It’s Hard to be Humble
Soami Ji explains that our first and strongest bond is physical. In Sar Bachan Poetry he says: “Your first bond is confinement to your body.”
The human body, which holds the door to liberation, is also the treacherous trap that ensnares and binds the soul to transmigration. This paradox arises because we are unable to locate, or even so much as get a glimpse of, this elusive entity called the soul – this bright shining thing – a diamond in the mud of the body. This being our condition, we sadly mistake the mud for our substance and revere it as a thing of eternal beauty.
In the late 1990s a rather amusing song with a very catchy tune became popular, and the words went like this:
Oh Lord, it’s hard to be humble
When you’re perfect in every way.
I can’t wait to look in the mirror
‘Cause I get better lookin’ each day.
To know me is to love me –
I must be a hell of a man.
Oh, Lord, it’s hard to be humble
But I’m doin’ the best that I can.
The humour of the rather cheeky lyrics conveys to us how difficult it is to get rid of our pride, a disease of the mind that afflicts us all. When we look in the mirror all we see is a reflection of an illusion. An illusion is not necessarily something that does not exist, but rather something that we perceive incorrectly.
When we look in a mirror we tend to identify with the image and believe it is a true reflection of who we are. Yet we know, with absolute certainty, that when we die the body will dissolve back into the five elements: earth is destroyed by fire, fire is destroyed by water, water is dissolved by air and air is dissolved into ether.
So the body, though real to us, exists for a while and then vanishes as if into thin air. As long as we identify with the body, we will live for the body – to adorn it, to pamper it, to parade it, to cosmetically modify it into our idea of perfection. As long as we think we are merely these bodies we will continue to live shallow lives of indulgence. A healthy twenty to thirty-minute walk a day does not satisfy us. We feel we need to go to the gym, or do yoga or Pilates exercises. We are more focused on muscle definition and beauty than on a healthy body. Are we serving the body or is it serving us? Has it become our master or our slave? It’s a question of keeping a balance.
In Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. II, Hazur Maharaj Ji tells us that our attention to the body – perhaps keeping up a programme of physical exercise to stay slim and trim – may puff up the ego and keep us away from the Lord. By contrast spiritual practice brings humility. He says:
With spiritual practices, we learn to digest the Lord’s grace and humility comes to us. The more humble we become, the more he gives us. … But in these other practices we generally become egoistic, and this takes us far away from our destination.
As long as we do not recognize that the body is like a bag of air that can collapse in a moment, we will continue to fool ourselves that we are living productive lives. When we prick an inflated balloon with a pin it pops – it stops being a balloon. It ceases to exist as we knew it. It loses its identity. This is exactly what happens to the body at the moment of death. But even then, we still find it difficult to accept that the person has gone – that they have ceased to exist.
Perhaps it is for this reason that certain rituals were introduced into society. For example, in India there is a ritual where the eldest son breaks sticks and throws them into a fire signifying that the relationship between father and son is over. The karma has ended. Death is such a difficult reality for us to internalize that it is only when the body is consigned to the fire or buried underground that the family can begin to come to terms with the fact that the soul has moved on.
If we believe that we are only the body, what is there to look forward to after death? Many people are convinced that there is no life after the death of the body. Shakespeare eloquently speaks of the emptiness of such a life when he says in Macbeth:
Life’s but a walking shadow; a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more: it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
Stop for a moment and think about how much time we lavish on this body. Try adding up the minutes it takes to brush our teeth and bathe, to dress, to cook our food and eat our meals, to go to the gym or take our walk or whatever it is we do to keep fit. When we count up the minutes, they quickly turn into hours. As we consider this, we realize that most of our waking hours are spent in service to our first and strongest attachment – this bubble of a body.
While it is necessary to satisfy our basic needs, these are the body’s needs and have nothing to do with humility or spirituality. After spending our lives pandering to the body and building ever stronger attachments to it, how can we ever detach from it? Hazur Maharaj Ji used to say that detachment cannot cause attachment – meaning that detaching from the worldly will not create attachment to the spiritual. It is attachment to the Shabd that causes detachment from everything else. This attachment to Shabd can be attained only by practising the art of concentration. In Divine Light he explains:
One who is a little advanced in the art of concentration can reach the condition of having the whole body benumbed in a few minutes, and one who is still further advanced can do it in a matter of seconds, regardless of the position of the body. The moment that one succeeds in withdrawing the soul currents from the body, the physical body appears to that individual as the dead body of some other person. That is how detached one feels at this stage which is essential before we can go up.
Imagine looking at your body, a one-piece suit you have worn for years, loved so much and felt utterly at home in, only to realize that you have absolutely no more attachment to it – it could belong to someone else. In Spiritual Gems the Great Master, discussing the disposal of the body, says:
Just as when your shoes have become old and worn out, you no longer wear them, but dispose of them as convenient. The dead body is like a cast-off garment which may be disposed of as convenient.
And then, that thing that was perfect in every way, that ‘thing of beauty’, is no longer our pride and joy. As Hazur used to say: “What is there to be proud of?”