One of the most powerful tools in curbing the ego is humility. In spiritual life one of the most disturbing aspects of our personality is our ego. Whereas the ego may in daily life, in some situations be our best friend yet in spiritual life it is a source of great disturbance. For most of us a part of it is a great disturbance in our day to day life too.
To make a point, it is ego clashes that ruin numerous relationships. These relationships may be of a public, business or even personal nature. Money and success both have a way of going to the head. People forget that life in the regular sense is governed by relationships. Neither can success nor money really buy happiness. Money does have a way of helping one buy objects of desire for one’s self and others. Money helps remove unpleasant situations and discomforts, but can it truly make one happy? Happiness comes with contentment whereas desires on the other hand are a Pandora’s box – never ending afflictions. Interestingly many surveys have shown that people who live in countries in abject poverty are some of the most happy people in the world. Perhaps the key lies in their attitude of not clinging to their possessions and not looking to monetary gains constantly as they interact with each other. They also seem to help each other more easily as well as share their sorrows and joys. One can sometimes find the poorer more easily parting with their possessions or money.
When one has success with money and status then one must try to be humble. Humility comes from respecting everyone around one’s self. While I was living at one ashram, one of the other students who lived with us was a very rich man. He owned numerous ships. One of his endearing habits was to try and serve us as best as he could. He would go out of his way to do small things for us, some of them were even very menial. One time as we were all walking into a hall he stood there holding the door open for all of us. Another time he was arranging our shoes in the shoe rack that most of us had carelessly left around the door. One would expect that such a wealthy man would have airs about him and would look down on such service. He had money but he was humble too.
Many aspirants come to a Guru to learn but very few of them have the right preparation or the right attitude. An aspirant must be able to serve his Guru with devotion and humility. Most aspirant’s expect the Guru to listen to them because they are successful in life. But all one’s learning and wealth has little meaning in the spiritual world. Here the values and attitudes are different.
One sadhu I knew lived with his Guru since childhood. He was asked by his Guru to go study Sanskrit in Beneras Vishwavidyalaya. This young boy did not want to learn. His Guru forced him to learn Sanskrit to do a bachelor’s and master’s degree saying that one must be educated. When he completed his degrees and came to his Guru he asked him “What are my instructions Guruji”? So the Guru says “Now the time has come for you to do serious spiritual practices”. Then he says “Where are your degrees”? So this young Sadhu pulls out his degrees and says “Here they are Guruji”. Now the Guru says “Go and release them both in the river Ganga. You don’t need them anymore”. So the Sadhu went and released them in the Ganges. His Guru did not want him to have an ego about his education. From the spiritual perspective all worldly knowledge is often a hindrance on the path.
Some students come to a spiritual teacher with an attitude that the teacher is in some way indebted to them and must serve them as though the very fact that they have come to be with the teacher should be an honour for the teacher. Water flows from a higher level to a lower level. To receive knowledge one has to become small. If one already has more knowledge than the Guru then is there any point in being with him? But if one understands that one needs to learn something from the Guru, then it means one does not have certain knowledge. Hence one must be small and humble. To receive spiritual knowledge one has to have sufficient merit, it cannot be bought.
In the spirit of the Guru shishya parampara (tradition of Guru and disciple) it is important to remember to always be small in front of your teachers even if one has gone beyond the teacher. Though in reality this never happens as the Guru always remains ahead, the student may however develop an ego due to his successes especially the material successes. It is important to remember the Guru and God when one achieves something. We have a saying in India that a tree laden with ripe fruits always bends its branches due to the weight of the fruit.
There is a story about King Gopi Chand. Once he was travelling in the summer with some of his royals and servants. It was a hot day so they decided to take a break to rest under some trees in a Mango orchard. Since he was King, the others maintained a distance to give him some privacy. Soon he fell asleep, after some time when he woke up he was very thirsty. His water vessel was empty. The king called his attendants but there was no one around. The king was so thirsty that he decided to draw some water from the well himself. As he was drawing water from the well the iron handle hit him hard. The King cried out in pain, then he looked up to the heavens and said “Thank you God that you have made me king otherwise I am so stupid that I cannot even draw water from a well without hurting myself”. Such was the humility of the great King and so intense was his love of god. Later the King became a monk.
Let us learn to look upon our achievements as the grace of god and our faults as our own that we need to improve. This will make us humble.