Wednesday, June 07, 2006


Humility is not exactly a growth industry in today's world. However, Sufi masters maintain this quality is of fundamental importance to the mystical path.

Humility is both a fruit of the path, as well as a key which, God willing, opens the door to further possibilities of spiritual growth during the mystical journey. Nonetheless, one does not seek humility as a means to something else. Humility has an intrinsic spiritual worth.

To varying degrees, most of us are lacking in humility. There are different reasons for this.

Some of this relative deficiency in humility is due to the times in which we live. From a very early age, many of us taught, both within our families and in school, to be somewhat aggressive and assertive in promoting ourselves.

Being able to impress other people, helps create opportunities. We have to let other people know whom we are and what we can do.

As long as one can deliver, as long as one can back up the self-promotion with competence, skill, talent and intelligence, then a certain amount of cocky confidence is considered by our society as not only acceptable, but admirable, if not necessary. Such confidence is thought to be an important ingredient in the quest for success and accomplishment.

On the other hand, too much of this self-promotional assertiveness, becomes annoying and, often, is counterproductive. It rubs people the wrong way and generates friction, conflict and animosity.

To grasp the boundaries of propriety in this area of self-promotion, not to mention the more difficult challenge of acquiring humility, can be a trying and humbling affair. Many hard lessons concerning self-promotion and humility have to be digested during the socialization process involving family, friends, school and work.

Unfortunately, the problems of learning how to live within the boundaries of propriety, or learning the more demanding qualities of humility, is exacerbated by many aspects of modern life. For example, all too many professional athletes, television and movie stars, recording artists, cultural icons and politicians think of arrogance and self-centeredness as virtues. Indeed, relative to many of these people, who don't seem to know the meaning of propriety, mere cocky confidence would seem like the essence of humility itself.

The "example" being set by some of these paragons of excess and braggadocio is having an increasingly devastating impact on grade schools, high schools, colleges and universities. The atmosphere they help to create is conducive to the breeding of all manner of arrogance, pride, and conceit in the minds and hearts of those who worship at the altar of their idols.

Power, money, fame, talent, and intelligence have a way of eating away at the line separating a certain degree of self-confidence and the slippery slope of pride. However, we all have the potential to cross this line even if our circumstances should be entirely modest and without, for example, celebrity status of any kind.

The Sufi masters speak of the pharaoh within each of us. This is our tendency toward feeling superior to others. The pharaoh within us is naturally inclined to a sense of self-importance and operates according to the belief it has a right to be self-indulgent, self-centered and vain.

Our pharaoh considers itself to have an exalted place in the scheme of things, no matter how small the desert may be in which it reigns supreme. Occupying such a lofty place, entitles us, or so our pharaoh believes, to treat other people with contempt and disrespect.

Conversely, our pharaoh does not tolerate being on the receiving end of contempt or disrespect from anyone else. Much of the "dissing" phenomenon that is current and leads to so many ugly confrontations is an expression of what happens when pharaoh meets pharaoh.

According to the practitioners of the Sufi path, each of us is charged with the task of Prophet Moses (peace be upon him). We must convey the message of God to our pharaohs, both collectively and individually, to let our people go.

We must struggle with our pharaohs in order to journey toward the promised land of humility. To achieve humility, is, by the grace of God, to be modest in all things and to give deference and veneration to others.

Humility is about having no expectation toward others concerning what is due to one. Moreover, when one is wronged or dealt with unjustly, one is gentle, mild and forbearing in response.

Humility is to prefer others to oneself. Humility is to have an heart-felt respect for the essential worth of all human beings, as well as all of creation.

Humility is a matter of being ready to yield to the wishes of others and knowing when this yielding is appropriate to do with respect to the requirements of spiritual etiquette. Humility is filled with the wisdom of understanding the rights which have been given to others by God.

There is an humbleness about humility which places things in perspective. To have humility, is to be aware of one's faults and weaknesses. Therefore, the person of humility, neither swells up with pride at the sound of praise, nor is that individual deflated when criticism comes her or his way.

One cannot have humility without being immersed in submission before, and servitude to, God. In fact, this submission and servitude is the fertile soil out of which the flower of humility grows.

Sufi masters are very adept in showing initiates how to till the soil of servitude. Spiritual guides do this through their own beautiful example of servitude and submission.

Sufi shaykhs also care for the seeds of humility which have been planted in human beings by God. They provide spiritual nourishment and protection for the struggling seedling.

In addition, spiritual guides are very skilled in helping to remove the weeds of the individual's ego which threaten to strangle the growth of humility. In this respect, one kind of off-shoot of the ego which is particularly dangerous and must be removed from the garden of the soul is the weed of false humility.

The ego has a great capacity for mimicry. In order to serve its ultimate agenda, the ego can take on the external appearance of, among other things, humility.

The ego can appear meek, mild, submissive, humble, respectful and deferential. However, all of this is a self-serving act to enhance its own sense of self-aggrandizement. For example, when others comment on how humble and respectful the person of false humility is, inwardly such a person exults in the rays of praise extended to him or her. People of false humility live for this sort of notice and acknowledgment. For them, humility is not a spiritual issue. Rather, it is an issue of ego gratification.

People of false humility are very annoyed if people fail to take notice of their "spiritual" condition. Moreover, when the desired acknowledgment is not forthcoming, they tend to get moody, sullen, and withdrawn. They often feel people do not appreciate their true spiritual greatness.

Differentiating between true humility and false humility can be quite difficult. To do so, takes: either (a) the experienced eye and understanding of a Sufi shaykh; or, (b) the spiritual training which can be gained through the shaykh.

To have humility does not mean the individual is devoid of self-esteem. However, this sense of self worth has nothing to do with the sort of cocky confidence spoken of earlier.

One has esteem for the spiritual self because it provides us with the opportunity for realizing our relationship with God. One values the spiritual self because it is a unique gift from God which contains hidden within it a vast array of spiritual treasures, one of which is humility.

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