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In an interview in 1988, Sai Baba spoke about self esteem or self confidence as the foundation upon which the house of a sound personality is built. He also said that a common form of trickery by psychiatrists is to make people dig up all the worst negative things that have happened to them - such as between husband and wife - which destroys their self esteem. "Self esteem is very important!", he said. So what, more specifically, is self esteem and what creates or enhances it?

In the West, especially in the U.S., a multi-million dollar industry is based on increasing people's self esteem. People pay huge sums to 'self esteem therapists', while research into self esteem and large development programmes have been funded at State level. However, the measurable effects have been shown by many researches to be almost nothing. There is no proof of better school grades, of less violence or crime or of less chronic welfare dependency. (For research results and a far-reaching analysis see House of Cards: Psychology and Psychotherapy Built on Myth by Robin M. Dawes. N.Y. 1994). This indicates that self esteem cannot be had simply by going into treatment, joining a healing group or simply changing one's attitudes towards oneself. On T.V., taking pills (like Prozac) that enhance a feeling of self-confidence is even hotly debated for and against! In all that, a correct idea of self esteem seems to be lacking.

The proponents of self esteem often quote the slogan, 'if you cannot love yourself, you cannot love anyone else'. One main problem with this is that it tends to put the cart before the horse, for the converse is even more true! As Baba always points out, the best way to develop oneself is through loving others rather than loving oneself, such as by changing selfish behaviour.


There are at least two different kinds of self esteem, the selfish or the genuine. Selfish self esteem is to feel good about oneself without backing this up by the requisite good behaviour. One takes pleasure in the ego and seeks only its own satisfaction or apparent happiness. But only a person who always behaves impeccably well in thought, word and deed has genuine cause for self esteem, for that person realises (i.e. 'makes real' in actual life behaviour) divine qualities that are its only valid basis. Genuine self esteem is only felt when one knows within that one's intentions were truly good and one therefore acted rightly in full accordance with the aim.

Self esteem, seen as the opposite of self-destruction or self-hate, is not to take pride in oneself. It arises from natural propensity and develops with personal achievements. It is natural and good that self confidence comes along with knowledge of the world and personal achievements. Yet true self esteem comes only from those that are of a lasting nature - knowing oneself and making qualitative improvements in oneself. Worldly self confidence from positive achievements in the physical and social environment is only a stage from which one has to transform oneself towards realisation of the inner self. Attainments in society and its organisations - whatever the material, social or other results involved - can become as much of a hindrance as a help in maturing the self esteem of a person. With self esteem comes peace with oneself - an inner or psychic quality of the soul. This is mainly achieved through controlling the mind and, as Socrates held, disciplining oneself always to know and to do what is right. When a parent corrects a child with the words "Remember yourself!", this contains an essential truth about how to behave; that we must act in accordance with our true self not behave badly. Not to remember or look to oneself is to lose one's integrity, to 'forget oneself' as the phrase has it, and this cannot lead to self realisation.


It seems clear that self-trust, which may perhaps just be called 'love of self', is the basis of an untroubled mind and an effective personality. But 'love of self' tends more to imply narcissism and cultivation of the ego. A person who is self-confident, whatever he or she may do or have done, may just be acting from self interest and not doing sufficient self-inquiry. Persons who never feel guilt could well be over confident and devoid of conscience. Not to be willing to examine oneself is the essence of self importance, as distinct from humility, both of which are quite visible characteristics in a person's behaviour. Selfish persons usually have the highest regard for themselves, even adopting an air of superiority. If one always has to be No. 1 or always takes the best place for oneself, without sometimes thinking of others, the temporary satisfaction this may bring is no reason to feel self esteem.


Sathya Sai seems to give almost everyone who meets him increased self confidence. He instils it in us by various ingenious means, and not least by the inspiration and striking rightness of his teachings and the ways he lives them. During interviews, Baba often points out and affirms the good in people, thus boosting confidence in their right actions. Yet he has also stated that, though he may say nothing to show it, we are being weighed and tested by Him constantly.

The main test of self esteem must surely be whether or not we really live up to the standards he sets for right action (dharma)? Tests come in many shapes and forms. Tests may be outward, such as when Baba (i.e. apparently) ignores a person for long periods of time at darshan, or equally well through his granting of boons and privileges over a long period. How we react to either type of situation - whether or not we conduct (or maintain) self-examination so as to try to expand our love in humility and take real care of others is a continuing test of the worth of one's self esteem. Both talk and behaviour exhibit in public how well all such tests are taken, and this includes what one does not say (but could or should have) and what good one does not do (though one could have afforded it) and whether we employ ingenuity and imagination in seeing, being and doing good.


The mini-world of Prashanthi Nilayam confronts us with many chances of learning how vastly different individuals are and how easy it is to misjudge others due to our relative ignorance of the amazing variety of customs, behaviour, attitudes and talents (as well as foibles and weaknesses). Such experiences make us more aware why we cannot judge one another on the spiritual level. We can only act and react according to our own dharma according to how well each of us understands it. We may or may not understand another person's heart, but we can evaluate ourselves in our hearts, where lie our real intentions. This is what counts, for Baba has informed us that self esteem arises only from our higher Selfhood, in 'making real' our divine origin and heritage.

(Robert Priddy. May, 1995)

The above material is the copyright of Robert Priddy, Oslo 1999