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    Modern version of the Eternal Knot by Charles Huttner
A View on Buddhism
Teksty w jezyku polskim     Deutsche Seiten


Some possible signs of low self-esteem
Some thoughts on low self-esteem

"Self-confidence is not a feeling of superiority, but of independence."
Lama Yeshe

"Self-confidence is knowing that we have the capacity to do something good
and firmly decide not to give up."
His Holiness the Dalai Lama


Lack of self-confidence or low self-esteem is not directly defined in the Buddhist tradition, but it would certainly be classified as a negative emotion or delusion, as it exaggerates one's limitations in capacity, quality and potential for growth. Briefly put, every sentient being has the potential to become a fully perfected Buddha, if one does not understand this, one is deluded in this respect.

Lack of self-confidence can be made up of several different aspects like: guilt, anger turned inward, unrealistic expectations of perfection, false sense of humility, fear of change or making mistakes, depression etc. Depression can actually also be a result of a lack of self-confidence. (See also the page on Depression.)

From "The Art of Happiness at Work" by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler, M.D.

" have greater self-awareness or understanding means to have a better grasp of reality. Now, the opposite of reality is to project onto yourself qualities that are not there, ascribe to yourself characteristics in contrast to what is actually the case. For example, when you have a distorted view of yourself, such as through excessive pride or arrogance, because of these states of mind, you have an exaggerated sense of your qualities and personal abilities. Your view of your own abilities goes far beyond your actual abilities. On the other hand, when you have low self-esteem, then you underestimate your actual qualities and abilities. You belittle yourself, you put yourself down. This leads to a complete loss of faith in yourself. So excess--both in terms of exaggeration and devaluation--are equally destructive. lt is by addressing these obstacles and by constantly examining your personal character, qualities, and abilities, that you can learn to have greater self-understanding. This is the way to become more self-aware."

A view from Shantideva:

"Self-confidence should be applied to wholesome actions,
Overcoming of delusions and my ability to overcome them.
Thinking, 'I alone shall do it'
Is the self-confidence of action."

P.J. Saher writes in 'Zen-Yoga':

"Courage in an untrained mind leads to cruelty, and in a trained mind it leads to hope and compassion."

Specifically in the Mahayana tradition of wishing to lead all sentient beings to enlightenment, it is important to have a healthy amount of self-confidence, self-esteem and self-respect to bring this vast task to a good end. Obviously, overconfidence and pride are at the other side of the scale and to be avoided.

His Holiness the 7th Dalai Lama in 'Songs of spiritual change' (translated by Glenn Mullin):

"Who has magnificent self-confidence
And fears nothing that exists?
The man who has attained to truth
And lives free of error."

In my own words: 'If a doctor would only focus on his fear for mistakes, how could he ever heal a patient?'

Do take a moment to let the next one sink in:

"No one can make you feel inferior without your permission."
Eleanor Roosevelt.

Not an easy one; take some time to dig deeper into yourself to answer why you allow others to make you feel inferior? Why don't they feel inferior?

In Buddhism, in order to be cured from the problems in cyclic existence, we ourselves need to follow the instructions given by the Buddha with regard to the manner and frequency in taking his medicine, his daily diet and other relevant medical restraints. Likewise, we need to follow the precepts and advice given by the Buddha and control/subdue our greed, hatred and ignorance. No one can find salvation by simply singing praises of the Buddha or by making offerings to him. Neither does celebrating festivals in honour of the Buddha, mere prayer or begging lead to enlightenment. We need to strive hard by controlling our selfish desires and emotions in order to find a permanent solution to our problems.

"Human potential is the same for all. Your feeling, "I am of no value", is wrong. Absolutely wrong. You are deceiving yourself. We all have the power of thought- so what are you lacking? If you have willpower, then you can change anything. It is usually said that you are your own master."

"With the realization of ones own potential and self-confidence in ones ability, one can build a better world. According to my own experience, self-confidence is very important. That sort of confidence is not a blind one; it is an awareness of ones own potential. On that basis, human beings can transform themselves by increasing the good qualities and reducing the negative qualities."
Both quotes from His Holiness the Dalai Lama

This is even more so on the Mahayana path; if we seriously strive to make an end to the suffering of all sentient beings, we can't expect to achieve that by fearfully 'hiding in a corner'. Instead, it requires us to take confidence and courage in our own skills, and to work diligently for ourselves and others. See for an inspiring text, 'the 37 Practices of a Bodhisattva', and a commentary on that text by His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

Low self-esteem can actually be categorised as a form of laziness as explained by Ringu Tulku Rinpoche from Daring Steps Toward Fearlessness: The Three Vehicles of Buddhism:

"The Buddhist notion of diligence is to delight in positive deeds. Its opposite, called le lo in Tibetan, has three aspects. Le lo is usually translated as "laziness," though only its first aspect refers to laziness as we usually understand it.
The first aspect is not doing something because of indolence, even though we know that it is good and ought to be done.
The second aspect is faintheartedness. This comes about when we underestimate our qualities and abilities, thinking, "I'm so incompetent and weak. It would be good to do that, but I could never accomplish it." Not having the confidence of thinking, "I can do it," we end up doing nothing.
The third aspect refers to being very busy and seeming diligent, but wasting time and energy on meaningless activities that will not accomplish anything in the long run. When we do many things for no real purpose, we fail to focus on what is truly worthwhile and our path has no clear direction.
When we refrain from these three aspects of laziness, we are diligent."

So from this point of view, a lack of self-confidence can be like an excuse for 'not-doing' when something needs to be done, and is therefore clearly a problematic emotion.
Or, as Mahatma Gandhi said: "Fearlessness is the first requisite of spirituality. Cowards can never be moral.”

It can be difficult to accept others and to accept ourselves. "I should be better. I should be something different. I should have more." All of this is conception; it's all mental fabrication. It's just the mind churning up "shoulds," "ought tos," and "supposed tos." All this is conceptual rubbish, and yet we believe it. Part of the solution is to recognize that these thoughts are conceptual rubbish and not reality; this gives us the mental space not to believe them. When we stop believing them, it becomes much easier to accept what we are at any given moment, knowing we will change in the next moment. We'll be able to accept what others are in one moment, knowing that they will be different in the next moment. This is good stuff for everyday practice; it's very practical.
From How to Free Your Mind: Tara the Liberator by Thubten Chodron.

(Note: these are mainly my personal views, not strictly Buddhist)

- Guilt: paralysing form of self-torture; seeing one's imperfections and believing improvement is beyond possibilities.
- Scepticism/being over-critical; unrealistic expectation of perfection, reasoning that, "I am not perfect, so I'm worthless". Scepticism and cynicism are sometimes called "crystallised forms of anger", and can be detrimental to yourself, as you may only be focussing on faults of yourself, and rarely allow yourself to enjoy good things. In cynicism, the fear and distrust are taken one step further, thinking, "They are imperfect, they are worthless".
- Unforgiving: unrealistic expectation of perfection, reasoning that "People should be perfect, I and others are not perfect, and no one can be forgiven for not being perfect."
- "I could never do this, I can only ...": focus on my own limits rather than on my possibilities for growth and improvement. "I am not perfect" may be very true, but is that not the best possible reason for trying to improve oneself in a disciplined manner by being positive and helping others?
- Self-shame: keeping secrets about oneself: "I am disgusting, strange, weird, stupid, ugly". This creates a negative spiral, "others never talk about it, so I must be really weird"; based on the delusion: "I should be perfect, because others are".
- Pride: if one is genuinely self-confident, there is no need for pride; only an empty balloon can be 'blown up'. It is based on the unrealistic view: "Others should be perfect and are not, but I am better". To cover up their own insecurity, a fair amount of people act out pride, as if they are better than others, but only because they lack self-confidence.
- Improper humility: not regarding oneself as equal to others, but less than others. Humility is a positive quality as it avoids pride and is other-centered, often driven by active compassion for others. Lack of self-confidence however, is often self-centred (feeling sorry for oneself and looking for excuses to not change your own situation) and paralyses you from doing positive actions. In fact, this kind of false humility is categorised under pride.
- Idolising people: overestimating others is based on - or will easily lead to - underestimating oneself, see improper humility.
- Fear, uncertainty to: make mistakes, be abnormal, not be liked, change, be hurt or of responsibility. Fear closes the heart and mind off from the outside; leaving you alone! Based on the misunderstanding: "I should be perfect", which is simply unrealistic.
- Acting to be a perfect person instead of being myself: if I am self-confident, I don't need to behave like someone else; see pride. Instead of leading to praise, others may easily pierce through the facade and uncover my acting.

His Holiness the 7th Dalai Lama in 'Songs of spiritual change' (translated by Glenn Mullin):
"What is like a smelly fart, that, although invisible, is obvious?
One's own faults, that are precisely as obvious as the effort made to hide them.

- Feeling: "the world is a bad place"; note that the world is often a mirror of what we think of ourselves; a negative world image and negative self-image can be two sides of the same coin; reflects expectation of an unrealistic perfect world. The world is neither perfect nor all bad.
- Laziness: (in Buddhism defined as "being attached to temporary pleasure, not wanting to do virtue or only little".) The reason for this kind of laziness could be based on the fear responsibility or making mistakes, based on the unrealistic:"I should be perfect and not make mistakes, so I better do nothing at all".
- Depression: indulging in self-pity, closed-heartedness: based on "I am not perfect and therefore pitiful".
- Lack of trust in others; when you never open your heart to others, it is hard for them to open their hearts to you. Without this openness, we are likely to start asking ourselves if we are 'normal' without getting any feedback. At the same time, when we do not open our heart to others, they will usually not open their hearts to us. In that way, we never discover that others struggle with the same problems as we ourselves do. Real communication will simply prove there is nothing to be ashamed of to begin with - we are all humans.

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His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama:

"One can be deceived by three types of laziness:
of indolence, which is the wish to procrastinate;
the laziness of inferiority, which is doubting your capabilities;
and the laziness that is attachment to negative actions, or putting great effort into non-virtue."

A remark of late Lama Yeshe:

"We have to understand the middle path: that a human has a positive and a negative side.
We have a false, ignorant side, but we also have a beautiful potential - Buddha nature."

Question: If we have committed a serious negative act, how can we let go of the feeling of guilt that may follow?
Answer by His Holiness the Dalai Lama:

"In such situations, where there is a danger of feeling guilty and therefore depressed, the Buddhist point of view advises adopting certain ways of thinking and behaving which will enable you to recover your self-confidence. A Buddhist may reflect on the nature of the mind, on its essential purity, and in what way disturbing thoughts and their subsequent emotions are of an entirely different nature. Because such disturbing emotions are adventitious, they can be eliminated.
To think of the immense well of potential hidden deep within our being, to understand that the nature of the mind is fundamental purity and kindness and to meditate on its luminosity, will enable you to develop self-confidence and courage.
The Buddha says in the Sutras that fully enlightened and omniscient beings, whom we consider to be superior, did not spring from the bowels of the earth, nor did they fall from the sky; they are the result of spiritual purification. Such beings were once as troubled as we are now, with the same weaknesses and flaws of ordinary beings.
Shakyamuni Buddha himself, prior to his enlightenment, lived in other incarnations that were far more difficult than our present lives. To recognize, in all its majesty, our own potential for spiritual perfection is an antidote to guilt, disgust, and hopelessness.
Nagarjuna says in "The Precious Garland of Advice for the King" that pessimism and depression never help in finding a good solution to any problem. On the other hand, arrogance is just as negative. But to present as an antidote to it a posture of extreme humility may tend to foster a lack of self-confidence and open the door to depression and discouragement. We would only go from one extreme to the other.
I would like to point out that to set out on a retreat for three years full of hope and expectations, thinking that without the slightest difficulty you will come out of it fully enlightened, can turn into a disaster, unless you undertake it with the most serious intentions. If you overestimate your expectations and have too much self-confidence, you will be headed for dissatisfaction and disillusionment. When you think of what the Buddha said - that perfect enlightenment is the result of spiritual purification and an accumulation of virtues and wisdom for eons and eons - it is certain that courage and perseverance will arise to accompany you on the path."

12-year old Kelly Lin (from the Sokai Gakkai site):

"I think that self-confidence is very important. If you have low self-esteem, you will not dream up goals because you will think that it is impossible to reach them. Without goals, however, life would be meaningless and boring. Having a goal is like putting an apple in front of a horse, to make it move forward. Each time you reach your goal, your self-confidence grows stronger and you are encouraged to set a new goal. Each time you accomplish something you set out to do, you get a good feeling. This feeling cannot be taken away from you.
You don't feel good because you are better than someone else; you feel good because of personal achievement. After you have reached a goal, you must continue to set goals in order to move forward in life. Why stop when you have nothing to stop you? The Buddha does not decide if you will be successful in life; you decide whether or not you will achieve your goals. No one can guarantee that you will have a good life, but many people can help by inspiring you, putting some sense into you or getting you on the right track. The Buddha is a role model for many people. You can look up to him and try to be like him."

Zen Master Linji, as translated by Thomas Cleary (Note that this original statement is from the ninth century!)

"What I point out to you is only that you shouldn't allow yourselves to be confused by others. Act when you need to, without further hesitation or doubt. People today can't do this... what is the affliction? Their affliction is their lack of self-confidence. If you do not spontaneously trust yourself sufficiently, you will be in a frantic state, pursuing all sorts of objects, unable to be independent."

- We can only learn by admitting we don't know everything yet, we can only grow if we accept that we are not perfect, just like everyone else around us.
- Be light, humorous, eager to learn, courageous to change and not afraid of making mistakes.
- Emotionally beating yourself up is not helping yourself or the world; it does not change the past, nor does it change the future; it only makes the present miserable.

Venerable K. Sri Dhammananda Maha Thera:

Do It Yourself
Self confidence plays an important part in every aspect of man's life. Knowing that no external sources, no faith or rituals can save him, the Buddhist feels the need to rely on his own efforts. He gains confidence through self-reliance. He realizes that the whole responsibility of his present life as well as his future life depends completely on himself alone. Each must seek salvation for himself.
Achieving salvation can be compared to curing a disease: if one is ill, one must go to a doctor. The doctor diagnose the ailment and prescribes medicine. The medicine must be taken by the person himself. He cannot depute someone else to take the medicine for him. No one can be cured by simply admiring the medicine or just praising the doctor for his good prescription. In order to be cured, he himself must faithfully follow the instructions given by the doctor with regard to the manner and frequency in taking his medicine, his daily diet and other relevant medical restraints.
Likewise, a person must follow the precepts, instructions or advice given by the Buddha (who gives prescriptions for liberation) by controlling or subduing one's greed, hatred and ignorance. No one can find salvation by simply singing praises of the Buddha or by making offerings to Him. Neither can one find salvation by celebrating certain important occasions in honour of the Buddha. Buddhism is not a religion where people can attain salvation by mere prayer or begging to be saved. They must strive hard by controlling their selfish desires and emotions in order to gain salvation.

From 'Love & Compassion' by His Holiness the Dalai Lama:

Compassion Helps Communication.
Compassion also brings us an inner strength. Once it is developed, it naturally opens an inner door, through which we can communicate with fellow human beings, and even other sentient beings, with ease, and heart to heart.
On the other hand, if you feel hatred and ill feeling towards others, they may feel similarly toward you, and as a result, suspicion and fear will create a distance between you and make communication difficult. You will then feel lonely and isolated. Not all members of your community will have similar negative feelings toward you, but some may look on you negatively because of your own feeling. If you harbour negative feelings toward others and yet expect them to be friendly to you, you are being illogical.
If you want the atmosphere around you to be more friendly, and must first create the basis for that. Whether the response of others is positive or negative, you must first create the ground of friendliness. If others respond to you negatively after this, then you have the right to act accordingly.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama from 'Dzogchen'

The path to genuine co-operation is again through sincere compassion and love. Sometimes we misunderstand compassion as being nothing more than a feeling of pity. Compassion is much, much more. It embraces not only a feeling of closeness, but also a sense of responsibility. When you develop compassion, it will help you enormously to generate inner strength and self-confidence, and to reduce your feelings of fear and insecurity. So compassion and love, embodied in an attitude of altruism, are qualities that are of tremendous importance for the individual, as well as for society and the community at large.

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- Find the courage to really open your heart to someone; self-confidence is deeply related to trusting others. Our deepest secrets are often not as hidden to others as we may think, or simply so common in the experience of others, that there is actually nothing special about them. We often consider ourselves very special, and forget that all the others around us are just as human as we ourselves are.
- Try reality checks with others, and do not tell yourself that, "he/she is lying when saying that I am a nice person" - this is actually quite a negative attitude to people, as you assume they are lying...
- Practice compassion and loving-kindness to others, also if they do not immediately react positive.
- Analyse reality to discover that "life is not perfect, I am not perfect (yet), and neither are other people".
- Try hard to give up unrealistic expectations of needing to be perfect right now, then forgiving and having compassion for yourself becomes possible.
- Be realistic: I am just as much a human than others (equanimity), are they really that much better?
- Study and meditate on the Noble Truth of Suffering, realising that if you do not take any action, nothing will ever improve.
- To overcome frustration afterwards, try to act when negative situations can be changed, better to have no success than never having tried. What is there to loose, really?
- Meditate on your potential; unveiling your Buddha nature
- Meditate on purification; this may make your potential clear.
- Meditate on impermanence: everything changes, even my bad "I" will change for the better!
- Meditate on karma: the only way that things will get better is to do something positive.
- Meditate on emptiness; the ultimate antidote to all delusions.
- Try taking some precepts/vows to build your self-esteem, or simply any positive commitment to yourself which you are certain you will manage to keep.
- Dare to laugh at yourself and the world!

" Let me not pray to be sheltered from dangers,
but to be fearless in facing them.
Let me not beg for the stilling of my pain,
but for the heart to conquer it.
Let me not crave in anxious fear to be saved,
but for the patience to win my freedom."

A few thoughts as examples of what you could reflect upon during a meditation session on self-confidence:

- If I cannot accept myself as being human, how can I ever accept and trust others? If I cannot accept and trust others, how can I respect and love them? If I cannot respect and love others, how can they respect and love me?
- Spirituality is going beyond our self and self-interested focussing, it requires courage, independence, faith in our own potential as a human being, even our potential to become a Buddha, and peace of mind. Note that these aspects all refer in some way to self-confidence and self acceptance.
- By falling over and getting up many times, children learn that walking is possible. In judo, falling many times teaches you to fall without pain; we cannot always avoid falling, but we can often learn to avoid the pain!
- Self-confidence comes from being challenged to one's limits, meeting them and then setting new limits.
- If I let the fear of making mistakes control my life, I could not do anything at all but lead a completely useless life, is that not something to be very afraid of?
- Perhaps the following prayer can be a powerful motivation as well as dedication for any (meditation) practice:

"May I become at all times, both now and forever
A protector for those without protection
A guide for those who have lost their way
A ship for those with oceans to cross
A bridge for those with rivers to cross
A sanctuary for those in danger
A lamp for those without light
A place of refuge for those who lack shelter
And a servant to all in need."
His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama


For a meditation on self-confidence and other subjects, see the List of Sample Meditations.
See also this inspiring teaching from Ayya Khema on 'Accepting Oneself'
A lovely list can be found at Strategies for building self-esteem

Just for fun:

If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a musquito.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama

My initial response was to sue her for defamation of character, but then I realized that I had no character.
Charles Barkley

One man with courage is a majority.
Andrew Jackson

Self-esteem is the reputation we acquire with ourselves.
Nathaniel Branden

Why fake feeling good, when all you need is to enjoy feeling bad.

All my life, I always wanted to be somebody. Now I see that I should have been more specific.
Jane Wagner

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Last updated: August 6, 2017