When we think of great men, names like Ceasar, Napoleon and Alexander the Great come to mind. They were men of war and conquest. They shaped the history of the world, but paved the way with bloodshed and violence. On the other hand, when we think of good people, we think of Nelson Mandela, Mother Theresa or Mahatma Gandhi. They inspired humanity through their self-sacrifice, love and wisdom.
Great men often have great ego’s. Napoleon had a marshal in his army who was over two metres (6’7”) tall, whereas he himself stood at 1.77 (5’10”). Once he noticed this marshal walking with his shoulders and posture bent, and he asked him why he was slumped over. ‘Your Majesty,’ the marshal replied, ‘I feel uncomfortable being taller than you, since you are the emperor.’ ‘I have no problem with that,’ Napoleon answered. ‘You are seeing it the wrong way. You are taller, but I am greater.’
Good men (and women) are usually humble. When he became president of South-Africa Nelson Mandela could have easily punished his former enemies, who had supported apartheid and committed atrocities against the black population. Instead, he decided to forgive them and formed a tribunal of reconciliation to bring the whites and blacks together. Mother Theresa sacrificed her life to serve the poor, the sick and the downtrodden in Calcutta. Mahatma Gandhi became the ‘father of the Indian nation’ by looking beyond caste and creed. He unified all classes of society into a common purpose: to gain independence from the British. Through their humility these people did not conquer other countries, but something far more significant: the heart of humanity.
Humility is a spiritual quality that is often underestimated. We tend to associate being humble with being humiliated, a word that sounds almost the same but has a vastly different meaning. When we are humiliated our ego suffers a painful blow. But when we are humble we inspire our ego to look beyond its own small world and feel its oneness with the entire world.
Humility also has nothing to do with the feeling of unworthiness. “He who feels unworthy will automatically remain far away from the world of delight,” spiritual teacher Sri Chinmoy writes, whereas humility always comes with the feeling of joy. “True humility is the feeling of oneness,” Sri Chinmoy continues. “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.”
Again, there is also something called false humility. To be sure, insincere or opportunistic flattery, soft-soaping or feeling unworthy are not real humility. How to distinguish between the two? Sri Chinmoy again: “When it is true humility you will get tremendous joy and you will feel that the person to whom you are bowing down is in no way superior to you. You are bowing down only because you see the Supreme* in him. But when it is false humility, there is no joy at all. You do not get joy in your heart, you do not get joy in your mind.”
* Sri Chinmoy used the term ‘Supreme’ to refer to God.
A very effective way to develop humility is to meditate on the heart-centre. Our spiritual heart – located in the centre of our chest – is the home of divine love and the feeling of oneness. When we can concentrate on our spiritual heart for a few minutes every day, we will gradually become aware of the divine qualities of love and oneness. When we feel one with the world around us, we automatically become humble.
Another way to develop humility is to think of something that gives you the feeling of humility. Sri Chinmoy recommends meditating on a tree. “A tree is humble from the root right up to the top. When we identify with a tree, we get humility. When a tree bears fruit, it becomes a perfect servant to feed mankind. When you see how humble the tree is and how it is appreciated by others, this will help you develop your own humility.”
To do this, try to keep your mind calm and quiet and fill it with the image of a huge tree laden with flowers and fruits. Think of the service the tree is so humbly offering: its shade, its sheltering branches, the fragrance of its flowers and its fruits which it is giving away freely.
To leave a lasting impression on the world you can choose between two paths: the way of power or the way of humility. Powerful people may be remembered for their great deeds, but humble people will not only be remembered, but will also be loved and treasured by the whole world.
‘Everything that is beautiful
Grows on our life’s humility-tree.’