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Self Cherishing - is this the root of all our troubles?

We have a line in A.A. literature which goes:
Selfishness - self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles.
And I'm sure I've read in some Buddhist book that 'Self cherishing is the root of all our troubles', which sounds pretty much like the same thing to me.

Now, I fully agree with this; I've actually investigated all my 'troubles' from my past through a 12 Step program; and yep, my self centredness led to selfishness which led to lots of trouble for me. It's very apparent that when I make my happiness more important than everyone else's that I end up miserable.

But do we ever suffer with problems that don't have their roots in self cherishing? I've read a few posts here over the years about people who suffer at the suffering of all sentient beings; is that self cherishing?

Thoughts?
42bodhiVastmindcvalue

Comments

  • Tosh said:

    We have a line in A.A. literature which goes:

    Selfishness - self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles.
    And I'm sure I've read in some Buddhist book that 'Self cherishing is the root of all our troubles', which sounds pretty much like the same thing to me.

    Now, I fully agree with this; I've actually investigated all my 'troubles' from my past through a 12 Step program; and yep, my self centredness led to selfishness which led to lots of trouble for me. It's very apparent that when I make my happiness more important than everyone else's that I end up miserable.

    But do we ever suffer with problems that don't have their roots in self cherishing? I've read a few posts here over the years about people who suffer at the suffering of all sentient beings; is that self cherishing?

    Thoughts?

    Well, I guess it depends on how abstract you want to get with the idea of self cherishing... I know people that consistently allow themselves to be abused by people, constantly putting themselves is situations where they know others can take advantage and will...and they suffer badly for it. I guess if you really dug deep you could see that as a sort of selfishness. I know that doesn't directly address the question in your post, just thought I'd throw it out there
    ToshAllbuddhaBound
  • genkakugenkaku Northampton, Mass. U.S.A. Veteran
    I've read a few posts here over the years about people who suffer at the suffering of all sentient beings; is that self cherishing?
    @Tosh -- Mostly, I think, it is ... a grand and important way to sidestep and redirect and avoid (ever so humbly) the hard work involved in investigating and clarifying the suffering on the plate that is in front of us. Mostly, it sounds good but it won't wash.

    It is said that Gautama looked into the future and wept at what he saw there, but it is also said that he looked through an enlightened eye. Better to focus on the enlightenment, I imagine, and weep when the eye is less clouded by 'self cherishing.'

    Just my take.
    howToshAllbuddhaBoundJeffrey
  • @genkaku
    Awesome redirect.
  • Yes, reducing clinging to the ego will bring great happiness.

    There are thoughts that also state that one should not take this too far, though. One should change one's attitude but still remain natural.

    I had a period of my life where I felt like a "will trapped in a body". It took a while to realize that at heart, one of the many ways to express the self is just to call it an organism. To accept that it's okay to just roam the earth as an animal.

    Thank you for the teaching.
    Jeffrey
  • zenffzenff Veteran
    edited September 2013
    @Tosh,
    I've read a few posts here over the years about people who suffer at the suffering of all sentient beings
    “Wisdom is knowing I am nothing,
    Love is knowing I am everything,
    and between the two my life moves.”
    ― Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj
    Part of the story –imho – is something maybe best described as “transcending”.

    In absolute truth there is nothing. Even using the word “nothing” is entering the realm of delusion.
    In relative truth there is me and others, and life and death, and various ways of relating to them.
    In my understanding we have to find a way of realizing this absolute “nothing” and let it “transcend” our perception of the relative world of “everything”.
    In this process our hearts can open.
    Maybe it takes this realization to really be able to do that. We need to see there’s nothing before we can admit to being everything.

    This process of “transcending” is what makes practice and compassion not a duty, or a burden on our lives, but a natural flowing thing.
  • lobster said:


    Have you forgiven yourself yet Tosh?

    Ah, you're inferring stuff that isn't there. The motivation for posting isn't guilt, it's probably self-cherishing in another way. I'm having a discussion with an A.A. sponsee and he's adamant that not all of his problems are due to his self centredness.

    He cites as an example the worry he felt over his Mother's operation; even though he ended up drinking over it; he doesn't see this as being self centred. I did point out that he wouldn't have worried to the point of drinking if my mother was having an operation.

    But after a discussion with him, I thought it would be a good discussion here.

    As for guilt, no - regret yes - but that's not a bad thing. Regret is a good reminder not to behave like I used to behave.
    lobster
  • zenffzenff Veteran
    edited September 2013
    A guy should be allowed to love his mother without having to punish himself for being self-cherishing.
    Are you AA people too hard on yourself maybe?

    The emotion is okay; turning it into a good reason for drinking sounds more like the problem.
    AllbuddhaBoundMaryAnne
  • AllbuddhaBoundAllbuddhaBound Veteran
    edited September 2013


    As for guilt, no - regret yes - but that's not a bad thing.
    But it does sound like an awful lot of guilt and shame. As mentioned earlier, the root of a lot of suffering can be guilt, shame or a sense of being less than others. Kids who have no sense of self worth, will often try to "please people" and as a consequence, get into drugs or other self destructive behavior.

    Addictions appear to be more self destruction and running away from problems than selfishness. If a person was really considering themselves, they would not be destroying their life the way they are.

    The middle way, is not a sense of self importance, or a sense of guilt and shame. Equality would mean that a person consider themselves as much as they consider other people. No more, no less. Our society tends to rely on guilt and shame quite a bit to correct behavior when compassion or understanding is far more effective.

    MaryAnnequietmaths
  • zenff said:

    A guy should be allowed to love his mother without having to punish himself for being self-cherishing.
    Are you AA people too hard on yourself maybe?

    The emotion is okay; turning it into a good reason for drinking sounds more like the problem.

    The Buddhist definition of 'love' is wanting the other person to be happy. When he drank, he was self cherishing; he definitely did not drink to make his mother (who was also married to an alcoholic who committed suicide) happy.

    He drank to change the way he felt; if that's not self cherishing, I don't know what is.
    MaryAnnelobster
  • MaryAnneMaryAnne Veteran
    edited September 2013
    I agree with your assessment above, @Tosh, but right from the get-go and title of this thread, I hesitated to use the term "self cherishing".

    To me, cherishing means to treat something or someone/yourself with respect and love. Self-destructive behaviors like excessive drinking or drugging isn't self 'cherishing' -- it's self-soothing. It's self-coddling. It's selfishness and an excuse for self-destruction. To me, that's sooo different than self-cherishing.

    There is also a difference between compassion and excuse making. We as Buddhists are told to practice compassion for ourselves as well as others. But too often that is taken to mean making excuses or excusing bad behavior, thoughts, etc. Compassion is about understanding the origins of actions and behaviors- and dealing with them. Not about blind forgiveness or excuses.

    Dandelionlobster
  • He cites as an example the worry he felt over his Mother's operation; even though he ended up drinking over it; he doesn't see this as being self centred. I did point out that he wouldn't have worried to the point of drinking if my mother was having an operation.
    @Tosh
    You appeared to be saying that it is self-cherishing to be upset about the well being of one’s mother.
    Obviously it isn’t. The emotion is okay. It’s just not smart to use it as the excuse of the day for having your drinks.
    Drunks can think of all sorts of excuses for having a drink. When they run out of excuses one day; that will be the excuse of the day.
    MaryAnne
  • ToshTosh Veteran
    edited September 2013
    zenff said:


    Drunks can think of all sorts of excuses for having a drink. When they run out of excuses one day; that will be the excuse of the day.

    @zenff

    Reminds me of a light bulb joke:

    "How many alcoholics does it take to change a light bulb?

    *()&*%&* leave me alone. The light bulb is fine the way it is. But your constant complaining about he dark has made me want to drink. "

    So given the situation with this alkies mother, at what point does worrying about her turn into self centredness?

    "Poor mum, poor mum, pour me a drink!"
  • AllbuddhaBoundAllbuddhaBound Veteran
    edited September 2013
    But feeling sorry for yourself is a form of self-loathing as well as an excuse for self-indulgence. The outcome is harm and destruction. We know that is where it leads, but it just doesn't matter. When we consider self destruction, we do so lamenting "who cares anyway, I am not good enough to care about."

    If we TRULY care about ourselves, we would never allow ourselves to get into the predicaments alcoholism gets us into. It is just too painful.

    This willingness to punish ourselves, comes from the shame of being worthless. I would think that people who are willing to see themselves corrupted, there life decimated, harm to all of their friends and family would be doing so more out of self loathing than wanting to feel good.



    Glow
  • GlowGlow Veteran
    edited September 2013
    I am not familiar with the term "self-cherishing", although I've heard it bandied about here from time to time. It is best to treat any teaching you come across as a heuristic, rather than an ontological truth. By that, I mean that the ultimate criteria for any teaching is: "Is this helpful?" It is very difficult to prove or disprove an idea like "Self cherishing is the root of all our troubles" because you can play all sorts of interpretive mental dances to justify this claim one way or another. But it's important to realize that that's exactly what you're doing: you are engaging in an explanatory gesture, actively creating an explanation out of the field of experience and behavior, which can be parsed and interpreted any number of ways. It is important to hold ourselves accountable for the way in which we interpret our realities because the act of interpreting can be either helpful or counterproductive. Sometimes it's better not to even interpret: rather, our job is simply to accept what happened, leave it in the past, and move on and act in a more skillful way.

    Is parsing your experience through the lens of this "self-cherishing" concept helpful for you? If so, use it, by all means. But it may or may not be skillful to force this particular interpretation on others in your A.A. group. You don't know what network of self-concepts this person has. He or she may be able to leverage some workability of his situation through the angle of "self-cherishing", or he may not. You may, in fact, compound preexisting issues of shame or guilt as @zenff and @AllbuddhaBound (hello, old friend!) mentioned. You'll need to gauge the skillfulness of your speech and interpretation by what effect it produces.

    ToshAllbuddhaBound
  • All I know is the more time I spend thinking of other people, the less time I have to think of myself. And when this happens, everything just seems better.
    Toshlobster
  • You just need to catch self-cherishing as merely a passing thought. That will disempower the mandala of self-cherishing. As you strengthen your practice mandala then 'messengers' from that mandala will tell you when the self-cherishing mandala is blooming and you can just return to square one. Let the mandala of self-cherishing be but again just notice it is a passing thought.
  • Also Bodhicitta is deep within all of our self-cherishing. The problem is that it is distorted by doubt, agitation etc... Self-cherishing is also just a view. The tactics are: know that you must skilfully leave samsara ie regret, make actions to create good karma, (one i forget), and take refuge in the dharma to lead you across the shore of delusion and hate etc..

    Like a moon rising from behind a cloud so to is a person who overcomes bad actions.

    But if we look inside all of our thoughts it is made by bodhicitta, but gets distorted. You don't have to fix the thought you just need to notice that it is just a thought.
    lobsterAllbuddhaBound
  • BunksBunks Australia Veteran
    Was it Shantideva who said:

    "All happiness in this world comes from cherishing others while all suffering comes from cherishing ourselves"?
    Tosh
  • @Bunks, yes. Clever bloke that Shantideva.
  • Just watched and enjoyed this google talk and Q and A with Zen Master Bernie Glassman


    The idea is to extend the sense of self
    http://zenpeacemakers.org/

    In other words to 'cherish' the self in other or to put it better way, to break down the sense of separation by socially engaged 'karma dharma'.

    I feel it is more in alignment with much of the Western mindset.


    :clap:
  • AllbuddhaBoundAllbuddhaBound Veteran
    edited September 2013
    I don't mean to engage in a battle of the quotes, but I know no other way to get the point across.

    “You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection”
    ― Gautama Buddha

    Does cherishing self mean love and affection? Perhaps cherishing self has something to do with putting ones self above others, but to love self, means to forgive mistakes and let them go. When we live with an attitude that continually criticizes self, we do ourselves no favors. When we are forgiving, when we treat ourselves with respect, when we only have our best outcome at heart, when we wish for only the very best from ourselves, we are then being a loving person.

    Perhaps that is the distinction. When we engage in self destructive behavior, it is anything but loving. It is self-hating more than anything.

    I think of a child who lives in a world where they are reminded of their mistakes constantly. Versus one who is encouraged to forgive their past mistakes and go forward with confidence. I believe the second child is more likely to succeed than the first.

    gracelee
  • Perhaps that is the distinction. When we engage in self destructive behavior, it is anything but loving. It is self-hating more than anything.
    This sort of toddler mentality. Me, mine, I want it, explains why they have tantrums so much . . . Poor little suffering humans. ;)
    As we mature we cherish and value ourselves. Doormat, new age, fluffy bunny, spirituality is actually demeaning and destructive . . .

    It is also important to realize that some people are by socialization and life experience kind and empathic To express this is natural to them and no great achievement.
    It is the individual who overcomes their nature to be more than what is thought possible that we admire so much . . . :wave:
    AllbuddhaBound
  • edited September 2013
    We just have to try and walk a straight line, as in not to care too much or too little. It's when we veer too far off course that we don't realize we are the cause of our confusion.
    ToshGlowAllbuddhaBound
  • GlowGlow Veteran
    edited September 2013


    “You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection”
    ― Gautama Buddha

    I've always liked this quote. Recently, I was listening to a dharma talk by Heather Sundberg (wonderful teacher), and she actually made the point that that quote is actually the first half of a complete whole. This is the original:
    Though in thought we range throughout the world,
    We'll nowhere find a thing more dear than self.
    So, since others hold the self so dear,
    He who loves himself should injure none.
    Source: Mallikaa Sutta

    It's essentially the Buddhist incarnation of the Golden Rule, in the same vein as Matthew 7:12 in the New Testament (" Do to others as you would have them do to you.") The Buddha is here using one's relationship towards oneself as the blueprint or guide to how to relate to others. This is a very rich area for study. The path of awakening is uncompromising honesty about what is going on in our thoughts and actions. Yet, it's far more effective when the precursor to that honesty is kindness, rather than judgment. When we approach our mind-bodies with harshness, we end up closing off entire parts of our consciousness. It's a very subtle process and it can take hours, days, weeks, months, or even years before we even realize we've been walling off, repressing, or ignoring. And this is the very opposite of clear-seeing. Self-sacrifice can often be a coverup for our own selfishness. It can devolve into spiritual materialism. We can also often blind ourselves to the reality of others because they cease to be real to us once we start ignoring ourselves: they become a projection of our own minds, or an object on whom we can hang our hopes of perfection or Buddhahood. We have a Middle Way between callous selfishness and martyr syndrome; between indulgence and blindness. When we approach our own thoughts, feelings, and actions with kindness and open-heartedness, we have a much better chance of touching the "realness" of others.

    Maybe Pema Chodron can explain it better than I can:
    When we start to meditate or work with any kind of spiritual discipline, we often think that somehow we’re going to improve, which is a subtle aggression against who we really are. It’s a bit like saying, “If I jog, I’ll be a much better person.” “If I had a nicer house, I’d be a better person.” “If I could meditate and calm down, I’d be a better person.” Or the scenario may be that we find fault with others. We migh say, “If it weren’t for my partner, I’d have the perfect marriage.” ”If it weren’t for the fact that my boss and I can’t get on, my job would be just great.” And, if it weren’t for my mind, my meditation would be excellent.

    But loving-kindness – maitri – toward ourselves doesnt mean getting rid of anything. Maitri means that we can still be crazy, we can still be angry. We can still be timid and full of feelings of unworthiness. Meditation practice isn’t about trying to throw ourselves away and become something better. It’s about befriending who we are already. The ground of practice is you or me or whoever we are right now, just as we are. That’s what we come to know with tremendous curiosity and interest.

    Curiosity involves being gentle, precise, open – actually being able to let go and open. Gentleness is a sense of goodheartedness toward ourselves. Precision is being able to see clearly, seeing what’s really there. Openness is being able to let go, and open. When you come to have this kind of honesty, gentleness, and good-heartedness, combined with clarity about yourself, there’s no obstacle to feeling loving kindness for yourself, and others as well.
    AllbuddhaBoundlobsterJeffrey
  • well said!! @allbuddhabound
    Does cherishing self mean love and affection? Perhaps cherishing self has something to do with putting ones self above others, but to love self, means to forgive mistakes and let them go. When we live with an attitude that continually criticizes self, we do ourselves no favors. When we are forgiving, when we treat ourselves with respect, when we only have our best outcome at heart, when we wish for only the very best from ourselves, we are then being a loving person.
    the reason most people don't drink or abuse themselves is because they love and value themselves. in order to progress along the spritual path(or any path) you have to have enough confidence and self acceptance to maintain practice, if you do not love yourself and are highly critical of self you won't do this. of course the end goal is to help others but without a healthy measure of self love and acceptance you will not be able to help anyone. I was in a 12 step program and struggled with the concept of "defects of character" such as fear, self centredness, jealousy etc when a was disturbed by any event in my life I would have to write it down along with which character defect had caused it. as someone who has had a very negative self concept being told that I was being selfish and defective all the time was not helpful... I needed to see what I do well and in what Ways I am valuable and worthy. I am not advocating self- pity, victimhood and excuses but for some a little dose of self cherishing is needed.

    I am also not dissing 12 step program... for some they are life saving! some people need to see that they cannot blame everyone and everything (except themselves) for their problems.

    my experience of doing metta for myself and learning to love and value myself has been the most healing experience and I feel I am more able to give to others now that I am not so caught up in my suffering.

    I'm confuddled... do you think that self hate or self acceptance/love is self cherishing or both???

    I have a headache

    goodbye
    AllbuddhaBoundJeffrey
  • ToshTosh Veteran
    edited September 2013
    gracelee said:


    my experience of doing metta for myself and learning to love and value myself has been the most healing experience and I feel I am more able to give to others now that I am not so caught up in my suffering.

    The only way I've been able to change my self concept into a worthwhile human being is by actually following the 12 Step program and helping other alcoholics to recover.

    If someone suffers with low self-esteem, the best way (in my experience) to increase it is by practising compassion for others; which is where the emphasis is placed in the A.A. 12 Step program.

    A.A. started with one drunk helping another and finding that this practise kept him sober.

    It's about taking the emphasis off our self centred selves and placing it on other people. I can't imagine suggesting to a newly sober alkie to practise some metta meditation; "Yes, just sit somewhere quietly, close your eyes, and wish love upon yourself!"

    I've an idea that their minds will attack them.
    lobster
  • The thing is, it comes down to your fundamental beliefs about the nature of man. Western society and the institutions within it are based upon the belief that there is a need for guilt and shame in order to correct man. Buddhist thought tends to run counter to this.
    gracelee
  • It's my belief that you cannot pour from an empty vessel, until you can love and accept yourself you will not be able to truly love and accept others. loving yourself includes supporting and being compassionate to yourself even when you act in ways that are self centered, if you love only the "good" parts of yourself and reject or suppress the "bad" then this is conditional love, if you cannot accept the shadow in yourself you won't be able to accept it in others.

    "its a curious paradox that when I accept myself just as I am,then I can change" Carl Rogers

    of course I wouldn't advocate that someone just do metta practice in order to achieve recovery from addiction, but It has been my experience that self compassion and acceptance are important aspects of a healthy life. there is also a lot of research to back this up (kristin Neff, Paul Gilbert, Christopher Germer)

    Cheers

    Grace




    lobster
  • ToshTosh Veteran
    edited September 2013
    gracelee said:

    It's my belief that you cannot pour from an empty vessel, until you can love and accept yourself you will not be able to truly love and accept others.

    @gracelee Yes, I agree with your belief, however my experience (not mere belief) is that a way to achieve this (there will be more than one way) - a method in which to work towards this - is the practise of compassion for others. I don't think you even need to feel compassionate to begin with, you just need to act compassionately and the feelings will follow the action (a kind of faking it till you make it).

    I mean it's all to easy to say 'love yourself' (or even 'just don't drink'), but actually doing that isn't as easy as saying it. We need a method to get there.
    gracelee said:


    "its a curious paradox that when I accept myself just as I am,then I can change" Carl Rogers

    Yes, I agree with Carl too; it's called 'humility'; it's the understanding of the reality of a situation; like the first step for an alcoholic to recover is to actually accept that they are one. But that mere understanding isn't the method of change in it's self; it's just a beginning; there's more. I mean alkies keep on drinking even though they accept they're alcoholics.

    When we make our happiness more important than anyone else's, we end up miserable.

    Another paradox!






    lobster
  • AllbuddhaBoundAllbuddhaBound Veteran
    edited September 2013
    "Yes, I agree with Carl too; it's called 'humility'; it's the understanding of the reality of a situation; like the first step for an alcoholic to recover is to actually accept that they are one. But that mere understanding isn't the method of change in it's self; it's just a beginning; there's more. I mean alkies keep on drinking even though they accept they're alcoholics."

    Humility is one thing. Guilt and shame is entirely another. The Dalai Lama is a very humble person, but he does not live in a world of guilt or shame. It is possible to be humble without being ashamed.

    "When we make our happiness more important than anyone else's, we end up miserable.

    Another paradox!

    '

    If we make the happiness of others, more important than ours, we end up miserable too. Can't tell you how many people I have met that lived for someone else and ended up miserable and resentful.


  • It helped me to just have compassion and confidence with my drinking. I already in a moment of clarity knew it had to go. I was inspired by Gangaji who says that you just crucify yourself when you have a craving. Just letting it sit for 10 extra minutes is good. I decided that if I was going to drink myself to the grave I was going to enjoy it as much as possible and not have a split self. A split self wants to become sober but also wants to drink. That can't work, you have to be whole hearted or the stress will drive you to drink. So I put it as micro-decisions. That means if I have a drink I haven't "blown it". It was just a decision and now in my whole heart I am drunk or hung over or whatever. Whatever happens you have honesty and compassion. I quit a bing drinking habit over the course of 6 months and was off drinking for 2 years. I have since been drinking for a year, but I only have 1 six pack when we buy groceries which is less than once a week. I'm the same way with candy; if I don't buy candy or beer I don't overly crave it, but if it's in the house I will eat or drink it rapidly.

    Anyways that's my experience using confidence, kindness, joy, and honesty. It involves not being divided, micro-decisions, and crucifying the craving state. I used this same method to lose weight and I have gone from 225 pounds at 5 foot 7 to 160 pounds over the past 7 years. I don't know if I can teach anyone this technique but it works. It's Buddhist principles also.
    AllbuddhaBoundlobsterTosh
  • ToshTosh Veteran
    edited September 2013

    @AllbuddhaBound; humility has nothing to do with guilt or shame, or even servility (which some seem to get it mixed up with). It's just the mere understanding of the reality of a situation. When an alcoholic finally admits/accepts he or she is an alcoholic, that's humility; a deeper understanding of reality.

    And when you say "Can't tell you how many people I have met that lived for someone else and ended up miserable and resentful", they're not really living for someone else, they're attached to that person. Attachment is self centred - they want that person - not because they love them, but because they love that feeling the other person produces in them. It's a selfish kind of love.
    lobster
  • Tosh said:


    @AllbuddhaBound; humility has nothing to do with guilt or shame, or even servility (which some seem to get it mixed up with). It's just the mere understanding of the reality of a situation. When an alcoholic finally admits/accepts he or she is an alcoholic, that's humility; a deeper understanding of reality.

    I would call that awareness. And I agree. Humility has nothing to do with shame or guilt.

    lobster
  • AllbuddhaBoundAllbuddhaBound Veteran
    edited September 2013
    Tosh said:


    And when you say "Can't tell you how many people I have met that lived for someone else and ended up miserable and resentful", they're not really living for someone else, they're attached to that person. Attachment is self centred - they want that person - not because they love them, but because they love that feeling the other person produces in them. It's a selfish kind of love.

    I think that is an oversimplification. It can be, like you say, attachment because they desire to possess that person, but what about a parent who spends their lives putting their children first, because they have been taught, that is what a good parent does, only to have the child steal from or abuse them. Would it not be understandable that they suffer?

    The message in our system is that the children must come first. They are more important than the parent is. To put a child first under those circumstances would not be selfishness at all. And many people suffer as a result.

    Another example would be the dutiful wife/husband who holds onto a relationship they are being abused in, because they believe they are doing the right thing, or for the sake of the children.
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