Here’s another nasty feature of the material world that comes into our hearts and destroys any hope of attaining devotion – pride. It’s one of the six greatest enemies of the mind or six effects of māyā – kāma, krodha, lobha, moha, mada and mātsarya. Pride here is mada, which is also the word for intoxication.
Interestingly, pride is also one of the seven ingredients of mahābhāva, which isn’t that surprising because that list also includes things like anger and envy. When it’s related to Kṛṣṇa it’s all good and one is allowed to be proud of becoming a pure devotee of the Lord, as was stated by Śrila Prabhupāda many times.
Pride which destroys us comes from mundane fame, pratiṣṭhā. This was specifically mentioned by Lord Caitanya in his instructions to Rūpā Gosvāmī (CC Madhya 19.159) as one of the unwanted creepers that might grow alongside bhakti.
Pride being bad as it is, it also compounds our sufferings because it often becomes the cause of anger, as was evident from the episode of great sage Durvāsā Muni becoming angry with Mahārāja Ambarīṣa. IIRC, Durvāsā Muni thought he was so great and important that he expected Mahārāja Ambarīṣa to drop his concerns with proper rules of breaking the ekādaśī and become concerned with attending to Durvāsā Muni first. This lead to Sudarṣana Cakra chasing Durvāsā Muni all over the universe because no one messes with Lord’s devotees. Pride, anger, offense, death – that is the karmic chain of events that we should always be aware of. Durvāsā Muni survived, luckily for him, but we are not great sages and will be crushed.
If sex is the gold standard of unwanted temptations, pride, in some ways, is even worse. For sex to take over your mind you need a counterpart, either in person or in imagination, but pride can creep in completely on its own and at any time. Sexual urges require suitable body – it doesn’t affect children and even old people are usually spared but anyone can be affected by pride, even dogs. Oof, oof, grr, grr – I’m such a powerful dog, don’t come near me.
Pratiṣṭhā implies adoration by other people yet we can manage to be proud of ourselves entirely on our own. We just have to set some standards and achieve them, that’s all. It’s so easy – complete sixteen rounds early in the morning – great achievement, congratulate yourself and ruin the rest of the day by doing it. Fasting is another great source of pride – look at me, I’m such a great yogī, māyā has no power over me, I control my senses. This, of course, is māyā talking, not you, so pride also leads to delusion.
If you look at it this source of pride it becomes clear that pride, in its essence, is a willful acceptance of illusion of being our bodies. If we become pure devotees and attain pure spiritual bodies then pride rising from that achievement is purely spiritual and to be commended, so pride by itself is okay but pride that leads to illusion is not. I still don’t quite get it but who am I to argue? I mean – do people in the spiritual world walk around full of pride like ordinary ***holes down here? I hope not but who knows.
If pride is so bad, how can we avoid it? I’m afraid it’s not possible. It looks like pride is an essential, defining feature of being a conditioned soul. Pride is liking our illusory identity and satisfaction with our given bodies and this is one of two functions of māyā – āvaraṇātmika. It makes us feel satisfied with ourselves in ANY position, no matter how low. We can’t avoid it, it’s what makes us live here in the first place.
So, if we can’t avoid it, how do we deal with it? Rejecting it would be the wrong option, it would be false renunciation stemming from desire for liberation, which is deeply impersonal in nature. As devotees we need to learn how to see pride in relation to the Lord just as we need to learn to see the rest of the creation of as Lord’s energy and all happenings down here as Lord’s pastimes with the dumbest of the souls. I mean we don’t like interacting with the Lord in the spiritual worlds and prefer to deal with Him manifested as māyā – how dumb is that?
There is another way pride is worse than sex – sex we can simply avoid altogether, never think of it, never acknowledge its existence, purge it our from our consciousness. We can’t do that with pride, it will always be there as long as we identify ourselves with our bodies, there’s no escape.
Here we have to keep in mind that pride is a relative term. As a mere satisfaction with being in illusion we feel it only ourselves but as this satisfaction grows other people notice our self-importance and that’s when we get pratiṣṭhā, mundane glory, and that’s when they start talking about our pride. Does it mean we are too far gone? No. Can we stop it? Not really.
It’s the same Lord’s energy awarding us results of our karma, just as this birth is the result of our karma or our paina and happiness are the results of our karma, there’s no qualitative difference, sometimes we get more, sometimes we get less, we have to learn to deal with it regardless. Likewise, if we manage to disassociate ourselves from illusion it won’t matter how much karma is coming our way, when qualitative difference is there, quantity doesn’t matter.
In that sense big pride noticed by others is better – it’s easier to recognize, understand, and accept as external to our being, subtle pride of simply being “ourselves” is much harder to see and much harder to separate ourselves from. Perhaps we should start with dealing with big pride first, learn how it feels, learn how to respond, and then tune our consciousness to recognize it in progressively subtler forms. I’ve never heard this prescribed anywhere but it makes sense.
To make it clear – we should see mundane recognition as results of our karma, it comes and goes according to the laws of nature, nothing to do with ourselves being great or small, and recognition for any devotional practices comes due to guru and Kṛṣṇa’s mercy, nothing to do with ourselves either. If we see the cause of fame as separate from ourselves we would not give in to pride so easily. We’d see it as external and related to our bodies, not to our souls. It would be: “Yeah, if I were to assume my bodily identity I’d feel very proud at this moment but since I’m not this body then I’d rather not, it has nothing to do with me and it’s very dangerous.”
Easier said than done but there’s no other way – illusion is defeated with knowledge and knowledge starts with theories, not realizations. At least we’d know what we need to know.