As I talked about yesterday, humility is our key to the kingdom of God. Unable to perceive our spiritual identity and disgusted with our selfish material covering we need to take shelter of the third verse of Śikṣāṣtaka as our siddha praṇāli mantra, and the key to realizing that verse is humility.
All lines and all words in that verse are based on being humble. That’s where readiness to offer respect to all others come from, that’s what rejecting all personal honor means, that’s where patience and tolerance come from, too.
Maybe these last two qualities need a little clarification. One can be patient without being humble, one can take personal inconvenience as a kind of sacrifice, a temporary condition, a necessary trade off for a big payoff. People are forced into this kind of humility all the time in course of their careers. Some cynics say that this is what careers are all about – brown-nosing bosses and then taking over their positions. I’m not as cynical but nevertheless the problem is widespread.
We reject this kind of humility, it’s demoniac in nature and it is based on ignorance, not knowledge, and as such it’s not conducive to spiritual development. One accepts temporary humiliation on the premise that this is not his real position and that actually he deserves greater respect and greater position. When one achieves it, his humility pays off. This, however, is illusion and has nothing to do with devotional service and seeking the truth about our actual situation, it doesn’t help in any way but rather impedes our attempts at attaining devotion, so such humility must be rejected.
Real humility comes from understanding our actual position as servants of the servants of the servants. Knowing this one’s humbleness becomes eternally fixed and attempts at gaining any respect become perceived as undevotional.
Patience, therefore, becomes not a process of waiting for something, as happens with those who practice false humility for material gains, but a natural state of mind. This is counterintuitive for us. “Be patient” always implies “just wait a little more, it will be okay” but vaiṣṇava patience doesn’t have an expiration date. In fact, it is not “patience” according to our definition at all.
Think of a dung beetle who spends his entire life rolling in feces. “Be patient”, we might say to him, “soon you’ll get a body where you could eat butter and honey”. Makes sense to us but butter and honey are unnatural for this beetle, he has no interest in eating that, he likes his feces very much, thank you. For him it’s not patience, it’s his natural position where he feels very much at ease.
Same happens to devotees, they are not waiting for material sufferings to pass, they are not waiting for material happiness to come and replace them, they are perfectly satisfied in their devotion to the Lord regardless of external circumstances. We might say to them: “Be patient, I’ll get you something to eat, soon your hunger will go away. Wait just a moment, I have this medicine that will make you pain go away, just be patient a little more.”
A devotee, however, does not wait for food and he does not wait for medicine, his patience is not connected with waiting in any way. It appears as patience to us but to him it’s just the way things are and he is fully satisfied with his situation.
Same goes for his tolerance – he does not tolerate discomfort or pain, he simply does not notice it because he does not identify himself with the object that perceives this pain – his body. It’s like Buddhists of Myanmar who do not feel any pain for Muslims slaughtered in their neighborhoods. They do not feel pain of children who lost their parents, wives who lost their husbands, they do not identify themselves with those Rohingya people. We do not aim to emulate those murderous Buddhists but absence of empathy is very helpful when dealing with discomfort. In our case we do not identify ourselves with our bodies and so bodily pain becomes irrelevant.
I guess it’s a controversial topic in light of fashionable concern of the wellbeing of this world but I don’t want to argue that now. I want to talk about humility.
Indians can be very humble, I can’t think of any other nation that produces such top quality servants. British make good butlers, too, but they carry themselves with dignity while Indians leave dignity at the door. They are not alone in that, of course, Asian hospitality is based on this all pervasive humility, but it’s the humility of the wrong kind, as I explained above.
Śrila Prabhupāda defined humility as follows (BG 13.8):
Humility means that one should not be anxious to have the satisfaction of being honored by others. The material conception of life makes us very eager to receive honor from others, but from the point of view of a man in perfect knowledge — who knows that he is not this body — anything, honor or dishonor, pertaining to this body is useless. One should not be hankering after this material deception.
Since it’s in Bhagavad Gītā we learn this definition right in the beginning. Further elucidation on the meaning of humility defines it as fidelity to the truth, to the orders of one’s guru. It’s pretty straightforward connection because our humility is based on knowledge of our true identity – we are not these bodies, so maintaining this humility means never compromising on spiritual truth.
As material bodies we have all kinds of designations but our humility should be transcendent to those, therefore we are not trying to imagine ourselves as our bodies to be lower than grass but we see ourselves as lower than orders of our guru. If guru or Kṛṣṇa puts us into an elevated position we must accepts all the perks that come with it, too. If one becomes a guru on the orders of his spiritual master one must accept his feet being washed, for example.
This gave rise to devotees quick rejection of false humility of the kind of “pamho” and “imho” and “with all due respect”. One must be loyal to the truth, not outwardly inferior, they say. With that they give themselves an excuse to pursue any bone headed idea of their liking. “I am not going to give any credence to opposing opinions because that would be false humility”, they say.
Here one must see the difference between loyalty to the truth and desire to prove oneself right no matter what. It’s not very hard to do if one considers the source of their knowledge. Real truth is never in disagreement with our authorities save for a few slip ups here and there due to the influence of Kali Yuga.
These devotees consider themselves to be enlightened but they are not quite there yet. We need a better version of humility here, the one that does not drive people into a senseless fights with other vaiṣṇavas.
Thing is, we can’t emulate real humility without having realized knowledge about our situation in this world, we have to accept this limitation. We also have to accept that we might be completely wrong just about everything except chanting of the Holy Name.
Everything in this world is shaky and unreliable, only the Holy Name offers us a safe haven, therefore we can argue about philosophy, about practice, about preaching, about purity, about varṇāśrama and when we are done with that we will find yet more points of contention. We must be prepared to accept that in all those fights we are in the wrong. By definition only our guru is right, our own interpretations should always be suspect.
We should also accept that our self-realization will never be complete, so we would never be able to say “I have achieved necessary humility and tolerance”. We should never appear to ourselves as being humble, real humility unattainable no matter how much we try.
We should accept imperfections of our bodies, too, their tolerance is not unlimited, sometimes they WILL snap. Perfect tolerance, like perfect humility, is unattainable in this world. Our reaction to these failures should be swift and decisive, however. We cannot dwell on prayers to relieve us from pain or curses to restore justice, we know better than that.
I would even say that one’s success in humility and tolerance lies not so much in maintaining it but in restoring it after falldowns as quickly as possible. In fact, our whole life in Kali Yuga is not so much about being pure but about constant cleaning our sh*t. We cannot avoid making mistakes but we cannot accept living with mistakes either. This is what makes occasional mistakes into offenses against the Holy Name. “Oh, you know, it’s not so bad, I need some down time for myself, it’s not a big deal.” – that’s how we send a message to Kṛṣṇa that He can wait and our devotion can be postponed. We cannot allow that if we want to succeed in chanting.
This unfortunate situation where we should strive for humility and tolerance but can never achieve it is a trade off we have to accept for the sake of attaining devotion. If it were possible, material world wouldn’t be such a bad place, and if we understand how bad material world is, possibility of becoming perfectly humble and tolerant here would appear to us not as desirable but as a trap that needs to be avoided.
Basically, if we want to become devotees we should abandon all hope that we can achieve any kind of success down here, on the external level of our bodies.