Monday Morning Greetings 2024 #28 – Solving the Humility and Self-Esteem Quandary

July 8th, 2024

Those who have been following my Monday Morning Greetings know I have several times approached the issue of reconciling the apparent contradiction that although acts of humility appear to demonstrate a lack of self-esteem, a humble person is actually psychologically healthy. I have written several articles on this point and will share today a new insight on the subject beginning first with the definition of humility that I feel best resolves our quandary.

Humility is seeing God everywhere. Imagine how insignificant one feels as one fully realizes that one is just an infinitesimal particle of God’s infinite magnificence.

The Bṛhad-bhāgavatāmṛta helps us further understand such humility in the description of how a very influential and respected leader of the brāhmaṇas at Kumbha-melā responds to the great saint Śrī Narada who has just declared him the topmost recipient of Krishna’s mercy:

“Who am I but a most wretched person? How much charity am I able to give? What opulence do I have? And how have I ever reciprocated with the Lord in devotional service?” Bṛhad-bhāgavatāmṛta, Part 1, 1.44

Śrī Gopiparanadhana in his commentary on this verse explains the psychology of a very powerful and respected person who sees the reality of God’s majesty, and how that person can think in the most modest of ways:

“Any true devotee of Kṛṣṇa considers himself insignificant, thinking himself one of countless jīvas who are mere sparks of God’s splendor. The devotee is sorry for having foolishly rebelled against his creator. And reflecting on this rebellion, he thinks that his relative influence among other fallen jīvas means little.”

Now that we have hopefully shown how this vision of God invokes humility, let’s try to demonstrate how it also helps reconcile how a humble person maintains self-esteem despite a sense of relative insignificance. I have written about this in some personal notes:

We feel insignificant but not worthless because God is so merciful that He can love every soul and the greatest feeling of worth is to be loved, which can be felt deeply by one who is humble. It’s just like a baby in its mother’s arms. The baby feels completely dependent on the mother, but also feels very loved and valued. As there is nothing that psychologically affirms one’s self-worth more than being loved and feeling love in one’s heart in response, neither the infinitesimal soul nor the small child can ever feel a lack of self-esteem, despite being totally dependent on one much greater than themselves.

Conclusion: Humility and self-esteem, as experienced by a pure devotee, can never be in opposition.


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