The Apparent Paradox: Self-confidence and Humility
By Mahatma Das
How do we maintain self-confidence, yet feel ourselves a fool before our spiritual master? How can we be confident and simultaneously feel unqualified to serve Krishna? Aren’t self-confident people somewhat proud or arrogant?
We are ordinary people engaged in an extraordinary process, a process that will make us extraordinary. Thus, our confidence lies not in ourselves, but in the power of the process of bhakti.
With Krishna’s divine power and intelligence guiding us, we know we will succeed. In the Caitanya Caritamrita, a brahmana from Avantidesa confidently states, “I willcross over the ocean of nescience.” Why is he so confident? He believes he is assured of success because those who have already traveled the bhakti path have succeeded. His confidence is, “I am walking the same path, so I will also succeed.”
I can feel lowly, even useless, yet still be confident that Krishna can use me to do wonderful service. It’s even possible, by the grace of the guru, that a disciple can do more than his spiritual master, even though feeling totally unqualified to serve (actually, he does so much because of feeling unqualified to serve). Externally, Prabhupada achieved more than his guru. Yet, he always gave credit to his spiritual master.
It’s interesting to note that Prabhupada writes in the Bhagavatam that he is hopeful one of his disciples will become pure enough to take him back to Godhead.
We are not taught to be overly confident of our intelligence or other qualifications. Prabhupada writes that Krishna is the Supercause. We understand that it is because Krishna is so intelligent and qualified that we can do anything wonderful. Because we have this understanding, we are confident that we can achieve success that exceeds our level of qualification.
Ordinary Versus Extraordinary Self-confidence
Ordinary self-confidence is limited to how much you believe in yourself and your capabilities. So if you find any lacking in yourself, it’s easy to become discouraged. Therefore, it’s better to see what Krsna can do through you rather than what you can do yourself.
I am not a business person, but I have a small business to support myself. I always feel a bit helpless doing this, so often I pray, “Krsna, please help me because I am not so good at business.” I have confidence in Krishna’s guidance, that He can use me, an unqualified person, to do things beyond my ordinary abilities. I trust that Krishna will help me. And He does.
Willingness to Do It
When I was a new devotee I asked my father, an artist, to do a painting of Krishna. I sent him a poster of Krsna playing His flute standing by the Yamuna. When he saw the poster he didn’t think he could do the painting, as he was primarily a still life artist. I told him, “Go ahead and try. Krishna will help you.” He said, “Okay. I will see what I can do.” He did the painting and was surprised at how well it came out. After this, whenever I visited him the conversation would inevitably turn to the painting. “You told me Krishna would help me, and he did!”
He had almost become an atheist after my mother died a painful death. Yet he always remembered the painting and how Krsna helped him. He got this realization simply because he was willing to try to do something he thought he couldn’t do.
The Negative Creates the Positive
I once wrote Srila Prabhupada telling him I was very busy as the manager of the temple, and that I am not Krishna conscious when I am so busy. So I asked if it is better I do less service and think of Krsna more, or engage in more service and think of Krsna less?
Prabhupada said I can think of Krishna always if I depend more upon him. To make me realize my dependence, he told to think I have no qualification to do my service (I was temple president). A statement that “you have no qualification” could seem to destroy someone’s self-confidence. Yet, by helping me see my lack of qualification, Prabhupada empowered me. Here’s how.
The more I think I am not qualified, the more I depend on Krishna. The more I depend on Krishna, the more I become Krishna conscious. The more Krishna consciousness I am, the more I become empowered to serve. Thus, the so called negative (the so called lack of self-confidence), leads to the positive. This is the paradox of spiritual self-confidence.
Linking Up With Krishna
In the Bhagavad-gita Krishna says na hi kalyaëa-kåt kascid durgatià tata gacchati,one who does good is never overcome by evil. (BG 6.40) This means that one who is sincere will never be overcome by evil. Our sincerity to serve Krishna is the link that originally reconnected us to Him; and it is the link that will keep us connected. It is through this sincerity we tap into the vast intelligence and ability Krishna so generously gives His devotees to both come closer to and better serve Him.
Krishna May Withhold Results
Krsna will not empower us when he knows we can’t handle the results. One devotee asked Prabhupada, “Why doesn’t Krsna give the devotees the world?” Prabhupada replied, “What would you do with it? You would simply sleep.” To be awarded more success than we can handle is not a gift, it’s a curse.
If we become Krishna conscious too easily and too soon, it’s likely we won’t be able to properly deal with the results of success that follow an advanced devotee (honor, followers, wealth, etc.) Thus, this kind of “advancement” becomes an impediment.
Krishna Will Give It When You are Ready
Six years ago I prepared myself to be facilitate seminars to large audiences. I believed I was well trained, and as such, ready to facilitate seminars for crowds of thousands of people. But at this time only twenty or so people were coming to my seminars. I was getting upset and in my heart was asking Krsna (actually I was getting a little upset with Him) why He is not allowing me to be more successful. He answered loud and clear: “When you are more qualified I will send more people? Apparently I wasn’t ready to handle bigger results.
Confidence in Superior Instructions
Faith in guruFaith is another aspect of self-confidence. The Krishna consciousness movement will spread throughout the world if we strictly follow the principles given to us. We don’t know exactly how it will happen, but nevertheless, the grace of Guru and Gauranga make it possible. So our faith in the success of our mission creates confidence in the success of our own service. (“They are already put to death, just be an instrument in the fight.”)
Acknowledge Your Success
It’s good to acknowledge your successes in a humble way, recognizing that you are successful because Krishna is on your team. As you celebrate Krishna’s successes in your life, you build the confidence that you can continue to achieve more and more success by Krsna’s mercy. Thus, you increase your spiritual self-confidence.