Venugopal Acharya - 15.10 2020

‘If anyone tells you that a certain person speaks ill of you, do not make excuses about what is said of you but answer, “He was ignorant of my other faults, else he would not have mentioned these alone.”’—Epictetus, Greek philosopher God, being our ever well-wisher, puts us in situations where we are humiliated or ridiculed. That’s when we have a choice of practicing humility. In this world, we often face a frustrating situation and how we respond internally to that determines our humility. A neophyte protests; he thinks the one pointing out his faults is prejudiced. His ego blinds him to his faults, and when the Lord kindly arranges for others to reveal them, he gets disturbed. On the other hand, a person striving for goodness may also get upset when humiliated, but he makes the right choice. A mature person would see the provocation positively. He’s ever-alert to know what is keeping him away from developing a meaningful relationship with himself and God. Any suggestion or correction he faces immediately is weighed in the context of this ambition. That means no personal insult can ever be severe enough. One of my friends, a celibate monk, was travelling in a train in Mumbai one night and was surrounded by a gang of thugs. They cracked ribald jokes at his expense and even pulled the puff of hair that hung from the back of his shaved head. It was painful to his ego that his self-respect was being attacked. He cried in pain and was faced with a choice—he could either sulk more and feel agonized or choose humility. He chose the latter. How? He quietly considered what would please his beloved Lord Krishna. He reasoned that he had been receiving a lot of adoration over the years for his ability to teach the message of Bhagavad-Gita. He had many fans and hundreds respected him. This humiliation was needed to digest all that respect— most of which was undeserving—that was coming his way in life. As soon as he saw the incident in this light, he felt a sense of relief, and soon forgiveness was easy.

When he forgave those men, he also felt loved by Krishna. His dear Lord had tested him and he felt he had pleased God by forgiving the unruly men on the train. Later, he also saw their behavior as circumstantial; he could separate them from their actions. It’s important to note that humility is not weakness. My friend would have flared up and confronted the group if they had attacked an innocent person. That’s because God would have approved rendering service and help to a person in need. Humility makes the heart soft and that’s when the seed of love grows luxuriantly. Therefore, wise sages have emphasized for a long time that to the extent we strive for humility, we connect to the divine, spiritual force within. Often, we become proud when we are appreciated and depressed when criticized. Both are signs of a puffed-up ego. To please God means to choose humility and to practice humility means if we are appreciated, we immediately invoke gratitude; we thank the praise- giver and the Lord for empowering us to please others. If we are criticized, we recognize our fallible nature. Others’ behaviour cannot upset a truly humble person because he would never think of himself as better than them. He may know he’s more fortunate, but never better. The former president of India Abdul Kalam exemplified this attitude. Once, Dr Kalam was the chief guest at the Banaras Hindu University for a convocation ceremony. The organizers had arranged five chairs on the stage for all the dignitaries, the one at the centre reserved for him. As Dr Kalam came on stage, he noticed that his chair was bigger than the others. He refused to sit on it and offered the chair to the vice chancellor instead. Obviously, he too refused and quickly another chair that was equal in size to the others was arranged for the President of the country. Like Dr Kalam, if it’s natural for you to think of others as deserving respect, humility would also be natural to you; you’d be endearing to one and all. Unfortunately, for most of us, the universe arranges humiliation before we voluntarily choose humility. But it’s never too late, is it?