What is Abhiman or Self Pride?

Hinduism Concepts

by Jayaram V

"Abhi" means towards, in the direction of and "maan" means "respect" or "esteem". Abhimaan literally means "oriented towards (one's) respect or self respect. In a broader sense it means any or all of the following: feeling proud of oneself, feeling respectful towards one self, self-pride, self-esteem or having a high opinion of oneself.

In worldly life, having self-respect or some form of pride in oneself is not considered objectionable. It is even a desired quality since it helps you to stand for yourself and belief in yourself. In many professions it is a prized quality since one's success or failure depends upon it. However having excessive pride in oneself is a problem and an obstacle to one's peace and happiness. In spiritual life, it becomes a problem since it is an aspect of the ego. Excessive egoism is a sign of excessive pride (mada).

In Hinduism pride (abhimana) is a desirable quality as long as it is within limits and does not become a problem to oneself and others. In certain cases, it can be a virtue as in case of warriors since it contributes to their courage and confidence. However, in extreme cases it can lead to aggression and violence. Pride in oneself (atmabhimanam) is desirable only when one is restrained, balanced and stable.

In Hindu spiritual practices, excessive pride, which is known as mada, is considered one of the five chief evils (pancha pataka). It is a sign of the predominance of tamas and rajas which results in delusion, egoism, ignorance and deep attachment to one's name and form, which are but temporary. Hence, in all spiritual traditions, the initiates are advised to guard themselves against pride in all its forms.

Pride may inspire people to perform extraordinary tasks. However, it is mostly considered a negative quality because it is hard to restrain oneself in difficult situations. Our Puranas show that pride often consumed the best of our sages and seers and led to wars and unhappy consequences. Ravana was consumed by excess pride, which eventually led to his downfall.

Duryodhana also had excess pride, which brought him into conflict with Pandavas and resulted in the epic Mahabharata war. Kaikeyi had pride and brought ruin upon her family. Draupadi too had pride, because of which she did not rest until her husbands avenged the insult and the ignominy she received in the hands of Kauravas in a full court.

Thus, abhimana or pride becomes a positive and negative trait depending upon one's spiritual growth and obligatory duty (dharma). On the positive side, it helps one stand for oneself and defend oneself or others against evil. On the negative side, abhimaana may lead to duplicity and defensive behavior. In some cases it may also lead to loss of inner peace, balance and rationality and prompt people to engage in irrational and destructive behavior.

We may divide self-pride into three categories, gentle pride induced by sattva, egoistic pride induced by rajas and demonic pride induced by tamas. Of the three, the last one is self-destructive. The demons excel in it and thereby invite trouble for themselves. From a spiritual perspective, self-pride is a sign of selfishness, worldliness, imbalance or instability, egoism and attachment to worldly things. It denotes the predominance of rajas, duality and attachment. It is a reflection of excessive worldliness.

In the Puranas we find many characters who were endowed with excessive self-pride, even the most enlightened ones, such as Viswamitra, which lead to serious consequences. The Mahabharata war was precipitated by pride. Apart from Duryodhana, many characters such as Sakuni, Duryodhana, Amba, Asvatthama, Jayadhratha, Bhīma and Draupadi contributed to it in their own individual ways because of their self-pride.

Egoistic pride made Duryodhan feel humiliated and vengeful when Draupadi, the wife of Pandavas, laughed at him in the hall of illusions (maya sabha). That one incident alone caused by the immaturity of Draupadi and pride of Duryodhana precipitated in a significant way the great battle of Mahabharata in which millions of lives were lost.

Thus having egoistic pride is not a desirable situation especially if it is induced by egoism, worldliness and rajasic ambition. The antidote to self-pride is cultivating humility and detachment. Only through detachment and dispassion one can control one's pride and desires and experience peace and equanimity. Feeling upset and disturbed for every small incident is a sign of excess egoism. Hence it should be avoided.

In ascetic traditions of ancient India, the initiates and the ascetics were required to renounce everything including their self-pride and to cultivate humility and equanimity there were expected to wander from place to place begging for food. That act alone grounded them into surrender, submission and humility. With self-pride you many conquer the world or impress others, but if you want to conquer yourself, you have to set aside your personal pride and cultivate humility.

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