Yesterday I had a lovely Dharma chat with a friend that just returned from England. While she was there she saw Tenzin Palmo, whose book "Cave In the Snow" is a truly amazing account of her 12 year retreat in the Himalayas. My friend was smitten with Tenzin Palmo, her clarity and insight. As we chatted about our respective Dharma experiences my friend made the comment that Tenzin Palmo had said "Westerners are so confused." So I had to ask, if Easterners were less confused. A recent comment I had read said basically that we are all somewhat confused until we're enlightened.
My friend's understanding was that Tenzin felt we westerners are more confused because we lack a sense of self. Again I had to check on what that meant. And she said we are often beseiged by self hatred which is not part of the Eastern mindset and our confusion stems from this. I remember a story about the Dalai Lama being asked about self-hatred. When the question was posed to him he spent a long time chatting with his translator as the concept of self-hatred (or contempt, or dislike, if you prefer) was so incomprehensible to him. He was apparently visibly saddened when he learned that we Westerners spend a lot of time in this state.
This mindset of self hatred is the opposite of confidence according to Tenzin Palmo. And so because we don't like or believe or trust in ourselves, our doubting minds are very active and cause us to second guess ourselves, to wander around thinking, "now should I do this or should I do that? How do I decide?" And we often become paralyzed with inactivity and fear of making the wrong choice (that's my koan sometimes). Or we run off and make completely goofy choices that reverberate with suffering later on, simply because we have been unable to consider our options clearly.
This comment on confidence was a really interesting aspect of Tenzin Palmo's teaching because when I recently did a little Dharma exercise in "feeding my demons" what came up for me was precisely this issue, "have more confidence, belief, faith in yourself." My habitual tendency to think in this way goes something like this: "oh, this might work for others but not for me" or somewhere hiding in the back of my mind, often in a subtle way, lies the belief that things won't work out or I can't possibly succeed at this or that task. I suspect I am not alone in thinking these thoughts.
And that is a place where I am directing some Dharma energy these days, chipping way, or perhaps I prefer melting away the solid, frozen waste land of self-hatred and self doubt. Like an iceberg this tendency protrudes deep below the surface, only showing its icy tip in the landscape. When we think of self confidence we are not talking about arrogance or aggression or a me-first kind of way of being in the world. We are not talking about encouraging "pride" which in fact is one of the 5 hindrances and is really just a thin table cloth spread over the picnic of self doubt and hatred.
So that's the word for today kids! Be like the big, fat orange happy Buddha. Love your self, that true essential fat, orange Buddha nature in you that is always there. Know that inside you, you possess everything you need to find your way in this world. Because only when we truly love ourselves can we share our love, generosity and compassion with others. Go out there and play nice (and don't forget to have some milk and cookies!)