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Means to Develop Self-Confidence

By Acharya Nyima Tsering
Published in Tibet Journal 1993

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 of self;
Who else can be one’s protector?
If the self is well tamed,
The wise can attain higher states

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
And adopting good qualities,
If one simply follows the words
of so called famous people,
who can neither eliminate one’s faults;
nor can anyone feed qualities into one’s mouth,
therefore, do not be an idiot
who’s like a stream of water
that goes wherever it is directed.

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 one’s 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 Deva’s four hundred stanzas:
"When one hears words which do not accord with one’s way of thinking, anger develops. Actually these unpleasant words serve as a condition for exhausting bad actions that one has done previously, and are said to bring about liberation,( rather) why should one develop anger and not feel joy-for such things? This shows that one is obscured with respect to cause and effect, that one is not a noble being and does not wish to purify one’s negativities. Secondly, it is also not proper to be angry at unpleasant words, even the disagreeable sounds of unpleasant words do not inherently harm one, for if they did, and then they would also harm the speaker. Therefore, when one is harmed by anger it is because of one’s own conceptual projection thinking, ‘this is hurting me,’ and one ends up thinking ‘this harm is coming from others".

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
If what we have heard agrees with our propensities and understanding gained from our direct and inferential cognitions, then we must take it as a truth, without any hesitation. It is important that we stick to our own valid experiences. If instead we run after whatever we hear, we will tossed back and forth in confusion. How can we develop confidence in such an unstable condition? Openness does not mean that one should be fickle minded, nor does it mean that if an individual says, “oh! It is like this,” that one should automatically change one’s mind. For if when another person declares the opposite, your mind opinion will again change. So, we should not be like ill natured moody person, who are like the two ends of a scale, whereby even the slightest thing makes them rise or fall.

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 one’s 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.
However, if one realizes that all happiness and suffering originates from one’s own mind, then even painful situations can become beneficial. Take for instance, a person who harms others possesses no control over himself, he is controlled by his delusion. As Acharya Chandra kirti says in the Graduated path by rje Rinpoche:
It is not the fault of sentient beings,
It is the fault of delusions.
Having analyzed well,
The wise will not hate the sentient beings.

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 one’s way of thinking has changed,
Since childhood till one is old and infirm,
Can be known through one’s experiential investigation.
Therefore, how reliable is our present thought?
By understanding this, we can learn to let go of the pain.

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.