The best fortitude

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Part of a series of teachings on a set of verses from the text Wisdom of the Kadam Masters.

  • How arrogance and anger are linked
  • Insecurity as a cause of arrogance
  • How self-confidence leads to humility
  • Developing the courage to let go of our trips
  • The importance of accepting where we’re at right now and working slowly on change
01-10-17 The Best Fortitude - BBCorner

The next line in the Kadampa text is,

The best fortitude is to uphold humility.

I was thinking about that one, because you would almost think that it should be “the best fortitude is to have acceptance of whatever happens.” That it would be something along that line. But it says “to uphold humility.” And humility is the opposite of arrogance. It made me think, well then what’s the link between arrogance and anger? I don’t often think about that, but when I thought about that, there’s definitely a link. We have arrogance when we don’t have humility. Humility is just being okay with who you are, you don’t have to prove yourself, or uplift your status, or anything. You’re completely okay with who you are.

Arrogance is coming from a feeling of insecurity, wanting to make a good impression on others, wanting to appear to be really good even though we don’t believe in ourselves. If you believe in yourself there’s no reason to be arrogant. Arrogant comes when we don’t believe in ourselves and we don’t have self-confidence, when we lack humility. Humility is when you have self-confidence. If you don’t have self-confidence, and you lack humility, then we get arrogant. Then when other people don’t see us as being as great as our arrogance is pretending to be, then we get angry. So the antidote to that arrogance is, of course, humility.

I was thinking about it in relationship to when Jeffrey (Hopkins, who gives streamed teachings weekly with the Abbey residents) was talking this morning and he was saying how we say, “Well why me? Why does that happen to me? It’s unfair.” There’s kind of an arrogance in that statement. Isn’t there? Somehow I should be above all these things that go on in samsara. They shouldn’t happen to me. They should happen to other people. There’s a kind of arrogance in there. So of course, when those things then happen to us—like a tree falls on your BMW—then you get angry. Or whatever happens that you don’t like, you get angry, because there was this underlying arrogance that that kind of stuff shouldn’t happen to me. I’m above that. I’m different than other people. Again, the opposite of that is a kind of humility, recognizing that we are simply ordinary sentient beings, so why shouldn’t those things happen to us? We’ve created a lot of negative karma, of course those things will happen to us. And there’s no cause to be arrogant, thinking they won’t. Also, going back to the other connection between arrogance and anger, when we can really accept things as they are, including accepting ourselves as we are, then there’s no arrogance, and then there’s no anger when people don’t treat us the way we think we deserve to be treated because we are so wonderful. And why are we putting up this thing of “I’m so wonderful”? Because we lack self-confidence. When you have self-confidence, then you can be humble.

There are a bunch of interesting connections here between all those different mental factors. It’s something to think about and look at in your own personal experience.

[In response to audience] The fortitude to see who you really are, the fortitude to understand emptiness. Yes. If you’re holding yourself up, full of arrogance, and being the opposite of humble, then there is, of course, incredible self-grasping in that. To pierce that self-grasping we need a lot of fortitude that is willing for our whole worldview to get shaken up.

Actually, to practice Dharma in any way, shape, or form—whether we’re meditating on emptiness, or compassion, or whatever—we need a lot of fortitude because Dharma is like a mirror and it shows us all of our faults. So you have to have a lot of fortitude to bear that…. Not actually to bear seeing our faults, but to bear dismantling our faults. We see our faults, that’s fine. But to actually overcome those bad habits by training the mind in another way of doing things, that requires a lot of inner strength because we’re so habituated to things, we don’t want to change, and also because if we change we aren’t going to be who we were before, and that means we can’t run our trips on other people the way we did before, because those trips won’t be in us anymore.

It’s so strange how sometimes we get a little bit afraid of letting go of our trips. “Who am I going to be if I don’t defend myself against the rest of the world? And if I don’t put up this great defense and protect myself, other people are going to run all over me.” You need some inner strength to take that down and begin the process of changing so that you can actually be happier. It’s strange how changing and having virtuous mental states….. That is very threatening to self-grasping ignorance and self-centered thought. It takes a lot of inner strength and inner courage to overcome the resistance that self-grasping and self-centeredness put up to changing.

Do you get what I mean? It’s so weird, because if we were to let go of our trips we would be happier. But we’re afraid to let go of our trips because then we’ll be vulnerable and we’ll be miserable. But actually, you get the total opposite result from letting go of your trips, is you feel happier and more relaxed. But being ignorant, we don’t realize that, and so we defend our trips. So, to have the inner strength to overcome that resistance.

[In response to audience] We have afflictions aplenty, but we’re very concerned with our image. We want to look like we’re good practitioners. Or if not a good practitioner, at least a really nice person. So we put on a front, that’s, I think, what you (audience) mean by “control.” We stuff all that other stuff, hide it neatly under here, behind here, and then put on this “I’m a really together person” thing. Or we put on the “I’m a really fierce person and don’t come near me” kind of thing, also out of the feeling of vulnerability, wanting to control what others think of us, so again we can get our way. The whole thing makes us quite miserable, doesn’t it?

[In response to audience] It’s definitely tiring. Takes a whole lot of energy.

[In response to audience] Humility means you’re not fighting reality. You’re not fighting anything, but especially you’re not fighting reality. Things change and you don’t freak out saying, “Well they shouldn’t change, it shouldn’t be like this.” People do things that you didn’t expect them to do, or didn’t want them to do, and you don’t freak out, “Oh, they’re not supposed to act like this!” Or, “I should be able to change them.” Or, “I should be able to control the environment so that they can’t play their trips on me. Because I want to play my trips on them.” Really, quite exhausting.

I think when you accept impermanence then we can let a lot of that go. And when we accept that there’s no inherently existent “I” there to start with, so there’s nobody we need to defend. There’s really nobody who needs defending in here. Then again we can relax so much.

[In response to audience] If we have an aspect of ourselves that we know we need to change we have to work on it slowly. We put some effort, we work on it slowly, but we also have to accept where we’re at right now. We’re not going to get rid of this by tomorrow. That’s also what I mean by acceptance, we have to accept who we are, what we are right now, knowing that in the future we can change. That way when people point out our faults we don’t have to defend it, denying we have those faults, because we’ve already accepted that we have them. Why do we deny? Because we haven’t accepted them. And we haven’t accepted that other people see them. We want to somehow pretend that other people don’t see our problems and don’t know our faults. And that’s so ridiculous. Yes, that everybody is going around [covering their eyes]. Actually, other people see our faults, they see our weaknesses, they see our problems. Who are we trying to make look good?

I think when we talk about transparency, transparency is based on this kind of self-acceptance. “I know I have this problem, and I know that you and everybody else knows that I have this problem, because you’ve bumped into it a lot. Because I act it out a lot.” That’s the reality of the situation. I don’t need to crawl under the table and be ashamed, and I don’t need to do the Wizard of Oz thing and put on a great big trip. it’s just that’s the way it is. And I’m sure many of you know my faults better than I do. In fact, you probably talk about them with each other a lot.

[In response to audience] When we talk about fortitude we think of inner strength. And when we think of inner strength we usually think of the strength to defend myself against all these people outside who might hurt me, or threaten me, or expose me for being a nincompoop, or whatever it is. So I’ve got to make this fortress all around me so that people don’t see. And we think, “Oh, that’s strength.” But that’s not the kind of strength that is the strength in fortitude The strength that fortitude is is the opposite of that strength, because you don’t need that kind of “building wall” strength. You need just the strength of acceptance of reality. It’s an inner strength.

All this talk of walls…. Our country is loaded with talk of walls. And people are talking about walls and boundaries, and all that kind of stuff. And I think, when people say “I have to build a boundary between myself and others,” that language, I don’t know, somehow doesn’t appeal to me. I prefer the language of “i have to be really clear about my own reactions to people.” Because I can’t build a boundary—even a mental boundary—and then force somebody else to not step beyond it. Of course they’re going to step beyond it. But I have to have clarity not to bite the hook. To me that whole talk about boundaries, I don’t feel so comfortable with. I see it more of an inner process of if I’m clear then people can say whatever they want but I don’t bite the hook. If I’m not clear, then I bite the hook. And then I blame them. But I’m the one who bit it.

[In response to audience] Yes, knowing your own capacity, choosing the situations you put yourself in, and knowing that sometimes you’re going to be in a situation you can’t control—the external situation—but you can be clear in your own mind what you will do and what you will not get engaged in.

[In response to audience] Yes, it’s our karma. We can’t control what our karma…. The time to control the karma is before it ripens. When it’s ripening, it’s there, then we have to deal with the situation.

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