In this day and age true humility is a rare commodity. Around the world today, societies put on a pedestal self-promoting Big Achievers, who are loud and bombastic. There are many leaders in power today who are conceited, over-confident, born of hubris. In the journey of the soul, hubris has always been cautioned against. Hubris keeps one from feeling into the well being of others and its arrogance reduces the other to an insignificant speck. Today, self-centered conceit leads to excessive pride and nationalism, racial superiority and authoritarianism.
In ancient Greece, hubris was thought to be a “tragic flaw” and Greek poets such as Aeschylus described hubris as a transgression against the divine order of the gods. Due to hubris, one deems oneself above the norms and customs of the time. Out of hubris, one “goes it alone” and is preoccupied with one’s own status, one’s own gain.
In Patanjali’s yoga, self-centered pride is identified as asmita or literally, “I-amness”. Through asmita one gets blind-sided by one’s own convictions, one’s own personal agenda. “I-amness” is the very source of ignorance (avidya). How can we move away from blind pride, from self-centered importance? One way to do this is to connect to the earth. For the words humility and humble derive from the word humus, the organic matter of the soil. When we have humility in our heart, we realize that we share a common ground. On this ground, we do not set ourselves apart from the whole, but stand in a spirit of reverence and hold the collective in respect.
Humility is the antidote to hubris. Through humility we recognize that we are small specks from a great fire. When we realize that all beings are interwoven or interdependent, what the Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh calls “inter-being”, then we act in accordance with the welfare of all. The great leader of the Suquamish people of the Northwest, Chief Seattle was reported to have said, “Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.” Hubris tears at the connective tissue that holds us all together.
I am find myself humbled 10 times or a hundred times each day. Looking up to the star strewn sky in the desert, I feel humbled. In the radiant beauty of the autumnal light I am humbled. In the face of the ravishing virus that has brought the world to its knees, I am humbled.
Can we collectively embody a spirit of humility and at the same time have the power and the determination to make positive change and preserve the “web of life”? Perhaps humility is not enough to make change. We too need virility, right effort and right action. Humility and virility are attributes of the spiritual warrior. As we stand to protect the dignity of all beings, to safeguard the web, we need the resolve of the wise but humble warrior.