What Are You Worth? The Question of
Are you an achiever? A winner? Are you young, attractive, cool, intelligent? In our modern society, a person’s value is based on such material considerations. So life becomes a struggle for material achievement of some kind. If we succeed in our endeavours, we consider ourselves valuable. If we fail, we feel worthless. But is this how we should determine our worth?
Edited from a lecture by Jagad Guru Siddhaswarupananda Paramahamsa
The Struggle To Feel Worthy
Everyone has experienced a feeling of not being worth very much, or maybe feeling unhappy or insecure because others don’t feel we’re worth very much. Therefore we struggle to achieve a sense of value or self-worth so that we can feel we are a “success” in life. The problem is that this so-called success is gauged by the standards of a materialistic society. Our whole life is judged in this way, not only by ourselves but by our parents, friends and teachers. The whole of society judges our worth, our success, by this same materialistic standard.
Just as an example, a young man goes to college, but he just can’t keep up with the work. He doesn’t even like it or feel any motivation to do what he’s doing. But he feels obligated to struggle on and try to do it. Why? Because his parents will feel that he’s let them down or that he’s not very intelligent or motivated or not very loving.
He doesn’t feel he’s worth very much because his parents don’t feel he’s worth very much, and society doesn’t consider him worth very much either. Every time anybody asks him, “Who are you?” he has to say, “Umm, I’m really nobody; I don’t have a bunch of things to say about myself. This is my name and I got through a couple of years of college, but that’s about it. I worked for a while.” He may think, “God, I should do something to feel worthy of existing. I should prove I’m worth something.” So he dreams, “Maybe I’ll climb a mountain.” He dreams of doing big things, “Maybe I’ll do this big thing, and then I’ll go back to one of those high school reunions or something, they’ll all go ‘Oooh, you climbed the mountain. Ooh, I read about you in the paper.’”
Why are parents and friends like this? Why do parents want their children to succeed so much by these materialistic standards? It is because they are themselves identifying with that same type of success or lack of success. They identify themselves as the body, and they identify their children as their bodies also. If your brain is incapable of producing fantastic ideas for inventions; or it’s incapable of mastering the complexities of the legal system so that you can be a lawyer; or you can’t figure out what physics is all about, then your parents consider that there must be some defect or something lacking in your body – something that maybe they failed to pass on to you genetically.
So their idea of worthiness, their idea of value, is hooked up with yours: your success or your failure is theirs. If parents have a child who is physically ugly or deformed, then they feel that this has cut into their value too, cut into their worthiness. This is all based on false identification of the body as the self, as well as all kinds of materialistic goals and ideas of success.
False Identity Equals False Esteem
This is very sad. There are so many people who are trying to help others achieve feelings of self-esteem or self-worth. There are so many psychiatrists, psychologists, new-age gurus, positive thinkers, etc., all trying to help people increase their feelings of self-esteem. And their idea of the “self,” of course, is the body. They identify the body as the self.
In their minds, self-esteem, as well as the attempt to have someone feel worthy, is connected with the improvement of the body or the position of the body in society. For example, you may take Silva Mind Control to help you increase your ability to manipulate the world or to move up in the world of high finance or be more able to manipulate others and therefore become a famous leader.
They tell you that you will be able to make it in the world if you take a positive thinking course and don’t look at the negative side, of course. For example, instead of looking at the fact that you only have one eye, you should look at the fact that you have one eye. This is their method. It is based on the old saying “Look on the bright side.” If you lose your leg, they say, “Look on the bright side: you didn’t lose your other one.” These are the optimists of the world. I love them. They’re great. Millions of people have had their bodies destroyed or killed in Vietnam. They say, “Well, look, millions weren’t.” Oh well, that’s another way to look at it. These positive thinkers are too much.
The Plastic Fix
Different people have different methods to try to bolster your self-esteem. The plastic surgeons have their method. If you start feeling a little unworthy because your skin is starting to sag or your face is starting to drop, then go to the plastic surgeon, and he will pull, tie and snip and bring the skin back to its right position with the bones.
If your breasts are sagging because you’ve had a few children and your body is over forty years old, and you’ve got this little thing covering your body, this little bikini, and you’re walking down the beach, then you’ve got this feeling inside of you that “I am ugly.” Nobody looks at you like “Wow!” but they look at you like “Ugh!” – then it hurts your self-esteem because you think you are your body. So what can you do? You can go to the surgeon, and he can help you with your self-esteem by trying to improve your body with silicone injections or implants. He fills it up with plastic and re-contours the shape, fixes it to make it look the way it did at twenty years old.
There was a story in a magazine about a lady who had had plastic surgery. She said, “I just can’t wait for summer so that I can show off my new breasts in my bikini.” You see, the surgery was for her self-esteem, it helps her psychologically. Now she feels so much more worthy. Instead of being pessimistic and down all the time, she’s right up there now, just feeling as high as a kite because she’s got new breasts.
“What Will They Think?”
Maybe you drive one of those little cars and you’re driving down the street and everybody’s passing you. Maybe your left door is green, and your right door’s brown. It’s rusted out on the sides, and the fenders are sort of falling off. Everybody’s passing you, and you feel that maybe you are not so worthy. Maybe you feel a little low or ugly or maybe you feel a little less than others. If you’re driving a Cadillac or a higher class car, then you’d be cruising. You’d be “in there.”
This is how materialistic people judge each other, and this is how others judge you. Everybody wants to feel that they have value, but the value is based on whether their body has value. It’s also connected with other people. For example, you don’t want to be around people whose bodies are ugly. You want to hang around beautiful people. You don’t want to hang around with people who ride buses or who drive around in cars that shouldn’t be allowed on the road. You want to hang around people who drive the fast cars and who dress in fancy clothes. Why is this? It is so you can feel you also have value.
Why does a girl not want to go out with a guy who’s got the kind of car that is falling to pieces? Maybe one of the guys reading this article can identify with this. A boy goes to pick up a girl, he thinks, “I wonder what she’ll think of the car? If I pull up in front of her house, and the thing is making all kinds of noise, and I try to let her in and she can’t open the door and I have to kick it open, and then after she gets in I’ve got to go around the other side and wire it shut, you know, I will die of shame.”
So this is due to the desire to feel worthy. Children don’t know anything about this, but when they get a little older, they find out about it. Then they have to start feeling worthy. Or they start feeling not so worthy because they didn’t succeed as much as they wanted to, as much as they should have or thought they could have in life. When their bodies start getting to forty or fifty, they start thinking back on their life. “Maybe I have not achieved very much. I’m not very worthy. I don’t even have a book written yet.” Intellectuals gauge whether they have succeeded in life by whether or not they’ve written a book or somebody else has written a book about them. Then they can have something solid in their hand, an achievement, to make them feel “I have value.”
Of course, a person whose face is ugly or body is deformed has to try to find his value somewhere else. People with the beautiful bodies can feel value for a while. But the people whose faces are ugly from the beginning or maybe talk with a dumb sound have a hard time because their whole life they feel they don’t have much value. So they have to try to find value somewhere else, maybe in art. They draw pictures and try to have beauty there, and everybody goes, “Gee, you really do have value.”
If somebody is blind, maybe they can succeed in the field of music or painting, and everybody says, “Gee, you’re not so worthless after all. That guy, he’s okay; he’s succeeded in something; he has some value.” All the blind people who haven’t achieved such things, of course, have no value at all. They just get in the way all over the street, walking around with their sticks. And everybody’s thinking, “This guy’s of no value,” and he’s feeling, “I have no value.”
Bodily Achievements are Temporary
So your value is based on all these material considerations – your power, your control, your ability, your beauty, your success, your money, all of this. It is based on false bodily identification. But try to understand this point: No matter what you achieve materially, it is really valueless. It’s all going to go down the toilet of time. Look at even the most famous of men: they’ve all ended up on the trash heap of history.
All the famous people of five hundred years ago, a thousand years ago or five thousand years ago – today you don’t know any of those guys. You don’t know anybody’s names, practically speaking. All the successful people are of no value. And even if you do know their names, it doesn’t help them in any way. They still had to go down the toilet of time, flushed like an ant. It’s of no value.
If you think you are the body, don’t forget that your body is going to rot along with all the achievements of your body – everything’s going to rot. Your body is just going to end up a smelly, stinking corpse, no matter how many times you try to squeeze the skin, nip and tuck and all this plastic surgery nonsense. It’s still going to end up a rotting, stinking corpse which will have to be buried or burned. That’s a fact. Does that make you feel a lack of self-esteem?
If you think you’re the body, then you should remember you’re rotting every minute. There’s no way you can actually feel you have value or know you have value if you think you’re the body. Any such feelings would be artificial, fake.
Your Real Value
But your real value is there. You really do have real value. This is what is so sad about attempting to find feelings of self-esteem, value and worthiness in the temporary body, in this material world. You don’t need so-called success and value to really know how valuable you are. You can be a complete failure in all the materialistic ways of looking at success and failure. You can have an ugly face; you can be blind; you can never have climbed a mountain; you can never have written a book; you can never have made a lot of money; you can never have graduated from elementary school. You can be a complete, absolute failure from every single angle, and yet you can know that you are of real value.
What is that value? You are not the material body at all. You are a shining, eternal, effulgent spark of the Supreme Soul. If you were the child of a very rich person, a very famous person, you would find your value in that. That would be your value. But this is who you really are: you are a child, you are a spark, you are a friend, a relative of the Supreme Person – the most beautiful, the most wise, the most loving, the most wealthy, the most powerful living being – the Original Cause Himself.
Amazing Spirit Soul
If you look into the teachings of Sri Bhagavan in the Bhagavad-gita, Chapter 2, verse 23-24, you will find a description of yourself, the spirit soul:
“The soul can never be cut into pieces by any weapon, nor burned by fire, nor moistened by water, nor withered by the wind. This individual soul is unbreakable and insoluble, and can be neither burned nor dried. He is everlasting, present everywhere, unchangeable, immovable and eternally the same.”
Let’s look at some of these descriptions: “You, the living entity, the spirit soul, can never be cut into pieces by any weapon.” That makes you greater than Bruce Lee, John Wayne and all the other great guys.
“Nor can you, the spirit soul, be burned by fire.” Now, if you could go into a fire and come out unharmed, you would feel worthy, right? You would be the only guy who could do that. Nothing happens to you and everybody goes, “Wow, that guy’s really worthy.”
“You can’t be moistened by water, and you can’t be withered by the wind.” This is wonderful. “You are unbreakable, insoluble” – you can’t be melted like sugar in water – “you can’t be burned nor dried. You are ever-lasting. You’re unchangeable, immovable, eternally the same. You are invisible, inconceivable, immutable, and unchangeable.”
There’s another description here: “Some look upon you, the spirit soul, as amazing; some describe the spirit soul as amazing; while others, even after hearing about the spirit soul, can’t understand the spirit soul at all.”
This is the first point to understand. You are the spirit soul within this body. “Aham brahmasmi: I am spirit, I am not matter.”
You are eternal. Your natural position and your natural essence is spirit, not matter. You are by nature eternal, blissful and full of knowledge. This is your real condition; and the condition you are now in is only temporary.
Just as a diamond gets covered by dirt, oil and so many different kinds of minerals and filth, in the same way so much filth can cover you. But you still remain an eternal spark of the Supreme, an eternal child of the Supreme Person, and that is your real essence, your real value. By yourself you’re nothing, and as long as you identify yourself as the body, you’re worse than nothing. You’re a lost nothing. But actually you are never really nothing; you just don’t know that you are really so valuable.
So spiritual life means to remember your real identity, not to conjure up a new false identity by joining a new club or group or putting on a new label. Spiritual life means realizing your eternal identity, as a spark of the Supreme Soul eternally, a part and parcel of the Supreme Person. And furthermore, you do not need to be of any material value. You don’t need to succeed in any way, in any endeavour, in order to be loved or to be considered valuable by Him. In other words, the Supreme Person’s love for you is unconditional. It’s not that if you are a success, you are loved or if you are bright, you are loved. It is unconditional love. This is the real experience of value.
When you really know that you are the eternal spirit soul, part and parcel of the Supreme Soul – not matter at all – when you know this, then you will actually experience real freedom and real value, especially when you fully appreciate that you have the best father, the best friend, one who really accepts you and loves you unconditionally. This is where you will find the real experience of self-esteem or worthiness.
This doesn’t mean that a person becomes arrogant, but rather he is humbled by this relationship with the Supreme Person. As long as a person tries to find feelings of self-worth in this material sphere, identifying with the material body and trying to find one’s value in connection with this body, his endeavours will necessarily end in failure. It is an attempt to delude oneself into feeling worthy. It’s fake. It is conjured-up self-esteem. When real self-esteem is there in your real identity, there’s no need for all this conjuring up of fake self-esteem based upon the ignorance of identifying yourself with the body.
You can be a success and have a high idea that “Oh, I’m a nutritionist,” or “I am a lawyer,” or “I am an educator,” or “I am a professor and everyone looks up to me,” or “I am a successful actor,” but this is not your true identity. You may put some value on the fact that you’re a successful professor, lawyer, nutritionist, or you’re well thought of in the community, and that people like you or love you, but it really pales in comparison to the value that you will feel when you realize that you are not your body, that you’re not a housewife or a lawyer or any of these other false identities.
It is no big problem to feel that you are of value because of your accomplishments, but when you realize that this isn’t really you, then you’ll experience actual value. Then you’ll see how insignificant in value this other stuff is. Everybody knows it’s a fake, a farce, anyway. Everybody knows that they faked it, that they’re just trying to conjure up an image and squeeze enjoyment out of it. “I made it and I am this and I am that.” They try to project this image, but they themselves know that they’re really lost.
Those who are materially successful need to understand that all this false pride – this idea that “I’m a successful person, I’m a good man, I’m a good husband, I’m a good wife, I’m a good person, I’ve pleased my parents, I pleased society, I pleased everyone” – is just leading them to a breakdown somewhere along the line. Somewhere along the line, they’re going to realize the truth – that it all means nothing. Maybe it won’t come until the time of death or until after they leave their body. Then they’ll have the nervous breakdown of their lives when they realize that all that stuff just went out the window with their body. If your self-esteem leaves when your body leaves, it means it’s of no value any more. If you say, “I am a lawyer,” the answer will be “What do you mean, you’re a lawyer? You’re not even in your body anymore! There are no courts! What do you mean, you’re a lawyer?” And you will realize, “Oh, that’s gone. I’m not a lawyer anymore.”
All your false identity and everything you’re proud of, leaves with your body. Therefore if you don’t know your real eternal value as spirit soul, it’s not going to stick with you when you leave. It’s just temporary; it’s false. A person should understand and experience his or her real identity first. “I am spirit soul, not the body. I am eternal, not temporary.
The Highest Happiness
When a person experiences his or her value in this sense, that “I’m part and parcel of the Supreme Person,” then they will also experience humility. One can experience the highest bliss in the Holy Name, and one can chant the Holy Names of the Supreme when one is feeling really worthless. What is that worthlessness? Chaitanya Mahaprabhu put it this way: “One can chant the Holy Name of the Supreme in a humble state of mind, feeling oneself lower than the straw in the street and more tolerant than the tree, devoid of all sense of false prestige, ready to offer all respects to others, and never expecting or desiring others to show him respect. In such a state of mind one can chant the Holy Name of the Supreme constantly.” Such a person is constantly in communication with the Supreme Person, linked up, in yoga, union. The happiness derived from this loving union with the Supreme Lord is not surpassed by any happiness of any kind, whether it’s the happiness derived from sense enjoyment, from psychic or mystic powers, or from merging into the Brahman effulgence – it is not surpassed by any type of happiness. The happiness of loving service to the Original Cause is not to be surpassed.
Although one should fully appreciate their value first, one should not be hung up on this lack of self-esteem based on lack of bodily success. Humility which is combined with ignorance is of no value. Humbleness or humility must be wedded to wisdom. The humility of feeling “I am of no value because my face is ugly or because I’m not a success materially, or my parents don’t think I’m a success and I’m not pleasing to them fully,” is not spiritual humility. It is not the humbleness being spoken of by Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.
That humbleness spoken of by Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and all saintly persons is based on the wisdom of first understanding your eternal identity as spirit soul, not the material body.
You must first know “Aham brahmasmi – I am spirit, not matter. Wow! I am the dazzling spark of the Supreme Soul. I’m eternal. Nobody can cut me into pieces; I can’t be burned by fire. I’m the spark of the Supreme, the child of the Supreme Person.” This must be understood first; that’s the foundation. You can’t be identifying the body as the self. You can’t be moaning and groaning because “I don’t do anything in life. I’m a failure. I haven’t gotten anything. I tried this and all I do now is mow lawns for a living, and my parents look down at me.” No, this is not humility. This is not spiritual life. This is not the humility described by the sages as being necessary to know the Original Cause.
Humbleness is based on wisdom that “I am a spark of the Supreme Soul.” Such humbleness is combined with knowing that “I’m now in the material world and I am not feeling any love for the Supreme.” That is humility, feeling that “I, an eternal spark of the Supreme Soul, a child of the Supreme Soul who loves me unconditionally – I am still caught by lust, by greed, by anger, by envy. I am still bound up in ignorance, identifying my body as my self. I have no love for the Supreme Person and I have no shelter. I can’t protect myself from the onslaught of material nature, of illusion, of desire. I therefore fall down on my face and cry out, ‘My dear Lord, please protect me. I am nothing. I am not worthy of Your protection. I am not worthy of Your letting me render service to You, but I have no salvation but You. I have no friend but You. I have no protection but You. I have no shelter except for You.’”
As Sanatan Goswami prayed, “My dear Lord, I crawl to You on the ground with a straw between my teeth, begging You, please accept me as Your servant.” This is the humility or humbleness spoken of by Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Simultaneously he knows – along with the greatest self-esteem that he is the spark of the Supreme Soul, a child of the Supreme and a servant of the Supreme – one is experiencing great humility that he’s not a good servant, that he’s not strong and that he needs the protection of the Lord. He feels he has no love for the Supreme and that he has no love for others. He’s very sorry about this. He wants to have more love for the Supreme Person and more love for others. This is the consciousness of one who is spiritually perfected.
So meditate on this and be blissful in this understanding. Then there is no need to go climb the mountain. There is no need to try to get your face lifted. There’s no need to feel any kind of sorrow or feeling of “I’m not worthy because I didn’t do what my parents thought I should have been able to do,” or anything else. No more. That’s finished. I am worthy. I am not great, but I am of value because of only one reason: I am the spark of the Supreme Soul. I am His child. He loves me unconditionally, and I don’t need anything else. This is everything for me.