In the early 1980s a popular song began with the words “Oh Lord it’s hard to be humble, when you’re perfect in every way”. The words made people laugh. But before we laugh too hard at those words, we should reflect on them. Are they really so far removed from how we view ourselves? A common dictionary definition of ‘humble’ is “having a low estimate of one’s importance”. That’s certainly approaching the truth. But when Masters talk of humility, they mean something much deeper. To a Master humility means understanding that none of our worldly attributes – our achievements, our possessions, our status, belong to us and so cannot be anything to be proud of.
How humble are we really – when it comes to the crunch? If someone insults us, can we remain unmoved and still be an impartial friend to that person? Humility is difficult. It’s also an essential part of development on a spiritual path.
The value of humility
All mystics consider humility to be one of the fundamental virtues underpinning spirituality. Maharaj Charan Singh said that humility, like love, is a precursor to developing other virtues. He told us that when love and humility come, all other qualities follow, like cream on milk. He also told us that one thing that all satsangis have to understand is the value of humility. Meekness and humility are great virtues and unless we acquire them and do away with our ego and pride, progress will be difficult. Ego is that part of our mind that gives us self-awareness – “I”-ness: “I’m separate.” “I’m me – I’m an individual.”
The fact is that we are brought up to cultivate our ego. Our ego – in this world anyway – is what defines us. When feeling insecure about something, we’ve all been told: “Don’t be weak! Stand up for yourself!” Humility is seldom associated with material success in this world. The belief is in pushing to get on in life; in standing out from the crowd, in being proud of what you can do. This may sometimes be good worldly advice, but it’s not good advice for a satsangi. We must remember that in creating this individuality and differentiating ourselves from others, we are also separating ourselves from the Lord. That has significant consequences.
First, in emphasising our individuality, we fall into the trap of giving ourselves all the credit for our achievements. We think that they are the result of our effort, our cleverness, our hard work. But mystics through the ages have explained that this is not so: everything that we have done – everything that we have – has been given to us by the Lord. We think that we have been diligent; we have been clever; even that we have been generous, or kind, or thoughtful. In fact, all the credit is due to him, not to us. It’s very difficult for egotistical people to believe that the Lord is the doer and the giver when they themselves appear to have worked very hard and have seen such good results materialise from their plans. This is one of the mind’s clever tricks.
What is our real purpose?
We even think that we have found the path – the way back to the Lord. But, in fact, we haven’t even done that. He has found us! Our Master has forged that link with each one of us by connecting us to the Shabd. It is now up to us to get things in perspective, use this marvellous gift that we have received, and give it priority over everything else.
The second consequence of viewing ourselves as individuals - separate from others, separate from the creative power – is that we think that our ego is actually our true identity. In fact it’s only a temporary identity that we use in this world, and it blinds us to the true purpose of life.
Is the most important purpose of life really to be a great artist? To raise a model family? To help the poor? To heal the sick? To pass on knowledge to future generations? Those intentions may be laudable, and we should do our best while we’re here, but our main purpose in life as satsangis is to find the Lord, and to become loving and sincere enough to go back to him.
Whether we are rich or poor, physically strong or weak, handsome or plain – it makes no difference. Because, in the end, each of us will die, and at that time none of those things will support us nor will we be able to take any of them with us. Only what we are in ourselves can provide support and will accompany us.
And then our own inner strength will be worth more to us than all the baubles or prestige that we have spent our lives collecting.
“Bend low thy stiff neck”
The highest and most beautiful thing that we can learn on this path is complete surrender to our Master, known as sharan in the Indian language. The best way to do this is to immerse ourselves in simran and bhajan, because this will develop our connection with the Shabd. Making progress in meditation is only possible when we overcome the false sense of self and cease believing that we are the doers. This is very difficult for the worldly minded. Kabir Sahib knows us so well when he says in one of his compositions, “Bend low thy stiff neck at his holy feet”.
Only Shabd practice can bring us the realization of our true identity, which is oneness with the Shabd. Masters themselves see no separation between the Lord and everything else. They see the Lord in everything and everyone. They know that he is the only one who exists. And that is why they are so humble.
It seems that the mind has several separate modes. When we’re thinking about Sant Mat, the mind can be said to be in ‘Sant Mat mode’. It’s not so hard then to think that we are nothing – that Master is everything. But when, for instance in our daily life, we are under pressure to make a decision quickly, the mind too often finds itself in quite another mode. We are convinced that it’s all up to us and at that time we forget about the Master. It is only when we are able to overcome the ego that we can humbly make our decisions in a spirit of service to him, knowing that the results are in his hands. Attention to the Sound Current, through meditation, is the only way to completely surrender to the Lord’s will.
Finding our true selves
Psychologists tell us that self-deprecation or low self-esteem is not good, and we would agree with that. But low self-esteem is not the same thing as devoted service to our Master. In losing ourselves in him, we find our true selves.
Humble service makes love for the Master grow, and of course it makes love for our fellow human beings grow too. Then when we look at others we see their virtues instead of their faults. And when we see nothing but goodness and sweetness in those around us, we are encouraged to grow like them. Humility lets us admire them, and we soak up their virtues and feel love for them as we grow spiritually.
Real humility can only be learnt from a complete Master. He gives us the method (simran and bhajan) and this gives us the opportunity to purify the mind and become humble. Maharaj Charan Singh says:
“So unless the mind becomes pure, unless we are able to eliminate the ego, we cannot be filled with humility.”
Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. 1
Maharaj Sawan Singh gives us an example of the attitude of a humble disciple:
My Lord, I am ignorant, I do not know what to ask from you!
Give me that which you think best for me.
And give me the strength and wisdom to be happy about what
you deem fit to give me and about
how and where you keep me.
I have no virtues, no devotion.
My actions are all dark and sinful.
I possess no merits and the mind has thoroughly crushed me.
For a sinner like me, O Lord, there is no refuge but your blessed feet.
Please take me under your shelter.
I want nothing more.
Make me your slave, that I may be yours, and you may be mine.
Call of the Great Master