Buddha emphasised that all our troubles stem from our own minds, and the root of our problems is our mistaken belief in what we are as a person. In reality, our person is nothing more than a mere convention established by labelling our name upon the combination of our body and mind. No self-existing person or soul exists within the body and mind, yet we all have the innate misconception that we are self-existing individuals. This misconception is the source of all our problems because our constant self-consciousness — belief in a nonexistent self as being truly me — creates the disturbing emotions of anger, attachment, and pride through which we harm ourselves and others. Like a phobia or a delusion of grandeur, this irrational belief captures our mind and distorts the reality of life. Obsession with our false self-image leads to irrational anger when our self-image is threatened in any way. Selfindulgent attachment arises when our self-image is pleased, and arrogance occurs when we see our self as superior to others.
In my younger days, while at an emotional low point, I had a flash of insight and declared that pride was my greatest enemy. I recognised that my unhappiness was connected to an overwhelming self-consciousness about the way I perceived myself and the way I wanted to be perceived by others. There was no space for spontaneity in my relationships; my words and actions had the calculated element of trying to be cool. I desperately wanted the “real me” to break out of its cocoon, but I was too afraid to admit failure or weakness, and too proud to remain with women who did not measure up to my expectations. There was conflict between my desire for people to know and love the good qualities of the “real me” and my fear that people would discover the weaknesses of the “real me.” The resulting loneliness was difficult to bear. Looking back at those times of angst, how I wish somebody had told me there were no real good qualities, no real weaknesses, and no real me.
Pride was defined by Buddha as a puffed-up sense of self-importance that compounds the original mistake in our self-image by projecting and then believing that we are superior to others. Pride clings strongly to this inflated self-image and disrespects others, thus creating a tense and hostile atmosphere within which neither we nor the people around us can relax. With our self-image at stake, our pride is always defending ourselves or attacking others.
Among the seven aspects of pride, the first three arise in relation to our wealth and social standing. Towards those of lower status than ourselves we feel superior and see them as lowly. Towards those of equal status to ourselves we think we are special and superior. And towards those of higher status we arrogantly point out their weaknesses and believe we are superior to them as well.
In the fourth aspect of pride, we see our own body and mind as perfectly “me.” Our pride gazes at our reflection in the mirror and tells us we are so beautiful. Sometimes called egocentric pride, it is a belief that we are perfect in body and mind. It cannot tolerate defeat.
The next aspect of pride can be seen in religious people who, through an extreme sense of self-importance, become convinced they have attained high spiritual realisations and act as if they are God’s or Buddha’s right-hand person.
False humility is the sixth aspect of pride. We may behave with humility in the presence of a great person, but in our mind abides the arrogant thought: “Here am I, so important, in the presence of this famous person.”
The final aspect of pride is wrong pride where, for example, we commit morally degenerate acts believing that we are endowed with special qualities and are above normal ethical restraint. There is great danger of this pride arising in the minds of those who hold positions of trust, such as doctors, priests, and monks.
Is there any need for me to list more examples of pride? Not really, a touch of introspection will reveal that we all suffer from pride. Recognising pride in our own mind, and understanding its faults, is the first step towards ridding ourselves of this enemy. Pride exaggerates our good qualities and then believes its fabrications to be true. It does this because of our misconception that a real self exists either within our body and mind or as a separate entity that possesses our body and mind. Thus the actual solution to pride is immediately obvious: recognition of the fundamental non-existence of a “real me.” Such a thought can be frightening because we cling to our self-image, and the very idea of being “selfless” scares us. We can easily fall into the nihilistic belief that nothing is real. Negating the existence of an ultimate, real self, however, does not mean there is no relative self. It is essential that we dismantle our mistaken belief in a real me, both because it is wrong and because this is the only way we can liberate ourselves from the entanglement of mental projections, and experience the unrestrained happiness that we instinctively feel is possible.
Another mistake we can make when contemplating selflessness as the antidote to pride is that we can fail to take responsibility for the happiness of others. We may think, “Oh, they do not really exist and their problems are in their imagination. There is nothing I can do about it.
Realising selflessness is only half of Buddha’s recipe for happiness. The other half is having loving-kindness for all beings. Universal loving-kindness is not diminished by the fact that others only exist as labelled identities. They still exist as conventional people and are suitable objects for conventional loving-kindness. In fact, universal loving-kindness requires the understanding of emptiness; without such wisdom, we cannot free our minds from the negative discrimination of others through attachment, hatred, and ignorance.
The most distasteful thing about pride is that it makes us incapable of loving those who we consider, in our arrogance, to be unsuitable recipients of our love. We are so self-important that we cannot even love members of our own family, let alone strangers and enemies. Pride isolates us from others in a capsule of loneliness that must be shattered by humility. Humility is not a sign of weakness. It takes great strength to stand up to our own negative minds, to reject the distorted projections of self-importance, and to focus instead on the good qualities of others, sincerely rejoicing in their happiness and good fortune. I think this must be the meaning of St Matthew’s, “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.”
7 Aspects of Pride
Relation to wealth and social standing:
- Those of lower status
- Those of equal status
- Those of higher status
4. Egocentric Pride – Sees our own body and mind as “perfectly me”
5. Pride of Self-importance
6. Pride of False humility
7. Wrong Pride – Self belief that we are special and thus above ethical restraints.