Monday Morning Greetings 2023 #39 – Humility! Humility! Humility! From a Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava Perspective: Part I

September 25th, 2023

I was always struck by the famous quote of Saint Augustine about humility: “If you ask me what the essential thing in the religion and discipline of Jesus Christ is, I shall reply: first, humility; second, humility; and third, humility.” Although Saint Augustine is talking within the context of his own faith, his insight is universal and certainly applicable to the essence of Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism. Therefore, if I was asked the same question that Saint Augustine was asked but in reference to my own tradition, I would also certainly give a similar answer. Below is my own creative analysis of humility! humility! humility! from a Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava perspective:


First Humility


According to Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism, spiritual life begins with humility. The living entity is nitya baddha, conditioned since time immemorial. That means their spiritual self is covered by a conceit—that I know what is best for my life, and it’s to selfishly control and enjoy. The problem is that simply based on our own authority, the pursuance of this misdirected ideal has failed us again and again, for happiness is not in seeking superiority, but in submitting to and serving God and others. After limitless births of directing oneself with such a miserable result, the fortunate soul may finally admit defeat and search for guidance. That recognition—that to be fulfilled I must submit to an authority and truth higher than my own—is the seed of humility and the emblem of character.


Second Humility


According to the school of bhakti, this initial expression of humility attracts the attention of God, who arranges for us guidance in the form of sādhu-saṅga, saintly people, which ultimately leads one to commit fully to serving the truth by surrendering to one who has realized the truth. Such surrender is the foundation of humility because it is not just acknowledging a truth higher than one’s own authority, but making a full commitment to follow it, especially by the process of initiation, which is a solemn vow of full dedication to the teachings of a qualified mentor.


Third Humility


This development of humility, however, does not end with initiation. Nurturing devotion means continually deepening one’s humility, because advancing on the path of devotion means putting the Absolute Truth more and more in the center one’s life and oneself more and more at the periphery as His servant. As humility is integral to devotion, this path of progressive devotion and deepening humility naturally culminates at its height in dainya, utter humility, a devotional mood of extreme meekness and spiritual desperation and despair,[1] which is non-different from prema-bhakti, the height of divine love.


Humility! Humility! Humility! Let me end with humility by offering another quote by Saint Augustine on humility. Please ponder it deeply:


“Do you wish to rise? Begin by descending.”



[1] The idea here is that as devotion deepens the greatness and sweetness of God is increasingly realized which progressively humbles one to the point of increasing feelings of unworthiness for His grace. The despair and desperation one feel are just manifestations of love for God and thus the highest sentiments of devotion and counterintuitively the greatest joy.


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