Monday Morning Greetings 2018 #38 – Practicing Humility: Part Three – The Fifteen Core Practices

September 17th, 2018

Saint Augustine once announced to his audience that he would reveal to them the three most essential practices for developing love of God. Slowly he named them one at a time: Humility…. Humility… Humility!

This Monday Morning Greetings I will continue the discussion of the fifteen core practices of humility.

  1. Role Models and Exemplars

Voltaire said that which we appreciate gradually comes to us. It is easier to appreciate philosophical concepts, especially ones that are subtle, when we see those qualities through the life and character of people who live those precepts. Unless we identify those with true humility, people who demonstrate the strength and character to resist the urge for distinction, we may mistake humility for weakness, especially in a world of exploitation where the meek seem abused and the brash promoted. In order to cultivate humility one must consciously choose and think of those that exemplify it.

  1. Respect

Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu writes in the Śikṣāṣṭakam that one of the main symptoms of a humble person is to offer all respect to others. The Eleventh Canto of the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam describes that “others” means all living entities. Being mindful to show proper consideration to others is an essential practice of engendering a humble mood.

One important way to practice such respect, especially for a teacher, is to honor one’s audience. A speaker or teacher should be vigilant to never feel superior to his audience and, as far as is practical, make him or herself available for the sincere inquiries of those who honor his or her teachings, always keeping in in mind the saying, “Without a speaker there can still be an audience, but without an audience there cannot be a speaker.”[1]

A vivid example of this type of humility is Lord Brahmā, the chief authority of this universe. When his son Nārada asked about the identity of God, he profusely thanked him for giving him a chance to acknowledge and speak about Krishna.[2] In his purport of their exchange, Śrīla Prabhupāda even highlights such respect as “the basic missionary principle.”

  1. Introspection

There are certain thoughts, such as envy, that are so antithetical to humility that we have to be mindful to catch and identify them whenever they arise and either outright ignore them or counteract them with opposite and more wholesome thoughts. One of the most predominant forms of envy is to be competitive and envious of peers. A Vaiṣṇava must immediately check such envy and happily acknowledge those who have surpassed him or her in devotion and service. Ideally a Vaiṣṇava even sees all as serving Krishna better than themselves.

Even worse than envy is criticism, for envy rests in the heart and criticism is when it comes out. A Vaiṣṇava militantly avoids criticism. It is simply the servant of pride.

The mind also constantly judges others based on our own opinions. Of course, to practice devotion a Vaiṣṇava must discriminate between whom to revere, befriend, show compassion to, and avoid. That, however, is different from being judgmental, in which case we categorize people according to our likes and dislikes, often seeing a person’s faults as the whole person. Whenever we become judgmental it is helpful to remember that immature people also judge us in the same narrow way.

Therefore, in order to cultivate humility one has to be extremely mindful of one’s thoughts, rooting out envy and thwarting its offspring: criticism and judgmentalism. One must see others for their goodness and service.

  1. Simplicity and Austerity

People have different needs, but when we exceed what we require it only increases our wants, initiating a cycle of ever increasing accruement, attachment, and pride. Simplicity and contentment are thus the foundations of humility.

Tapasya means to continue in one’s duty despite the irrational impulses of the mind and body. By executing tapasya one naturally starves the false ego and nourishes the humble self.

Leading a simple life is thus certainly favorable to the modest feelings of a true devotee.

  1. Country Walks

The modern city is covered by man’s creation, which is mostly matter. As we are spirit, an energy superior to matter, the city subtly maintains and invokes our sense of lordship. Nature, on the other hand, is alive and we much more readily feel the expanse of God’s power within her. A previous Monday Morning Greetings was entitled “I Hate Country Walks”, but despite my city nature, it couldn’t be clearer how deep in the forest, where spirit is pervasive, it is much more difficult to think of oneself as the center.

To delineate and describe the fifteen core practices of humility is again taking longer than I thought. The remaining five listed below will be covered next week:

  1. Adhering to Dharma and Accepting Karma
  2. Prayerful Reading
  3. A Life of Prayer
  4. Meditation
  5. Sādhu-saṅga


[1] I heard Madhavananda Prabhu say this in a lecture, but I don’t remember the reference

[2] Bhag. 2.5.9

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