Monday Morning Greetings 2018 #36 – Practicing Humility: Part Two – The Fifteen Core Practices

September 3rd, 2018

In the last Monday Morning Greetings, I tried to clarify the concept of humility. I offered a definition: To happily accept that there is a truth or authority greater than my own that I should submit to. To be happy small.

 

This week I would like to discuss the practice of humility. Of course, humility is generally not so much thought of as a practice, but a state of mind. What will be discussed here is specifically what one can do to deepen one’s humility, or in other words, the practice of humility.

Humility is our intrinsic nature, as we are an infinitesimal part of the Divine. It’s a humble position as the part, by constitution, is naturally made to serve that which it is part of. Pride, a lack of humility, is born from the false self, the desire for independence, and a sense of inflated superiority. The general practice of humility is thus to nourish or awaken the real self by devotional service and starve the false self or ego by neglect. What this exactly means will become apparent when I discuss the specific practices.

I should add a disclaimer here. The following list is not something I have specifically seen written somewhere. As described in the last Greeting these are just my observations in my quest to understand and practice humility based on my study of śāstra.

 

  1. Spiritual Practice or Devotional Service

God, like any person, reveals Himself in love or devotion. The infinitesimal living entity’s communion with the infinite is naturally humbling. I remember about thirty years ago traveling back from Ranikhet, which is in the Himalayas. The view of the vast range of the Himalayas, which is a spark of God’s glory, was so awe inspiring that I asked our driver to stop the bus. We got out and gazed at God’s grandeur and splendor. I remember feeling very small and blissfully reverent. In the same way, when the infinite and all-attractive Krishna reveals Himself in response to one’s concentrated devotional practice, deep reverence and consequent humility naturally awakens in the heart.

By devotion God not only reveal’s His grandeur, but His heart or love, which is His greatest mercy. The nature of mercy, which by definition means “undeserved”, is that one naturally reflects on one’s own lack of qualification to have received such love, and humility awakens in the heart.

 

  1. Inspiration (Reading Sacred Texts)

In the conditioned state, our faith is in superiority and control, not humility and devotion. To become genuinely humble, we have to first change our subtle egotistic thoughts that for the most part pervade our being and all that we do. The inspiration to change one’s internal thought process comes from hearing the right concepts, and such good ideas come from the śāstra. Therefore, to gain the inspiration to seek the humble position we must first engage regularly with śāstra.

This process of transformation based on good ideas is explained in the following maxim:

From good thoughts comes good action.
From good actions come good habits.
From good habits comes good character.
And from good character comes good destination [1]

 

  1. Act humble

Our actions more powerfully influence our thoughts than anything else. In a recent discussion I had with Mahatma dasa he described this principle as follows: “It is usually easier to act yourself into a new way of thinking than to think your way into a new way of acting. The problem as I see it is trying to be humble but missing opportunity after opportunity to actually act humbly. The idea, for example, is I tell you I am lower than grass, but a moment later I criticize someone or fail to show proper respect to a senior.”

In cultivating humility it is especially important to act humble because one’s thoughts naturally follow where one places the body. In the Bhakti-sandarbha, Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī discusses how this should work when describing the devotional practice of paying obeisances. He described the consciousness of a Vaiṣṇava paying obeisances to the Supreme Lord and the devotees as “I am less or inferior.”

We often have the choice to serve or be served. The humble person, or one seeking to become humble, always makes oneself available for service, which is the very definition of bhakti.

 

  1. Form Relationships and Communities of Trust

To trust someone means that you accept correction from them without taking it personally. Without such relationships it is too easy to fall into a self-inflated conception of oneself. For example, one danger of accepting a position of authority is to isolate oneself from one’s peers. Regardless of one’s status in society we need relationships and communities of trust to get feedback to avoid the pitfalls of pride and help us cultivate humility. Seek real friends ­– those who can correct you.

 

  1. Regret

I remember chanting one quiet winter morning in Vṛndāvana twenty years ago. Suddenly some mistakes that I had made came to my mind. I immediately began to rationalize them, seeing them as circumstantial and so on. At the time I was lecturing in Vṛndāvana on The Wives of the Brāhmaṇas Delivered so that story immediately also came to mind.

The very proud and ritualistic brāhmaṇas had an epiphany that their simple wives were much more spiritually advanced than them. They regretted that their absorption in petty rituals had caused them to ignore the request of Krishna’s friends for food, while their saintly wives immediately acceded to their request to feed Krishna.  What struck me here was the word tapa used to describe the brāhmaṇa’s remorse, a word that also means “heat” or “to burn”. It also dawned on me that tapa was also the same word used for the first of the five rites of Vaiṣṇava initiation (pañca-saṁskāra), which means that an aspiring disciple must regret or be remorseful of his past independent and egotistical nature.

By meditating in this way, I became inspired to own my mistakes and not rationalize them away. I could almost hear my false ego scream in protest.

Regret, accepting our mistakes, is thus an essential practice of cultivating humility.

 

To be continued in a later Greeting called “Practicing Humility Part 3: The Fifteen Core Practices”. Here is a list of the ten further core practices of humility that I will discuss:

  1. Role models and Exemplars
  2. Appreciation and Respect
  3. Internal Mindfulness of Envy, Criticism, and Being Judgmental
  4. Simplicity and Austerity
  5. Country Walks
  6. Adhering to Dharma
  7. Prayerful Reading
  8. A Life of Prayer
  9. Meditation
  10. Sādhu-saṅga

I pray all is well.

 


[1] I first heard this maxim from a famous sadhu in Vṛndāvana when I asked him to share some wisdom with me. Later I was surprised that he was quoting Loa Tzu.

 

 

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