In reviewing the Dalai Lama’s writings on the pursuit of happiness, I was struck by his own surprise, his lack of understanding of the Western concept of low self-esteem. Apparently, this is almost unheard of in the culture of Tibetan Buddhism.
The Dalai Lama had previously considered himself to be a rather astute observer of the human mind and personality, yet was baffled to learn that low self-esteem may be rampant in contemporary Western societies.
His response was to encourage individuals to realize their own self-worth, that we all have the potential to become enlightened, to recognize our Buddha-nature. This is similar to the Kabbalistic notion of the divine spark which is hidden by our human form and layers of defensiveness and fear.
Christianity may recognize the divine inner soul of mankind but has chosen to emphasize the power of our sinful natures which can be dispelled only through faith in the healing power of Jesus Christ.
The Dalai Lama emphasizes that love and compassion for others are manifested by our desire for all beings to seek and find happiness. If only that were true in the real world, we would inhabit a ! paradise.
He goes on to state that we all wish happiness for ourselves, so in effect we must love ourselves. With this line of reasoning, we should not experience low self-esteem.
The problem within our culture arises from several sources:
1] unfortunately many young people are ‘damaged’ by the negative reinforcement they receive from parents or parental figures. Many of these parental figures are deeply unhappy with their own lives and burden their children with their own frustrations and pain. They literally take out their sadness on their innocent children who develop the belief that they are unworthy of admiration or love.
Another source of low self-esteem is 2] the competitive nature of our society. We seem to idolize the winner, the high achiever, the best student, the most accomplished athlete, the best looking, most popular etc. Anyone else [the vast majority of young people] find their childhood plagued by feelings of inadequacy which characterizes low self-esteem .
The epidemic of depression and suicide is evidence of this truth. There is little recognition of the inherent goodness and value of those who don’t ‘win’ society’s game.
We equate success and achievement with being lovable. Anyone who fails in this regard automatically feels unworthy and unlovable. Is there any more powerful motive to ‘act out’ against society’s norms? To perpetrate crimes, immoral acts, anti-social behavior? Why would these individuals NOT challenge the society who debases them?
Who has the answer to such a problem? Who would deny the benefits of high achievers to society’s ultimate success? The best students may ultimately serve to better our civilization in so many ways. Yet, we must not forget to acknowledge the value of ALL human beings.
We are all divine beings having a human experience. We can’t ALL be at the top. Until we realize that we are valuable, lovable, and capable of reaching our own highest destiny will the plague of low self-esteem diminish and fade away. At that point, the Dalai Lama will understand….