I was speaking to a close friend, and the question came up; isn’t self-improvement, in some ways selfish. My friend is very accomplished, and maybe he feels like it’s time to ‘give back’. But this left me feeling confused, what if self-improvement is actually self-realization – is it then not ‘selfish’ and therefore helping the greater good of humanity? Does his self-improvement feel selfish because it is perhaps tied to his ego and not to the openess to some other power that inspires creation and accomplishment, which is not really ours to begin with…Does this mean that I shouldn’t learn guitar because I should be trying to help others? How do I know if what I’m doing (even this idea of self-realization of becoming one with everything) is ‘selfish’? Thank you shakti, any response would be much appreciated.
shakti’s response is below in red.
Do not mix up self-improvement with self-realization. Self-improvement means you are upgrading the self to a better self (better from the self’s point of view not from an absolute point of view as there is no such a thing)
In self-realization you don’t become better from what you were – you are transformed to another self, the higher self, that contains your old small self and all the other selves that exist within you and outside of you.
Self-improvement is when the caterpillar becomes a better caterpillar, maybe faster or fatter or bigger or more beautiful. Self- realization is when the caterpillar is transformed to a butterfly.
All our actions arise from being selfish, from having a cheesecake to satisfy our sweet tooth, to reaching out for realization to free ourselves from suffering.
The definition in the dictionary for selfish is “devoted to or caring only for oneself; concerned primarily with one’s own interests, benefits, welfare, etc., regardless of others.”
Now you are going to jump to the ceiling…
Our dearest mother Theresa was one of the most selfish people of all.
She fits perfectly with the above definition.
She devoted her life to fulfilling ‘her deep desire’ to help people in need.
She was ‘concerned primarily with her interest’ to feed the poor
She received ‘benefits’ from hugging those that were unloved.
And she did it ‘regardless’ of others’ opinion and ideas of how one should conduct their life.
It is very semantic to think there is a selfish and non-selfish state.
So what makes Mother Teresa so outstanding as a human being as well as Jesus or Buddha?
Their selfishness arose from a state of oneness; not from being separate from everything around them.
By the way, asking the above question is very selfish thing as you wish to satisfy YOUR curiosity:)
So if your friend “feels like it’s time to ‘give back’? and he will fulfill this wish, again, he will fulfill his self’s desire, concern, interest needs etc.
You wrote: “Does his self-improvement feel selfish because it is perhaps tied to his ego….?
No he feels selfish because he falls into perceptions and concepts that are all rising from the ‘separation’ experience of I am, you are.
Helping yourself is helping the universe as long as you do not see yourself as separate from the universe.
Even on the airplane you are asked in an emergency to first put the oxygen mask on your face before you help anyone else; even a small child. It sounds super selfish but it makes sense. If you do not help yourself you can not help anyone else.
You wrote: I shouldn’t learn guitar because I should be trying to help others?
Let’s play a game and see how playing a guitar can help others.
You will need to get a guitar that has been created by someone that makes a living off it.
If someone gives you the guitar as a gift you create an opportunity for some one to practice sharing.
If you take a lesson from a teacher you help someone to make a living, if a friend teaches you, you allow him to fulfill his giving nature.
And maybe one day when you play the guitar you will open someone’s heart with warm feelings that will influence her state of being. Maybe one day you will play the guitar to a child that will smile. The child is the world.