This Q&A series answers frequently asked questions about SGI Nichiren Buddhism.
Q: How can I overcome arrogance?
A: When we think about arrogance, we often relate it to having overbearing pride or feeling superior to others. Buddhism, however, delves deeper, teaching that arrogance stems from comparing ourselves with others—whether placing ourselves above, below or even equal to others. Though appreciating and learning from others is necessary for our growth, if our self-worth is largely based on comparison with others, this can obstruct our Buddhist practice and hinder our progress toward absolute happiness.
Regarding this, Nichiren Daishonin strictly admonishes, “Now, if you wish to attain Buddhahood, you have only to lower the banner of your arrogance, cast aside the staff of your anger, and devote yourself exclusively to the one vehicle of the Lotus Sutra” (“Questions and Answers about Embracing the Lotus Sutra,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol .1, pp. 58–59).
Various Buddhist writings describe seven, eight and nine types of arrogance. A key indication, for example, is “to think that one is superior to those inferior to oneself and that one is equal to one’s equals” (see The Soka Gakkai Dictionary of Buddhism).
When we compare ourselves with others, we diminish our belief in the Buddha nature, or the potential for enlightenment, that is equally inherent in all people. Looking at our lives through the lens of arrogance denigrates the prime Buddhist ideals of the equality of all people and respect for the dignity of life.
In our daily lives, arrogance can come in numerous forms: touting our own self-importance; wanting to prove ourselves to others; putting others down; feigning humility; taking things for granted; doubting our Buddha nature, which can take the form of failing to bring out our best or avoiding hardships; and so on.
Buddhism teaches that what’s most important is striving to bring out our highest potential. Rather than looking for validation in others, the comparison we should make is with ourselves, asking: AmIa better person today than I was yesterday? What can I do today to become a better person tomorrow?
SGI President Ikeda explains:
“The important thing is that all of you shine in your own way, win in your own daily endeavors, and develop your life in the way most suitable and natural for you. All you need to do is just keep on improving yourself as you steadily advance toward your goal . . .
“Chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is fundamental to this, enabling you to reveal your innate Buddhahood just as you are. Not only will chanting give you a wonderful, fundamental self-confidence, it will also adorn and dignify your life with the brilliance of your true and highest potential ”(The Wisdom for Creating Happiness and Peace, Part 2, pp. 134–35). The most powerful weapon in combating arrogance, then, is chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, based on a determination to develop ourselves and to cultivate a sincere concern for the well-being of others. As we deepen our conviction in our own Buddha nature, this same belief about others is strengthened. And our need to compare ourselves with others decreases as our ability to truly rejoice in our own growth and that of those around us becomes all the greater.