Dhanurdhara Swami May 15th, 2014
Below is some of the interesting correspondence I have received after my seminar on humility at Yogamaya last month.
Last Saturday morning at breakfast, I dropped this question on a friend… what do you think the difference is between humility and self-esteem? I wanted to share his answer not only because of its succinctness, but it takes it out of a spiritual context making it totally inclusive.
“A lack of self-esteem is thinking yourself lesser than others. Humility is to not see yourself greater than others.”
I’m not sure that a requisite for humility is a belief in something higher than one’s self, although I do think it is an important part of any spiritual path. I have met and know many “atheists” that are more genuinely humble than some I have crossed calling themselves “spiritual”.
Look forward to hearing what others have been chewing on about this the last week!
The initial quandary that my seminar attempted to tackle was how to not be inhibited in spiritual pursuits that are founded in humility when often the feelings and expressions of a truly humble person parallel one with low self-esteem.
My conclusion was that the feelings and expressions of a person who sees people as better than themselves does not have to be just a result of psychological trauma (low self-esteem). They can also be an expression of a genuine spiritual experience, where one feels the majesty and love of God, an experience that makes one feel happily small and naturally invokes a mood of reverence and service towards others. As God is everywhere one tends to be humbled (less) before everything.
Sri Caitanya (my lineage) instructed his followers that the following was so important that one should wear it around ones neck:
One should chant the holy name in a humble state of mind
Think oneself lower than the straw in the street
More tolerant than a tree
Devoid of all sense of false prestige
And ready to offer all respect to others
In such a state of mind
One can chant constantly
So that’s how I reconcile the feelings of humble person that often parallel expression of low self-esteem.
I think what Amanda is pointing out is that there is another type of humility where one doesn’t necessarily feel less than others, but just not greater than others. If humility is a modest feeling of one insignificance then that is obviously a valid definition. What I was trying to discern is if there is a type of humility where one feels even lower than others that is not a product of low self-esteem. I think there is.
Humility is certainly not the property of those who believe in a deity.
I think an atheist with high moral values is connecting with something higher than themselves.
If they don’t accept absolute moral values can they be humble?