Humility doesn’t mean to be soft spoken or to be hard spoken
trinad api sunicena taror api sahisnuna, amanina manadena kirtaniyah sada harih
“One who thinks himself lower than grass, who is more tolerant than a tree, and who does not expect personal honor but is always prepared to give respect to others, can very easily always chant the holy name of the Lord.”
This is one of the most famous verses amongst Gaudiya Vaisnavas and is one of the most important verse for all devotees so much so that Lord Caitanya told it to put in a locate and wear it on the neck. This verse describes humility and tolerance as key qualities of a Vaisnava and for advancement in Krsna Consciousness. But unfortunately it is also the most misunderstood verse amongst devotee community. This misunderstanding has sprung out of the shift of meaning of the word “humility”, just as the meaning of the word “dharma” is shifted to be misunderstood as a kind of faith. Srila Prabhupada did redefine many currently misunderstood sastric words so that people can understand their truth and thus be benefited by applying them in their lives. In this article we will redefine the word “humility” based on guru-sadhu-sastra and see its immense import.
Generally when we hear the word “humility” the picture that immediately comes to our mind is that of a person who is mild, soft spoken, doesn’t try to hurt anyone even by words, always smiling, doesn’t try to impose his doctrine on others, etc. Although these may sometimes be symptoms of humility if the real import of the word is not understood then one does commit great mistakes and completely miss the application of humility in his life – many times following something that manifests these above symptoms but actually is completely against humility. The real import of the word humility is mentioned in Srimad Bhagavatam by Lord Brahma (SB 10.14.3):
jnane prayasam udapasya namanta eva
jivanti san-mukharitam bhavadiya-vartam
Please read translation and purport from Srila Prabhupada’s Srimad Bhagavatam.
Everyone is using his intelligence and knowledge to know what his course of action should be (what he should do and what he shouldn’t) so as to become eternally happy. This is called quest for the absolute truth. But the conditioned souls’ existence and intelligence are imperfect. So by his own endeavors (either by karma or jnana) he will never be able to understand absolute truth (and thus the course of action he should follow) which is perfect. So Lord Brahma says one who gives up this endeavor by his own intelligence – that is gives up his faith on the empiric process of gaining knowledge – and becomes humble, enters the devotional service and gradually achieves (practically controls) the absolute truth by continuing this process of humility. Still the definition of humility is half. I don’t have faith on my own intelligence, okay. But then I may have faith on intelligence of other conditioned people who are also similarly mistaken. So one should give up faith on the empiric process of gaining knowledge – not just not have faith in himself. For example one may say that “I am not perfect but the scientists have discovered this and thus it is correct”. But this is again not giving up the empiric process as the scientists also depend on their own intelligence and you depend on the knowledge given by them. So the complete rejection of the empiric process of gaining knowledge constitutes the first half of “humility”.
The second half is “jivanti san-mukharitam bhavadiya-vartam” – hearing from the persons who have dedicated their lives to (or are absorbed in) service of the absolute truth (Krishna – as Brahma is speaking to Krsna) about the reality of the Absolute Truth (bhavadiya vartam) and thus applying the knowledge thus gained to perfect one’s lives (tanu-van-manobhir). This means to accept the authority of guru-sadhu-sastra as perfect (accepting the knowledge gained from there to be unquestionable truth although one may not be able to realize it now) and applying it in one’s own life without any reservation (with mind, body and speech – Full force).
So the full definition of humility is – to give up all endeavors to gain knowledge (or guidance) from empiric process and fully accept the authority of guru-sadhu-sastra in guiding one’s life to perfection and try to apply their instructions cent-percent in one’s own life.
This is very deeply related to the principle of anugatya – to identify oneself as the servant of the guru-parampara and thus completely attached and adhered to the knowledge given by them. This very important principle has its roots in Krsna-prema. One who is a pure devotee is completely attached to the guru-parampara and Krsna. If someone blasphemes them he becomes hurt and angry. This anger is transcendental and examples are Hanuman, Lord Caitanya, etc. Although Lord Caitanya instructed us to be humble when a devotee was offended he became angry. This did not make him non-humble as the very basic principle of humility is not violated i.e. to be attached to the guru-parampara and Krsna. Thus humility is considered as one of the most important principles to enter, advance and remain in pure devotion.
Now this principle of anugatya is very important in practicing humility and it is practiced right from the beginning of devotional service to the perfect stage – pure devotion. Svetasvatara Upanisad 6.23 says:
yasya deve para bhaktir yatha deve tatha gurau
tasyaite kathita hy arthah prakasante mahatmanah
“The real import of the scriptures is revealed to one who has unflinching faith in both the Supreme Personality of Godhead and the spiritual master.”
For example: Manu-samhita says “women are less intelligent and thus they should always be protected. They should not be given freedom. They should never be given any managerial posts”. This is confirmed by Narada-muni also and previous acharyas also. So Srila Prabhupada also speaks on this topic so many times in his books although the society at that time was completely against this idea. This shows the änugatya principle followed by Srila Prabhupada and thus his real humility. Now I am new in bhakti and am the follower of Srila Prabhupada. But when I see this statement from Prabhupada I may feel that “Oh! How can this be correct? I see so many intelligent women”. Then I see that Prabhupada is not giving his own knowledge but is quoting from sastras and acharyas to support this. Here is my test – will I apply this statement in course of following Srila Prabhupada’s order? The above verse guides me: even if in my all estimations the statements from guru-sadhu-sastra seem wrong I should have full faith in them and apply them in my life. Then after sometime, by their mercy, the real import of sastras will be realized and then I will have no doubts in these statements (eg, women are less intelligent). This is manifestation of änugatya and real humility. To know more about some realizations on this principle see article:
So we see that right from the beginning a follower of Krsna Consciousness can be humble. Srila Prabhupada knew how sastras are correct in each matter – one may not know how sastras are correct in each matter, but one should apply and preach these instructions As It Is keeping faith on guru-sadhu-sastra. This is real humility. A doubting person perishes (samsayatma vinasyati, Bg 4.40). This real humility will gradually detach one from any attachment to empiric process and make one dependent completely on guru-parampara and he will develop love for the guru-parampara identifying and feeling himself more and more the servant of guru-parampara. Thus he will develop his love of Krsna. This is how humility leads to Krsna-prema.
Many times devotees, in trying to be humble, say “Actually, I don’t have strong faith on Prabhupada”. This is actually very offensive and completely opposite to humility and will not lead to Krsna-prema.
So does this mean that a really humble devotee will always be hard spoken?
Humility has nothing to do with soft speaking or hard speaking. It is to follow and speak as per guru-sadhu-sastra. It may be palatable to people or it may not be palatable to people. Thus we see that sometimes Srila Prabhupada’s behavior has mild, soft spoken, etc characteristics manifested while at other times completely opposite characters like angry, chastising people, etc. At both times Srila Prabhupada is completely humble as he is following real humility and these symptoms are just due to the compatibility of the message he is trying to pass with the hearers’ ideas.
Los Angeles, Nov.25,1968
Prabhupada: He’s [Krsna is] specially addressing, “chastiser of the enemy.” Where there is no excuse, you must be chastiser. Not that “Because I have become Krsna conscious, I’ll be very humble.” You must be humble, but in need, if there is need, you shall be thunderbolt. That is Krsna instructing.
This quote shows the above explanation. In general the message of the sastras is not acceptable to conditioned souls and thus it looks hard. So we must understand that in process to humbly preach it is inevitable that many people will perceive our speech to be hard or strong. A patient feels pain when gets operated by a doctor. Although the assistant doesn’t have as much knowledge as doctor when doctor says “cut here” he immediately cuts – the patient may scream but the assistant has full faith that the patient will be cured by this.
[Warning: One should not just speak strongly but not follow. Then there are chances that one is speaking just for his ego and not out of obedience to guru-parampara. So actually one is not humble as he is not sincere to apply teachings of guru-parampara in life and thus one may fall down or may not advance properly. Still as the message passed is purely from guru-parampara it has some effect on the hearers who are first-class intelligent. We do have some experience of devotees who do bring devotees to Krsna Consciousness but are themselves not very serious about following Krsna Consciousness.]
In next article “Real humility – It’s applications” we will see the applications of real humility taking examples from Srila Prabhupada’s life and how currently in ISKCON in many fields false humility lead to deviation from Srila Prabhupada’s instructions.