“There are two kinds of pride, both good and bad. ‘Good pride’ represents our dignity and self-respect. ‘Bad pride’ is the deadly sin of superiority that reeks of conceit and arrogance.”
– author John C. Maxwell
Arrogance is the third to last quality that the Buddha identified as an imperfection or defilement of the mind. Depending on where we spend our time, and with whom, we may encounter arrogance often or rarely. Some environments may exacerbate the tendency to arrogance that most of us harbor; other environments may bring out our humbler tendencies.
Some years ago, I had a dramatic awakening to my own arrogance. The scene: a scheduled lunch date with the proprietor of a small services company. I knew that the vendor had hoped to lunch with someone else who had more control over whether his firm would be contracted by my office. As time passed and it became clear to me that this fellow wasn’t going to turn up, I fumed. I ordered my lunch, steam (figuratively) rising from my ears, and the thought popped into my head: “He’s a nobody, he’s nothing.” Immediately after that thought arose, a powerful stench appeared, as if from nowhere; it clearly had nothing to do with the external environment. The odor made me gag, and I understood it to be generated by my angry, dismissive thought. The arrogance in my mind at that moment almost made me vomit.
It’s fair to say that I came by my arrogance honestly, both through genetics and early environmental factors. It is only thanks to the Buddha’s teachings and practice that I was able to recognise and release that particular defilement. It’s still there as a residue, but it’s not permitted mind-space anymore.
What’s the opposite of arrogance? What quality can we cultivate to counteract our karmic tendency to arrogance (if any)? There may be other remedies, but the general direction we want to move in is towards humility. If we remember that every person, regardless of their skills, attractiveness, health or any other factor, deserves our respect and politeness, we will be doing well.
Reverence and humility,
Contentment and gratitude,
Timely hearing of the Dhamma;
This is the greatest blessing.
from SN II.4, translated by John Kelly
Imperfections that defile the mind:
(1) covetousness and unrighteous greed
(2) ill will
(6) a domineering attitude
(13) conceit (māna)
from MN7, translated by Bhikkhu Nanamoli and Bhikkhu Bodhi