What Is There To Be Proud of?
During his 1982 tour of South Africa, Maharaj Charan Singh was asked: “How can we learn to be humble?” His response was: “Sister, what is there to be proud of?” Based on the reaction of people in the audience who burst into laughter, and the next person, who hastily proceeded with his question, the profundity of Maharaj Ji’s answer may have been lost. Let’s try to remind ourselves of the wisdom of that answer.
If we had to ask ourselves this question today, we might claim that we have much to be proud of. We may, for example, be proud of our material possessions, our physique or our position in life; or of the success we may have with our studies and our jobs, or even of our health and our families. At our level of awareness, it could seem logical that since we worked hard to accomplish these achievements, being proud of them is no crime. So what could Maharaj Ji have meant when he asked: “What is there to be proud of?”
In order to understand his question, we should examine what we are proud of, then ask ourselves why we are proud of it, and if we are justified in being proud of it. If one is proud of one’s academic achievement, possible reasons could be being the top of the class or receiving merit awards. But an analysis will reveal that what we learnt and regurgitated in our exams is knowledge developed by others and imparted to us. So what is learnt is not our own achievement but someone else’s. We merely take other people’s knowledge, memorize it and pass it off as our own. So can we be proud of our academic achievements?
If we carefully analyze everything that we could possibly be proud of, and if we are honest with ourselves, we will realize that our individual role or contribution is minuscule. Even with regard to our intellectual understanding of spirituality, there is the risk that we can become proud, feeling that we may know more than others. But is our intellectual understanding not due to the grace of the Lord and the teachings of the Masters? Without their teachings we would know nothing. What is there then we can be justifiably proud of, if we cannot even claim credit for our understanding of spirituality?
Our pride usually arises when we take credit for something or think we are better or more important than others. In Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. I, Maharaj Charan Singh says:
As long as the mind is in control, it always wants to be the master. Mind does not want to be the slave – it does not want to surrender to anyone. The mind always feels: I am better than everybody in the world; I am superior to everybody. So unless the mind becomes pure, unless we are able to eliminate the ego, we cannot be filled with humility.
The Masters explain to us that another name for mind is ego. Ego is essentially the notion of individuality or I-ness, as a result of which people may think and behave as if they are more important than everybody else. It is a sense of self-importance or superiority over others. Ego tends to disregard the existence of the soul and God, and presumes that the mind exists independently and is superior to all.
The primary attribute of ego is its subtlety. It has been compared to a tiny black ant on a large black rock on a dark, moonless night. This means that it exists but it is invisible to us, or that it is camouflaged as something else. Another name for ego is pride. It is considered to be the worst of the five passions and the very last to leave us before we reach the pure spiritual plane. So if ego or pride is the last to leave us, it has to be the greatest stumbling block in our spiritual ascent. Therefore it is best we understand it thoroughly, so that we can be aware of its pitfalls and assist in its demise.
The opposite of or antidote to ego is humility. Of all human qualities, perhaps the most admirable is humility. This is most evident in the living Masters, who are the perfect examples of humility. Baba Ji once used an analogy to illustrate the futility of our self-importance or pride. In a household, he said, the father may be the most important person, but in the neighbourhood someone else would be more important. Similarly, in the city the mayor will be more important, while in the province the governor will be, and in the country the president will be more important. So our sphere of importance is relative and very limited, and there is always someone else more important than us.
We are invariably humble before someone more important than us. So if we realize that we are not as important as we think we are, it becomes easier to be humble. Of course, in the whole creation the Lord is the most important, and by comparison we are insignificant.
But how can we come to the realization of our insignificance and eliminate pride and ego? How can we become humble? This can only be achieved through the spiritual practice of meditation. The object of meditation is to focus our attention at the eye centre so that the mind gets a taste of a pleasure that is far beyond any pleasure ever experienced here in the creation. Unless we give the mind a pleasure better than the sensual pleasures, it will always run downwards and outwards towards the senses. When our attention is fully concentrated at the eye centre, we experience the joy and bliss of the divine melody within us, and there is no pleasure greater than this experience. The mind then ceases running downwards and outwards towards the senses, and slowly the senses lose their control over the mind. The mind now loses its control over the soul and the soul becomes dominant.
When the soul is released from the clutches of the mind its brilliance becomes evident, and it shines. All the good qualities of love, forgiveness, chastity, detachment, contentment and humility rise to the surface like cream that rises to the top of the milk. Until we reach this stage, however, we remain victims of anger, greed, lust, attachment and ego.
Humility is an attribute of the soul, while ego is an attribute of the mind, and these two are diametrically opposed. In Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. I, Maharaj Charan Singh says:
We can only get humility when we are able to eliminate ego. Ego comes out of the mind, so unless the soul leaves the mind, we can never realize the real humility at all. When we are able to eliminate the ego, then we are filled with humility because there is always humility in the soul, but there is none in the mind. Mind always wants to assert itself. It does not want to submit to anybody at all.
If the key to meditation is love, then how should we meditate? It helps to sit with an attitude of begging for his help and grace because this is not an easy task that we’re undertaking. And then it helps if we feel love for our Master – love which he gives us in response to the effort that we make to practise meditation as taught to us at our initiation. In the process we use the habits or attributes of the mind. The mind generates thoughts, so in meditation we replace these thoughts with repetition of the five holy names given to us by the Master. While repeating these precious names we should heed Maharaj Ji’s advice when he says:
Put your whole mind in these words; you will automatically feel the love and devotion. Let no other thought come in your mind. Let the whole of yourself, the whole of your mind, be in the simran.
Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. II
Simran may be accompanied by dhyan, the visualization of the form of the Master. We do this to assist us in keeping the attention at the eye centre. Once we have concentrated the mind, we are then asked to listen to, or for, the Sound. It is this inner Sound that will ultimately pull us upwards and inwards to the Lord within. Once we attach ourselves to this inner Sound and Light, we automatically lose our identity or ego, and our individuality. It was Great Master, in Philosophy of the Masters, Vol. III, who said: “The way to God is firstly humility, secondly humility and thirdly humility.”
Accept that humility, submission,
and devotion to a Master
are the way for the present age.
With a pure and still mind
raise the banner of Shabd to the sky.
Through the inner practice of Surat Shabd
hold on to the path of five sounds.
Climb the ladder of Shabd step by step,
and reach Sach Khand, the region of Satnam.
Soami Ji, Sar Bachan Poetry