Resolving Inferiority Complex using your Inner Truth

I was playing a video game (a first-person shooter for the interested) and I was unable to crack the current level. I kept dying and kept repeating the level, again and again and again. My frustration kept mounting over weeks (yup, that is how long I kept trying that particular level, attempting on weekends). And I suddenly felt a sense of inferiority – I had done well at school, had reasonable physical health and yet, a silly game was stumping me. Was I inferior or incomplete after all? Why did I keep attempting the game anyway?

Another situation – we apply to colleges and get rejected from many, selected in a few. Does it mean you are not intelligent? Does it mean that those who go to an Ivy League are more intelligent? If so, would you feel ‘inferior’ if they get paid more than you do?

You are a poor person who makes friends with a rich boy or girl. As they grow up, they are able to afford better education, able to get better jobs and live a ‘higher’ society life than you do. You feel unable to relate to them now, despite the fact that the two of you were the best of friends in childhood.

The common theme connecting the above is an inferiority complex – either caused by comparing yourself to yourself (poor videogame skills to say, great math skills) or by comparing yourself to another person out there (friends, colleagues, societal ‘elite’, businessmen, politicians, you name it). The end result of all such situations is not that you collapse, but that you are left with a feeling that you are ‘less’ or ‘incomplete’. In extreme situations, you might feel inferior to others (or to your self-concept of who you think you should be), but in most cases, this inferiority manifests as a vague unease that you are unable to put your finger on.

You choose to explore spirituality, out of desperation or to escape pain of some kind (physical, mental or emotional). Our pain is very specific to us. What pains us might hardly bother another person. And yet, you might end up asking, “Have I chosen the right path? If I continue to feel so inferior, and when other ‘non-spiritual’ folks continue to be happy and care-free, does it not mean that I am wrong?”

Inferiority manifests sometimes as a feeling of wrongness, in how we judge our lives, and our selves. Inferiority manifests as a feeling of incompleteness in how we view our life (so many goals not achieved and might never be achieved). Inferiority manifests in how we evaluate ourselves (in how inadequate our skills are, in how poor our knowledge is in so many areas, in how stupid we feel compared to others). Inferiority makes us feel stupid.

So, we need to ask – are we really stupid? Are we really incomplete? Are we really so ‘wrong’ inside? And when we have so much missing inside us, do we have the right to be happy?

  • When we are so stupid and incomplete, do we have the right to parent and admonish our child who is misbehaving?
  • When we are so stupid and incomplete and wrong, do we have the right to stand up to anything – against societal evils, or against those who tyrannize us? Do stupid incomplete people have the right to stand up to themselves?
  • When we are so stupid and incomplete, do we even deserve to be given a job (impostor syndrome)? Do we even deserve the paycheck we receive? Should we receive our paycheck with our head held up in dignity (not arrogance) or should we bow our heads in gratitude for what we receive? (Gratitude when used to hide inferiority is not true gratitude – only two equal persons can thank each other)

So many questions…and yet we struggle, wondering when we will feel better about ourselves. We read books on improving confidence, but those often seem artificial – talking loudly or confidently cannot hide the truth that you know within you – the truth that you don’t know all the answers.

When confidence boosting band-aids and pep talks no longer work for you, it is time to discard them for the artificiality they propagate. It is time to go to the root cause of the problem – you.

  • You feel inferior because you know the truth about yourself.
  • You feel inferior because you assume others know this truth about you.
  • You feel inferior because others seem to know more, even as you wonder where they learnt it all.
  • You feel inferior because others seem happy with false confidence, and you wonder why you can’t accept falseness too.
  • You start wondering if being honest with yourself is wrong. Maybe telling yourself the truth is not such a great thing. And yet…when you lie to yourself, it hurts – if you can’t trust yourself, who can you trust?

And therefore, you make a simple decision – it is okay to tell yourself the truth and be unhappy and inferior, rather than tell yourself lies and fake happiness. It is not just okay to tell yourself the truth, you can think of no other way to be ‘clean’ inside. Filling your mind with self-lies makes you feel dirty. You feel okay telling a few white lies to manage people around you (diplomatic, political reasons), but you are comfortable with nothing less than the cold truth when talking to yourself.

It is okay if your spectacles are dirty, but your mirror should always be clean. It is okay if your house has a dirty garden, as long as your interiors are clean. You realize you do not wish to be a golden boy or girl, but you want to be a clean one (on the inside, when you are talking to yourself).

  • You realize you are okay being incomplete, as long as you don’t lie to yourself about it.
  • You are okay being stupid, as long as you don’t lie to yourself about it.

And thus, you realize that the only thing that makes you feel inferior is not others’ judgment, but your own. You judge yourself as inferior still, but you are at peace with it.

And then you make a decision – it is okay to be stupid, as long as you are happy. It is okay to be incomplete as long as you are happy doing what you do.

And then you realize the next insight- your interests matter more than your expertise. It is okay to suck at a job, at a school subject or at a videogame, as long as you are interested in it.

You realize what makes you happy is not how good you are at something (how good a spouse, worker or parent you are). What makes you happy is the fact that you are doing what interests you, however badly you are doing it. You realize this is how children play – they don’t play games to win, they play games to …just have a good time.

Your interests have to come first, your expertise in your interest area second. You realize that it is important to ‘conquer’ the world, but it is possible to see what little you can in the life you have. And thus, you realize, the direction(s) in which you grow your life (equivalent to interests – plural) is more important than how far you go in life. It is okay to crawl two steps in the right direction than 100 steps in the wrong direction.

You change the way you evaluate your life. You realize that your interests and direction(s) of growth are what make you happy, not how good you are at something (as represented by your societal status or money you earn). It is okay to an average happy engineer than an unhappy excellent doctor.

All of us have talents, but our talents don’t often match our interests. Choose interests first, then use what limited talents you have to explore your interests. Our interests are individual (as is our life direction) unlike the distance we travel. When we no longer bother about going far, our ego disappears along with our inferiority complex. Our ego can only survive on comparison. Since our life direction / interests are binary (like/ don’t like), our ego has no chance to assert itself and declare you as superior or inferior to anyone on this planet or universe.

And thus, you reach three truths:

  • You choose nothing less than telling yourself the truth, for you can be happy no other way. Truth is what adds meaning to your life.
  • You embrace your truth, your incompetence and incompleteness, and realize you can never control how ‘complete’ you become in this life, or how far you travel or succeed.
  • You realize that what made your heart truly sing all along were your interests, which gave meaning and direction to your life.

By choosing direction over distance travelled, you attain inner peace. You no longer feel the need to be inferior or superior, you no longer feel the need to succeed. You rest.

Note:

Hinduism touches upon this indirectly through Karma Yoga – working for enjoyment, and not the fruit (or how many fruits you get). Money is important, but focusing on the fruits creates obsession (with money or success), superiority/ inferiority issues, egoistic judgments and suffering; but focusing on enjoying work will give you joy irrespective of whether you are successful or not.

Buddhism covers this through a general concept of detachment. Other religions such as Christianity and Islam approach it indirectly as well, but the above analysis comes out in them through scriptural interpretations by scholars rather than through explicit mainstream concepts. As always, all views expressed are personal interpretations, and are intended to show that whether we choose a non-religious path of spiritual consciousness or a faith-based religious one, all roads lead to the same goal – finding happiness, peace and joy within ourselves and the world.

Realizing your True Self- Understanding the Meaning of Surrender

One of the hardest or shall I say most difficult concepts to understand in spirituality is surrender.

Most people view surrender as just giving up their life’s duties and trusting it all to God or Life or Nature or the name they prefer for a higher power. Surrender is not abdication of your responsibilities. Which brings us to the next question- who are you responsible for? And equally importantly, who are you responsible to?

We are born with our bodies and minds. Some of us are born intelligent, some of us not so. I shall be straightforward here, but it takes intelligence to know you are intelligent, but a far greater intelligence to know you are not the most intelligent. Only an intelligent person can know how dumb he or she is, how little he/ she knows. It is therefore easy to get caught up in an appreciation of our intelligence, for who better can appreciate the vastness, diversity and uniqueness of our intelligence than ourselves? Some of us are given parents who constantly point out how intelligent we are, in school and college – this adds to our misconception that our intelligence is ours – that our intelligence belongs to us.

Let us go into this delusion further and see where it leads us.

Intelligence is not just about our minds but about our bodies too. A beautiful woman is born with a body that is ‘intelligent’ enough to realize the power of attractiveness. Her looks help open doors to jobs, relationships and networks that others may find more difficult to access. This is no less true for an intelligent man, but given the role of biology as it plays out, a man may likely create or pursue a persona of power, as compared to a persona of vulnerability and trust that a woman may pursue. Again, all of us are both male and female to varying extents and a woman can rely on her masculine side to obtain power as much as a man can rely on charm (his feminine side) to get ahead. So, we see that our bodies are intelligent too, not just our minds.

Our protagonists above are often ignorant of this fact and attribute this intelligence to themselves. They begin taking credit for all of their social and professional success and thanks to magazines that idolize success, social media that encourages likes and shares, this is not difficult. This goes on until they age. Death comes to us all, not just in bodily form (where we leave our bodies) but also to our minds (say we get Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s). Sometimes, our minds simply age, our memories begin to fade, our hands are not that steady any more, our skin begins to wrinkle. We rush to combat these through medication, Botox and any other boosters we can lay our hands on. But over time, skin that is Botoxed begins to harden into ugliness, minds that are ‘boosted’ through drugs begin to atrophy into rigidity.

Our creativity begins to decline, whether we fight death or not. The only difference is, when we do not fight death, our bodies and minds age gracefully – our bodies become softer and warmer to look at (our grandparents?), our minds become less ambitious and easier to live with once they are free of ambition. In short, surrender to death makes us beautiful, makes our journey worthwhile. Fighting death brings to the surface the ugliness that we so desperately seek to hide.

Does surrender to death make us less ugly, less unattractive? Hardly. Just as milk boils and releases cream, our bodies release beauty to balance our ugliness as we age. But putting a lid on boiling milk, we only cause spillage and a mess, and lose our appetite for the vey milk that we boil. Then we can ask, if we are boiling milk and see it as an analogy to aging and the fight against death, who is boiling us- our bodies and minds? We realize the presence of something outside us, or perhaps inside us that seems to have the master control over our lives. This realization is one part of surrender.

We can take this a step further – for if death is indeed releasing us from our bodies and minds by an act of God, surely the same God had attached us to our minds and bodies during birth. This takes us to the natural questions – what do we mean by ‘us’? What is this ‘us’ that our bodies and minds are being attached to at birth, and what is this ‘us’ that our bodies and minds are being detached from upon death? It is to be noted here that we see our minds as separate from ourselves, our we would never use phrases like ‘my mind is not working today’ or ‘my legs are troubling me lately’. Clearly, we subconsciously realize that is something else separate within us, beyond our bodies and minds, beyond our physical power and intellect. We can call this our soul, our deepest true self, our primal self.

Different religions make an attempt to describe this – Hinduism tries to help you realize the existence of your soul through renunciation – giving up possessions, wealth, eventually your food, air and the body itself. During this process, you come to realize that however much you give up, something inside you refuses to die – that is your soul. Christians are shown this path through Jesus dying on the cross – Jesus decided to show a path rather than giving too many steps like the Hindus – he has essentially said ‘Try out death for yourself, and you will see what doesn’t die’. Now, death here does not mean suicide, but the experiencing death in the form of loss of our families, relationships, jobs, careers, possessions and the like. Any loss feels like death – it pains us, rips our heart apart. As the Buddhists say, when something is dying, let it die. If your job is being taken away from you despite your best efforts, let go. If your marriage is failing despite all you are doing, let it go. Let things die around you.

When you let things die around you, you master death. For now, death instead of being a force acting against you becomes a tool that helps you wash away the old and ring in the new. Death is a shower; death is a bath with soap and shampoo after a day in the sewers. Death cleans you. You begin to make friends with Death, you embrace change.

You then realize, Death is not always available at your command. True- you can kill things on your own through divorce, a job resignation or a yard sale of unwanted property. But often, Death comes calling when you are not ready or have asked for it. Who has asked Death to come to you? Who decided you needed a shower for you were stinking from not having taken a bath for years? Just like you can’t control when it rains, you also can’t control when Death decides you need a cleansing shower. Death is God in disguise, cleansing you, closing doors you no longer need, opening doors you don’t have the courage or foresight to open on your own. Death is your best friend, and sometimes Birth (of the wrong relationships, jobs, families or friends) can be your worst enemy. You realize you trust Death. This is surrender.

We now reach the next level of questioning – how do I know what I should do, and what I should trust to God in the forms of Birth and Death? You will never know – think of God as your boss who never interferes in your work but allows you complete freedom to make a mess of things at the office. He/she steps in only when you are messing up in the wrong way. Messing things up is perfectly fine as we now understand, for if we are going off path, we experience corrections in our life by either getting things added to our life or removed from our life. So, if we need to allow God to be our boss, we need to allow things to be added or removed. Let us remember, Death is our best friend, not the friends we talk to everyday. If Death decides to remove our friends because you want to marry someone against their wishes, let it be. If Death decides to allow you to start your own company by sacking you from your job, let it be. Therefore, the only way Death can be our friend is through keeping our other relationships on earth ‘loose’. We call this detachment, best explained in Buddhism. Detachment is what helps us prioritize the main relationship in our life, with God, allowing him to do his work. God does his work anyway – the difference is whether you accept his (her) decisions with understanding or you accept his/ her decisions kicking and screaming. Accepting God’s decisions comes through understanding- this understanding reduces our suffering when Death comes knocking. This is surrender.

We now come to the final part of surrender. If we decide surrender is the only way to live, it becomes a religion and cult, rather than a philosophical guide. Our ultimate act should be surrendering surrender itself. Do not accept surrender as the true way, do not force others to surrender – instead surrender yourself to their lack of knowledge. Do not force yourself to accept or apply this article, you are free to surrender this article too.

Thus, as its final parting gift, surrender teaches you that the only person you can control, the only person you can make decisions for regarding surrender is yourself. No one else. By allowing you to surrender everything, including surrender itself, it leaves you with the greatest gift of all- complete, personal freedom of the soul.

The Invisible Ego Behind Conservation and Philanthropy

Photo by Jan Canty on Unsplash

Growing up, I was taught not to waste food, water or much of anything else. I was taught that when the world is suffering from poverty, it did not behoove us to throw away even a morsel of food. The same went for things we owned. Everything was reused. Old clothes became wash rags. Old newspapers were recycled. Electronic items were stored in the hope they would be of use some day. When nothing is thrown away, you learn to find happiness with very little (however affluent or not you may be). Everything was used until its full value had been extracted. People like us have been praised for our focus on conservation. We are grateful for what we have been given and ask no more.

On the other hand, I know many friends and acquaintances who have a ‘giving mindset’. They purchase new things to upgrade their lifestyle and give away previously cherished items. These could include old clothes (similar to the Salvation Army concept), old vehicles, gadgets and the like. People bless them for their generosity. My friends are grateful enough to give away what they no longer need.

While there is nothing wrong with either of these approaches, I am sometimes troubled by the unconscious pattern behind these actions.


Conservationists — Receiving with gratitude:

Conservationists live lives of gratitude- they feel themselves blessed to receive. They maximize the utility of all that comes into their lives. But by throwing little away, newness eludes their lives. When they purchase new stuff, old stuff remains and accumulates. You can’t move easily into the future if your past weighs you down.

However, at some point, every item loses its value and has to be thrown away. Conservationists cope with loss by delaying it.

The Conservationist’s Invisible Ego:

Conservationists try to live above the laws of nature — they cope with loss by delaying it.

All discarded food and water ends up in the trash, which is then fed on by stray dogs and insects, and later by microorganisms that decompose it into the soil. This is ashes to ashes, and dust to dust in the truest sense, and we are part of this cycle.

Becoming attached to ‘what is’ prevents Conservationists from experiencing the new. They cling to life so gratefully that it loses all purpose and meaning.

The Conservationist’s Path to Enlightenment:

This is best illustrated by the following story:

A Zen master named Gisan asked a young student to bring him a pail of water to cool his bath. The student brought the water and, after cooling the bath, threw on to the ground the little that was left over.

“You dunce!” the master scolded him. “Why didn’t you give the rest of the water to the plants? What right have you to waste even one drop of water in this temple?”

The young student attained Zen in that instant. He changed his name to Tekisui, which means a drop of water.

Reference: 122 Zen Koans


Philanthropists — Giving out of gratitude:

Philanthropists also live lives of gratitude. They feel blessed with enough to give away and derive satisfaction from alleviating the suffering of others. They consider themselves loving, caring and compassionate. Seeing others happy makes them glow inside.

The Philanthropist’s Invisible Ego:

Philanthropists don’t delay death, they delegate it. They hate to destroy or discard items, so they assign this task a recycler or second hand purchaser who takes on this burden and hides it from the previous owner’s eyes.

Becoming dependent on others’ happiness to justify their actions, they fail to notice the egoistic self-admiration that fuels their giving. Living in an illusion of selflessness, they do not spot the self-interest hidden within.

The Philanthropist’s Path to Enlightenment:

This is best illustrated by the following story:

While Seietsu was the master of Engaku in Kamakura he required larger quarters, since those in which he was teaching were overcrowded. Umeza Seibei a merchant of Edo, decided to donate five hundred pieces of gold called ryo toward the construction of a more commodious school. This money he brought to the teacher.

Seisetsu said: “All right. I will take it.”

Umezu gave Seisetsu the sack of gold, but he was dissatisfied with the attitude of the teacher. One might live a whole year on three ryo, and the merchant had not even been thanked for five hundred.

“In that sack are five hundred ryo,” hinted Umeza.

“You told me that before,” replied Seisetsu.

“Even if I am a wealthy merchant, five hundred ryo is a lot of money,” said Umezu.

“Do you want me to thank you for it?” asked Seisetsi.

“You ought to,” replied Umeza.

“Why should I?” inquired Seisetsu. “The giver should be thankful.”

Reference: 122 Zen Koans


We compete with nature everyday, trying to utilize our minds and bodies to the fullest before we are forced to let go. On the other hand, we sacrifice our needs for others in the hope that we are seen as better people. Which group do I fall into? Possibly both — at different times and in different areas of my life.

In a world where conservation is celebrated and philanthropy is eulogized, it might serve us well to be honest with ourselves. It has become fashionable to use social media is used to shame those who do not meet society’s standards of sustainable and selfless behavior. But rather than finding others as selfish, I find it useful to hold up a mirror to see how (unconsciously) false I myself may have become.