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Prīti Sandarbha (continued) - By Babaji Satyanarayana Dasa
Vaiśeṣika Sūtras of Kaṇāda with Praśastapāda Bhāṣya - By Babaji Satyanarayana Dasa
Sanskrit for Beginners by Gururaja
:star2: Bhakti-Ratna Course 4 - (Registration open) :star2:
Prīti Sandarbha (continued) - By Babaji Satyanarayana Dasa
Vaiśeṣika Sūtras of Kaṇāda with Praśastapāda Bhāṣya - By Babaji Satyanarayana Dasa
Sanskrit for Beginners by Gururaja
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Humility and Self-esteem
Questions & Answers

Humility and Self-esteem

Sadhu at Jiva

Question: Within Vaiṣṇava circles, there is a huge emphasis on humility. One should consider oneself lower than a blade of grass, we ought to think that we have no devotion, that we are lower than the lowest, etc. What differentiates this humility from low self-esteem, and how can a sādhaka cultivate such a level of humility without harming their self-esteem?

Answer: There are two stages of humility on the bhakti path. The first is a natural outcome of one’s bhakti. It is not a matter of some conscious practice but an expression of one’s devotional nature. Bhakti naturally makes one humble. We know that from bhakti come experience and renunciation—janayati āśu vairāgyam jñānaṃ ca yad ahaitukam. The experience that comes from bhakti also makes one humble. If we realize that we are just atomic in size and the big body that we have is just like a dress, then there is nothing to be proud of. Generally, people are proud of their bodies and things related to the body. It could be one’s beauty, intelligence, memory, physical strength, education, high birth, wealth, relatives, position, or social status. All these things are acquired and not our inherent properties. Anything that is acquired is temporary. You can see some Miss Universe or Mr. Universe in their old age. Some famous athletes in their old age cannot even walk. They may be in a wheelchair. When one attains bhakti one has direct experience of this and thus becomes humble. He knows that whatever one has is by the grace of Bhagavān, can be taken away at any time.

Although a devotee is humble, and not proud, he has self-esteem. He also knows that he belongs to Bhagavān. He is under the shelter of the most powerful person. No harm can come to him. He is not destitute. He is aware of his good qualities and possessions as a gift of Bhagavān. Therefore, he is humble but does not think that he has nothing. Otherwise, he would not be able to do anything. To do any action we have to have the sense of ability to do it. If a devotee feels that he is completely worthless, then he will remain in a state of depression. He would not be able to do any seva. If Arjuna had thought that he was not a great warrior, he would not dare to face great opponents like Bhiṣma, Droṇa, Karṇa, and so on. He challenged all of them and fought valiantly. This is not possible if he is suffering from low self-esteem. He was full of steam. Humility does not mean to be worthless. It means to be qualified but not feel proud about it. The problem is not being beautiful, intelligent, educated, wealthy, powerful, and having a high position. These are all wonderful qualities. The problem is if one becomes proud of them. Our ācāryas were highly learned, and they were aware of it. If they thought they were not learned, they would not attempt to write books. Yet they did not boast about their works. They attributed their achievements to the grace of their guru and Bhagavān. This is the mood of a devotee.

Some devotees have the misconception that if we become learned, then we will become proud and find fault with others. When I began learning Sanskrit, numerous devotees advised me not to pursue it. They all said the same thing – “You will become proud and arrogant. You will find fault with other devotees and challenge them.” I was not convinced by their reasoning because I thought that if this were true then all the great learned devotees of the past must be so. But that is certainly not true. In fact, true education makes one humble—vidyā dadāti vinayam. If one studies in a proper manner then one would not become proud of one’s education. On the other hand, we see many people who are not well-educated but are very proud. It does not take great education to be proud.

Besides humility being a concomitant effect of bhakti, it can also be practiced consciously based on the understanding of its importance on the bhakti path. Just as we engage in sādhana-bhakti, we also maintain a mood of humility. It is said that bhakti comes riding on the vehicle of humility. Garuḍa is a great devotee of Bhagavān. His mother’s name is Vinatā, which means one who is humble. It implies that humility brings forth a bhakta. Garuḍa’s two wings are indicative of two parts of Sāma Veda. That also shows that to have Vedic knowledge one has to be humble. A proud person cannot gain true knowledge, and a truly learned person would not be proud.

 Even at the stage of sādhana-bhakti, one does not lose one’s self-esteem. Such things happen because of not having a proper understanding of bhakti. It is important to have a clear understanding of bhakti. Then one will know that humility is not contradictory to self-esteem. The class between them can happen when one tries to practice humility without proper understanding. This can also happen by hearing about the humble behavior of great devotees or reading their vijñaptis to Bhagavān in which they depict themselves as worthless and tries to imitate them. The next question is about self-appreciation. It is very satisfying to hear one’s appreciation. But to expect it is certainly problematic on the path of bhakti. If we expect it, that means we are doing a devotional act for self-appreciation, which means for our own pleasure.  That is really not bhakti. It does not fit into the definition of bhakti. Or you can call it sakāma bhakti. But that is not our goal. If appreciation comes, let it come. We should not be attached to it.

 

 

 

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