The Seduction of Pride

An old Buddhist story:

A devoted meditator, after years concentrating on a particular mantra, had attained enough insight to begin teaching. The student’s humility was far from perfect, but the teachers at the monastery were not worried.

A few years of successful teaching left the meditator with no thoughts about learning from anyone; but upon hearing about a famous hermit living nearby, the opportunity was too exciting to be passed up.

The hermit lived alone on an island at the middle of a lake, so the meditator hired a man with a boat to row across to the island. The meditator was very respectful of the old hermit. As they shared some tea made with herbs the meditator asked him about his spiritual practice. The old man said he had no spiritual practice, except for a mantra which he repeated all the time to himself. The meditator was pleased: the hermit was using the same mantra he used himself — but when the hermit spoke the mantra aloud, the meditator was horrified!

“What’s wrong?” asked the hermit.

“I don’t know what to say. I’m afraid you’ve wasted your whole life! You are pronouncing the mantra incorrectly!”

“Oh, Dear! That is terrible. How should I say it?”

The meditator gave the correct pronunciation, and the old hermit was very grateful, asking to be left alone so he could get started right away. On the way back across the lake the meditator, now confirmed as an accomplished teacher, was pondering the sad fate of the hermit.

“It’s so fortunate that I came along. At least he will have a little time to practice correctly before he dies.” Just then, the meditator noticed that the boatman was looking quite shocked, and turned to see the hermit standing respectfully on the water, next to the boat.

“Excuse me, please. I hate to bother you, but I’ve forgotten the correct pronunciation again. Would you please repeat it for me?”

“You obviously don’t need it,” stammered the meditator; but the old man persisted in his polite request until the meditator relented and told him again the way he thought the mantra should be pronounced.

The old hermit was saying the mantra very carefully, slowly, over and over, as he walked across the surface of the water back to the island.

———————————————————————————————–

A few days ago, as I attempted to do my homework, my mom was watching Oprah in the same room. The subject matter, spirituality, was too intriguing for me to ignore.

Oprah had brought three spiritual teachers onto the episode: two ran spirituality centers and authored books, and one was an Episcopal priest.

One caller into the show was a tearful woman who had invested her entire life savings into her bakery business, now failing. Her life, house, and her family’s welfare were all at stake.

During the commercial break, my mom mentioned that she liked the Episcopal priest more than the other two teachers. When I asked why, she pointed out that the priest was the only one of the three teachers who gave this desperate woman helpful, relevent tips instead of spouting rhetoric at her, such as, “You will grow from this experience in the end.” The priest talked with the woman while the other two seemed to talk at her.

These teachers had wonderful insights throughout the show, and while I don’t want to focus on the shortcomings of other people, (before I take the log out of my own eye…) I thought this demonstrated a paradox for a lot of spiritual people. A fine line separates humble spirituality from ego-driven dogmatism. Pure spirituality penetrates through the self-serving entrapments of the ego, such as pride, and shouldn’t feed them. While defenses are completely natural, they are still glaring signs that we still have a lot of work to do. Flaws are opportunities to grow.

I am far from perfect and occasionally become a wind-up toy, automatically hurling my ideas at people. But I try to watch myself and to maintain an engaged discussion, listening to the other party instead of judging them. I must always ask myself: am I trying to benefit myself with this, or to truly be of service?

If I ever stop talking with you and start talking at you, please stop me. That’s pride speaking, not me, and clearly it’s counterproductive to helping anyone, including myself. Pride only traps and encloses. I find the satisfaction it gives is illusory, gaseous, fleeting, and ironically, a sign that I need to address some insecurity within myself. There’s no need to compensate for the parts of ourselves that we are comfortable with.

Humility, on the contrary, is the epitome of spirituality, for it gives birth to pure love. You can’t force love or goodwill. Remove your own barriers, and you will allow love to expand and become you.

“The best way to live
is to be like water
For water benefits all things
and goes against none of them.”
-from Tao Te Ching verse 8

On a side note: I think I’ll start a facebook group soon for those of you who are reading regularly and would like updates. Keep an eye out.

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3 Comments

  1. Brian McEuen said,

    June 16, 2009 at 12:52 pm

    I like your posts. I read them all. It’s good to see. I think in the grand scheme of things, we’re all wind-up toys. Perhaps the point is to evolve to more advanced wind-up robots, with better versions of AI. But come on… it’s all one big wind-up toy, turtles all the way down.

    • michellegm15 said,

      June 16, 2009 at 2:41 pm

      Thanks man! 🙂 I agree, but I disagree as well. I totally think changing our patterns of behavior from unhealthy to healthy is the way to go, but identifying with automatic behavioral patterns/the body (the wind-up toy part) as the epitome of our existence is dangerous. Personally, I think we are divine beings who happen to have egos, and getting in touch with this is the most effective way to change those robotic functions.

  2. June 16, 2009 at 3:07 pm

    I read this exact same story a week or so ago except that they were Christians on an island who had had no instruction except the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer and they got it wrong so a bishop came and told them the right one.

    LOL. All the rest was the same.


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