At 7.30am every morning, the temple residents and community gather for philosophical discussion. This morning’s speaker was emphasizing how insignificant we are. It seems to be a running theme through the scriptures, with innumerable stories and passages reminding us not to over-rate ourselves. A celebrated verse recommends we think ourselves lower than the straw in the street. We’re told to string that thought on a thread and wear it constantly around our neck. A saintly monk’s natural humility causes him to genuinely believe himself more insignificant than an insect rummaging within the excrement of an animal. Another passage elucidates the size of the soul – 1/10000th the tip of a hair! That’s quite small! I don’t know of many spiritual traditions where this vision of insignificance becomes such a predominant meditation and cultivation. Isn’t it depressing? What’s the need?
Truth be told, we often think the world revolves around us. In my youth, I vividly remember thinking that I was the only one alive and that everyone else around me was simply a robot. I really believed it was true. Nowadays my head tells me different, but my heart still holds on to that worldview. Don’t be surprised to catch yourself playing ‘God’ even when you know better. The scientist wants the credit of universal explanation. The philosopher bathes in the credit of insight, originality and wisdom. The celebrity enjoys the credit of fame, fortune and adoration. The politician wants the credit of power and control. Even an ‘average Joe’ will clutch onto something unique which, at least he thinks, makes him stand out from the crowd. In a variety of ingenious ways, we try to experience the supremacy and distinction that God embodies.
It is the meek and humble demeanor of an advanced spiritualist, however, that opens the doors to experience the sweetness of love. The heart, hardened by pride and ego, needs to be broken down. If not, it will block the flow of spontaneous love. One inspirational personality, who still lives in the holy village of Vrindavana, would regularly observe the sugar cane being grounded down to extract juice. One day, while seeing the vendor in action, he penned a beautiful prayer: “May the hard, crushing wheel of life, extract some genuine humility from my offence hardened heart. May the nectar of that sweet humility give rise to pure love of Krishna.” The world and all its experiences are expertly engineered to soften our heart and mold our consciousness. There’s no escaping it; love and humility go hand in hand.