Ven. Analayo recently said: “If I knock myself for being angry each time anger arises, eventually I won’t see anger arising.” When we chastise ourselves for having defilements (which we all do), then we are training ourselves to ignore our defilements so we won’t be (self-)punished. It’s a self-defeating strategy; only if we acknowledge our shortcomings can we slowly wear them away.
From a column by David Brooks (12 April 2015, NY Times):
The Humility Shift – We live in the culture of the Big Me. The meritocracy wants you to promote yourself. Social media wants you to broadcast a highlight reel of your life. Your parents and teachers were always telling you how wonderful you were.
But all the people I’ve ever deeply admired are profoundly honest about their own weaknesses. They have identified their core sin, whether it is selfishness, the desperate need for approval, cowardice, hardheartedness or whatever. They have traced how that core sin leads to the behavior that makes them feel ashamed. They have achieved a profound humility, which has best been defined as an intense self-awareness from a position of other-centeredness.
David Brooks is not Buddhist but he has articulated a central principle of the Buddha’s teachings: when we speak and act in ways that harm ourselves and others, we create distress in our own hearts. We make inner peace impossible, through shame, regret or other negative feelings.
I’m reminded of the story of the father who gave each of his three sons a chicken and told them to go away and kill the chicken in a place where no one can see. The first two sons killed the chickens. The third son said he couldn’t kill the chicken because wherever he went, the chicken could see. Whenever we commit unwholesome acts, we ourselves know that they are unwholesome, and we feel bad.
Do we know what quality in us is our biggest obstacle to freedom? Can we discover it through observing our interactions with others? If we do know it, what is our relationship to it? Do we feel helpless to mitigate its effects? Or have we developed strategies to acknowledge and correct for it? Have we enlisted the help of trusted friends in working on our central weakness?
On the other side, do we know what our strengths are? What are the qualities that our friends and families most appreciate about us? Are we reliable? Gentle? Truthful? Generous? These qualities live alongside our weaknesses, and may help us to overcome our flaws.