Q: Can you discuss the problem of self-hatred, and the Buddhist means to alleviate it?
A: In fact, when I first heard the word "self-hatred" and was first exposed to the concept of self-hatred, I was quite surprised and taken aback. The reason why I found it quite unbelievable is that as practicing Buddhists, we are working very hard to overcome our self-centered attitude, and selfish thoughts and motives. So to think of the possibility of someone hating themselves, not cherishing oneself, was quite unbelievable. From the Buddhist point of view, self-hatred is very dangerous because even to be in a discouraged state of mind or depressed is seen as a kind of extreme. Because self-hatred is far more extreme than being in a depressed state, it is very, very dangerous.
So the antidote is seen in our natural Buddha-nature-the acceptance or belief that every sentient being, particularly a human being, has Buddha-nature. There is a potential to become a Buddha. In fact, Shantideva emphasizes this point a great deal in the Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life, where he states that even such weak sentient beings as flies, bees, and insects possess Buddha-nature, and if they take the initiative and engage in the path, they have the capacity to become fully enlightened. If that is the case, then why not I, who am a human being and possess human intelligence and all the faculties, if I make the initiative, why can't I also become fully enlightened? So this point is emphasized. In his text called Sublime Continuum, Maitreya presents the Buddhist view on the doctrine of Buddha-nature. It states that no matter how poor or weak or deprived one's present situation may be, a sentient being never loses his or her Buddha-nature. The seed, the potential for perfection and full enlightenment, always remains.
For people who have the problem of self-hatred or self-loathing, for the time being it is advisable that they not think seriously about the suffering nature of existence or the underlying unsatisfactory nature of existence. Rather they should concentrate more on the positive aspects of existence, such as appreciating the potentials that lie within oneself as a human being, the opportunities that one's existence as a human being affords. In the traditional teaching, one speaks about all the qualities of a fully endowed human existence. By reflecting upon these opportunities and potentials, one will be able to increase one's sense of worth and confidence.
So what is important here is, again, a very skillful approach, an approach that is most suited and appropriate to one's own mental faculties, disposition, and interests. As an analogy, suppose one needs to get another person from one town to another quite far away, and suppose that person is not very courageous. If one tells him or her about the difficulties, then the person may feel totally discouraged and disheartened or lose hope and think, "Oh, I'll never get there." However, one can achieve the purpose through more skillful means, leading that person step by step, first by saying, "Oh, let us go to this town," and then once there, saying, "Oh, let's go to the other town." This is also analogous to our educational system. Although our aim may be to go to the university and get a higher education, we cannot start right from there. We have to begin at the primary level, where we start with the alphabet and so on. As one progresses, then one will go to the next stage, and the next, and so on. In this way, one will be able to reach the ultimate aim...
Excerpts from Healing Anger: The Power of Patience from a Buddhist Perspective, by The Dalai Lama. Copyright (c) 1997. Reprinted by permission of Snow Lion Publications, Ithaca, NY. For more information, go to www.snowlionpub.com.