Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Verse 5: The wild horse of pride

Part of a series of talks on Gems of Wisdom, a poem by the Seventh Dalai Lama.

  • Pride can be a great hindrance on the spiritual path, keeping us from our goals
  • Humility is important to cultivate in our practice

Gems of Wisdom: Verse 5 (download)

Verse five of Gems of Wisdom by the Seventh Dalai Lama. He asks the question: “What is the wild horse that throws one from the mountain one is ascending?”

What do you say? When you’re progressing on the path, what is the uncontrolled mind that makes you fall down? Pride. Arrogance. Conceit. Puffing ourselves up. He says: “Pride….” I prefer “arrogance” to translate it. “Arrogance that thinks oneself superior and dwells on one’s own good qualities.” You know? That mind.

What is the wild horse that throws one from the mountain one is ascending?
Arrogance that thinks oneself superior and dwells on one’s own good qualities.

Pride along the path

They always say that at the beginning of the path we aren’t arrogant because we don’t know anything. But as we learn a little bit of Dharma then it’s very easy for us to get puffed up. Because then new people come and we can explain this and we can explain that. And because we know this much more than they do, they look at us like this. [Look up to us.]

Thinking we know more than we do

There are two reasons. One: When you know a little bit, you think that you know more than you actually know. Because you may know the words but you don’t really know the meaning. Or you may even know the meaning intellectually but you haven’t realized it. Or lots of times you know the words, you think you know the meaning, but actually you have a totally wrong conception and that’s what you teach to other people. Which does far more damage than good. So what’s there to be arrogant about that?

Who taught us what we do know?

In any case, when we’re teaching the Dharma, what’s there to be arrogant about at all? Because we didn’t invent the Dharma. We learned it from other people. So getting puffed up, thinking, “I’m a great practitioner, I’m a great teacher, I’ve realized this, I’ve realized that. Look there’s all these students around who think I’m so wonderful….” You know, who do we think we are? The Buddha? I mean none of the Dharma came from us. So, no reason to ever get arrogant over knowing something. And similarly, no reason to get arrogant over—even if we have realizations—over realizing something. In fact, if you have genuine realizations you become more humble.

Humility in a spiritual mentor

I really remember here, Geshe Yeshe Tobden, one of my teachers. You remember him when he came to DFF? Geshe-la, his hair always kind of stuck up here. He was old, his shemdap was crooked. Kind of like some of you. [laughter] His shemdap was high and his socks were falling down. And he had these old scruffy shoes. Because he was a meditator up above Dharamsala. You know, when he would do kora [circumambulation] around the temple, all the young ones, the young monks with their Nike packs and their nice shoes would go past him. Nobody in the world knew who he was. He was so humble. So humble. And to me that’s really indicative of the kind of practitioner he was.

Even his attendant Losang Donden told me that when he went to Geshe-la’s hut—because Losang Donden would bring him supplies every week—he never even saw Geshe-la’s tantric implements or pictures or anything. When His Holiness asked him to go to Italy he said “No, I don’t want to go there. I don’t want to go teach. I’m happy in my little hut.” Anyway, His Holiness told him, so he did what his teacher said. I was in Italy at the time Geshe-la arrived. We made him this nice big throne as a way of respecting or new teacher. In the villetta—the little cottage where he lived—they made nice china dishes and silverware and everything. And Geshe-la came and he went in the villetta and he said, “Get rid of these dishes and silverware and give me plastic plates.” And he came in the temple the first day and people were showing him to the big throne and he took the cushion off and put it on the floor and sat down on it. I mean this is the kind of person he was. He just didn’t like any of this kind of stuff.

Pride: A hindrance along the path

You can see that if your mind gets puffed up then you know you’re ascending the mountain then the wild horse throws you. You’re trying to practice the Dharma and create some virtue and generate realizations, but your own arrogance becomes a huge interference with that and throws you down the mountain of realizations. Because also, when you think you know everything then what can you learn from anybody? And the of course all interior growth stops. And it becomes a real problem. I mean we see many times in the West people who were nobody in Tibet come to the west and become somebody. Or Westerners thinking they’re somebody when they aren’t. And then really, lots of things happen. So we have to be quite aware of that. Because it not only damages us, but it damages other people.

Antidotes to pride

Thinking about the disadvantages are part of the antidote. But also what they recommend when we’re suffering from arrogance is meditating on the 18 constituents, and six sources, twelve sources, and five aggregates and all, and then people go, well, what are all those things? And well, that’s the point. It’s actually difficult to understand these things.

But I find that even better for me…. I came into this world not knowing anything and everything I know, even how to speak, even how to wash my hands, everything came from others. So there’s nothing to be arrogant about myself. I should be incredibly grateful to the kindness of others because without their kindness I wouldn’t know anything.

You know, sometimes we write a book and we think, “Oh, these are all my ideas. I’m putting my ideas in a book.” Do we really think that we’ve thought something that nobody has ever thought before? Do we really think, “Oh I’m the first one who’s ever had that thought?” Well we think that. But what’s the likelihood that nobody in all beginningless time—including the Buddha—has ever had that kind of knowledge? It’s not.

I mean I always tell people Working with Anger is plagiarized from Shantideva. Because that one is really obviously plagiarized. With the other books, they’re also plagiarized. I mean none of it comes from me. People come up and say, “Oh I really like your talk.” It has nothing to do with me. They like the Dharma. And that’s what’s important. I didn’t invent it. There’s nothing me about it.

I find thinking that way very very helpful. And to remember that until we ourselves become Buddhas we’re always students.

[Response to audience] Somebody who not just says, “I know what’s best for me,” but with a very stubborn arrogance says, “I know what’s best for me. So don’t tell me what to do.” There’s nothing much you can say to that person. There’s no space for them to take in anything. You just have to…. What can you say?

You have to wait, and life has a way of making us crash. If we’re smart, we learn. If we’re not smart, we keep doing the same thing.

I remember recently I was discussing something with somebody—this is when I was in Australia—and I said something and that person said, “Well, blah blah blah.” And I just said, “Well, okay. If that’s how you feel, that’s it.” There was nothing to engage in any further. Not open.

I mean what can you do? Bang them on the head? And say, “You’re being stubborn and arrogant!” I think the easiest thing to help understand this is to look when we’re stubborn and arrogant. And we dig our heels in. And we don’t want to hear anything from anybody else. Then even somebody with a kind attitude comes, how do we act?

A good relationship with a spiritual teacher benefits us

It’s very true. If you don’t have a teacher, you don’t know. Or if you don’t have a close relationship with your teacher. You may have one, but it’s not a close relationship. Then your teacher will not point things out to you directly because they know that—I mean, even a teacher, if the person isn’t open, they won’t say anything because it’s useless. But if you have a good relationship and you’re sincere then your teacher can say something.

The kindness of our “enemies”

The nice thing is that even sometimes if our teacher doesn’t, our friends—or our enemies—will, I should say. And this is the kindness of the enemies. Because our enemy—”enemy” I’m saying here is someone we don’t like. The people we don’t like, they won’t put up with our junk. And they’ll say it straight out to us. Which is why we don’t like them. But it’s also why they’re actually sometimes the only one who can through to us.

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.