The difference between confidence and overconfidence is vigilance

Suppose some soldiers are guarding the national boundary from infiltration by terrorists. If the soldiers are diffident that too many terrorists may attack, they may flee at the first sign of danger. On the other hand, if they are overconfident, they will not be alert enough, thereby becoming unnecessarily vulnerable to sudden terrorist attacks. They need to be confident without becoming overconfident. How? By being vigilant. The overconfident don’t stay vigilant, whereas the confident do.

A similar dynamic applies to our attempts in spiritual life to guard our consciousness from infiltration by anti-devotional desires. If we are diffident, thinking that such desires will be too strong to resist, we will cave in at the first sign of temptation. On the other hand, if we are overconfident, we may believe that we are already pure and are in no danger of being tempted. Being thus misled, we won’t stay on guard and will find ourselves overpowered by temptation even before we realize what is happening.

The Bhagavad-gita (02.60) cautions against overconfidence when it declares that even discerning seekers striving for sense control can be overwhelmed by temptations. Thankfully, this is not a scary prognosis of defeat – it is a sobering call to vigilance. The next verse (02.61) assures that if we focus our consciousness on Krishna, we will stay spiritually safe and well-situated. Thus, the Gita recommends vigilance – vigilance not so much to watch out for temptation’s next attack, but more so to stay connected with Krishna through service and remembrance.

Overconfidence means imagining that we don’t need Krishna, that we can deal with temptation ourselves. Confidence means the conviction that if we stay connected with Krishna, his mercy will empower us to survive and triumph.

Thus, being vigilant in executing our devotional practices will enable us to be confident without becoming overconfident.

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