Buddhist Philosophy

Cultivate Humility and Avoid Pride

In our competitive modern lives, we are not often encouraged to cultivate humility. Instead, we are often told that we must “blow our own horn” and tells others about our talents and qualities. In Buddhist teachings, we get a very different message. Buddhist teachers warn us about the negative emotion of pride. In the Mahayana tradition, we talk about the five kleśas (five poisons or disturbing emotions).

Five Poisons

  1. Ignorance
  2. Attachment/Desire
  3. Anger/Aversion
  4. Pride/Arrogance
  5. Envy


Pride: Hidden Troublemaker

The first three of the negative emotions, ignorance, attachment, and anger are usually very obvious to ourselves and to others. But pride can cause us serious trouble that we often do not notice.  For many of us, it remains a hidden troublemaker. We can learn how to examine our thoughts and to change our pride into humility. When we have pride, we believe that we are more important than others, or that our position is superior. And if we hold that perception, we undervalue others. Phakchok Rinpoche here speaks of the opposite quality–humility.

What is the benefit of humility?

Reflect on Success

In this short clip, Phakchok Rinpoche gives direct advice on how to reflect on success. He talks about his own experience with watching projects succeed. It is an important step to take the time to remember all the elements that are involved. Rinpoche explains how he personally reflects on how good things come about based upon the work of many people. When we examine our triumphs, we can understand how much we have benefitted from the help, encouragement, and coaching we received from others. 

Every success in life comes from the contributions of many individuals. We can certainly celebrate good work and achievements, but we can do so at the same time that we remember all those who have helped us. We learn to value teamwork and interdependence, and then we will not become proud.

Rinpoche makes a point that we can take to heart. Consider this statement.

When you’re humble, you don’t hurt much. When you have pride, you hurt a lot.

He warns us that our pride inflates like a large balloon–and we all know what happens when a balloon bursts!

Reflecting on this and the example Rinpoche gives here can be a powerful practice of mindfulness.

Self-reflection Exercise

Think about a recent success in your own life. This could be anything, from finishing a small project to winning an award. Take a few minutes to consider the joy of success.

And then reflect on the many beings who enabled you to complete the task. Consider your parents, teachers, friends, coaches, and even your competitors, who may have spurred you to complete the job at hand. Without them, would you have a success to celebrate? Enjoy some moments mentally thanking your circle of support. Try to include everyone who may have contributed in even a small way to your success. As you extend this feeling of gratitude, how does that make you feel? And if you carry that feeling with you into your daily activities, do you notice any change in your interactions with others?

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Suggested Reading

Dudjom Rinpoche, The Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism, trans. and ed. by Gyurme Dorje and Matthew Kapstein (Boston: Wisdom Publications, 1991), vol. 1, pages 468–474.

Ngawang Zangpo, Guru Rinpoche: His Life and Times, Ithaca: Snow Lion, 2002.

Nyoshul Khenpo, A Marvelous Garland of Rare Gems: Biographies of Masters of Awareness in the Dzogchen Lineage, trans. Richard Barron (Junction City: Padma Publishing, 2005), pages 41–48.

Padmasambhava, Legend of the Great Stupa, Berkeley: Dharma Publishing, 1973

Padmasambhava & Jamgön Kongtrul, The Light of Wisdom, trans. by Erik Pema Kunsang (Boudhanath: Rangjung Yeshe Publications, 1986-1999), pages 43-47 & Appendix 5.

Taranatha, The Life of Padmasambhava, Shang Shung Edizioni, 2005

Tulku Thondup, Masters of Meditation and Miracles, Shambhala, 1996.

Yeshe Tsogyal, Life and Liberation of Padmasambhava, translated by Kenneth Douglas and Gwendolyn Bays (Emeryville: Dharma Publishing, 1978, republished 2008).

Yeshe Tsogyal, Lotus Born: The Life Story of Padmasambhava, Rangjung Yeshe Publications, 2004.

‘The Life of Guru Padmasambhava’ in A Great Treasure of Blessings, The Tertön Sogyal Trust, 2004.