Someone wrote to ask about "low self-esteem".I'm curious about people's views on self-esteem. On one hand, having good self-esteem leads to a positive and happy life. People with high self-esteem are confident, friendly, out-going and not afraid of taking risks. On the other end of the scale you have people with very low self-esteem and I think this is a key issue for many people with a history of depression ...How do you go about increasing your self esteem? Are there are specific [Buddhist] practices/exercises ... which could help?
My teacher, Nishijima Roshi, describes Buddhism as a philosophy of "optimism". When I first heard that, it struck me as strange, because I had thought our way was to drop all "likes" and "dislikes" about life, which I thought meant that we must be "neutral" and rather ambivalent to everything.
But now I see Nishijima Roshi's point, and it applies to the question of 'self-esteem' too.
You see, in our Zen Practice we are often doing several seemingly contradictory things all at once, hand-in-hand, without the least conflict or contradiction.
So, on the one hand, it is vital that we learn to fully and completely drop the "self", drop the ego and all our 'self-centered' thoughts and ideas. We fully and completely drop all "likes" and "dislikes", and all other judgments. We accept life "at it is". This is Shikantaza.
But the funny thing that happens when you accept the world as "just what it is", is not numbness or neutrality or cold "whatever" ambivalence ... Instead, it can be more an experience of "going with the flow", harmony with "what is", oneness, allowing and embracing. Life is "just what it is", and that's just fine! YIPPEE!
We even then (and this sounds strange) accept the "self" as "just what it is" too. So, strange as it sounds, by dropping our sense of "self" and "self-centered ideas" and judgments of things, we even drop our self-centered ideas on what is "wrong" with our self ... and we accept our "self" as just what it is too!
[PLEASE READ THE FOREGOING SENTENCE AT LEAST TWICE!]
We realize that our thoughts are, to one degree or another, a fictional story we write for ourselves ... and it is up to us how we write the story. So, if you want to judge negative, neutral or positive ... the universe will let you do that. Up to you.
Thus, one might say that our ENTIRE Zen Buddhist Practice, all of it, is about dealing with the issue of "self-esteem". The most important goalless goal you must attaininglessly attain is to see right through that fictional "boogeyman under the bed" that is your "self" and "self-centered" judgements ...
... about everything, including your self!!
So, drop all thought and judgments in Shikantaza
, drop all judgments about everything ... including about what a loser you think you are!
PS- Another thing about "self-esteem" is, once you have it, you must not become its prisoner, allow it to run to excess. Everything in balance, everything in moderation. But that is only an issue once you get the self-esteem!