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Humility: What It Is and Is Not

Humility: What It Is and Is Not

I am really interested in humility because for a long time I had hardly any of it. I had a great deal of pride in how much I knew, in how important a job I had, in how much money I was making. My idea of a good time was working a conversation around to an area in which I thought I excelled, and then putting someone else down for being inferior to me! It may sound like it wasn’t much fun, and it wasn’t; but at the time I didn’t realize what I was doing, and how unhappy it was making me.

Mercifully, as I began to make progress in the spiritual life, I began to become conscious of what I was actually up to, and then, very gradually, I began to pray for an end to my arrogance. I was extremely fortunate in having a spiritual teacher (Sri Chinmoy) with a great sense of humor.

Humility has a bad rap in part because when people hear the world “humility” they often think of humiliation. But it is a mistake to put humility in the same box with humiliation. The two words have a common Latin root; but while humiliation refers to the situation where another person uses their power to put us down, true humility is entirely different. Another negative aspect of humility relates to the display of false humility, something we have all seen when a person makes a show of pretending to be inferior to us, while actually conveying the impression that they, in fact, are really superior. In both of these negative connotations, there is also a suggestion that possessors of humility lack a healthy appreciation of their own strengths.

If humility does not mean humiliation, and does not mean false humility, then what does it mean? To answer this question, I will offer some quotations from the chapter on “Humility” in Sri Chinmoy’s book, The Jewels of Happiness. In this book, Sri Chinmoy rescues humility from the unfortunate associations mentioned above and offers the reader invaluable insights into the real meaning of this misunderstood quality.

Humility means giving joy to others. By making others feel that they are either equally important or more important, we will show our true humility. Offering joy to others first is the way to show true humility. ((From The Jewels of Happiness by Sri Chinmoy, p. 173))

This approach is at the opposite end of the spectrum from trying to show others how superior one is, isn’t it? Once pointed out, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that giving joy to others is not only kinder, but also more likely to lead to one’s own happiness than the other way. Sri Chinmoy noted, “…if we want to become humble, it is certainly because we want to become happy. And in self-giving we become truly happy. Real humility is the expansion of our consciousness and our service. Let us always try to develop these good qualities within us and then humility is bound to come.” ((From The Jewels of Happiness by Sri Chinmoy, p. 182))

Humility is the feeling of sweetest oneness. If we are humble, then the other person will immediately open his heart’s door so that we can enter into his heart and he can enter into ours. If we are humble, the whole world will open its heart to us. ((From The Jewels of Happiness by Sri Chinmoy, p. 184))

Oneness means something like what psychologists call ’empathy’, but, according to my understanding, it is more enduring. One can try to empathize with another and then return to seeing things from one’s own point of view. If one feels oneness with another, then their goals become one’s own.

Although this is not a book review, I must say that anyone interested in either humility or happiness (or peace, love, joy or any of the other topics covered in the book) should rush to Amazon and buy a copy of The Jewels of Happiness! As for myself, although in many ways I am still a work in progress, I can say that humility has now become a part of my nature.

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