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Self-love versus self-obsession
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
8 min
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Questioner (Q): Acharya Ji, Pranam! We have been taught not to be selfish. If we start to love ourselves, where to draw a line before we get self-obsessed? Or is self-love the same as self-obsession?

Acharya Prashant (AP): Self-love is a wonderful thing. But one has to really know what love means. Isn’t there a difference between pleasing someone and helping someone? Is there, or is there not?

You have a child in your home. And he keeps asking for sweets. He doesn’t merely have a sweet tooth, his entire jaw is sweet. All he wants is sweets. What would please him? Lots of sweets. What would help him?- “No more sweets! You are already so fat.”

Now tell me what is love? – To give sweets to the child, gratify him, please him, make him happy, make him feel at least momentarily satisfied, make him your great admirer; you offer him, sweets, you know, Or keep him away from the sweets even if it peeves him a little, even if it puts the relationship in a bit of strain, even if it makes him drift a little away from you. Where is love?

The child that I am talking of is the self. Now is self-love, self-gratification, or self-help? In love, must you gratify the other or must you elevate the other? And there is a tremendous difference between these two. You know, don’t you? Which of these two is easier more attractive? Self-gratification, right? If you are with someone, just gratify the person. And most people, when they are gratified, they reciprocate. If you make them happy, they will do something to make you happy. But is that love, to give the fat child even more sweets?

And then there is self-elevation, which is never an easy thing. When you make someone happy, he feels obliged to return the happiness. Whereas when you want to elevate someone, it causes some pain, some stretch, some distress. Chances are that the fellow will not only be not grateful to you, he might even become actively or passively hostile to you. Now that’s such a bad bargain.

First of all, you are investing effort in elevating a person and what is it that you are getting in return?- Hostility! This is the attitude we hold towards others. Obviously, this is also the attitude we hold towards ourselves. When it comes to our life, we find it easy to indulge in self-gratification rather than self-elevation. Self-gratification only flattens the self. And when you tell a fat person “you are fat. Go, run around a little.” Again the probability is that the person will not take it happily or kindly. You may receive hostility in return. The fellow might say, "You don’t want to see me relax. You don’t want to see me happy. And if you are pointing at my fat belly, I'll point at some shortcomings in your personality." And who wants to happily hear shortcomings in his own being?

So you strike a happy deal. You say, “I will keep you happy, you keep me happy. I will scratch your back, you scratch my back.” That’s the relationship we have with ourselves as well. And that’s quite praktitik. We don’t want to take the tougher option. We don’t want to take the less frequented road. Are you getting it?

Pleasing oneself is not at all an example of self-love. If at all, it is an example of a lack of self-knowledge. You cannot have self-love without self-knowledge. It is a great misconception, must be cleared very-very thoroughly, very-very finally- “making yourself happy is not at all an example of loving yourself.” Love does not bother for happiness. Love bothers for rightness, for elevation. Self-gratification flattens the self, self-elevation dissolves the self.

Now obviously you are a fat man; getting a little fatter doesn’t quite hurt you immediately or does it? If you are already hundred-five kilograms, it’s alright to binge a little more and turn hundred and six by the end of the deal. It doesn’t quite hurt, right? You are already a hundred and five. But if someone comes and says you ought to be seventy-five, you want that person to drop dead in front of your eyes- What did he just say? He wants me to lose thirty kgs? He wants me to dissolve? He wants me to reduce? Oh my god! Isn’t life about gaining more and more?

Now, when it comes to the body, you find it obvious that sometimes it is important to reduce, right? But when it comes to the ego, we just don’t appreciate that it is most important to reduce. All we want is an accumulation and further accumulation. Self-love is an exercise in reduction, not further accumulation. Therefore, be it, love, towards somebody else or love towards oneself, real love is always tough. False love is very lucrative, very charming. Oh! There is such a romance around it. But then that romance is hardly loving.

Real love tests, real live stretches, breaks. Real love is like a sculptor, carvings beautiful work out of an unseemly rock. The rock must go through, suffer a lot of hits of the sculptor’s tools. Without suffering at the hands of the sculptor, no rock can ever turn into a beautiful piece of art. That’s love. When you help someone else’s life take a beautiful shape, then you are loving the other. When you help your own life turn beautiful, then you are loving yourself. Are you getting it?

One has to very clearly appreciate the difference between ‘pleasure’ and ‘welfare’. That which pleases you is not necessarily in your welfare. Mostly, if not always, that which pleases you, fattens you, spoils you, degrades you. Be very cautious of pleasure and the elder brother of pleasure, called ‘happiness’. Pleasure is when you are receiving very physical, very carnal gratification. Animals experience a pleasure. Give tasty food, what the animal experiences is a pleasure. Give an opportunity to make what an animal experience is a pleasure.

A little higher than pleasure is happiness. When your aims are achieved, when something happens as per your desired image, then what you experience is happiness. Happiness is more definable, happiness lasts a bit longer than pleasure. But neither the pursuit of pleasure nor the chase of happiness can be called as self-love. Why?- because your contentment cannot come through pleasure or happiness. And love is about giving yourself the highest. When you love somebody, you want to stop short of giving them the highest possible? Similarly, when you love yourself, would you stop short of giving yourself the highest possible?

The highest possible is not content, pleasure, nor happiness. Both pleasure and happiness leave you craving for more. And you know that, have you not? We all have experienced pleasure. We all have experienced happiness as well. Have they ever been sufficient and final?- Never. Therefore if you really love yourself, then it is not pleasure or happiness or gratification that you would want to provide yourself. You would want to give yourself something that lasts, something that is trustworthy, something you can pose your faith on. Getting it? Something that is really an act of intelligence.

Is it intelligent to invest yourself in something that would come to you, be with you for half an hour, and then evaporate?- Doesn’t sound quite intelligent. Therefore, ‘self-love’ is an exercise in intelligence. You have to ask, “what is it that I really want? What is it that would provide me deep and very long-lasting contentment? What is it that would elevate me from the level of desires for the futile? That is what I want to gift myself and that is called ‘self-love’- gifting oneself the highest possible. Right? Beware of a false self-love. Being indifferent to the self is far better than fake self-love. If you do not know what to give to yourself, at least abstain from giving all the toxic and harmful stuff to yourself.

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