Sunday, July 24, 2011


Ram asks:

What is the difference between self-confidence and over-confidence?

Natarajan Amirapu answers:

(Considering the general reference people make to these terms, we are trying the differentiate them so that we may learn something.)

Let us first discuss over-confidence. Usually, we refer to it in the event of a failure. When someone fails at something, we say it is because of his/her over-confidence. We say, “He failed because of his over-confidence! He should have been careful!” This over-confidence is related to our ego. A man’s ego is indeed great. A man of over-confidence is always talking about himself and always complaining about things around. Either he talks about how great he is or how much he suffering because of the circumstances or the conditions around him. Either way, he gets carried away from what he should actually be doing in order to succeed.

There is a story. “There was a small frog. It made a small hole and used to live in it eating the odd insect that happens to fly by. One day, when someone was passing over that place a rupee fell from his pocket and the frog promptly took the rupee and kept it in its hole. Now, the frog’s ego got bloated. After all, it is rich by one rupee! After sometime an elephant chanced to pass that way and the great pachyderm took a step right over our frog’s hole. This made the frog very cross and he came out and wanted to kick the elephant with his left foot!”

Ego makes you proud and unmindful of your strengths and weaknesses. It makes you forgetful of what you are and what you are capable of. Over-confidence arises out of ego. Our ego instead of making us work better, makes us more conscious of ‘me’ and ‘mine’ and that reduces our efficiency. Here we can remind ourselves of what Swami Vivekananda said: “We will be able to work to the very best of our ability when we forget ourselves.” When we really want to do something we hardly take notice of the trouble we go through. But life is usually full of things about which we say we are interested but when we actually come to do it we start blaming everything around. (This is also discussed in detail at the end of the II chapter of Gita in the sthithaprajna lakSHanA.)

There was a father who was talking about how his son would act according to the circumstance. “The school is half a kilometer away from our house and he takes twenty minutes to reach there; the cinema theatre is two kilometers away but he reaches there in ten minutes!”

Our aim is to get rid of our ego completely. That is what Vedanta teaches us. One of the ways to do that is to imagine oneself as the Son of God or the servant of God. In that way, when you take a high ideal and identify your work with that, it usually gets associated with a lot of care and humility. Self-confidence is the confidence that is generated from the ideal that you are not merely this body but something higher. When we are forgetful of our higher ideal, we face misery, because forgetfulness leads to defeat. This is something that everyone faces in his life. When we repeatedly face such miseries, we become experienced and become careful. Self-confidence aims at perfection, which is the ultimate source of all happiness.

Over-confidence is also about “not heeding anybody”. When your father and mother and your well-wishing elders tell you something you should listen to them. This is the idea of brahmacarya. Here, perfect obedience is the rule. Thus one works hard for one or two decades and goes through the mill. He gains experience. Then he automatically starts to make right decisions. All his ‘out of the box’ ideas would become successful. ‘His mind becomes his Guru’ as Sri Ramakrishna states.

Indian Philosophy identifies two paths: Preyas- that which is pleasing to oneself and shreyas- that which is beneficial to oneself. Usually the youth prefer to do what they want (“prEyas “) and elders advice them to do what is good for them, out of their experience in life (“ shrEyas”). We have to give up our hankering after prEyas (what our mind desperately desires for its pleasure) and work towards shrEyas (that which is beneficial to us).

Here is a more theoretical explanation. We all know about willpower. It is the product of the combination of God and Mind. Exercising willpower involves involving an element of God in all the works we do. Naturally, it succeeds. Willpower makes us do what ought to be done and enables us to restrain ourselves from doing what ought not to be done. Working with willpower saves us from overconfidence and restores and improves our self-confidence.

Ram asks:

I have been told that western people have more confidence than we do. Does that mean these people have less ego and more divinity than us.

Natarajan Amirapu answers:

Swamiji says that Western people are more suited to Vedanta as they have a more practical outlook. They work with great energy, which is a symbol of 'rajas'. 'rajas' is better than 'tamas' and we Indians are steeped in 'tamas' and that is the root of all our problems. We are physically and mentally weak and we have to develop physical strength first and that will promote 'rajas'. More 'rajas' is more divinity, because - it may not be 'sattva' but - 'rajas' is better than 'tamas'. 'sattva is really divine as it shows us the way to God but "what we want right now is rajas in our country" as Swamiji stated.

When you see a man working really hard, I think we can safely assume that he has a better scope to develop. Even if looks to be full of ego, his hard work would ennoble him tomorrow or the day after. Hard work always involves controlling one’s ego.

When I was young I was complaining to Sri BSR Anjaneyulu garu that a particular renowned carnatic singer is an egotist (egoist). Then Anjaneyulu garu shot back, "He is a great singer. If he doesn't have ego, who will?" I was taken aback. The idea is that, a man who goes through great struggle and practice may appear to be full of ego. But he achieved something in life, is not it? Even latent talents are not important but self-effort is.

Hope I am not adding more and more confusion.

Ram asks:

I was not really confused. My ego was not allowing me to agree that these people (westerners) are more divine than us. Even-though we are in steep “tamas” I have a strong feeling that we have lot of potentiality to become better people than these people have.

Natarajan Amirapu answers:

India is the punya-bhUmi where every soul that want mukti should get born.

Each is great in his own place! They are great in some respects and we are great in some. We have to find a mixture of the good qualities derived from both. There is bad everywhere as well. We have to get rid of that.

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