It's a strange phenomenon how difficult people find it to love
themselves. One would think it is the easiest thing in the world,
because we're constantly concerned with ourselves. We're always
interested in how much we can get, how well we can perform, how
comfortable we can be. The Buddha mentioned in a discourse that "oneself
is dearest to oneself." So with all that, why is it so difficult to
actually love oneself?
Loving oneself certainly doesn't mean indulging oneself. Really loving
is an attitude towards oneself that most people don't have, because they
know quite a few things about themselves which are not desirable.
Everybody has innumerable attitudes, reactions, likes and dislikes which
they'd be better off without. Judgement is made and while one likes
one's positive attitudes, one dislikes the others. With that comes
suppression of those aspects of oneself that one is not pleased with.
One doesn't want to know about them and doesn't acknowledge them. That's
one way of dealing with oneself, which is detrimental to growth.
Another unskilful way is to dislike that part of oneself which appears
negative and every time it arises one blames oneself, which makes
matters twice as bad as they were before. With that comes fear and very
often aggression. If one wants to deal with oneself in a balanced way,
it's not useful to pretend that the unpleasant part doesn't exist, those
aggressive, irritable, sensual, conceited tendencies. If we pretend we
are far from reality and put a split into ourselves. Even though such a
person may be totally sane, the appearance given is that of not being
quite real. We've all come across people like that, who are too sweet to
be true, as a result of pretense and suppression.
Blaming oneself doesn't work either. In both instances one transfers
one's own reactions to other people. One blames others for their
deficiencies, real or imagined, or one doesn't see them as ordinary
human beings. Everyone lives in an unreal world, because it's
ego-deluded, but this one is particularly unreal, because everything is
considered either as perfectly wonderful or absolutely terrible.
The only thing that is real is that we have six roots within us. Three
roots of good and three roots of evil. The latter are greed, hate and
delusion, but we also have their opposites: generosity, loving-kindness
and wisdom. Take an interest in this matter. If one investigates this
and doesn't get anxious about it, then one can easily accept these six
roots in everybody. No difficulty at all, when one has seen them in
oneself. They are the underlying roots of everyone's behaviour. Then we
can look at ourselves a little more realistically, namely not blaming
ourselves for the unwholesome roots, not patting ourselves on the back
for the wholesome ones, but rather accepting their existence within us.
We can also accept others more clear-sightedly and have a much easier
time relating to them.
We will not suffer from disappointments and we won't blame, because we
won't live in a world where only black or white exists, either the three
roots of unwholesomeness or their opposites. Such a world doesn't exist
anywhere, and the only person to be like that is an //Arahant//. It's
largely a matter of degree in everyone else. These degrees of good and
evil are so finely tuned, there's so little difference within the
degrees in each one of us, that it really doesn't matter. Everybody has
the same job to do, to cultivate the wholesome tendencies and uproot the
Apparently we're all very different. That too is an illusion. We're
all having the same problems and also the same faculties to deal with
them. The only difference is the length of training that one has had.
Training which may have been going on for a number of lifetimes has
brought about a little more clarity, that's all.
Clarity of thinking comes from purification of one's emotions, which
is a difficult job that needs to be done. But it can only be done
successfully when it isn't an emotional upheaval, but clearcut,
straightforward work that one does on oneself. When it is considered to
be just that, it takes the sting out of it. The charge of "I'm so
wonderful" or "I'm so terrible" is defused. We are neither wonderful nor
terrible. Everyone is a human being with all the potential and all the
obstructions. If one can love that human being, the one that is "me"
with all its faculties and tendencies, then one can love others
realistically, usefully and helpfully. But if one makes a break in the
middle and loves the part which is nice and dislikes the part which
isn't nice enough, one's never going to come to grips with reality. One
day we'll have to see it, for what it is. It's a "working ground," a
//kammatthana//. It's a straightforward and interesting affair of one's
If we look at ourselves in that manner, we will learn to love
ourselves in a wholesome way. "Just as a mother at the risk of life,
loves and protects her child...." Become your own mother! If we want to
have a relationship with ourselves that is realistic and conducive to
growth, then we need to become our own mother. A sensible mother can
distinguish between that which is useful for her child and that which is
detrimental. But she doesn't stop loving the child when it misbehaves.
This may be the most important aspect to look at in ourselves. Everyone,
at one time or another, misbehaves in thought or speech or action. Most
frequently in thought, fairly frequently in speech and not so often in
action. So what do we do with that? What does a mother do? She tells the
child not to do it again, loves the child as much as she's always loved
it and just gets on with the job of bringing up her child. Maybe we can
start to bring up ourselves.
The whole of this training is a matter of maturing. Maturity is
wisdom, which is unfortunately not connected to age. If it were, it
would be very easy. One would have a guarantee. Since it isn't it's hard
work, a job to be done. First comes recognition, then learning not to
condemn, but to understand: "This is the way it is." the third step is
change. Recognition may be the hardest part for most people, it's not
easy to see what goes on inside of oneself. This is the most important
and the most interesting aspect of contemplation.
We lead a contemplative life, but that does not mean we sit in
meditation all day long. A contemplative life means that one considers
every aspect of what happens as part of a learning experience. One
remains introspective under all circumstances. When one becomes
outgoing, with what the Buddha termed "exuberance of youth," one goes to
the world with one's thoughts, speech and action. One needs to recollect
oneself and return within. A contemplative life in some orders is a life
of prayer. In our way it's a combination of meditation and life-style.
The contemplative life goes on inside of oneself. One can do the same
thing with or without recollection. Contemplation is the most important
aspect of introspection. It isn't necessary to sit still all day and
watch one's breath. Every move, every thought, every word can give rise
to understanding oneself.
This kind of work on oneself will bring about deep inner security,
which is rooted in reality. Most people are wishing and hoping for this
kind of security, but are not even able to voice their longing. Living
in a myth, constantly hoping or being afraid is opposed to having inner
strength. The feeling of security arises when one sees reality inside of
oneself and thereby the reality in everyone else and comes to terms with
Let us accept the fact that the Buddha knew the truth when he said
everybody had seven underlying tendencies: sensual desire, ill- will,
speculative views, sceptical doubt, conceit, craving for continued
existence, ignorance. Find them in yourself. Smile at them, do not burst
into tears because of them. Smile and say: "Well, there you are. I'll do
something about you."
The contemplative life is often lived heavy-handedly. A certain lack
of joy is compensated for by being outgoing. This doesn't work. One
should cultivate a certain light-heartedness, but stay within oneself.
There's nothing to be worried or fearful about, nothing that is too
difficult. Dhamma means the law of nature and we are manifesting this
law of nature all the time. What can there be to get away from? We
cannot escape the law of nature. Wherever we are, we are the Dhamma, we
are impermanent (//anicca//), unfulfilled (//dukkha//), of no
core-substance (//anatta//). It doesn't matter whether we sit here or on
the moon. It's always the same. So we need a light-hearted approach to
our own difficulties and those of everyone else, but not exuberance and
outpouring. Rather a constant inwardness, which contains a bit of
amusement. This works best. If one has a sense of humour about oneself,
it is much easier to love oneself properly. It's also much easier to
love everybody else.
There used to be a television show in America, called "People are
Funny." We do have the oddest reactions. When they are analyzed and
taken apart, they are often found to be absurd. We have very strange
desires and wishes and unrealistic images of ourselves. It's quite true,
"people are funny," so why not see that side of oneself? It makes it
easier to accept that which we find so unacceptable in ourselves and
There is one aspect of human life which we cannot change, namely, that
it keeps on happening moment after moment. We've all been meditating
here for some time. What does the world care? It just keeps on going.
The only one who cares, who gets perturbed, is our own heart and mind.
When there is perturbance, upheaval, unreality and absurdity, then there
is also unhappiness. This is quite unnecessary. Everything just is. If
we learn to approach all happenings with more equanimity by being
accepting, then the work of purification is much easier. This is our
work, our own purification, and it can only be done by each one for
One of the best aspects about it is that if one remembers what one is
doing, keeps at it day after day without forgetting and continues to
meditate, not expecting great results, little by little it does happen.
That, too, just is. As one keeps working at it, there is a constant
chipping away at the defilements and at the unreal thinking, because
there is no happiness in that and few want to hang on to unhappiness.
Eventually one runs out of things to do outside of oneself. The books
are all saying the same things, the letters have all been written, the
flowers have all been watered, there's nothing left except to look
inside. As this happens again and again, a change takes place. It may be
slow, but when we have been here so many lifetimes, what's a day, a
month, a year, ten years? They're all just happening.
There's nothing else to do and there's nowhere else to go. The earth
is moving in a circle, life is moving from birth to death without us
having to move at all. It's all happening without our help. The only
thing we need to do is to get to reality. Then when we do, we will find
that loving ourselves and loving others is a natural outcome of that.
Because we are concerned with reality and that is the heart's real
work -- to love. But only if we've also seen the other side of the coin in
ourselves and have done the work of purification. Then it is no longer
an effort or a deliberate attempt, but it becomes a natural function of
our inner feelings, inward directed but shining outward.
The inward direction is an important aspect of our contemplative life.
Whatever happens inwardly has direct repercussions on what takes place
outwardly. The inner light and purity cannot be hidden, nor can the
We sometimes think we can portray something we are not. That is not
possible. The Buddha said that one only knows a person after having
heard him speak many times and having lived with him for a long time.
People generally try to show themselves off as something better than
they really are. Then, of course, they become disappointed in themselves
when they fail, and equally disappointed in others. To realistically
know oneself makes it possible to truly love. That kind of feeling gives
the light-heartedness to this job in which we're engaged, which is
needed. By accepting ourselves and others as we truly are, our job of
purification, chipping away at the defilements, is made much easier.
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