Monday Morning Greetings 2023 #3 – Śikṣāṣṭakam Verse Three: A Personal Commentary

January 16th, 2023

“One should chant the holy name of the Lord in a humble state of mind, thinking oneself lower than the straw in the street; one should be more tolerant than a tree, devoid of all sense of false prestige and ready to offer all respects to others. In such a state of mind one can chant the hold name of the Lord constantly.”


This is arguably the most important verse for those following Śrī Caitanya. When Śrī Raghunātha dāsa inquired from Śrī Caitanya about the goal of life, this was the verse He recited in response, which is significant, for based on Raghunātha’s strict adherence to this verse he was accepted in the Gauḍīya tradition as the ācārya (the main teacher and exemplar) on how to attain its goal of prema-bhakti.


The phrase “a humble state of mind” is not a literal translation by Śrīla Prabhupāda of any word or phrase in the third verse of the Śikṣāṣṭakam. I think, however, it is an essential inclusion to the translation of this verse to properly convey its meaning, otherwise one might misunderstand that you can think yourself into being humble rather than develop a humble consciousness, or state of mind. In other words, one should certainly think oneself lower than the straw in the street, but that doesn’t mean humility, or any emotion, can manifest by the force of just one or a few thoughts. Rather, humility must manifest by a process of changing our nature or consciousness, which also entails the practice of praying, thinking, and acting in a humble way.


The phrase “a humble state of mind” is also an effective way of categorizing the qualities mentioned in the verse of material insignificance, respectfulness, and tolerance so we can understand them in the context of humility, which is the intent of the verse. It also gives us a frame of reference for the verse’s conclusion and last line—that if you develop this “humble state of mind” symptomized by these qualities, then you can perfect your devotion and chant always.


It is not difficult to see the correlation between the humble state of mind and its symptoms. For example: the quality of tolerance. Naturally a humble person who realizes God as the center of their existence and the object of their adoration doesn’t get disturbed when someone or some things do not conform to the way they want, because a modest person no longer has a sense of entitlement and therefore has no demands for how the world moves around them for their own gratification and feels no frustration when it doesn’t.


A humble state of mind is also the foundation of respect. A humble person can be fully secure and satisfied in their relationship with God and thus doesn’t think of themself better than others, or, for that matter, harbor any resentment to those who are. Free from envy: it is easy to see the spark of God in others and honor them. If one doesn’t have a lens of humility, however, they will only see in others their conditioning and ordinary dealings, even in people who are exalted, and thus miss their inspired or godly side. In contrast, one with a lens imbued with humility will shun honor, for in awareness of God’s presence expecting honor for oneself is neither reality nor what one desires.


I once read a phrase—I can’t remember the source—but it goes something like this: “We don’t think humble to act humble, but rather we act humble to think humble.” So true. Acting modestly, with tolerance and respect—the foundational characteristic of humility—is exactly the process to develop a humble state of mind.


Now the conclusion. If you act this way and develop these qualities, you can chant always. Why? Without humility there is no question of experiencing love, which is the essence of happiness—happiness being the reason we sustain any activity—and thus only the truly humble soul with consequent feelings of love and devotion can chant the names of his beloved Lord with joy ceaselessly.


The significance of this verse for Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas cannot be underestimated, for in this verse Śrī Caitanya Himself outlines His simple four-fold process for achieving love of God, the ultimate goal of life: humility, tolerance, respect and chant the holy name always!



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