Monday Morning Greetings 2024 #12 – Why Humility is the Jewel of Devotional Practice

March 18th, 2024

Humility is the most important quality in developing devotion. I am therefore always interested in explaining it in various ways to save it from conjuring up misconceptions, such as humility is weakness or that humility fosters low self-esteem. That’s what I will do in this post, but first I need to make the concept of “authority”, which is fundamental to my definition, properly understood, as “authority” means different things to different people based on their personal and cultural experience or what definition they use. First, my definition of humility and then a clarification of the use of the word “authority” in terms of that definition: Humility means to give up one’s false and personal authority to the abode of real authority.


I am not using the word “authority” here in the sense of “the power and right to give orders and to make others obey”, because to acquiesce to such authority would indicate that the blind followers of despots and cult leaders would be humble. Rather, I am using the word “authority” in the sense of “a person of special knowledge” and humility as the tendency to acquiesce to such an authority, specifically to the Absolute Truth.


Also, when I refer to the authority of an Absolute Truth, I am not referring to a specific deity or a particular religion, but more in the sense that there is a logos, a truth embedded within the universe, and that humility is the tendency and feeling to be ruled by universal principles or truths above one’s own authority.


To help make this concept clearer I thought of an analogy to put this perspective of humility in the proper light. Relinquishing one’s personal authority to a greater authority is like the mood of child happily taking full shelter of their loving mother. The analogy is not meant to demonstrate that a humble person needs to be under the constant direction of someone else, for such a person can fend and think for themselves, as those principles of authority (higher knowledge) have already been internalized by their education and life experience.   In other words, the analogy is meant to demonstrate that, like a child in their mother’s arms, a humble person has a positive sense of insignificance when acknowledging the care and direction from a higher authority.


The first symptom of humility is therefore realizing that one’s own personal authority in pursuit of happiness has miserably failed, and that prudence dictates that one seeks a greater authority than one’s own regarding such a pursuit. If one is sincere and fortunate, by God’s grace, one will certainly find such shelter and fully surrender to the direction of such authority (higher knowledge).  As one’s life flourishes under such truth and the people who represent it, the validity of God’s authority and the limits of one’s own becomes more apparent and a deep sense of humility wells in the heart. Feeling mercy from God in this way, one’s devotion also blossoms. So, in this sense I see humility as giving up one’s false and personal authority to the realm of true authority, which, even more significantly, is the jewel of devotional practice:


“One should chant the holy name of the Lord in a humble state of mind, thinking 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 respects to others. In such a state of mind one can chant constantly.” (Śikṣāṣṭakam 3)


Comments are closed.