutinize what we have heard and filter it onto the screen of truth.
The process of filtration
However, since the goal of Buddhahood is very difficult to attain, it is necessary to have a firm conviction that it is possible to reach that goal-however difficult it may be. Having studied it well, we should firmly stand by the decision, as Atisha( 982-1054) said, one should always be able to remain firm. Being firm does not mean blindly clinging to ones idea. Instead, all our opinions must be tested by reasoning.
In order to distinguish between what should be discarded and what should be adopted, human beings depend on two cognitions. Direct and inferential. As dharma kirti mentions in the third chapter of his Pramana Vartika, due to there being two types of objects to be known, there are two types of valid cognition: direct perception and inference. Direct perception perceives its object nakedly without super-imposition by conceptual thought. On the other hand inferential cognition unmistakanly perceives its object by three modes of reasoning. Inferential cognition finally has to depend on direct cognition for its validity; hence direct cognition is more important than inferential cognition. By making decisions based on these two forms of knowledge, we become confident and stable in our actions. If these two forms of knowledge are practiced at an experiential level, rather than merely knowing them intellectually, our thoughts become truly firm, uninfluenced by external circumstances.
The relationship between subject and object
Generally we feel disturbed as we do not fully comprehend the relationship between subject and object. Human beings have the six sense doors without which they cannot function properly, so long as there are sense doors, it is inevitable that there will be contact: eyes to objects, nose to smell, tongue to taste, ear to sound, flesh to the tangible, and mind to thoughts.
Due to contact, sensations exist; be they pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. These sensations are not ultimately real however, we have conditioned our mind to take them as such. Since pleasant sensations bring attachment, unpleasant-aversion and neutral-obscuration, we must know how to accept sense contact in the right manner by developing wisdom.
No sight, smell, taste, sound, touch, and thought is intrinsically pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral. Each one is either a mental habit or a type of conditioning. We condition ourselves to take one thing as being pleasant, and the other as unpleasant. Actually, in the very nature of things, there is nothing that is inherently pleasant or unpleasant. These feelings are just a projection of our own mind. For instance in our daily life, if there arises craving, aversion, dissatisfaction, unhappiness and yearning, it is because we are so familiarized with our negative mind that we tend to exaggerate things. If our mind is familiarized with self cherishing thought, then every minor incident, which is discordant with that thought, will be seen as problem.
In exaggerating small
matters, everything appears as a disturbance to our six senses, hence
our life is filled with frustrations and depressions. We become completely
overpowered by an incessantly unhappy mind.
By learning to recognize this we can regard those who inflict harm as objects of compassion, whereby difficult situations become occasions for cultivating compassion.
Another way to deal with painful emotions is to remember that everything is impermanent. A sudden delusion comes into our mind, and like a gust of wind, it fades away. All mental conceptions (like anger, hatred, etc.) are of the same nature, they come and go. As the scholar Gendun Choephel (1903-1951) once wrote:
How many times ones way of thinking has changed,
These thoughts are derived from my own experiences based on the mind training (lojong) tradition. The central theme of this article is to learn how to use every situation in life, as means of training the mind. In order to do this, one needs a certain amount of detachment; not allowing oneself to be dominated by pleasant nor unpleasant situations.
In a nutshell, we must first make ourselves stable by developing confidence, self control, and self sufficiency. On that basis, we can influence and help others. This is the law of nature.