The quality of humility is so important in spiritual realization, that the failure to cultivate it will ensure the lack of success.
The living being in the embodied state has two coverings, the gross physical body, and a subtle body comprised of the mind, the intelligence, and the false ego (ahaṅkāra). The false ego is the first and most powerful covering of the soul, which distorts the consciousness of the embodied being. The false ego will have you think and feel that you are all important, always right, and see everything with great clarity. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The false ego and the four human defects (to commit mistakes, be subject to illusion, a propensity to cheat, and greatly limited sense organs) make it difficult to perceive actual truth. Humility counters these influences and makes us inclined towards submissively hearing from spiritual authorities and supports a way forward, towards spiritual enlightenment.
Before speaking I offer my respects to my spiritual teachers, to our lineage, and to the Supreme.
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
The journey towards spiritual enlightenment requires a great deal of introspection. This is a very wonderful word, to look within. Introspection actually begins with being very suspicious of one’s motivations, of one’s own ideas that we’re accepting and embracing as being all important. My value system must be subjected to this introspection.
Today I’m just going to really—the focus will be on humility, the tremendous significance and importance of the cultivation of this quality of humility, in order to become successful on this journey, this path towards spiritual enlightenment. Failing to cultivate humility will ensure, guarantee, your lack of success. That’s how critical it is. That’s how important.
So you may wonder, “So what’s that earlier thing the guy was talking about, introspection, what’s that have to do with humility?” In order to be successful, in order to be able to utilize introspection as a tool to help us grow spiritually, it’s necessary to be very humble. The failure to be humble will have catastrophic results, catastrophic because it means we will remain covered.
So, one of the foundational principles for real spiritual life is that we’re talking about something that is wildly different than what I would categorize as material life, the experiences that we have to date, at least a lot of them, or the influences, the filters that are making it so we see things in certain ways.
Anybody that’s been around the yoga scene probably has heard at least, if they don’t know, the—one mantra from the Upanishads, “Auṁ asato-mā sad gamaya tamaso mā…” It goes on like this. It’s quite brief and that first line, “asato-mā sad gamaya“ is translated as “Please lead me from darkness into the light.” And it’s like, okay, well what are they talking about? What is this darkness that has been referenced?
You know, just the English term “enlightenment” speaks to turning on the lights, moving from darkness into light. And if we just contemplate on that idea, the idea that I could be existing in a state of darkness, that is kind of like a little bit shocking, because nobody feels that they’re in a state of darkness, that there is a lack of light. Everybody thinks they’re seeing everything with tremendous clarity, and they’ve got it together.
In the Bhagavad-gita there is a verse, it’s in the second chapter, the 69th verse, and it states:
“What is night for all living beings is the time of awakening for the self-controlled, and the time of awakening for all living beings is night for the introspective sage.”
So this is like, wow! The difference between spiritual realization, and being covered by ignorance, that difference is as great as day and night. Now I may not see it with that clarity, but this is actually a fact.
Humanity has actually struggled through some types of development that has not led to enlightenment. We had, particularly through the 60s and going forward, the introduction of more humanist philosophies and ideas. Humanist philosophies or ideas put me as a human being above everything else, and so what hitched itself to this idea were ideas, of course, of self-importance, and me, and what I think and what I feel, and placing this above everything. And it has become so pervasive, it has become so corrupting that there is just like a complete lack of awareness.
And I’ll give you an example. I was watching an interview. A political philosopher slash journalist, writer, was doing an interview with a person that was both profoundly humble and an incredibly deep thinker, someone that was a true philosopher and a genuinely good person; and the interview was a little bit contentious, because the person doing the interview was always trying to score points and try to show the superiority of their thinking over this other person’s. And as part of this discourse the person asks, “So, in terms of problems that the world’s facing, what about overpopulation?” And the person that was being interviewed responded, “Well I reject this idea of overpopulation.” The journalist just said, “Well, the crisis of overpopulation…”
From a spiritual perspective this is an incredibly ignorant idea. The problem is not the overpopulation, but the problem is really about the quality of people. If you had 10 billion saints on the planet the place would be heavenly, but if you have even one highly selfish and evilly motivated individual, that’s one too many.
And so, the guy responded. First he said, he didn’t think it was a crisis, and, if, he said, “Iif you think that it’s such a crisis, why don’t you do—you know what you can do about it.” And the person was taken aback. He said, “If you really think it’s such a problem, then why don’t you take a step to solve it?” and what he was implying, why don’t you commit suicide? If you think that the overpopulation of the world is a crisis you have the power to do something about that by removing yourself from the planet.
And when he raised that in such a subtle way, the person was kind of really startled by that idea. And what I was watching was the shift in the state of consciousness of the reporter, or the writer, or the interviewer, where they went from being so filled with self-confidence and righteous indignation—“What are we going to do about all of this terrible overpopulation?”—Of course, not considering themselves at all as being part of the so-called problem and being very willing to consider how to get rid of others, how—they call it “bringing down the population,” but it’s kind of like saying, “putting my pet to sleep.” You’re not putting your pet to sleep, you’re killing it. You want to make yourself feel good about it, but in reality what you’re doing is you’re killing that animal, for whatever reason. I’m not questioning the motive, but at least let’s be honest about what you’re doing. And so you have this situation where the person has gone from really thinking that they had this clarity, that was so utterly driven by self-importance, that the thought of me removing myself as being part of the solution was terrifying and a kind of like completely mind-blowing.
So, this is a small example of how we tend to not see the role that we are playing in things. We tend not to see how our consciousness is affecting us, and whether it is helpful in moving forward in our life towards spiritual realization or not.
Humility really is so important, from the perspective that I shouldn’t just assume I know what’s going on. I shouldn’t assume that I necessarily have the answers. There’s another dimension to that, another layer to that, that is actually really amazing. In the Vedic teachings, in the yogic teachings, the need to be introspectful, (introspect? yeah, introspectful, I guess you can say) and to be a little suspect of what it is that’s driving us, was sort of really foundational and fundamental to the spiritual journey.
So they had, for instance, a recognition that in the material condition all human beings, save and except for those who are enlightened, are falling victim to four different things, and these four different things are really completely affecting my world view and my understanding of everything.
The first one is the tendency to commit mistakes. This is considered a really—everybody recognizes this reality (I hope that noise outside is not causing too much problem for people), the tendency—we all have a tendency to commit mistakes. There’s this old saying in English, “To err is human…” err meaning to commit a mistake. So that is part of the human condition, part of the material condition, the tendency to commit a mistake. And so I now have to question, “Okay, well, when I’m locked into this point of view, what’s the possibility that I’m mistaken?” But we almost never ask that question.
So the second defect, human defect, is that we have—we are easily illusioned. So whether that’s somebody in a desert thinking that they see an oasis, and it’s just a mirage; or whether it’s what we’re subjected to in a magic performance, where they call them illusionists, where they do something right in front of you, and you know in your heart, this is not possible that that’s happened, yet my senses, the way I’m seeing and observing and hearing things, it’s as if something has happened that actually has not. And there’s so many—you know, they have these science shows showing how the brain works, and how sensory perception works, and how it’s easy to become fooled by things. But the point is that, yes, in the material condition we are subject to being illusioned.
And one of the massive downsides and worries about being illusioned: when you are illusioned, when you are put in a state of illusion, you don’t know that you’re in illusion. That’s exactly what it means. So the mere fact that you’re highly confident that you’re not in illusion is not proof that you’re not in illusion. That’s probably proof that you are in illusion, to be that confident, “Well, I’m not in illusion. I’m seeing it clearly!”
So then the third tendency or defect was the tendency to cheat, to convince myself of something, cheat myself, or to do it to others. This propensity and tendency is massive, and it gets played out in our life on an ongoing basis in so many different ways, but we’re not very critical of it, meaning that we don’t try to look at our decisions and our reactions to things, or our actions, and consider whether we are cheating or being cheated.
Then the fourth deficient—or defect is what was called sensory deficiency. Your senses are not perfect. Even when they are aided by sophisticated scientific instruments, they’re not perfect. They are always going to be imperfect.
So when I take these four things into consideration: the tendency to be—commit mistakes, to be subject to illusion, to cheat, and the fact that my senses are all limited, then it really calls into question how I’m seeing the world, how I’m thinking about it, how I’m processing things. And it was with this appreciation that somebody that participated in any one of the yoga paths, in the yoga system as a whole, approached the journey with the utmost humility, knowing our defects, knowing our sense of self-importance, the things that blind us to clear vision of things.
When it comes to this tendency to be illusioned, the most massive of all the illusions that we are subjected to, or that we are involved in, is this idea that the body is me. And so I hold tightly to the labels of male or female, of young or middle aged, old or a child. I cling to the ideas of being fit and healthy or out of shape, of being tall or short or thin, to have a racial identity or an ethnic extraction, belonging to whatever, all the unlimited numbers of labels that we place on the body. And the way in which we utterly embrace this as the only truth and the only reality is the central, the underlying, and the biggest obstacle to self-realization.
Rising from these false labels, or false identities, is then ideas of how to seek happiness, how to seek fulfillment, how to find purpose and meaning. It’s all directed by the nature of my illusion. This is the meaning attached to this idea of moving from darkness into the light. When we don’t even appreciate our condition and our situation because we’re so caught up in the movie, it’s like this movie playing out in our head. We’re watching, we’re seeing, we’re smelling, touch, tasting, touching, and all that sensory information has been fed into my mind and projected on the movie screen of my mind, and I’m totally absorbed in it without any consideration of who I truly am.
It’s just like when people literally go to movies and lose the plot. You’re sitting there in the movie house watching something up on the screen, and you become so entangled in the story, and it’s just a bunch of light bouncing off a screen. There’s not even anything really happening. It’s just light. People are not actually doing something and actually saying something. These were just still images that have been captured and then projected at such a speed that it looks like movement. And everybody’s just acting anyway. None of it’s even real. None of it’s even true. And yet we can get so caught up. We can feel happy and laugh. We can shriek or shout, you know, like “Aaaaggh!” and become frightened of something, become sexually aroused. We can become terrified of something. It’s just like—it’s crazy land. There’s nothing actually happening to you. There’s just all this stream of sensory perception that’s been projected onto the mind, and I am so deeply identifying with it my body is having physiological responses. I’m having psychological responses.
But the person that’s sitting in the movie house, their body—if you’ve got a camera on the person in the movie house, they’re just kind of sitting there oblivious to the reality that they’re just sitting there on a chair, completely oblivious to that fact, that I’m just sitting here on a chair and there’s nothing actually happening to me. But yet, if somebody’s taking a picture of someone, you can watch the different reactions that they have, the facial expressions, things they may say or do. There’s all these reactions going on. And it’s just like, well, there’s nothing really happening to you, you’re just sitting there in a chair.
For the great transcendentalist, the one who is approaching, or having begun to experience, or fully experience, real self-realization, enlightenment, their experience compared to the experience of a person in the materially entangled condition, is like that difference between night and day. It is so huge. It’s so huge.
The monumental upside to self-realization is this awakening to the most extraordinary spiritual experiences, the awakening of an experience of spiritual pleasure that cannot be compared to anything, any experience in this world. And the greatest experiences when one—the natural tendency and attraction towards love becomes manifest spiritually and experienced, the ecstatic happiness that is connected with that experience.
And so you have these two completely different things are like—one is in darkness, one is in light. One is, there is a state in material thing where we’re hoping for love, we’re hoping for happiness, we want everything to be permanent but it’s constantly changing. We don’t want to die because we desire to be eternal. We desire happiness to go on forever: “They lived happily ever after.” All of these things we intensely desire, but we’re not experiencing that reality. We’re experiencing the opposite of that in the material world.
Sit at the bedside of a person who is dying and hold their hand and help them through that experience. That will transform your life, potentially. Usually people that—when they experience the death of someone close to them, it’s kind of like this huge wake up, and everything is like, whoa! out of balance, and everything has been suddenly turned upside down, and there is that opportunity for massive clarity.
But then our tendency is to get over it, to move past it, to grieve and then move on, meaning to fall back into that deep illusion again, to have not been able to take advantage of this opportunity to go, “Whoa… do I need to think about life differently? Do I have to think—should I be thinking about my priorities differently? Should I consider behaving differently in my relationships and connections with others and with this world?” That’s the opportunity that’s provided. But it usually quite quickly passes, and one slips back into the sleeping condition once again.
If you want to experience actual self-realization and God realization the need for you to cultivate humility is paramount. I mean it’s so important. It’s—there are two things that we are told that are absolutely necessary to cultivate. One is humility, and the second one is tolerance. Tolerance is defined in the Vedas as being, “to patiently endure unhappiness.” Why patiently endure? Because you’re not meant to just have a knee-jerk reaction when something that you experience that you don’t like or is difficult to bear or is discomforting, don’t have a knee-jerk reaction to it. Don’t seek to just instantly avoid it, to smash it or push it out of the way or bury it. Think about what it means. Why am I having this experience? Why is this happening to me, and what is it actually that’s happening? This is what it means to be introspective, and as I said, the cultivation of humility.
Being able to see my predicament and my situation with some, some, clarity will completely change your life, will completely change your experience, the experiences that you go through in this journey that we call life, and you will derive monumental benefit from being introspective and by cultivating humility.
There are so many things that have been opened up in the course of this little conversation that we’re having. There are so many things that we could be looking at, so many different directions we could be taking that are tied to this. But this is about as far as I would want to go right now. And for your sake, for your happiness, I humbly beg of you that you take this seriously, this advice. It’s not coming from me. I am—I have nothing to offer. Everything that I’m passing on to you is that which has been given to me, shared with me from my spiritual teachers, from the Vedas. They are not—I am not the source of them, but in embracing them it has transformed my life. It has transformed me.
I began with a verse from the Bhagavad-gita about the difference between night and day, the introspective sage compared to the common person. And I always remember this: when I was a spaced out yogi hippie dude, taking monumental amounts of psychedelic substances, and experimenting with kundalini yoga, and trying to see things with clarity, and having some pretty amazing experiences, but actually not being able to understand them very deeply, when I was first introduced to the Bhagavad-gita, I picked up the Bhagavad-gita, and I decided, “Okay, this is meant to be a really important book. I’m going to try and read it.”
And over the period of about a day and a half I read it from cover to cover, going back and revisiting some things a little bit, but trying to crunch through it. And at the end of that, when I closed that book, the thought in my mind was like, “Well, what was that all about?” There was not one, not one idea that I had read that jumped out to me and was earth-shattering. There was not one thing that was like this huge “aha” moment, like whoa, whoa! I had read it, and to me it all just sounded like it was the same stuff just being repeated over and over again. And it was kind of like, “Well, what’s the big deal with this?”
Over time, due to the tremendous grace and mercy of my spiritual masters and of the Supreme Soul, the way in which I have come to understand and see things has radically altered. I now find that I can pick up the Bhagavad-gita and take just one verse, and I could probably speak about that verse for six, or eight, or ten hours, and still not run out of beautiful and amazing truths that are tied to this. It is so deep, and it is so profound.
But when I was in that state of being, of course, very self-centred and arrogant, and thinking I had it together, and I knew what was going on—after all you couldn’t do so much acid and not know what’s going on! [Laughs] It was just like that arrogance and overconfidence, but yet when exposed to such wonderful transcendental truth, sorry, couldn’t fully get my head around it. So it’s kind of like that was a shocking revelation to me that I was so out of it, and yet was so confident I knew what was going on and I understood and saw things with clarity, I knew what was in my best interest. Looking back now I see, no, I was horribly ignorant.
So the need to actually cultivate—to consider what I’m talking about here and to cultivate this quality of humility is absolutely foundational, and fundamental to your spiritual growth. You cannot have spiritual growth without a growth in humility. They are tied together.
And so some people—you’re gonna have different reactions to what I’m saying—some people are going to be like, “What the hell!” and, “I don’t agree with that,” or, “Wow, that’s far out,” and, “Whoa! Never thought of it like that.” You’re going to have a whole spectrum of reactions, just as I had—have gone through a spectrum of reactions to spiritual truth.
But I do humbly request that you try to reflect on this, not just once or twice, but to incorporate this into your spiritual journey, this great need for the cultivation of this quality of humility. And I think I’ve given you some insights into why it’s important, and why it will help overcome the ignorant obstacles that come from ideas of self-importance and illusion.
Okay, I hope that wasn’t too serious. It’s a very important subject. So I’ll leave it there. Thank you so very much for the opportunity to share this with you, and let’s close out with a not too long chant. We will use the Haribol Nitai-Gaura mantra and maybe we’ll go into the Mahamantra, or the Hare Krishna mantra. Thank you very, very much. Haribol.