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The lion of pride

The lion of pride

A Crown Ornament for the Wise, a hymn to Tara composed by the First Dalai Lama, requests protection from the eight dangers. These talks were given after the White Tara Winter Retreat at Sravasti Abbey in 2011.

  • Pride is based on a strong view of selfhood
  • Appealing to our own wisdom to help us overcome pride
  • Developing inner self-confidence to counteract pride

The Eight Dangers 01: The lion of pride (download)

I thought to start going through the text on the eight dangers that Tara protects us from. They often translate it as “eight fears,” but “fear” I find a very funny word. I think it’s better to say the eight dangers.

We’ll start with the first one, we’ll work our way through. It’s from Crown Ornament for the Wise, a hymn to Tara composed by Gyalwa Gendun Drup, the First Dalai Lama, after he completed a meditation retreat on Tara. So he wrote this text.

The first verse is about the lion of pride. You know, like the MGM thing. Grrrrrr. So it says:

Dwelling in the mountains of wrong views of selfhood,
Puffed up with holding itself superior,
It claws other beings with contempt:
The lion of pride—please protect us from this danger!

If we see Tara’s nature as the nature of wisdom then wisdom is going to protect us from pride, isn’t it? Because pride—or sometimes it’s translated as conceit or as arrogance—that’s based on a very strong view of selfhood, like it says here in the verse. So it’s based on this incredible self-grasping: There’s ME. I AM. And especially this feeling of being the controller.

There are different kinds of pride, and one kind is called the “conceit of I.” I love that term, because it so aptly describes that. The conceit of I. How we feel conceited just because we think we exist: I AM. It’s conceit, isn’t it? And so Tara’s nature is wisdom, this is going to overcome.

When we’re saying, “Tara, please protect us from this fear,” it’s not like Tara’s going to swoop down and pull out all of the pride from our minds… Wouldn’t that be nice? [laughter] That’s not how it happens, though. When we’re appealing to Tara we’re appealing, actually, to our own wisdom: Please protect me from the danger of conceit, of arrogance.

It’s based on this wrong view of selfhood, this self-existent self. It’s puffed up, holding itself superior.

When we compare ourselves to people whom we’re better than, we’re better than them. When we compare ourselves to people who are equal, we’re still a little bit better. When we compare ourselves to people who are better than we are, then we’re almost as good and we soon will be better. So just this incredible self-importance.

But there is one kind of arrogance that operates in the reverse way. This is the arrogance of: “I’m the worst one.” The arrogance of self-blame and, “I’m so bad I can make the whole thing go wrong.” “Why isn’t this working? It’s because of ME. I’m inherently blame-worthy, full of shame, worthless…” That’s a form of arrogance, isn’t it? If I can’t be the best, I’m the worst. But I am special.

It also claws other beings with contempt. That’s a very vivid image, isn’t it? But that’s what our mind does when it’s full of arrogance. Just with contempt, claws them. “You aren’t going to think you’re any good because I’m the best one.” But we do this with such a nice expression on our faces. We look so sweet. “Oh, I’m not being arrogant. I’m just telling you what’s good for you.” We try and control, we try and dominate. And why are we into this? Why do we puff ourselves up so much, thinking we’re superior? Because we really don’t believe in ourselves.

Because somebody who really has self-confidence has no need to puff himself (or herself) up. It’s when we lack self-confidence that then we kind of go out there and make ourselves into a big deal.

I remember one time watching His Holiness at a conference—this was many years ago. He was on a panel of experts and they were talking about something and all of the rest of the panel looked to His Holiness and said, “Well, what do you think?” You know, kind of, “What’s the answer? You’re god, give us the answer.” And His Holiness sat there and said, “I don’t know.” And it’s like the audience was silent. “How can you be an expert and say you don’t know?” He said, “I don’t know.” And then he turned to all the rest of the people in the panel and he said, “What do you think?” And it’s like, “Wow. We’ve never seen anybody do that before when he’s supposed to be the person with all the answers.” And I realized, you know, why can His Holiness do this? Because he has no internal need to impress other people, and he doesn’t need to prove himself—to other people or to himself—because he has self-confidence. When we don’t believe in ourselves then we’re always trying to prove ourselves to somebody else. Always trying to show somebody: Look, I am good, I am worthwhile, I can do this. But underneath we’re like a little kid that’s going, *sniff sniff* “Please tell me I’m good. And if you don’t, well, I’m just going to dominate and shove it down your throat anyway.” It doesn’t work very well as a strategy. I think the real thing is developing our own inner self-confidence.

Pride comes up in all sorts of different ways. Sometimes I watch and people will ask a Dharma question and then they don’t listen to the answer. They just want to ask the Dharma question and look smart for asking the Dharma question. Or they don’t really trust the answer they get. It’s like: “That person really can’t know anything. I think my opinion’s best.”

I’m not saying go the other way and just believe everything you hear, that’s not wise. You listen to advice, you listen to the teachings. But we have to have an open mind that is ready to revise our own ideas. Because if we get stuck and very stubborn about our own ideas then, “I’m right. My idea is right,” well, how’s that going to benefit us? Especially if our idea isn’t the correct one. Then we’re going to get really stuck.

This is the whole thing behind debate, is you have an idea but you are also open to revise it. You’re not defending an idea just because it’s mine. “MY idea. MY way of doing things. We’ve got to do it THIS way, and everybody else’s way is wrong.” So that doesn’t work very well.

The thing is, we have to look out for our own arrogance, our own conceit, our own pride. It’s very easy to look out for other people’s arrogance. We know who’s arrogant. We also know who’s angry, who’s attached, who’s jealous. But that doesn’t matter, who else is. We have—all of these dangers that are going to come out in this prayer—we have all of them. So we have to look inside ourselves and see.

Now I hope you’re all going to listen to me! [laughter]

Venerable Thubten Chodron

Venerable Chodron emphasizes the practical application of Buddha’s teachings in our daily lives and is especially skilled at explaining them in ways easily understood and practiced by Westerners. She is well known for her warm, humorous, and lucid teachings. She was ordained as a Buddhist nun in 1977 by Kyabje Ling Rinpoche in Dharamsala, India, and in 1986 she received bhikshuni (full) ordination in Taiwan. Read her full bio.