How to accept our faults without falling into self-condemnation or inaction

Here are some more great teachings from Buddhist teacher Ayya Khema. If you, like me, often have to deal with self-condemnation and self-hatred because of continual personal failings, this article should be a big help in balancing seeing what needs to change in us and accepting everything in us without self-condemnation.

Accepting Oneself

Ayya Khema

It’s a strange phenomenon how difficult people find it to love themselves. One would think it is the easiest thing in the world, because we’re constantly concerned with ourselves. We’re always interested in how much we can get, how well we can perform, how comfortable we can be. The Buddha mentioned in a discourse “oneself is dearest to oneself.” So with all that, why is it so difficult to actually love oneself?

Loving oneself certainly doesn’t mean indulging oneself. Really loving is an attitude towards oneself that most people don’t have, because they know quite a few things about themselves, which are not desirable. Everybody has innumerable attitudes, reactions, likes and dislikes, which they’d be better off without. Judgment is made and while one likes one’s positive attitudes, one dislikes the others. With that comes suppression of those aspects of oneself that one is not pleased with. One doesn’t want to know about them and doesn’t acknowledge them. That’s one way of dealing with oneself, which is detrimental to growth.

Another unskilful way is to dislike that part of oneself, which appears negative and every time it arises one blames oneself, which makes matters twice as bad as they were before. With that comes fear and very often aggression.

If one wants to deal with oneself in a balanced way, it’s not useful to pretend that the unpleasant part doesn’t exist, those aggressive, irritable, sensual, conceited tendencies. If we pretend we are far from reality and put a split into ourselves. Even though such a person may be totally sane, the appearance given is that of not being quite real. We’ve all come across people like that, who are too sweet to be true, as a result of pretense and suppression.

Blaming oneself doesn’t work either. In both instances one transfers one’s own reactions to other people. One blames others for their deficiencies, real or imagined, or one doesn’t see them as ordinary human beings. Everyone lives in an unreal world, because it’s ego-deluded, but this one is particularly unreal, because everything is considered either as perfectly wonderful or absolutely terrible.

The only thing that is real is that we have six roots within us. Three roots of good and three roots of evil. The latter are greed, hate and delusion, but we also have their opposites: generosity, loving-kindness and wisdom. Take an interest in this matter. If one investigates this and doesn’t get anxious about it, then one can easily accept these six roots in everybody. No difficulty at all, when one has seen them in oneself. They are the underlying roots of everyone’s behavior. Then we can look at ourselves a little more realistically, namely not blaming ourselves for the unwholesome roots, not patting ourselves on the back for the wholesome ones, but rather accepting their existence within us. We can also accept others more clear-sightedly and have a much easier time relating to them.

We will not suffer from disappointments and we won’t blame, because we won’t live in a world where only black or white exists, either the three roots of unwholesomeness or their opposites. Such a world doesn’t exist anywhere, and the only person to be like that is an Arahant. It’s largely a matter of degree in everyone else. These degrees of good and evil are so finely tuned, there’s so little difference within the degrees in each one of us, that it really doesn’t matter. Everybody has the same job to do, to cultivate the wholesome tendencies and uproot the unwholesome ones.

Apparently we’re all very different. That too is an illusion. We’re all having the same problems and also the same faculties to deal with them. The only difference is the length of training that one has had. Training which may have been going on for a number of lifetimes has brought about a little more clarity, that’s all.

Clarity of thinking comes from purification of one’s emotions, which is a difficult job that needs to be done. But it can only be done successfully when it isn’t an emotional upheaval, but clear-cut, straightforward work that one does on oneself. When it is considered to be just that, it takes the sting out of it. The charge of “I’m so wonderful” or “I’m so terrible” is defused. We are neither wonderful nor terrible. Everyone is a human being with all the potential and all the obstructions.

If one can love that human being, the one that is “me” with all its faculties and tendencies, then one can love others realistically, usefully and helpfully. But if one makes a break in the middle and loves the part, which is nice and dislikes the part, which isn’t nice enough, one’s never going to come to grips with reality. One day we’ll have to see it, for what it is. It’s a “working ground,” a kammatthana. It’s a straightforward and interesting affair of one’s own heart.

If we look at ourselves in that manner, we will learn to love ourselves in a wholesome way. “Just as a mother at the risk of life, loves and protects her child….” Become your own mother! If we want to have a relationship with ourselves that is realistic and conducive to growth, then we need to become our own mother. A sensible mother can distinguish between that which is useful for her child and that which is detrimental. But she doesn’t stop loving the child when it misbehaves. This may be the most important aspect to look at in ourselves.

Everyone, at one time or another misbehaves in thought or speech or action. Most frequently in thought, fairly frequently in speech and not so often in action. So what do we do with that? What does a mother do? She tells the child not to do it again, loves the child as much as she’s always loved it and just gets on with the job of bringing up her child. Maybe we can start to bring up ourselves.

♥♥♥

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About Steven Goodheart

"I have made a ceaseless effort not to ridicule, not to bewail, not to scorn human actions, but to understand them." Spinoza

4 Responses to “How to accept our faults without falling into self-condemnation or inaction”

  1. “Become your own mother” Great advice. So often I find people taking care of others and not themselves.

    • Hello Michelle! What you say is true, and when we do that, we really don’t take as good care of others as we might if were first taking care of our own hearts and lives. There is a right sense in which “charity (love) begins at home.”

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting,

      Steve

  2. Thank you for posting this. This is a good reminder for me that it is ok that I”m not perfect and to keep a balanced self view. Ayya Khema’s words remind me a lot of work I’m doing in a program called Emotional Brain Training. In EBT we do work on accepting our “dark side” and our “light side.” Its really amazing to me as I’ve been doing this work to notice how important it is to me that I be perfect! I didn’t realize that before doing EBT and now I can see that a lot of the behaviors that I find irritating in myself and condemn in myself come from not just accepting my own imperfection.

    • Braidwood,

      Thanks for your kind remarks. Your EBT training sounds very skillful and healing. (For a moment, I misread the acronym, and thought of EFT – Emotional Freedom Training, which involves tapping acupuncture pressure points on the body; another very helpful practice, I can personally attest, btw.)

      The kind of self-revelations you describe are so very precious—indeed, priceless. I’ve been working on these kinds of things for a while now, and yet, I am regularly finding out these kinds of things about myself—so many of them tied to childhood memories and pedagogy.

      I’m glad this post was helpful and wish you all the best in your quest for self-knowledge and self-acceptance.

      With warm regards,

      Steve

      (Apologies for the long delay in replying; I went on a two-week home meditation retreat, and fast, and was not working with my blogs during this time.)

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