By Gerald Stribling
The real importance of loving yourself is to empower yourself, so you can live with love and compassion for others.
If you’ve been following my column, you know that I believe strongly in loving yourself—after all, the Metta (“Loving-kindness”) Sutta begins with it. Even so, there are proper and improper ways to love yourself (and that doesn’t include masturbation, though you’re definitely showing yourself a kindness when you do).
Ego-driven self-love is selfish love, and can range in social deviance from self-centeredness and a bloviating personality through neurosis (narcissism) and psychosis (sociopathology). Obviously, this is not the kind of self-love I’m talking about.
The kind of self-love most people have is what Buddhism would call ignorant self-love, or unenlightened self-love. Don’t get insulted. All that means is that you’re the most important person in your life. Sure, you make sacrifices for others, it’s what life is all about: give and take. But you’re basically normal and mundane, with the same questions and fears as anyone else.
There are higher forms of self-love and these higher forms are not at all unique to Buddhism. One has, I believe, flourished since the time of the Buddha but has found new depth of meaning in modern times. This would be the high feeling of regard you have for yourself as a result of feeling empathy and behaving in a compassionate manner.
Kindness emerges as a value at vastly different times in the histories of civilizations, because compassionate love is the opposite of ego-driven self-love. This is when you touch happiness because you have connected with people who may need what you have, and you are happy to give it.
People can remain optimistic in the worst of times if they’re strong enough to find in them opportunities to be compassionate. This is how we rise above catastrophe.
If you are the kind of person who is able to rise above catastrophe, and remain or become enlightened from the perspective of the vital role compassion plays in your life, then you exist in a realm superior to the “ignorant.” In western society, you would be labeled a leader. Under the Buddho-dome—paradoxically since the dharma espouses harmlessness—you are called warriors.
These aren’t the type of warriors in a Sergeant York kind of way—warriors in a Chogyam Trungpa kind of way. There is a sub-category of warriors known as protectors, those are the men who are willing to risk their lives to benefit others. The Native Americans call them “Ogichida.” They have a certain mindset and skills learned in the military or on their jobs as policemen, or men who train in the martial arts.
Trungpa’s warriors are nonviolent “stand-up guys,” dependable dudes you can trust and who will never let you down.
They fulfill the Yiddish concept of “mensch.” The continuum of mensch-ness we see every day among the men we know and meet begins at the low end of the scale—the weasely conniving coward end, up to, well, enlightened men. These men are not necessarily Buddhist (especially since most Buddhist men in the West are hopelessly inadequate to measure up to this standard), but they are the guys we trust, and who command our admiration. These are the guys who keep cool heads when everyone else is losing theirs.
A man’s menschness is measured by the size of the catastrophe he rises above, but thankfully most of us are never called upon to be a get-down, kick-ass warrior. Champion boxers are only as good as the mightiest fighter they have beaten.
In the mean time, just like the boxers, we train, we train our minds to be tough and strong through vigorous meditation practice so that we are prepared for the catastrophes. And they will come.
We also train through the rigorous practice of compassion toward others. Even if your ability to be compassionate only extends to your ability to empathize and be kind to animals, compassion is nevertheless the alleviation of someone else’s suffering.
You’re going to suffer (if you haven’t already), but the manly way to face suffering is to rise above it. If you suffer congenitally, from trauma, you’re going to have a tough time. But under the circumstances in which the shit hits the fan, if everyone else around you is suffering too, your lofty status helps and reassures them.
Warriors render whatever assistance they can.
Be a mensch. You’ll love yourself for it.
Editor: Dana Gornall