"They are forever free who renounce all selfish desires and break away from the ego-cage of 'I', 'me', and 'mine' to be united with the Lord. This is the supreme state."-Bhagavad Gita
Humility, or being humble, is being respectful, submissive, and modest. It is the opposite of pride and arrogance and is considered a virtue by most major religions and philosophical traditions. We are most often humiliated when we lack humility. The challenge is that our nature compels us to want to feel powerful and important. Admitting that we are neither can feel like going against our will to survive.
A person who practices humility becomes teachable and more easily acquires wisdom. They become a better listener and a more valuable friend. He or she is also better able to recognize personal traits or faults, which leads to a willingness to improve.
It's obvious why humility is an important aspect of most world religions. It opens our hearts and mind to the will of God.
Humility in Hinduism
"The seeker after truth should be humbler than the dust. The world crushes the dust under its feet, but the seeker after truth should so humble himself that even the dust could crush him." -Mahatma Ghandi
Central to Hindu belief is the idea that one must let go of the ego in order to be united with the Atman (the true self) and Brahman (God). Selfish desire or the want for fame or power are worldly yearnings that distract us from the ultimate goal.
Hinduism does not denounce the fact that power, position, and possession are ambitions that run deep. Worldly success is necessary for raising a household and taking care of civic duty responsibly. It is not wrong to be successful but ultimately wealth, fame, and power are exclusive. If I own something, it is not yours.
Those who are successful are not automatically lacking humility, but when people make money or social status their chief ambition and pride, things become problematic. As one acquires, he also acquires the want for more. The drive for more and more becomes insatiable. As Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita:
When you keep thinking about sense objects, attachment comes. Attachment breeds desire, the lust of possession that burns to anger. Anger clouds the judgement; you can no longer learn from past mistakes. Lost is the power to choose between what is wise and what is unwise, and your life is utter waste.
Krishna's words highlight the struggle with our "self," as well as the broader message of the Gita. Eknath Easwaran, a spiritual teacher who was mentored by Mohandas Ghandi, wrote that the Gita's message concerns "the war within, the struggle for self mastery that every human being must wage if he or she is to emerge from life victorious."
Humility according to Hinduism is not crawling around in the mud cursing oneself, but rather a struggle for shedding the ego cage, and recognizing and feeling oneness with the rest of the world, completely free from bias or any idea of inferiority or superiority.
Humility in Islam
"The true servants of God the Most Gracious are those who walk on the earth in humility, and when the ignorant address them, reply with (words of) peace." - the Holy Qu'ran 25:63
Humility is taken very seriously in Islam. The word "Islam" can be translated as "submission to God." When Muslims are praying, they typically bow on the ground in a position that acknowledges human lowliness compared to God.
Humility is identical to submission to Allah. The seventh chapter in the Qu'ran reads, "Call on your Lord with humility and in private, for Allah loves not those who transgress beyond bounds." (7:55) God is immaterial, all-knowing, and all-powerful. Therefore the only way to approach him is in complete humility because without him humans have nothing and are nothing.
Ibn Al-Qayyim, a Sunni Islamic jurist and theologian from the 13th century summarized the Islamic idea of humility in these words:
There are two realities which we must fully grasp in order to be truly characterized with the noblest characteristic of humility. First and foremost is to come to truly know Allah's perfection, His abundant favors upon us and how we are fully dependent upon Him. Secondly, we have to come to know ourselves, where we come from and our numerous weaknesses and shortcomings.
Humility requires that we know God and be thankful for the fact that everything comes from Him through His grace and mercy. To do this, we should place heavy emphasis on praising and thanking Him constantly. We must also view ourselves as creatures who are comparatively weak and easily destroyed. In other words, humility is identical to recognizing how powerful and omnipotent God is as well as accepting our own weakness.
Humility in Catholicism
"Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves" -Phillipians 2:3
St. Bernard of Clairvaux, a French Abbot born in the 10th century, defined humility as, "A virtue by which a man knowing himself as he truly is, abases himself. Jesus Christ is the ultimate definition of Humility." Therefore, in order to become humble, we must look to the one who is the perfect example.
The Gospel of John focuses on Jesus's humility. When Jesus came to Jerusalem, the people "took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting, "Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord-- the King of Israel!" (John 12:13) Even though Jesus was the King of Israel, his kingdom was in Heaven, not on Earth. He came as a humble King not on horse or chariot, but on a donkey.
Even though Jesus was the son of God, he did not exalt himself or consider himself equal with God. Instead, he claimed that he could do nothing by himself, that whatever power or authority he had was God's (John 5:19). He also would not accept glory from men (5:41); his teachings were not his, but Gods (7:16); and he was not following his will, but the will of God (6:38).
Since Christ is our example, we should mimic what he does. Whatever glory we think we have belongs to God. When we teach others about the Bible, the teachings are not ours, but God's, whose wisdom is greater than our own. Our triumphs and victories come from God.
Humility is a crucial aspect of salvation. When we come to Christ, we come as sinners who need salvation and are entirely unable to save ourselves. Therefore, we must have a humble spirit, acknowledging his grace and mercy and the fact that he exchanges our worthlessness for His infinite worth.
Connecting The Definitions Of Humility
Each religion provides valuable wisdom into the virtue of humility. Taken together, a truly humble person would be one who has cast away the inflated ego that was a barrier to truth and God (Hinduism); one who submits to the will of God, because He is the supreme authority (Islam); and one who recognizes that all things come from God and to him all credit and glory are due (Catholicism).
While each of these religions approaches humility in slightly different ways, one does not need to be Hindu to read and learn about humility from the Hindu perspective. The same goes for a Muslim or a Christian. We should seek knowledge, listen, absorb wisdom, and find ways to apply that wisdom in a way that fits with our beliefs
Catholics, Hindus, Muslims, and peoples of any religion may have different definitions of God, but why should this prevent them from learning about each other? Acknowledging that each religion has something good and wise to offer would be an act of humility.
Humility is difficult to acquire because we instinctively avoid things that humble us. Like many things, this difficulty can be overcome one step at a time. Here are a few things you can do everyday to practice being humble:
Admit when you're wrong. No one likes to accept their own mistakes, but doing so builds character and sets a good example for others. Practice admitting to the little mistakes with minor or no consequences. This prepares one for the big mess-ups, which will inevitably happen.
Avoid taking credit. When we accomplish things, we naturally want to share the news with others. This desire for recognition and praise is not wrong, but too much of it inflates the ego. Instead, keep some achievements hidden from others. It will do you good, and any who discover you didn't step in and take credit will have more respect for you.
Learn from those around you. There will always be people who have advanced beyond us in certain ways. Don't envy or resent them, learn from them.
Help someone. The best way to become humble is by being humbled. By serving or helping someone, we send the message that their needs are more important than our own.
There are many more ways to practice humility. To make lasting change, gradually fold humble actions into your everyday life. Don't try to do too much at once because you will only burn yourself out. Too much humility can be a bad thing. The best way to make permanent change is to make proper humility a habit.