Two major traps on the spiritual path are the feelings of Pride and Guilt. Both are feelings that separate us from others and the truth.
Both pride and guilt are results of a lack of understanding of our basic spiritual nature. When we compare our body or personality to others’, It is like saying that I am worth more than another person because my car is newer faster than his. Or it is like saying that since my stereo is smaller, less powerful than the others, that I am not as worthy. Or that because my clothing is less attractive than the other’s that I have less value. Because we are ignorant of our real nature, we value ourselves and others in terms of the superficial factors relating to our bodies and minds. The result is either pride, guilt, or unworthiness.
TWO KINDS OF AFFIRMATION
Not being sure of our innate worthiness, we seek two types of affirmation. The one is absolute affirmation in reference to ourselves and our actions. We wonder if we are okay, good, worthy of love and acceptance by others or by God. The second is comparative affirmation in which we seek to know how our worth compares to those around us. This is the great mistake. In the first type of affirmation our basic requirements for feeling worthy will be whether or not our life coincides with our conscience. This is useful both for our personal evolution and for our social harmony.
The second type of affirmation does not give importance to whether I am in harmony with my conscience, but how I appear in relationship with others. This is the cause of many of our social problems and injustices. It causes men to ruthlessly seek advancement over others, regardless of the consequences for the others.
There is little possibility of unity with this type of competitive thinking. Either I will feel better than the others and thus reject them, closing myself into a small circle of people «worthy» of my friendship, or I will conclude that I am lesser than others, in which case I will be filled with feelings of inferiority or guilt and will reject myself, and again close myself off from others. In both cases the result will be an increased identification with the ego and separation from others. This is exactly the opposite result as that which we desire in our spiritual evolution.
HOW WE MEASURE OUR WORTHINESS
How do we measure our worthiness? Each person has been programmed in his early years, through the examples and messages from parents and teachers as well as siblings and peers, to measure his self-worth in specific ways, based on different factors.
He may measure his worth by how much money he has, how many belongings, houses, lands, cars he has, into what social class he was born, whether he knows more than those around him, how many degrees he has, how high a position he has, how many people he directs, how many abilities he has, how handsome or pretty he or she is, what kind of clothing he wears, how many people know him, how successful he is at work, whether or not he makes mistakes, how clean his or her house is, how often he goes to church or receives holy communion, how often he meditates, how many years he is a vegetarian, whether or not his spiritual teacher shows him attention or not, how many spiritual books he has read, how many spiritual powers he has, what experiences he has in meditation, and a wide variety of other factors.
The game of who is better can be played at all levels and in all situations. It is a game which even spiritual teachers have difficulty getting free from. It is one of the greatest traps on the spiritual path. The cause is ignorance of our real nature. Ignorance of the fact that we are all equally worthy children of God, and that nothing that we do will make God love us more or less.
With our actions we increase our capability to express the wonderful things which we have innate within us, but we do not increase our value, our worthiness to be loved. The greatest sinner is equally worthy of being loved as is the greatest saint.
GUILT PERPETUATES ITSELF
The sad thing about feeling guilty is that it makes one more likely to recommit the same mistake for which he feels guilty. We see this phenomenon in many aspects of life. If your clothing is dirty, you don’t mind dirtying them more. If they are clean then you don’t want to have contact with dirt. After fasting, one is less likely to want to put some toxic food in his body. But if he has accustomed his body to toxic foods then he feels quite comfortable eating them. After one has taken a shower, one does not like to come in contact with dirty things. After confession and holy communion, one is feeling better about himself and is less likely to want to do something which, he believes, will remove him from the state of Grace.
Thus it is quite clear that feeling pure leads to pure acts, and that feeling impure leads to impure acts. An over emphasis on sin is not constructive. There should be more emphasis on love, on our unity, on our goodness, and on our divine immortal nature which is always in contact with God, independent of what our bodies or minds might be doing.
A feeling of guilt may be useful occasionally as a stimulus for correcting our behavior so that it is more in line with the universal laws of nature such as «do to others as you would like others to do to you». But it is quite useless to feel continually that one is a sinner and unworthy of God’s love. This leads us either into rejecting ourselves and falling deeper into «sin», or into a robot state in which we do whatever is «right» out of fear of punishment from a wrathful God. If you were God would you rather prefer people obey you out of fear or out of love for you?
CAUSES OF PRIDE AND GUILT
There are a variety of factors in our lives which cause us to get locked into the game of evaluating ourselves in relationship with others. Let us look at some of them with the hope that if we see them we may be able to free ourselves from them.
1. Some families program their children to believe that they are better than other families, and that they must not associate with children from poorer or socially lower families. Other families may program their children to believe that, as a family, they are lower in status than others and that they are not worthy of contact with others. A family may also cause a particular child to believe that it is better or lesser than other children. These beliefs and attitudes will follow the child into his adult years, and until death, unless he becomes aware and changes them.
2. Others are programmed to believe that they must be better than others, or perfect, in order to be worthy of their parents’ love. It is easy for parents to give this impression, when they often compare their children with other children, and push a child so that he will do better than his school mates. A child can get the impression that he will be acceptable in life only if he achieves more than those around him.
This may have two possible effects on the child. He may react by becoming very capable and aggressive in society, seeking continually to prove to everyone that he is better than others and thus worthy. He will likely accumulate various prestige symbols, like money, cars, houses, clothing etc.Ζ so as to verify his worth. Another possible reaction is for the child to reject the whole effort and accept that he is not worthy and incapable and begin to undermine his own success in life. He drops out of the game of life and often gets into self-destructive habits such as alcoholism or narcotics etc.Ζ Or a third possibility would be to reject the system all together and create a life style in which he does not have to compete for acceptance and feelings of worthiness.
THE RESULTS OF PRIDE AND GUILT
The emotions of pride and guild create many problems in our lives. Some of them are:
1. A greater feeling of separateness between people, either because we feel that others are not worthy, or because we feel that we ourselves are not worthy. There is no feeling of equality. When the truth is known the prime minister will feel comfortable spending the evening with the common citizen, and the common citizen will feel equally comfortable with the prime minister because both will realize that we are all souls of equal worth, who are playing various roles on earth in order to learn various lessons.
2. This leads to greater loneliness among people. We do not feel that we can open ourselves to others and be accepted and cared for.
3. Competition rather than cooperation is increased. This competition creates a lack of cooperation, and thus a lack of harmonious functioning in most work situations.
4. Non-acceptance of ourselves leads to jealousy and envy towards others, which leads to negative thoughts and wishes for others.
5. We tend to give more importance to how we appear to others rather than how they feel inside. We live our lives in such a way as to create a good image for the others, rather than be true to ourselves. This may cause us to waste our lives, doing what we think others want us to do in order to accept us. We never do what we really want to do.
6. We may even destroy our health, chasing after what we believe we must have, or must achieve, in order to be acceptable and lovable.
7. All our energy is locked into the first three centers of consciousness as we search futility for security, pleasure and affirmation from the outside world.
8. We cannot really love, because our needs for affirmation put us in a position where we need to take and cannot give without conditions. Our concern about how others see us will become an obstacle to our loving them without conditions.
9. No energy will be left for employment of disciplines necessary for spiritual growth. The mind will be too bound to the appearance of things rather than to the depths where the spiritual truths are.
Let us now discuss some ways in which we can free ourselves from these traps of pride and guilt.
1. We can understand our real nature which is independent of the body and mind. We can understand that our bodies and minds will never be perfect, and that we are acceptable and lovable just as we are, even if we are not perfect, since we are in a state of evolution. Something in the process of evolution by definition is not perfect. Thus we are not perfect and yet acceptable and lovable and secure. We are beyond good and bad.
2. Realize that guilt is as much a concentration on the ego as pride. Both cause identification with the body and personality.
3. We can realize that we are the temples of God, that we are divine in nature, children of God, pure in the center of our beings.
4. We can realize that differences we see in people around us is not a matter of basic worth. Each in the center of his being has the same worth, and deserves love and respect from all other beings. The differences are in the instruments of expression. We are like the electrical current. We can express ourselves through a wide variety of electrical appliances. Some are of better quality than others, some light bulbs shine more power than others, but the current is the same. Some vacuum cleaners do a better job than others, some stereos give a higher quality sound than others; but the quality of the current which flows through all these is the same.
When we identify with the electrical current which is one and the same in all instruments, then we realize the truth and are free from this way of thinking. We will accept and love ourselves and others exactly as we are, knowing that our vehicles (body and mind) are in a state of improving themselves, but that does not change our inherent value. In such a case we will be able to understand that others are also in a process of evolution and that the mistakes that they make, and their negative behavior, are a functioning of their lack of spiritual maturity. They are learning from what they are doing. Our understanding and compassion will help them. The same compassion towards ourselves will be very helpful to our own selves.
5. We can let go of focusing on results as a measure of our worthiness. Results are not a function of our efforts only. There are many other factors. We have experienced the truth that some very capable people make wonderful dedicated efforts, which fail, and others make seeming half hearted efforts and succeed. There are other forces involved in every result. Thus we would be better off evaluating ourselves in terms of our motives and efforts rather than the results. Have we tried the best we can? Are our motives pure? Those are more important questions.
6. We can repeat phrases which put us in unity with others and God, such as «I am good, pure and worthy of God’s love». «I am pure and innocent child of God». «I and all others are equal souls in a process of evolution». «I am good and worthy of everyone’s love». «I love everyone unconditionally – including myself».
There is a great difference between pride and acknowledgement of one’s innate power and ability. I can recognise that I am wonderful, beautiful and worthy without feeling that I am better than others, or that they are not worthy of my company. There is also a difference between humility and guilt. I can feel humility before the incredible forces of the universe without feeling guilt, or unworthy of contact with them or others.
I encourage us all to accept ourselves and all the others as we are, and open our hearts to all people, independent of their social-economic status or what they have done or not done in their lives. All are manifestations of the one God and deserve our love, as we deserve theirs.