Who ARE we?!

Have you ever wondered this …?!


Well, who are you? (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)
I really wanna know (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)

It is a good thing to figure out as our sense of self dominates our entire life and everything we do.

We are, by and large, who we think we are. Because we don’t exist from our own side, but are merely a projection of mind — the object of a thought, a notion or collection of notions – with training we can change into whatever we want to be.

However, this will only happen if we first stop buying into our own and others’ superficial and generally wildly inaccurate stories about us.

The other day, I was talking with a teenage girl who is beautiful and intelligent, but try telling her that (!) for she also has a very low sense of self-worth. She is not alone in hating herself, a lot of people do it, and in particular it is a common reaction to being put down, over-teased, criticized, or bullied. We can end up believing what deluded people say to us, take it on as the truth about who we actually are. (This can even be the case when we know we are being falsely accused of something; just through the force of others gossiping about it we can end up feeling less worthy.) Then even if those who love us and know us best say how beautiful we are, etc., we don’t believe it. As a result, we find it inordinately hard to get our act together. We may even engage in crazy self-sabotage or self-destructive behaviors, which in turn make us feel even more substandard and worthless.fun house mirror reflection of our own mind

I think most of us do this — self-sabotage in some way — to a greater or lesser extent, at least at times, holding ourselves back from happiness and progress. Have you ever been in a situation where you’ve noticed that someone really doesn’t like you, for example? And perhaps they are spreading the word?! And, even if you are generally quite self-confident, this time it gets to you and undermines your effort? It discourages you?

We need to find a way not to be influenced by others’ opinions of us. See if this technique helps.

Who are they really looking at anyway?

If we understand that we all suffer from delusions based on self-grasping ignorance, and that the world is a reflection of our own minds, we can understand that we are all currently moreorless in our own worlds. When people look at us in a certain way, what are they really looking at?

A mirror.

This can be very helpful to visualize. Next time you are in the presence of someone who doesn’t like you, imagine they are looking into a mirror and not actually looking at you. Do this whenever you think of them thinking of you. They are seeing the distorted appearances arising from their own delusions, their own baggage, bouncing back on themselves, harming them more than you. The chances are that the pattern in the mirror is quite familiar to them at other times too, when they think they are looking at other people. They are themselves locked up in their own un-fun house of mirrors, which are reflecting back their painful anger, hurt, and lack of self-confidence. Understanding this, you can disregard what they are seeing as not having anything to do with who you actually are. You need not rise verbally or mentally to what they say. Let it die down.

Wiping the projector

what do cats thinkWhen people say hurtful things to or about us, it is of course also an effect of our own past karmic actions of saying unkind things to or about others. We can cleanse the grimy obscurations from our own karmic projector as well, and one powerful way to do this is to learn to look at our detractors with love and understanding instead of dislike. (This is not the same as being unnaturally nice or polite to them out of the wish to please or out of fear of their potential anger, which makes us feel and act even more like a helpless victim – the love we develop and express has to be genuine, self-confident, and strong.)

I’m Starting With The Man In
The Mirror
I’m Asking Him To Change
His Ways

Once we are feeling more confident and loving, and have our mojo back, we can also check to see if any crticisms they are leveling at us have any validity — in which case, if they are pointing out a fault we may actually have, we can take steps to remove it, but without identifying ourselves with it. (See these articles on how to deal with criticism.)

(Also, of course, it’s worth pointing out that sometimes that person likes us just fine, or at least more than we think they do, and we are projecting dislike onto them because we already feel dislikeable, in a vicious spiral. Something to watch out for.)

Tara reflecting on usWho are we? We can relate to ourselves as our pure potential for happiness, goodness, and change, where our faults and delusions are temporary and not us, like silt temporarily obscuring the purity and clarity of water – that view is far closer to reality. We can stop relating to ourselves as others’ version of us, unless it is a Buddha’s version of us!

(By the way, at the other end of the spectrum, if we believe others over-the-top praise and hype about us, we can end up proud and limit ourselves in that way as well. We need to come to know our own minds and capabilities and faults, and believe in our own potential to cleanse our perceptions and change completely.)

This article is part of an occasional series about overcoming discouragement. More later.

Over to you: in what ways do you stay self-confident?

Author: Luna Kadampa

Based on 40 years' experience, I write about applying meditation and modern Buddhism to improve and transform our everyday lives and societies. I try to make it accessible to everyone anywhere who wants more inner peace and profound tools to help our world, not just Buddhists. Do make comments any time and I'll write you back!

23 thoughts on “Who ARE we?!”

  1. I’ve found that looking at myself from an outside viewpoint really helps to keep me humble and confident, as well as making it much easier to spot inappropriate states of mind and actions that I might be doing/about to do. Being one step removed in this way gives me space to reflect and change, and also reminds me I’m not the only one with whatever I’m dealing with at the time! 🙂

  2. Thank you so much for another inspiring article Luna,
    I stay self-confident by thinking how wonderful it will be when we are all enlightened and we are not suffering.This thought motivates me to want to change what is appearing to myself and other precious mother living beings.Those of us whom are suffering are suffering because we have negative conceptions,thoughts and feelings about ourselves,other precious mother living beings and phenomena.

    1. That is really nice. It is so true, we only suffer due to mistaken conceptions and appearances. It’ll be incredible when we get rid of our own and can help others get rid of theirs. Thank you.

  3. I had forgotten I had read this article, and read it as though for the first time. There is so much work to do , it seems. I have read your advice a number of times, to identify with our pure potential, but that seems so hard to do. Is there an easy starting point for this Luna?

    1. Pain might be a starting point — do we want to keep feeling sad and discouraged? Believe in the alternative and go there for refuge.

          1. I love Elephants too Luna lol 🙂 oh yes lol the churchihill dog comes to mind lol oh yes, you have to laugh at the events unfolding in your life, embrace every moment and above all SMILE 😉

  4. Potent purification practice at the end of the day, in my mind, is key to supreme inner confidence. With such a raw honesty there can be no self deception. Evaluating oneself, inwardly, in a space of refuge and love, awareness of our own faults is ok whilst having a determination to get better is vital. Learning to do this over and over and understanding that the ‘thoughts of others’ are actually impermanent specks that do not perceive our entire self is also something of great value. There are many angles to look at attachment to reputation, pride and insecurity; some buddhists refer to this as the Bermuda Triangle, where our sense of who we really are is lost within these points of distortion. An understanding of praise and the measurements we mentally impute upon ourself are usually soaked in worldly concern. So purification again is key to seeing oneself as pure.

  5. I love this article it explains so much about how we see others and how to solve these delusions. Thanks 🙂 I wish I had this with me all the time to remember how to see clearly and how to not react negatively. I usually try to think of them as my kind mothers, this helps but what your suggesting helps so much more.

    1. It does seem to work every time. I’m glad you like it.

      Once we’re no longer freaked out by them, we can also view them as our kind mother, and love them.

  6. Love the animated picture! The mirror analogy was very useful, when a thought arose in my head , about asking someone a question, “oh they will just think I’m stupid”, the mirror popped to mind and i realised that :
    1) That thought was just my own mind mirrored, not theirs
    2) If they did think I was stupid that would be a reflection of their mind.
    So in fact none of it mattered one way or another! Thank you.

  7. Luna, I thank you for your lucid insights into how we can apply our Dharma understanding to increase our wisdom, compassion and spiritual power.

Leave a Reply