By Kesava Krsna Dasa
We all hate to be humiliated. What is the best defence against humiliation? It is humility. But our self-defence can assume false guises of humility, to fit our self-centred identity. We may be disappointed to discover that there is actually a Supreme Being other than ourselves. We are not the centre of the universe.
If we feel any sense of egotistic disappointment while trying to be humble, then we know we are still work in progress. Yet there are grounds for feeling hurt when certain aspects of vaisnava etiquette are breached. To see one devotee as a big devotee, and another as a small devotee, are extensions of humble-less behaviour. To favour a junior devotee over a senior devotee, say, in matters of preaching, is an example of oversight.
Yet this disappointment can be beneficial, for in the Nectar of Devotion, chapter 29 it is mentioned, “Humility can arise out of disappointment.” But it is for others to ensure a minimum of disappointment caused, especially when making managerial decisions. Humility should not be an enforced issue. The spiritual master and management authorities all have a duty to aid in others’ humility, whereas the Lord is not bound to our reasonable protocols. He can cause instant and abrupt humiliation. “If Kṛṣṇa becomes happy by giving him distress, such a devotee accepts that unhappiness as the greatest of all happiness.” (CC Antya20.53 purport)
While we are serving with many other devotees, it will be difficult to display humility as some of us think we know it. If as in some cases a devotee is requested to take on responsibility, he or she keeps saying, “I’m not qualified Prabhus. I’m the most fallen,” then such artificial sentiments can make a mockery of genuine humility. Is it not that we all have some God or Guru given ability with which to serve the Lord? Doesn’t humility mean to have a correct estimation of oneself? “In great humility, considering Himself a conditioned soul of the material world, Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu again expressed His desire to be endowed with service to the Lord. (CC Antya20.32 purport)
If we follow the genuine humble example as displayed by Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and His exalted followers, while performing daily practical services, will this cause an over-estimation of ourselves? Real humility can be painful for onlookers to witness. “My dear Sākara Mallika, from this day your names will be changed to Śrīla Rūpa and Śrīla Sanātana. Now please abandon your humility, for My heart is breaking to see you so humble.” (CC Madhya1.208) We can also think of the “painful” humility shown by Srila Haridasa Thakur.
How do we determine our true self-estimation in service for the Lord? Naturally, we are taught to be lower than everyone else, but not to think we cannot do what everyone can or cannot do. If pride makes us artificial and humility makes us real, then it is real for us to use our same God or Guru given gifts in charity for the pleasure of our fellow devotees. Our service is our individual charity. To not give of this charity by feigning humility is false. “I give My body in charity to the lotus feet of Kṛṣṇa, who accepts Me as His loved one and calls Me His most beloved.” (CC Antya20.60)
How often are we put into situations where we know more than we think we know, and know less of what we want to know? Here is a test on how much we may know about humility in practice. So long as we retain the slightest desire for self-pleasure in various ways, any attempt at humility will be partial. And partial humility can be a source of pride and pleasure. The appearance of humility can be an indirect boast or a careless opinion. “When one is actually advanced in ecstatic love of Kṛṣṇa, he does not try to advertise himself. Instead, he endeavors more and more to render service to the Lord.” (CC Antya20.29 purport)
We can be temporarily “humble” in order for our long-term ambitions to be met. We can be “humble” to impress. We can be very talented in the art of modesty to encourage others to find out how wonderful we are. The same modesty can be a way of enhancing our ornamental charm while pretending not to be aware of it. See how subtle and deceitful it can get?
With all these false guises of humility on offer, we can still have the cheek sometimes to say to another, “Just be humble Prabhu!” It is much better for us when others discover our own good qualities without our help. That is if we want to be praised at all. It might even be better if we retain an honest pride than to show hypocritical humility, though both of them are unpleasant.
Think of another symptom of self-centred interest where we might want to bring those “higher” than us down to our own level or worse, yet not want to bring those “lower” than us up to our level. The self-centred psyche can be a very clever manipulator as only the experienced mind can be, and when humility is involved, it gets even more complicated. So long as we are simply aware of being humble at all, we are far from being truly humble.
Does this make sense? If we are “aware” of being humble? Isn’t this our aim in Krishna consciousness? Isn’t this the “trnad api sunicena…” basis we are to wear around our being as instructed by Lord Chaitanya? The same test is to be gauged in how we progress in our spiritual lives. If we are continually advancing, this means that our real humility is enabling us to chant and hear correctly. Correct hearing helps us to learn more for self-improvement.
While we are progressing in humility there will be situations that call for awareness of it. Each time we become aware of being humble it shows that we have to make a separate endeavour for it. Could it not be that if we do become aware of being humble, then we have lost it? Why should it be a separate endeavour? Devotees that do have it need not be reminded about humility or being humble. They already are.
To put it another way, why should we have to constantly think less of ourselves, when we can already think ourselves less? Genuine humility is a state of naturally being less. It is a selfless condition. It makes us human and real. It is a state of not thinking about ourselves at all, except to please the Lord and His devotees. If ever we hear from someone who tells us, “be yourself!” it is pointing us in the right direction. “A pure devotee has no way of sensing happiness except by seeing that Kṛṣṇa is happy in every respect.” (CC Antya20.53 purport)
Such an elevated sense of being earns plaudits and poetic justice. Some people say that true humility is greatness in plain clothes, royalty without a crown, or like darkness, that reveals the glittering stars. It is like being materially poor with the magnanimity of a rich person, or being rich with the humility of a poor person. With this state of mind, our charitable gifts of talents and abilities used in the Lord’s service will always be insufficient.
Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu expresses this insufficiency when analysing His own Siksastakam verses. His lamenting of a lack of taste for chanting Hare Krishna – durdaivim – fits in. He really does have the taste and derives the supreme benediction from Sri Nama, but it is never enough. The Lord said, “Actually, My love for Kṛṣṇa is far, far away. Whatever I do is actually false. When you see Me cry, I am simply exhibiting My great fortune. Please try to understand this beyond a doubt. (CCMadhya2.47) There is a hidden fortune in humility.
To try to understand true humility which is our self-defence against false guises, is as hopeful as the Sisksastakam verses. Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu continually analysed His own verses repeatedly. “Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu composed those eight stanzas to instruct the devotees, but He also personally tasted their meaning.” (CC Antya20.140)
There is great hope for us. Even in trying to be humble we take to heart the Lord’s teachings; perhaps we should not underestimate the potential to just be who we are in reality. “If anyone recites or hears these eight verses of instruction by Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu, his ecstatic love and devotion for Kṛṣṇa increase day by day.” (CC Antya20.66)
Ys Kesava Krsna Dasa