Mara leans back in his chair with his hands behind his head. "Sometimes I amaze myself. I mean, where would this organization be without me? If I wasn't so modest I'd be damned near perfect!"

"I've always thought so, Mara. And those armies of yours are sure deadly!"

"What!? Those incompetent bums! If I didn't play the nurse maid over them constantly they'd be fouling things up all over the universe! It's so hard to get decent help these days! But never mind..."

Tenth Army
Self - Praise and Denigration of Others

To my bold and powerful Tenth, greetings! Your task is crucial, but fortunately for us it is also easy. Generally humans have a most unreasonable attitude of taking themselves quite seriously. They seem quite unable to mentally disengage from the ego perspective. One way to reinforce this primary cognitive illusion is to foster an attitude of self-praise. Let them think of themselves as truly wonderful and righteous; fill them up with pride. This is the task of the first division of the Tenth Army.

Self-praise fuels all the defilements. Its is a masterwork of delusion; they look into the mirror with rose coloured glasses. They become quite unable to see their own faults and bristle with indignation whenever these are pointed out to them. Self-praise of course also fuels attachment and sensuality; after all doesn't someone as wonderful as Me deserve a little fun? It also fires up anger, the fierce anger of the self-righteous who knows their views and opinions are correct and everyone else is an idiot. It is so amusing to watch two human egos clash.

The forces of the Tenth have a special role to play in those difficult cases where an individual shows signs of spiritual progress. If they begin to free themselves from the coarser snares of my other armies we can often use their own victories against them by encouraging a spiritual pride and arrogance. Whisper in their ear about what wonderful spiritual beings they are; "look at me, the great holy man!" This is a trap that has caught many fish.

Don't be overly concerned about the accuracy of their grandiose opinions; they are capable of the most ludicrous self-delusion concerning their own merits. Very few of them after all ever develop a knack for introspection and even fewer are truly capable of self-criticism.

However you should be aware that there will also be a large number of them that have a very negative self-image. If handled properly, this should cause no concern. Negative or positive, a self- image is a self-image and it is the fundamental perceptual hallucination of a self-perspective that keeps them in bondage. Both the positive and the negative versions suit our purposes quite well. If you cannot convince them that they are wonderful then encourage them to kick themselves for being such losers. Remember there are three kinds of conceit; "I am better than you, I am worse than you and I am equal to you." Any one of these is still a conceit and still reinforces duality.

In fact, there are signs that in the modern culture the negative form has become predominant. A great many humans don't like themselves very much. (Not that I can really blame them....) This is a complicated phenomenon but is ultimately rooted in the rise of materialism. When a human being denies the fundamental spiritual level of being then life becomes quite hollow. Don't let them guess that this is the problem; encourage them instead in the opinion that they are, as individuals, inadequate. The post-modern environment is quite promising for this tendency. Since the industrial revolution they have been seeking to create a materialist paradise with their machines, and now their own inventions are rendering them redundant by the million.

The second division of the Tenth Army has the job of promoting the denigration of others; this is the complement of self-praise. Many are the beings who will seek to puff themselves up by pulling others down. They don't care that this is an illogical practice; never mind that it always makes matters worse -- they still do it. It is far easier to criticize someone else's defilements than to work on your own. You have many weapons and tactics; scolding, gossip, judgment and so forth. You are a primary vehicle for the stirring up of ill-will and conflict.

It has often been noted that the defects people are most ready to criticize are precisely the ones they themselves are infected with. It is really quite amusing to watch but they almost never see it when they are caught up in it. All forms of denigration of others are based on a delusion of self-righteousness.

Gossip is a popular form of this vice. Everyone loves a scandal and never mind whether its really true so long as its juicy! How righteous they feel as they cluck over someone else's peccadilloes! This is a petty vice that you can stir up anywhere humans gather, school, work, clubs, families etc. We have found by long experience that this is a great corrupter of monasteries and other spiritual communities.

But don't forget the nastier forms of criticism. Vicious personal attacks can ruin a person's life. But even more destructive is the form called prejudice where the hostility is based on non-personal criteria like language or skin colour. As absurd as it may sound to a rational being, humans can get so worked up over these stupidities that whole nations can be plunged into the chaos of war. War, of course, is an activity to be encouraged as it is a great devourer of all spiritual values.

Subtler and profounder than all the other damage it does though, is the fundamental fact that so long as one is looking for faults outside, then one is not looking within. And that is the one thing we must never, ever let them do.

Copyright © 1997 Arrow River Community Center

Punnadhammo Bhikkhu
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