The difference between divine and delusional

Recently I was practicing with a Buddhist friend, whom I will call Brian, and the concept of pride arose.. Brian is an older man who suffers from a physical disability, although he is able to live independently. Brian seems deeply committed to the practice, but often disparages his own progress. I suggested that he should be proud of his efforts, and he replied, “But pride is not something we are told to cultivate. It is seen as a negative habit. I explained that I was talking about divine pride, to see oneself as a Buddha, rather than delusional pride, meaning nefarious arrogance based on wealth or status.

This is a distinction that confuses many Dharma students, said my teacher, Khenpo Sonam, when I told him about Brian. Originally from Bhutan, Khenpo founded the Lhundrup Choling Dharma Center in Los Angeles in 2008 as part of his ongoing efforts to communicate the difficult concepts of his tradition to Western students. I have always found my teacher’s lessons to be incredibly informative because he blends the teachings of the highest level of Nyingma training with the wisdom he has acquired during his life as a husband and father.

After our initial discussion, I returned to Khenpo Sonam to ask him to clarify the difference between these two types of pride and recorded the conversation to help clarify this delicate concept for other practitioners.

Could you describe the difference between divine pride and delusional pride?

Mipham Gyatsho (1846-1912), one of the Omniscients of the Nyingma School, defines delusional pride as arrogance: “Arrogance is the conceited attitude of superiority based on the belief in the transient collection. This creates the basis for disrespecting others and for the occurrence of suffering. The belief in the transitory collection is the belief in a separate and permanent “I” and “my” or self. It forms the basis of other unhealthy beliefs.

Thus, banal or delusional pride is linked to the delusional or unhealthy view of separation and permanence.

Exactly. It all comes down to sight.

What about divine pride?

Again, I would like to offer a quote that I believe is concise and correct. Getse Mahapandit (1761-1829) was a prominent scholar of Katok Monastery [in Tibet], one of the six main monasteries of the Nyingma school. He said, “The pride you must develop here involves thinking that you yourself are the very deity you are meditating on, a Buddha in whom all faults are exhausted and all qualities are complete. When this keen sense of pride is embraced by a detached state of mind, true unity of development and completion will have been achieved. Its object of purification is the presence of ordinary and impure manifestations, as well as the tendency to grasp these impurities as self. The purification process involves training in the clear appearance and remembrance of purity, which later turn into pure appearance and pure pride, respectively, through the skillful method of training in the pride of divinity. .

When he says pure appearance, is he talking about the pure appearance of divinity in visualization practices?

Yes. The phenomenon of deity introduced into our tradition is not that of an autonomous existent being. Our minds must be engaged in visualizing the phenomenon as the embodiment of its own true nature. [The bodhisattva] Chenrezig is the embodiment of compassion, but there are many more. The more one develops one’s own compassion, the more Chenrezig is accomplished and the more one practices deity meditation, the more natural the flow of compassion becomes. This practice may not come easily for some practitioners, but through daily cultivation, it becomes stable and constant, also providing the light of self-compassion, which would be important to your friend.

Deity meditation is taught in conjunction with the understanding of the sight of emptiness, which is also called non-duality or union. In order to understand non-duality, it is said, “Appearing, but free to cling to reality, like a magical illusion, it lacks fundamental existence. To contemplate this wisdom is to see the union of the two truths of the mantra.

Your level of practice depends on the depth of your view of non-dual reality. At the highest level, one receives initiation into Vajrayana Tantra – the path of pure perception – where you are taught that divinity is oneself and oneself is divinity. It is then considered as an interior path, rather than an exterior path.

Do you believe that a student can grasp this concept before practicing or is it the practice itself that allows a student to realize it?

We must gradually develop the understanding of emptiness. But not all of them need to take the progressive step. Those beings with higher abilities can jump directly to see the nature of being or the true nature of reality. Achieving wisdom or understanding emptiness depends on the accumulation of merit and the purification of karma.

How can a practitioner spread his divine pride to the world for the benefit of others while avoiding delusional pride?

We need to stabilize the understanding that delusional pride is based on a false belief in something transient and on the notion that one is greater than the other. Likewise, it should be understood that divine pride or the pride of divinity is to know the luminosity of transient nature, to see everything as pure and imbued with this equality.

I gave my classmate Brian the example of going out into the world with the idea that he was Chenrezig as a way to cultivate a deeper and less selective compassion for others. Was that good advice?

It will certainly help someone to think that their nature is inborn divinity. Even if someone holds a mistaken view of divinity, does not understand emptiness, or does not understand divinity as an independently existing phenomenon, if he regularly remembers that bodhichitta [the compassionate wish to attain enlightenment for the benefit of all beings] is divinity, all errors will be pacified.

Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche wrote in his book What makes you not a Buddhist?: “Pride and [self]-pity are closely related. Believing that your life is harder and sadder than everyone else’s is simply a manifestation of self-attachment.

This is a very important point and I think your friend may be in pain due to his health issues. It is good to stop inner commenting, as self-pity or feelings of inferiority are usually overcompensated by illusory pride, which you have drawn attention to. It’s impossible to know how his words might land, but your intention to help your friend is correct.


Further reading: Interested in Deity Meditation? Read this introductory guide from Tibetan lama Kagyu Sherab Gyaltsen Rinpoche.

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