By David Xi-Ken Astor
The word pride seems to be easy enough to understand. For most of us it is often understood as either a negative display of self importance (ego), or as a positive attribute when projected towards self and other. To be proud of our accomplishments, or how we identify with who we are, or even feeling a sense of pride in a friend’s hard won achievements is a natural human response that is compatible with a practice of Encompassing and Corrective Action. What is tricky about identifying displays of prideful speech and attitudes, though, is that we generally don’t see that we are being prideful in a negative way at all. This is because we are not mindful of our intent when our ego is on automatic. When we judge others, for example, it often comes from the point of view of what we have come to consider “correct” behavior or attitudes — our position is right, and yours is wrong sort-of-thing. In this way we are devaluating others because we are letting “what we would do” overshadow “what they want to do.” It has been said that a cultivated and refined self has learned to avoid displays of self importance. In this way a person avoids attachment to oneself and aversion to others.
In many ways displays of pride come from a psychosocial state of mind that harbors inferiority feelings by putting up a shield that can ultimately results in personal isolation. In mindfulness training (zazen) we use the tools of observation, analysis, courage and equanimity to transform the self into a self-confident honest social-self. In this way, we understand that we have a better grasp of reality. As we begin to mature from the child-mind to adult-mind we begin to craft filters that help us interpret the world around us. Some of these filters often enhance the qualities we wish to adopt and display to others. In other words, we embellish our worthiness as we WISH others to see us. When we have a distorted impression of ourselves, as displayed through excessive pride, we have an exaggerated sense of our qualities and personal abilities. On the other hand, when we have low self esteem, we underestimate our actual qualities. Excesses in either of these personality traits is destructive, and an inhibitor to the path away from suffering. This all comes from a state of self-preoccupation. Even when we are not aware of it, the ego is working behind the scenes to promote it’s (our) own worthiness.
Allan Wallace quotes an old Tibetan saying, “Tibetans look at a person who hold himself above others, believing he is better than others and knows more, and they say that person is like someone sitting on a mountain top: it is cold there, it is hard, and nothing will grow. But if the person puts himself in a lower position, then that person is like a fertile field.”
In the Vatthupama Sutta known as the Simile Of The Cloth in the Majjhima Nikaya, it gives us the lesson on envy and the ego states of mind. It is the inclusiveness of someone who responds to the beauty of the human spirit that counter balances another persons tendency to display worthy views yet only see a single outcome, theirs. The importance of honoring life and seeing the self reflected back to it from all other forms teaches the larger lesson of interconnectiveness. When confronted with a differing point of view, we might work to find how these differences may still reflect a mutual interest, just with a perspective born from a different mindset. When we walk the path, we do so with different boots. That is another aspect of what it means to be human. An empowered individual is also a humble individual. As I write this I must work harder on being more empowered.