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The Joy of Being Humble


The great prophets and sages have taught that there are none lower than one's own self, and simultaneously, that there are none more exalted. Indeed spiritual equality is our birthright, yet in the midst of this great diversity it's all too easy to overlook our inherent equality and see only the diversity, wherein one may be inclined to label some as lowly and others as exalted.

To help overcome such pitfalls of the judgmental ego, it may be of great value to practice humility, as illustrated by this delightful little traditional tale about the eminent Persian Sufi teacher Jalaluddin Rumi:

Once upon a time, a young man decided to leave his homeland and go to learn from the great teacher Jalaluddin Rumi in Konya. After weeks of arduous travel, he finally reached the outskirts of Konya and saw a gracious presence walking toward him. The young man knew in his heart that this was Pir Jalaluddin. The young man dropped to his knees in prostration before this great teacher whom he had been seeking, but as he arose, he found Pir Jalaluddin was prostrated in the dirt in front of the young man.

Amazed and embarrassed, the young man again prostrated himself, and again when he arose, Pir Jalaluddin was again prostrated before him. This happened over and over and over and over again until the exasperated young man finally said "Why are you, my teacher, prostrating yourself in the dust before me, a mere seeker?"

To which Pir Jalaluddin simply replied "If I did not show you my nothingness, what would I be useful for?"

Quite a remarkable  insight isn't it?? ... to be useful for our nothingness!

What a magnificent antidote to the ego's preoccupation with "I", "me" and "mine"!

Lucky is the one who realizes the secret of being nobody,
for no one gets anywhere by being somebody.

Nuruddin Abdur-Rahman Jami

For some further exploration of this theme, here's a delightful contemporary poem by A.R. Ammons, who searched for the most lowly one:

I said I will find what is lowly
and put the roots of my identity
down there:
each day I'll wake up
and find the lowly nearby,
a handy focus and reminder,
a ready measure of my significance,
the voice by which I would be heard,
the wills, the kinds of selfishness
I could
freely adopt as my own:

but though I have looked everywhere,
I can find nothing
to give myself to:
everything is

magnificent with existence, is in
surfeit of glory:
nothing is diminished,
nothing has been diminished for me:

I said what is more lowly than the grass:
ah, underneath,
a ground-crust of dry-burnt moss:
I looked at it closely
and said this can be my habitat: but
nestling in I
below the brown exterior
green mechanisms beyond the intellect
awaiting resurrection in rain: so I got up

and ran saying there is nothing lowly in the universe:
I found a beggar:
he had stumps for legs: nobody was paying
him any attention: everybody went on by:
I nestled in and found his life:
there, love shook his body like a devastation:
I said
though I have looked everywhere
I can find nothing lowly
in the universe:

I whirled though transfigurations up and down,
transfigurations of size and shape and place:

at one sudden point came still,
stood in wonder:
moss, beggar, weed, tick, pine, self, magnificent
with being!

Selected Poems, by A. R. Ammons

Indeed there is great joy and great value in humility, as further explained in these lines:

We are so situated in life that whatever position we may occupy we are never independent, we are never self-sufficient. Therefore, every individual depends upon others for help, and others depend upon him for help; only the position of the person who is one among many who receive help becomes lower in the eyes of those who count themselves among the few who can help.

This makes every person a master as well as a servant. Yet everyone, in the intoxication of his mastership, forgets his place as a servant, and looks upon the one who helps him as his servant. The wise, whose feelings are awakened, think on this question deeply, and do their best to avoid every possibility of giving even an idea to a servant of his servantship, far less insulting him in any way or hurting his feelings.

We are all equal, and if we have helpers to serve us in life we ought to feel humble and most thankful for the privilege, instead of making the position of the servant humble.

Inayat Khan, The Art of Personality

Although humility is painful to the pride of man, the joy of humility is never known by the proud. The effect produced upon a man's own feeling is as if, by his very humility, he had opened the doors of the shrine of God which is in the heart of man.

Inayat Khan, The Unity of Religious Ideals

But, that is not so say that one should be unbalanced. Pride and humility are each useful in the appropriate circumstances:

In devotion or love we cannot humble ourselves too much. The Persian poets such as Hafiz and Jami and many others show us the humble side of the mystic. They show how much he can humble himself. To call himself dust at the feet of the Beloved is the least he can say, to worship the ideal that he loves is the highest worship for him. It is never a humiliation.

This shows that the work of the mystic is to expand the scope of life, to make its range of pitch as vast as possible. At one end of it is the greatest pride. At the other end is the greatest humility. Pride and humility are to the mystic the positive and negative forms of sentiment, of feeling. Those who proudly refrain from humility are ignorant of its blessing, for in humbleness there is a great bliss. And those who are fixed in their humility and forget that pride which will enrich life do not know what they are losing in their lives.

Yet it is the really proud who are humble, and it is the really humble who are proud.

Inayat Khan, Philosophy, Psychology and Mysticism

The spiritual journey is truly an adventure into the depths of tolerance, generosity, harmony and loving-kindness toward all, without regard for worldly rank or stature.

And in the end, after having searched for the lowly and sought after the exalted, one finds there is naught but love. We're on a grand journey to remember what love truly means, and rediscover how intimately we're all inter-connected:

Love is the whole thing,
We are only pieces,
Love is the sea of no end,
We are a drop of it.

Jalaluddin Rumi, tr by Nevit O. Ergin

Enjoy the journey!


Wishing you love, harmony and beauty,