Humility: A Spiritual Journey – 9
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Usually, before we adopt anything in our lives, we inquire about its benefits. So, it’s quite natural for desiring to know about the benefits of humility. In this Chapter we will explore some benefits of humility. Modern education and technological developments have encouraged the growth of a consumption driven culture, self-promotion, and self-aggrandizement, along with living a life of entitlement. In this epidemic growth of this lifestyle of privilege, the question is always centered on what is good for me? Unfortunately, no one wants to be bothered with being humble or to know the benefits of humility.
In fact, the question is why humility?
When even the sense of family, community, and society is being pushed to the fringes, the magic mantra is I, me, and mine? Now everything is expected to be available on demand, instantly with the press of the button. The spread of this self-serving culture has acquired epidemic proportions. Thus, in such a surcharged environment which is devoid of spirituality, we hardly see any glimpse or glitter of humility. What we see is blatant display of power, authority, and the misuse of strength/muscle for selfish ends. The result is that all of these traits start looking normal.
Twenge, J. M. and Campbell, W. K. have authored the book “The Narcissism Epidemic” on the subject. The professor authors Twenge and Campbell draw conclusions from empirical research and cultural analysis to expose the destructive spread of narcissism. According to them our entire value system has become narcissistic, not just the people. In fact, they have coined the term “Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD)” to describe the epidemic. The hallmarks of NPD are grandiosity, a lack of empathy for other people, and a constant need for admiration. People with this condition are frequently described as arrogant, self-centered, manipulative, and demanding. From our life experiences we know that in time of need we cannot rely on people with NPD traits.
Humility in contrast is accompanied by low levels of self-preoccupations. In order to understand what we can gain from humility, let’s start with how it impacts on the way we live.
1. Have a realistic understanding of one’s strength and weaknesses
The truth is that whenever we over-estimate our own strengths and capabilities, or when we take on a challenge without fully preparing, we are unlikely to succeed. Failure is often the outcome through which we can see our humility. We realize we are human - fallible and vulnerable - and open to learning from others. Humility also allows one to be truly curious and open to exploring unknown, like a child. It is for this reason that humble people are always open to learning and incorporating new ideas or approaches without being bogged down by the originator of the idea. Humble people make better team players and are easy to work with, as they don’t carry their ego with them. Their higher self-control contributes to successful life and they form better relationships.
The constant evolution of technology makes it challenging to adapt. We are always upgrading our skills, learning how to navigate through new products or software. Thus, humility creates a mental state where learning and relearning is always possible. Learning something new, always leads to the road of growth. When we assume, we know it all, we will not be open to enriching our experience. Learning’s greatest tool is humility. Humble people are less prejudiced, more helpful in life.
Guru Ji considers those who shun ego and pride as wise in these words:
“Chathur siaanaa sugharr soe jin thajiaa abhimaan.” — (SGGS, Pg. No. 297)
Meaning: One who renounces egotistical pride is intelligent, wise and refined.
Therefore those, who imbibe humility know their position relative to the universe that surrounds them. They precisely know their limited power, intellect, knowledge, capabilities compared to Almighty God. They are always in awe of that Supreme Power.
2. Humility makes better leaders
The trait of humility makes better leaders as per current research. The management expert, Jim Collins, in his book Good to Great has declared humility as a stellar quality. This best-selling book, labels the traits which help companies advance from good to great, as having a Level 5 Leader. Collins defines a Level 5 Leader as an executive “in whom genuine personal humility blends with intense personal will”. Collin further describes a Level 5 Leader as the one who “builds enduring greatness through a paradoxical combination of personal humility plus professional will”. The business world has now recognized this trait as a harbinger of great leadership, which can transform good companies into great companies. As humble leaders seek input from others, gather all the relevant facts and make decisions which are in the best interests of all the stakeholders. These leaders, although they have an iron will, are modest but they produce extraordinary results that have transformed companies from good to great.
This investigation of management roles in relation to humility is something relatively new in the academic world. However, this is a common subject for all religious/faith denominations all around the world.
3. Humility results in better overall health — Physical and Psychological
Next let us see what the psychologists studying this subject have found. Over the last decade, the positive psychology movement has led to interesting array of studies on how humility impacts overall health. Although, humility is still difficult to define or measure in a laboratory setting, still we will be seeing more work being done in future.
An excessive self-focus, as exhibited in the trait of narcissism, is a risk factor for coronary heart disease — Scherwitz & Canick, 1988; Worthington & Scherer, 2004). Individuals with higher narcissism scores have greater difficulty establishing and maintaining healthy interpersonal relationships. Humble people are not preoccupied with maintaining inflated self-views, so they would be less likely to react angrily to conventional wisdom. Defensively high self-esteem is also linked to more violent behaviors — Baumeister, Smart, & Boden, 1996). According to the American Psychological Association, humility creates a sense of “wellness” in relationships. Thus, there is a better feeling of comradery, thus creating better relationships, which translate into better physical, emotional and psychological health and well-being.
Humbleness has also been linked with generosity. Studies find that the trait predicts charitable giving and generous behavior toward others in monetary games played in the lab. “Compassion is hard if you don’t have humility,” says psychologist Jordan LaBouff of the University of Maine.
According to research by Dr. Paul Wong as published in article titled “ I’m Glad that I’m a Nobody: A Positive Psychology of Humility”; the psychological benefits of Humility are:
- A reduction of anxiety, fear, and depression
- A reduction in conflict, anger, and aggression
- An increase in happiness and well-being
- An increase in optimism
- An improvement in friendship and intimate relationships
- Openness for new experiences and new learning
- Greater empathy, compassion and altruism
- Higher job satisfaction and morale at work
We just saw how science and psychology have investigated this trait on a very limited scale. Fortunately, there is hope of uncovering additional benefits as science and psychology have started paying more attention to the benefits of humility. Hopefully, we will be seeing more research in the coming decades.
4. Humility leads to spirituality
In Chapter VIII, Pinnacle of Humility, we discussed what the pinnacle of humility is, which was to become one with God. This is the highest achievement possible for mankind as well as the highest stage of spirituality. Spirituality means getting elevated in the soul. Spirituality means a realization that everything is happening as per Almighty’s order. It is only then that the ego can be subdued. Guru Ji has shared this aspect in these words:
“Naanak Hukamai Jae Bujhai Th Houmai Kehai N Koe.” — (SGGS, Pg. No. 1)
Meaning: O Nanak, one who understands His Command, does not speak in ego.
When one sheds ego, one starts seeing Him in everything. Guru Ji has shared that experience in these words:
“Jeh dhaekhaa theh eaeko soee. Dujee dhuramath sabadhae khoee.” — (SGGS, Pg. No. 1051)
Meaning: Wherever I look, there I see Him. Duality and evil-mindedness are destroyed through the Shabad — Holy word).
This is a unique achievement for the soul. Bhai Kanahiya’s story represents this achievement in a beautiful way. In 1687, he was on a visit to Guru Gobind Singh Ji in Anandpur and decided to stay back. He was entrusted with the service of fetching water for the community kitchen. At that time, when Guru Gobind Singh was attacked at Bhangani, by the combined troops of hill Rajas and four hundred Pathans, who had just defected from Guru Ji’s side. These Pathans who were earlier in employment of Mughal army, saw scanty military and financial resources with Guru Ji and therefore deserted him and joined the attacking forces. During those frequent sallies and skirmishes, Bhai Kanhaiya used to roam around serving water to the wounded and the dying, no matter whether they were friends or foes. Some Sikhs, who felt betrayed by his actions, complained to Guru Gobind Singh Ji about his helping enemy soldiers. They firmly believed that Bhai Kanhaiya’s actions resuscitated them thus making their task of defeating the enemy difficult. Their motive was to stop Bhai Kanhaiya from serving the wounded enemy soldiers. Guru Gobind Singh summoned Bhai Kanhaiya and inquired, “What have you been doing? I have been told that you go about helping and serving the enemy. Is it true?” Bhai Kanhaiya replied, "Yes, my Lord, what they said is true in a sense, but I saw no Mughals or Sikhs in the battlefield. I only saw the Guru's face in everyone. So, whom should I serve and whom should I refuse? I am serving you alone, O true king.” The Guru was very pleased with the reply and blessed him and gave him balm and bandages for the wounded. He asked Bhai Kanhaiya to lead a band of Sikhs together to organize care of the wounded. Guru Ji then turned to the complaining Sikhs and declared that Bhai Kanhaiya had truly understood Guru Ji’s teaching of:
“Naa ko bairee nehee bigaanaa sagal sung hum ko ban aaee.” — (SGGS, Pg. No. 1299)
Meaning: No one is my enemy, and no one is a stranger. I get along with everyone.
Guru Ji added that when these men bear arms and fight against us, they are our enemies. But as soon as they fall on the ground, they are no longer our enemies. This is not just an example of selfless service but is epitome of purging of the self. With full faith and conviction, Guru Ji’s teaching show that the soul has extended from finite to infinite, reaching the ultimate reality.
5. Benefits of humility in this life
Now, let us see what Gurbani shares with us about benefits of humility in this life. In order to get to that point, let us first start with the word Sikh. The meaning of the word is student or learner. Thus, a Sikh is a student of life for his/her entire lifespan. A Sikh lives his/her entire lifespan under the premise that, “I do not know; I have to learn from the Guru.” The mind of the learner holds infinite possibilities; in contrast, the mind of a professed expert is closed to other possibilities besides his/her own repertoire. The person of humility becomes light, malleable, and pliable. Guru Ji has bestowed the benefits of poise and acceptance to those with humility. Everyone gets affected by the turmoil and the tribulations in life. But the humble person does not let them affect his/her mental equilibrium. Such a person of poise starts leading a stress-free life. This is not an outcome from a pill that a doctor prescribes, but a result of Guru’s prescription. There is no negative side-effect, only beneficial ones.
Guru Ji has clarified the benefits in this life as:
“Sehaj suhaelaa fal masakeenee.” — (SGGS, Pg. No. 235)
Meaning: The fruit of humility is intuitive peace and pleasure.
Kabir Ji has devoted a full verse to describe the benefits of poise which is an outcome of imbibing humility. The verse starts:
“Sahaj ke akath katha hai niraaree.” — (SGGS, Pg. No. 333)
Meaning: The description of the state of intuitive poise is indescribable and sublime.
Instead of describing the whole verse with its meaning, its benefits are summarized in below for brevity:
a. The desire for life of comfort in the heavenly lands evaporates.
b. There is no wish for long life, or any fear of death.
c. Grief and joy cannot change the state of mind.
d. There is complete cessation of the storm of desires.
e. The possessive nature is gone.
f. Distinction based on status in the society is gone.
g. Allure of material attachment (maya) disappears.
h. Sleep of unconsciousness (sleepwalk through life) is over.
i. Ocean of storms of sins and evils is abated.
j. The wind-like wandering of mind is quietened.
k. Fire of desires dies down.
l. The heart is filled with reverence of the Master (Guru).
m.Only Unmoving, Imperceptible, Unknowable remains.
n. This state has been achieved by the Guru’s grace.
True development is not achieved through intellectual faculties, but through incorporating virtues, and specifically virtue of humility. However, just becoming humble alone does not make it happen, what really makes it happens is grace alone. Let us explore this aspect from the writings of Bhai Nand Lal. One day he came to visit Guru Gobind Singh Ji and was so awed by the glimpse of Guru Ji that he offered himself in these words:
“Daaraym darade dil ki mara oo raa ilaaj neesat,
Ta jaan naamee dehaym madaavaa namee shavadd.24.3.
Guftam ke jaan-dehaym ivaze yakk negaahe tu,
Guftaa meyaane maa aoa too saudaa namee shavadd .24.4.” — (Bhai Nandlal, Ghazal 24)
Meaning: “I am stricken with such a heart ailment that doesn't have any cure. I will be not be cured and be comfortable until I surrender my life." (24) (3). I said, "I can give my life for just a single glimpse of yours." He responded, "We cannot have a deal between us on these terms." (24) (4).
Now, from the reply of Guru Gobind Singh Ji it is clear that there is no bargain, trade or deal possible, for the grace is only willfully given at the pleasure of the giver. Gurus have shared this aspect in these words:
“Daatai daat rakhee hath apaNai jis bhaavai tis dae-eee.” — (SGGS, Pg. No. 603)
Meaning: The Great Giver keeps His Gifts in His Hand; He gives them to those with whom He is pleased.
When that grace is bestowed, then only one gets blissfulness in mind, body and in spiritual life while still alive. Becoming blissful is the purpose of life, and humility was the foundation and grace becomes the superstructure of blissfulness where the soul resides in bliss.
Now let us observe the benefits of afterlife that Gurus have shared with us. Guru Arjan Dev Ji has succinctly defined these benefits as:
“Taj abhimaan janam maran nivaarahu.” — (SGGS, Pg. No. 191)
Meaning: Renounce your arrogant pride and end the cycle of birth and death.
When pride comes in life, many a time disgrace follows it; however, wisdom comes with humility. So, renouncing of arrogant pride is in turn acquiring humility, and its benefit is freeing one’s soul from cycles of birth and death. When one becomes deathless, no fear of death is left within. With the fear of death completely evaporated, one leads a happier and fuller life. In other words, one becomes deathless while alive. Let us try and find another quote to further reinforce the benefit. Since coming out of the cycles of birth and death is not visible to the eyes, the doubting mind always takes such a statement with a question mark. In the following quote, Guru Ji has advised that the implication is merging with the Supreme:
“Hoai sagal kee renaekaa hari sang samavaavo.” — (SGGS, Pg. No. 322)
Meaning: Become humble, the dust of every one’s feet; and thus, merge with the Lord.
Thus, we can see that humility is the doorway to blissfulness. Blissfulness is the innate human desire and the ultimate goal of every human being. The blissfulness is achieved when grace is received and the soul merges with God. The wandering and doubting mind is quietened and one is imbued with divine wisdom. It is also termed as coming out of the cycles of births, merging with the divine, and becoming one with the Supreme Lord. But Guru Ji has also defined a prerequisite for achieving this and that is renunciation of ego or pride. Guru Arjan Dev Ji has beautifully described the folly of pride and the benefits of humility in one short sentence as:
“Jab aeh man meh karat gumaanaa. Thab aeh baavar firath bigaanaa.
Jab aeh hooaa sagal kee reenaa. Taa thae rameeaa ghatt ghatt cheenaa.” — (SGGS, Pg. No. 235)
Meaning: When this mind is filled with pride, then it wanders around like a madman and a lunatic.
But when it becomes the dust of all, then it recognizes the Lord in each and every heart.
So, the benefit of humility that Guru Ji has spelled out has a universal significance. When one is steeped in humility one experiences the divinity in self and also in everyone else. In the concluding lines of the above verse, Guru Ji makes a major declaration:
“Jab eis tae sabh binasae bharamaa. Bhaedh naahee hai paarbrahmaa.” — (SGGS, Pg. No. 235)
Meaning: But when all his doubts are removed, then there is no difference between him and the Supreme Lord God.
What are doubts of the mind? These are the feelings of separation between self and God. But once that doubt is completely quashed that we are not separate, then one merges with the Supreme. Again, this is the ultimate achievement - to become one with God. One who gave up ego and the possessive nature reaps the experience of Godliness within. The feeling of “I, me, and mine” is completely purged, along with it the intoxication of pride, ego, accomplishments, and being successful also vanished. The picture of that experience has been shared by Guru Ji in following words:
“Meeth saajan sut bandhhap bhaaee.
Jat kat paekho har sang sehaaee.1.
Jat maeree patt maeree dhhan har naam.
Sookh sehaj aana(n)dh bisaraam.1. Rahaao.
Paarabraham jap pehir sanaah.
Kott aavadhh this baedhhath naahi. 2.
Har charan saran garr kott hamaarai.
Kaal kanttak jam this n bidhaarai.3.
Nanak daas sadhaa balihaaree.
Sevak sant raajaa raam muraaree4.19.25.” — (SGGS, Pg. No. 742)
He is my friend, companion, child, relative and sibling.
Wherever I look, I see the Lord as my companion and helper.1.
The Lord's Naam is my social status, my honor and wealth.
He is my pleasure, poise, bliss and peace.1.Pause.
I have strapped on the armor of meditation on the Supreme Lord God.
It cannot be pierced, even by millions of weapons.2.
The Sanctuary of the Lord's Feet is for me the protection of millions of fortresses.
Even the Messenger of Death, the torturer, cannot breach through this protection. 3.
Slave Nanak is forever a sacrifice to the selfless servants and Saints
of the Sovereign Lord, the Destroyer of ego.4.19.25.
Bhai Gurdaas Ji has painted the picture of humble in these words:
“Guramukh sukh fal paae aap gavaaeiaa.” — (Bhai Gurdaas, Vaar 19.12)
Meaning: The Gurmukh abandons ego and receives the fruit of delight.
We have been seeing the quotes from Guru Arjan Dev Ji, so let’s ask him about the historical evidence of benefits of humility. Guru Ji cites the example of Bidar and says:
“Bidar oudhhaariou dhaasath bhaae.” — (SGGS, Pg. No.1192)
Meaning: Bidar was saved by his attitude of humility.
>So, we can see that God favors the humble. The benefit of humility is to provide bliss in this life, eliminate fear of death, and give eternal bliss after death. Is that not the treasure that everyone seeks?
Anyone who acquires humility has a more fulfilling social life, emotionally satisfying, psychologically enhanced quality of life, and a spiritually meaningful life. As Almighty is their constant companion in life, they breeze through life unaffected by doubts or the surrounding circumstances. They feel and experience His presence constantly. Guru Ji has expressed that feeling of ecstasy in these words:
“Too maeraa sakhaa toohee maeraa meeth. Too maeraa preetham tum sang heeth.” — (SGGS, Pg. No. 181)
Meaning: You are my Companion; You are my Best Friend. You are my Beloved; I am in love with You.
Guru Gobind Singh Ji has expressed the ecstasy of witnessing the Almighty everywhere in these words:
“Jalas tuhee. Thalas tuhee. Nadis Tuhee. Nadas tuhee.13.63.” — (Dasam Granth, Pg. No. 16)
Meaning: O Lord! You are water. You are dry land. You are a stream, You are the ocean.
For the rest of the mankind Guru Ji steeped in pride says:
“Andhhaer Andhhee Vaaparai Sagal Leejai Khoe” — (SGGS, Pg. No. 1327)
Meaning: Complete Darkness prevails, and then everything is lost.
With this mental transformation, we too can see the Creator everywhere, in everyone, and experience the ecstasy described by our Gurus. All these benefits will only be experienced by us when humility becomes our innate nature. Thus, the benefit of humility and reverence of God is that with His grace, one experiences riches and honor in this life and the life after death.
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