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In this second installment on the subject of humility, we examine two of the critical reasons why humility is essential to achieve enlightenment.
So before speaking I offer my respects to my spiritual teachers, to our lineage, and to the Supreme Soul.
aum ajnana timirandhasya jnananjana salakaya
caksur unmilitam yena tasmai sri gurave namah
bhaja sri krishna caitanya prabhu nityananda
sri advaita gadadhara srivasadi gaura bhakta vrnda
he krishna karuna sindho dina bandho jagat pate
gopesa gopika kanta radha kanta namo ‘stu te
aum namo bhagavate vasudevaya
So, I had a question that somebody had asked which is actually a very intelligent question: What is the meaning of being free spiritually?
We have, as part of our spiritual nature, a limitless desire for freedom. In this world most people define freedom as being the—having the power or the ability to act as you want to. To be able to act, to do things, without being impeded, they consider this freedom.
But from the Vedic perspective this is not necessarily freedom. We may be able to make choices about what we will do, but we are all completely and utterly bound by the reactions to those choices. Every single act that you make, there is a consequence that you cannot run away from, you cannot avoid. That is because, just as our bodies are bound by the law of gravity, so we are also bound by natural laws, like the laws of karma.
The other four principal misfortunes that we are bound by: one is called birth; the second one is called disease, to suffer diseases; and third is called old age. When I was younger I always looked at old people like they’re another species. I couldn’t kind of, you know–they would say, “Oh, when I was your age I used to…” and I’m kind of like, “What?!” having a really hard time picturing that. But this is something we all must face. And then ultimately, like it or not, death.
Therefore, any situation within the material world is not categorized by intelligent people as being freedom. And definitely not just to have the power, or the money, or the capacity to choose to do whatever you want, is not freedom. It has a much bigger meaning: to become free from the gross and subtle material bodies; to become free from the ravages, the control, of my mind and emotions; to not be subjected to the laws of nature; to not be bound on this repeated cycle of birth and death—this is freedom. Anything else is not really regarded as freedom.
So I hope that sufficiently answers that question.
So, I wanted to go a little bit further with what we discussed yesterday, but what I want to focus on now is on the two main ways that humility helps me in my spiritual journey. And these two main ways that I’m going to speak of—it’s not like they’re the only ways, but these two things that I will speak of are of huge and actually critical importance.
So the first, it deals with an understanding of how the living being, the eternal spiritual being, is being covered by two bodies. This first body is called the stula sarira, or the gross physical body, that which you can see with your eyes. But there is a more subtle body that is covering the spirit soul. This subtle body, or linga sarira, is comprised of what’s called the mind; the buddhi, or intelligence; and the false ego, the ahankara. The subtle body is what is the initial covering, and the gross body is a secondary covering.
This—one of these components of the subtle body called the ahankara—and we use the term “the false ego” to describe it. Other people may use the term “ego.” That is fine, but we are just differentiating between the actual ego, the true self, and the false concept of the self. So this word ahan/aham means—it literally means I, I am. And when you add this kara to it, it means when we adopt these labels, the labels that attach to the body, as being who we are. I am this, or I am that. I am tall, short, male, female. We mentioned this yesterday.
The false ego, though, or ahankara, is much more tricky than just that. The sense of self-importance, seeing myself at the centre of things—and I know for newer people this idea is a little bit of a struggle, because we have a very limited way in which we generally use the term “self-importance” in the material world. Well, I’m using it from a spiritual perspective.
And what I mean—and if you could grasp this—I mean it’s quite mind-blowing. I see myself, or my idea of myself, as being the central principle to everything. I refer to this world as my world. I refer to family extensions, or a partner in life, or whatever, as mine. The kids are mine. I see everything in relation to me.
And the reason that we are seeing this way, and we have this tendency then to want to really firmly be at the centre of things—like for instance you get a group of friends together, and they’re hanging out and talking, and pretty much what you’ve got going on there, whether you recognize it or not, is this competition. Somebody’s trying to be the coolest. Somebody’s trying to be the funniest. Someone is trying to be the prettiest, or the most handsome. Or somebody is kind of like, really knowledgeable about this subject. Somebody’s the, you know—
Everybody—It’s like this disease that’s sort of really epitomized—I think, in some surveys that they’ve done, you’ve got as much as—I think it was, and I may be wrong, but I think it’s much as about 70 percent of young people, one of the things they’d like to do is be an influencer [laughs] which is kind of like—you don’t see the problem with that where you’ve got 70 percent of the people wanting, vying and fighting for the attention of the 30 who are not seeking to be influencers? That’s pretty—that’s kind of a bit of a hilarious situation.
But the idea of being at the centre of things: people like to fantasize about being a rock singer, or a guitarist, or a drummer, or something, and being out there just going for it. This desire for adulation, the desire to be at the centre of things, is all entirely the working of the false ego. And it is almost impossible, even for a highly intelligent person, to be constantly aware and deeply perceptive of how this is all going on, and how much and to what degree I, as the eternal spiritual being, are being influenced by this false ego.
Of course, the ultimate ego trip is when I latch on to the idea that I am God. And this is going to spazz certain people out. Anybody—I mean we have this tendency, unfortunately, that if I cling to an idea, I like an idea, and someone says, “Oh no, that’s not a good idea,” or “That’s not a smart idea,” I feel like I am being personally attacked, just because of my attachment, because I’ve adopted an idea. But the idea that I could be God, it’s totally in line with the whole false ego of wanting to be the centre of things, seeing everything in relation to me.
So this—I’ll just speak to the point that a lot of people, this idea of being one with God and being God really appeals to them. It’s because it appeals to the false ego. It’s not a deeply spiritual idea. It’s the antithesis of a deeply spiritual idea.
The truth that’s presented in the Vedas is that yes, we are one with God, yet simultaneously different from God. There is a oneness and there is a difference; and that oneness is classified as being a qualitative oneness. We have similar qualities, but quantitatively there is a vast difference, like a drop of water from the ocean.
You can’t surf in a drop of water. You can’t float a boat. A shark or a whale can’t fit. Even an ordinary fish cannot fit in a drop of water. But—while that drop of water is qualitatively one with the ocean, it has the same qualities, quantitatively there is a really vast difference.
The greatest authority on the astanga yoga system, or what people accept as being the great authority, Patanjali, in his Yoga Sutra, he addresses this point directly. In the yoga teachings the living being, the atma, the self, is also described with this word purusa. Purusa literally means the person, meaning the spiritual being. So, in his famous treatise, in the first pada, the first chapter, when he describes how one can achieve the highest spiritual realization, and he’s describing how difficult one—how difficult it is, he then just throws out this verse, “Īśvara pranidhānād-vā” which means that one can attain the highest realization by special mercy from Isvara. Isvara means the great controller, or the supreme controller; and one can certainly attain this by grace from Isvara.
And then he goes on to describe what is Isvara. And the first thing that he mentions is that he describes Isvara as the “purusa visesa.” Purusa visesa means that one unique, completely special, and unique, and powerful purusa. So he’s pointing to the reality that while there may be unlimited numbers of spiritual beings, that amongst these spiritual beings there is one that is unique or special.
This same point has been established in the Vedas. In the Upanisads, the Katha Upanisad and the Svetasvatara Upanisad, both of them repeat the same mantra in Sanskrit. It is:
nityo nityānāṁ cetanaś cetanānām
eko bahūnāṁ yo vidadhāti kāmān
and it means that amongst all eternals, meaning all spiritual beings, there is one that is unique and different, amongst all conscious beings there is one that is unique and different. And it, in English it would be,
“He is the eternal amongst all eternal entities, the chief conscious being amongst all conscious beings, and among the many living entities He is the chief who fulfills the desires of all the rest.”
So this ahankara, this false ego, is the hugest stumbling block to the question that was asked, “What is freedom?” The biggest stumbling block to spiritual freedom and to full self and God realization is this covering, this thing that covers me and contaminates and distorts my consciousness, known as the ahankara.
If I am cultivating humility then I will always be on guard, and be considering, “Is it this covering, this false ego, that is putting these ideas in my mind, that is making it so I see things this way, that is spurring me to react to things this way?” I would be on guard with that, and I would be looking to some source of knowledge to help me evaluate whether what’s going through my mind is actually arising from the soul, or is it just the mind and the false ego under the influence of the material energy that is coming to all of these ideas and conclusions? So in this way the cultivation of humility is enormously important.
Then the second way that we need to consider is in relation to what I just mentioned. If I accept that I am not infallible, that, like we spoke of yesterday, I have these four human defects that are influencing me: I am subject to illusion. I have a propensity to cheat. My senses are imperfect. These were examples of how the imperfections that affect us—I have this tendency to commit mistakes. Therefore things that I am just going to generate on my own are not going to necessarily guide me to the ultimate freedom, the ultimate spiritual realization.
So I must turn to some higher authority. I must turn—I mean it’s just like if somebody goes to university, and they want to study a particular subject. Imagine showing up in a room, and there’s no teacher and no other students. It’s just you, or maybe some other students are coming and going. And you don’t have textbooks. And you are going to sit there and figure out what mechanical engineering is, or how to build a skyscraper, or how to do some organic chemistry experiments, or how—whatever the subject. No books, no reference, no background teaching, no teacher, and you’re just going to sit there and figure it out on your own. And maybe a few other people around, you’ve got their opinions and their truth. It’s a ridiculous proposition.
Yet we are so keen to do that in spiritual life, where I want to rely solely on my mind and my emotions to provide me with all the insight. The yogis were—I mean these guys were amazing, amazing in their perception, perceptiveness, but all of them adopted a process where they embraced a higher authority. This in fact is the quickest way to learn, to learn from established genuine higher authority.
And so in the ancient Vedic teachings there were three great authorities. The first is called sastra, (the second—) which means like the Vedic teachings, or the yogic texts, which were accepted as being free from defect. They’re not just a creation of a human mind. They have actually descended from a transcendental platform.
Then you had guru. Guru was the embodiment of these teachings. Just because somebody dresses a certain way or says they are guru doesn’t make them guru. The Vedas teach what are the qualifications, and how to identify, and what precautions you need in seeking guru.
And then the third was sadhu. Sadhu means the great saints, the rishis, the great sages, the previous great teachers in these renowned spiritual lineages.
And you would always find that these three authorities taught exactly the same principles. Different teachers may present it from different angles of vision or from different points of view to make it more easily understood for others, but there was this harmony of truth. It’s not like people were just making stuff up or pulling it out of the air.
There is an enormous need for humility if one is going to try to find and approach sources of spiritual authority, and I’ll explain what I mean.
I just want to make the point first and foremost: in the ancient yoga systems one of the things that people were taught at a very young age was how to question everything. You question your own mind. You question your own conclusions, but you question people that are presenting ideas. What is the source of that idea? What is your qualification to present it? They evaluated people’s character before listening to them. Before I put myself in front of someone who says that they are a teacher or a spiritual authority I must know: What is their lineage? What is the philosophical and spiritual lineage they’re connected with? What is their personal qualification? How are they living in their own life?
One should not just blindly accept anything. This was a really important spiritual principle. Blind acceptance and blind faith was considered incredibly dangerous. Even if you lucked out, and you had a proper teacher, that’s just like you lucked out. But if you were blindly accepting and following you would limit your ability to come to realize the truth that’s being presented. So whether a person was an authentic and a spiritually powerful teacher or they were a fake, either way one should not blindly accept and blindly follow anyone. And one must learn to question.
If you do not have an actual authority to guide you then you will simply be following your mind. And anybody that can clearly understand that the mind is a material covering, and it is influenced by so many things, they would appreciate what I’ve just said, that okay, it’s going to be just my mind is going to direct me, or I’m going to find an actual spiritual authority, a real spiritual teacher. And between the two it should be obvious that one is infinitely better than the other one.
Speaking to that subject, there was a wonderful verse in a great ancient text known as the Bhagavat Purana that says the following:
“The mind is like an impetuous horse that even persons who have regulated their senses and breath cannot control…”
I mean this principle was central to the yoga system, becoming the master of your mind, being in control of it rather than being controlled by it.
“Those in this world who try to tame the uncontrolled mind but who abandon the feet of their spiritual master encounter hundreds of obstacles in their cultivation of various distressful practices. They are like merchants on a boat in the ocean who have failed to employ a helmsman.”
I mean that’s just like a—that’s a wonderful description. And this was something that was commonly used. They would use the example of a rudderless boat, or in this case the helmsman, who is the one guiding and directing where the boat is going. If you are without a rudder or without a helmsman to direct the boat then you are simply at the mercy of the currents and the winds. So this principle of having a helmsman, having somebody to guide, a spiritual guide to lead us through life was considered critically important for every person who wanted to come to the platform of spiritual life.
And then I’ll read another verse. I’ve got a few here that I’m going to read. This one is from a great work from about 500 plus years ago called the Caitanya Caritamrita, and it says:
“According to their karma the living entities are wandering throughout the entire universe. Some of them have been elevated to the upper planetary systems, and some are going down to the lower planetary systems. Out of many millions of wandering living entities one who is very fortunate gets an opportunity to associate with a bona fide guru. One gets this association by the grace of the Supreme Soul. By the mercy of both God and the spiritual master such a person receives the seed of the creeper of bhakti, or transcendental loving service.”
So the point is that you have limitless living beings transmigrating from one body to another, from one situation to another, one species to another, and it is considered by the greatest fortune that one has the opportunity to come to associate with a real transcendentalist.
From the Bhagavad-gita there is a verse in the fourth chapter, the 34th verse, that is of crucial importance. And it says,
“Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master, or guru. Inquire from him submissively, and render service unto him. The self-realized soul can impart knowledge unto you because he has seen the truth.
So there’s lots of different things that we could be talking about here, but what I just want to draw your attention to, that the two requirements laid out in the Bhagavad-gita is that one should approach such a teacher with two focuses. One is to engage in inquiry, and the nature of that inquiry as being described there as submissive inquiry.
Submissive inquiry doesn’t mean that, you know, this fake humility and (mimes faking how low am I) I don’t know, some people get on really strange trips. What it’s referencing is that if I am—actually have been cultivating humility, then I have to understand my situation is not the most perfect situation. It may even be a very sad, or lonely, or difficult, or painful situation. I cannot rely on just my mind, and my own conclusions, and my personal analysis. I need training. I need to be shown that—what are the other ways that we could be looking at things? How should I actually consider what I’m going through? Are there better ways of seeing, and understanding, and doing? And so it is from that platform that one makes inquiry. Not that, I think I know the answer, and I’m gonna ask this person and see if their answer kind of like “resonates with me.” (Laughs) You can see I’m not very impressed by that idea.
I have to be humble enough to recognize that I don’t know. My biggest problem is that I actually—I don’t know if you’ve heard this saying before: “I don’t know what I don’t know.” That’s huge. That’s huge! I don’t know what it is that I don’t know. I can only kind of like make judgments and try to figure things out just from the basis of what I do know; and what I think I know might be an illusion. It may be completely wrong. It may be a mistake.
So accepting my personal limitations I approach guru, and I submissively ask, “Please speak to me on the subject,” or, “What should I do about this?” And then the answer that you are given, you are not asked to simply accept it. You are asked to put it to the test. That means that I must be engaging in a spiritual practice that is transformative, that is clearing the mind, that is bringing spiritual light and vision to things, a perspective. And now I must take the truths that I’ve been given and endeavour to deeply appreciate and understand them.
This humility that the yogic practitioners had, that sometimes a spiritual teacher may tell you something, and you just don’t get it, you just absolutely don’t get it, but if I have already taken the time to explore whether this person is actually a genuine spiritual authority or not, then I should take the position, “Okay, I don’t quite get it at the moment, but I’m going to go away and think about this. I’m going to meditate on this. I’m going to engage in my spiritual practices, and perhaps in time there will be a dawning, a growing of understanding and of appreciation.” And so one needs a great deal of humility.
It doesn’t mean you’re giving up your independence, or your freedom, or your responsibility to be in charge of your life and your decision making, but it means I’m not going to prioritize what I think over and above a spiritual authority. I need to sufficiently test it. I need to put it to the test and discover this truth for myself.
And part of what I need to do that was mentioned in the Bhagavad-gita, is that one should engage not just in submissive inquiry, but also in rendering service, where one takes a humble position towards a transcendentalist who is not exploitative, who is not going to abuse, or harm, or mislead, who is only interested in the welfare of everyone, that I should adopt a mode of conduct in dealing with them of great humility. And this service that I render is actually part of the price, as it were, I must pay. As I grow in my understanding I will feel an enormous debt of gratitude to such a spiritual teacher, and feel that even my whole life dedicated to serving them cannot repay them for the great debt I have for this priceless and valuable gift that has been given to me.
So humility in these two ways that were mentioned really protect. They protect the individual, the person, the seeker; and they provide the means for them to be able to deal with the material condition.
So I hope that wasn’t too long. And it’s a very serious topic. It’s a very serious subject matter. You can take as much of that as you wish, and consider it in your life. But the cultivation of humility, even in our dealings with the world, and other people, and society, will never hurt you, will never lead you astray—maybe false humility, but genuine humility will never lead you astray. It will protect you from the ravages of high emotional states, and saying, and doing things that just cause harm to yourself and to others. It is a wonderful quality to adopt. Doesn’t mean you become weak. One actually needs to be very strong and very confident that they’re in a solid place if they are going to cultivate and practice humility.
Kunti: There’s a question, “How does one best cultivate humility?”
Acharya das: So the question, “How does one best cultivate humility?” I think in the beginning what’s more important is the things that you shouldn’t do, rather than the things that you should do. Like humility is not an—it’s not something that you actually do. It is a reflection of a state of consciousness. So the things to do is to, when you are directed by your mind to act in a certain way, to respond to someone, to deal with someone a certain way, just taking a time out before you do that, and asking yourself, “Is this in my best interest and this other person’s best interest to relate this way? Or is there a better way to deal with things?” By not placing myself always first and above all others is important, by not just going with the mind and desires, questioning, being introspective about my own motivation, my own things. I’m not suggesting that somebody should be constantly doing this, but to do it from time to time.
But what is absolutely essential is that you are engaging in a spiritual process that is purifying, that’s lifting the fog, that’s making it so you have increasingly clearer vision. If you don’t do that then it doesn’t matter how hard you want to sort of see things clearly and to be humble and everything, it becomes just an act. There has to be that inner transformation, and this willingness to take direction from higher authority, not to feel that I am all powerful and all knowledgeable and everything. So this questioning of our own self, and the engagement in a spiritual process, primarily this process of chanting spiritual sound, to allocate a specific amount of time every day to engage in this meditative process, are really critical to cultivating humility.
Okay, with that thank you so very much for allowing me to speak with you again, and we will chant a little for a few moments. I will chant the Aum Hari Aum mantra.