Self-cherishing — thinking that me and my happiness are the most important in the world — is bad news for me and for everyone else. Very bad news.
Beaker unwittingly demonstrates some of the perils of self-cherishing in his rendition of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy:
Self-cherishing not only destroys our chances at any lasting peace or happiness (having already made our lives miserable since beginningless time), but it also directly prevents us from being able to help others have a less miserable life. And this is the case even if we are basically decent and would actually like to help others.
The rubber band of self-cherishing
While we remain tethered and bound by the demonic delusion of self-cherishing, our wishes and attempts to help others will always have an expiry date – we’ll do it for a while, perhaps, but there are obvious built-in limits. Try stretching a rubber band from your thumb as far as you can, and then letting go. Ow! In the same way, we may stretch ourselves with great effort and strain to help other people, but the moment our mindfulness slips our mind snaps back to self-cherishing.
For sure, we rarely admit to being at the center of the universe at polite dinner parties, but it is not hard to figure out that this is exactly how we feel. Who does it feel like the world revolves around, if not me? I and a bunch of strangers were swimming in the ocean the other day and I wondered what I’d think if a shark was approaching. Whose leg would I want the shark to bite off?! If I’m ravenous and there is just one piece of pie left, who gets to eat it? As my teacher says in Eight Steps to Happiness:
Our ordinary view is that we are the centre of the universe and that other people and things derive their significance principally from the way in which they affect us. Our car, for example, is important simply because it is ours, and our friends are important because they make us happy. Strangers, on the other hand, do not seem so important because they do not directly affect our happiness, and if a stranger’s car is damaged or stolen we are not that concerned….
We are a little embarrassed by our self-cherishing in its naked form, so we clothe it in front of others and ourself with all sorts of justifications: “Look, I need my leg more than them because I’m a runner.” “Honestly, I should be the one who has that piece of pie because I’m bigger than everyone else and need the calories more.” Etc etc. You can check any number of everyday examples. Anytime we put ourself and our needs above others, what layer upon layer of excuses are we coming up with?!
When analyzed, my excuses for putting myself above others are exceedingly lame and superficial for they mask the actual truth – the reason I don’t want my leg bitten off is because it is my leg. The reason I want the last piece of pie is because my happiness and freedom from suffering are most important. It just is like that because I’m me.
Who is fighting whom?
Yes, I have work to do! First thing is to realize who the actual enemy is and why, so I can stop being victimized. This very same attitude — nothing and no one else — has caused every single one of my problems while ingratiatingly pretending to be on my side. (You can find out all about its faults and oily, deceptive nature in Eight Steps to Happiness.) This recognition alone takes us an exceedingly long way in the right direction. It also brings us some instant peace of mind.
Geshe Kelsang says:
This self-centered view of the world is based on ignorance and does not correspond to reality.
The self we cherish is the inherently existent self that is apprehended by our self-grasping ignorance.
Important announcement: this self doesn’t exist!!
So what are we doing cherishing it?!!
Self-cherishing is a delusion, which means it is an unpeaceful, uncontrolled mind that arises from inappropriate attention. Its important to remember that self-cherishing, like all our delusions, may be a deep bad habit as we are so darned used to paying inappropriate attention to ourselves, but it is not an integral part of our make-up. It is like a big cloud – it may have swooped down like a black spaceship to block out the sun, but a delusion cloud is always temporary and adventitious, and can never destroy the clear sky of our Buddha nature.
Cherishing others on the other hand arises naturally from a recognition of the truth – that others are kind, that we depend on them for everything, and that cherishing them has countless benefits. Because it is part of reality, it is also part of our Buddha nature. It is far more who we are than the self-deceptive distorted delusion of self-cherishing. We need to remember this or we think we’re fighting ourselves. We’re not. We’re fighting our enemy, and on our side in this battle we have not only our own pure potential but also every single enlightened being. Therefore, we are bound to win.
Do you think there is ever a time when we need self-cherishing? Your comments are most welcome. And please share this article if you like it.
I feel very fortunate to can read your posts LUNA.-Many thanks from a little village in SPAIN.-
how wonderful … i love how connected the world is sometimes 😄
Is that Simon Mace? The guy in the photo with an elastic band. It’s creeping me out that it might be him. Lol.
Ok so obviously selfishness not great and altruism great.
But the Dali Lamma and most Psychology experts agree. That you can’t effectively love others until you love yourself. That focusing on your own happiness 1st isn’t selfish it altruistic because happy people spread and inspire happiness in others far better than folk who put everyone else’s happiness first and inevitably end up neglecting their own. There is always a never ending amount of others to care about and help so if you don’t put your own happiness first you will never get around to it. Again I must emphasise I don’t mean consider anyone’s happiness to be more important than anyone else’s just that one is in a better position to tend to the happiness of others once they have seen to their own. Unhappy people can’t help spreading more unhappiness anymore than a red light bulb can help spreading red light. Wouldn’t you agree?
“We’re fighting our enemy, and on our side in this battle we have not only our own pure potential but also every single enlightened being. Therefore, we are bound to win.”
What stirring, encouraging words; just what I needed to hear right now. Thank you!
I love the Beaker teaching!The self cherishing mind makes me so ridiculous and is the cause of all my problems.Nasty big spoilt child of a mind having embarrassing little tantrums that ruin my own happiness and others happiness big time.Great teaching as always and it certainly applies to me,me,me,me,me.Thank you,Luna.
One of the most beautiful and powerful and succinct dharma nuggets that I ever heard goes something like this: Someone once asked a respected lama to explain the essence of all of Buddhas thousands of teachings in as few words as possible. The lama said: “No self, no problem”.
I love succinctness. I don’t think it could be done in fewer words. Does anyone else think it could be more succinct?
I love that!!! Genius. I am so going to remember it.
Geshe Kelsang once said the entire Buddhadharma could be summed up by HUM PHAT!! However, that requires rather more commentary 😉
In the human realm, self-cherishing seems to be a baton thrown to me from me (as a previous other). I can imagine that I stop passing the baton, and all my futures will have minds that cherish all living beings?
Stop passing the baton of self-cherishing from each of our lives to the next — nice analogy!
Yes, the illusory baton passed from the illusory me of one illusory moment to the illusory me of the next illusory moment …… How psychotic we are! Geshe Kelsang once said of Manjushri Centre……… “This is a mental hospital!”. How true!
Undoing ‘self cherishing’ of which we are all part, via a mother, father, foster family, or, just learning to survive without any of the afore mentioned, takes great mindful effort every moment of our lives since enlightenment as to ‘what it is,’ came via Geshle-la. Think on those who through no fault of their own, have not had the good fortune to be made aware of what it means to ‘self cherish.’ With mindfulness, of which i believe every living being born into this World has, a time will come, when thought arises, ‘wonder how many monks it takes to change a light bulb?’ ‘None, the light bulb must change from within!’ So for those who now have just a small light within, it is our mindful duty at all times, to not hold back, but let it shine.
i enjoy so much your articles ,
i like when you say: ” thinking that me and my happiness are the most important in the world – is bad news for me and for everyone else.”
I remember when i was the protagonist of the ” pie story”
that selfish mind made me have such a bad time…while the line of
persons at starbucks in front of me were passing…i felt terrible
thinking …”please don´t ask for the last carrot cake! is got to be mine!!”
of course it was not…someone who was in front of me took it..!
all the afternoon i felt bad and in a bad mood…
how different that would have been if i had cherish and consider everyone on that line …!
by imagining that the cake was reached for all and especially to one that will become happier
eating it…that would have been much more fun and certainly ,i would have had a great time.
I am sure we need that self -cherishing….just to recognize it and destroy it forever…!
I think for many years of not understanding the nature of self cherishing, I could have argued there would be times that self cherishing is needed. As wisdom increases it is so clear, its a delusion! With time and blessings this gets clearer and clearer. Great post as always! thanks so much.
What a wonderful post!! I am blessed to be both a student and to teach a Kadampa meditation class. I use the pie analogy, and when it is Girl Scout cookie time, I use Thin Mint:) I am now going to use the shark because that is GREAT!
When I share the teaching on self cherishing, I ask the other students “What is more important, saving the lives of 10 or the life of one? They all agree that saving the lives of 10 is more important, until I say “What if that one person was you?”
I remember the first time my teacher asked our class this. Boy was it uncomfortable. I did not even know what self cherishing was. This analogy made it crystal clear to me. If you are that “one” you suddenly think saving the “one” is MUCH more important!!!
We are so fortunate to have Geshe-la and Kadam Dharma. I love to share it, and don’t know what I would do without it.