Monday, July 23, 2007

Modesty and Humility

The personification of modesty and humility, the young knight of King Arthur's Round Table and the only man pure enough to find the Holy Grail: "Sir Galahad" painted by George Frederic Watts, 1888, oil on canvas. Courtesy Wikimedia

In an age when you more often than not hear people say things like, "Other people are just players on my stage," and "I Am the Creator of My Universe…All of It," indicating their exalted position not just as a partner of God, a co-creator, but as God Themselves, it's refreshing to see that some spiritual traditions still teach an appreciation of humanity and to be humble enough to co-create their lives while acknowledging the value of others.


"It is humility that exalts one and favors him against his friends."

African Traditional Religions. Kipsigis Proverb Kenya).


Baha'u'llah urges humility on the part of those seeking knowledge and reminds seekers that knowledge is best obtained from the Prophets. Page 192 ff in resonant prose urges the true seeker to be detached from the world, spiritually focused, patient, humble, modest and assured of divine response.

British/Celtic Ancient

The search for the Grail was undertaken by many of the knights of the Round Table, but only one knight, Sir Galahad, was pure enough to see the vision.


God puts a great price on humility of heart. It is good to be clothed with humility as with a garment. It is written, “God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble.”

“I tell you this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” Luke 18:14


"The life of the moral man is plain, and yet not unattractive; it is simple, and yet full of grace; it is easy, and yet methodical. He knows that accomplishment of great things consists in doing little things well. He knows that great effects are produced by small causes. He knows the evidence and reality of what cannot be perceived by the senses. Thus he is enabled to enter into the world of ideas and morals." Doctrine of the Mean 33


Dao De Jing by John C. H. Wu, Verse 66.
"How does the sea become the king of all streams?
Because it lies lower than they!
Hence it is the king of all streams.

Therefore, the Sage reigns over the people by humbling himself in speech;
And leads the people by putting himself behind.

Thus it is that when a Sage stands above the people, they do not feel the heaviness of his weight;
And when he stands in front of the people, they do not feel hurt.
Therefore all the world is glad to push him forward without getting tired of him."

Just because he strives with nobody,
Nobody can ever strive with him.


"Be humble, be harmless,
Have no pretension,
Be upright, forbearing;
Serve your teacher in true obedience,
Keeping the mind and body in cleanness,
Tranquil, steadfast, master of ego,
Standing apart from the things of the senses,
Free from self;
Aware of the weakness in mortal nature."
Bhagavad Gita 13.7-8


"Subdue pride by modesty, overcome hypocrisy by simplicity, and dissolve greed by contentment." Samanasuttam 136


Humility: The Ethic of Faith by Rabbi Howard S. Joseph

"In Jewish tradition, humility is a quality that includes the full range of the continuum from modesty to self-esteem. There is good reason for this virtue and what I call "theological humility" to occupy an important role in religious life. Indeed, one of the alarming features of much contemporary religiosity is the absence of humility. This is often seen in self-righteous fanaticism or in equally self-righteous retreat from the world of human affairs."

"In Numbers 11-12 Moses is referred to as "a very humble man, more than any other man on earth."


Muslims constantly strive to remember and practice Islamic virtues, and put them into practice throughout their daily lives. Among these great Islamic virtues are submission to Allah, self-restraint, discipline, sacrifice, patience, brotherhood, generosity, and humility.

In English, the word "humility" comes from the Latin root word which means "ground." Humility, or being humble, means that one is modest, submissive and respectful, not proud and arrogant. You lower yourself to the ground, not elevate yourself above others. In prayer, Muslims prostrate themselves to the ground, acknowledging human beings' lowliness and humility before the Lord of the Worlds.

Successful indeed are the believers, those who humble themselves in their prayers... (Al-Muminoon 23:1-2)

Has not the time arrived for the believers that their hearts in all humility should engage in the remembrance of Allah and of the Truth which has been revealed to them... (Al-Hadid 57:16)

Native American

"The Lamenter [who is seeking a vision] cries, for he is humbling himself, remembering his nothingness in the presence of the Great Spirit." Black Elk, Sioux Tradition


"Within the world the palace pillar is broad,
but the human heart should be modest."
Moritake Arakida, One Hundred Poems about the World


"Without merit am I; all merit is Thine. Thine, Lord, are all merits--by what tongue have I power to praise Thee?" Adi Granth, Wadhans, M.5, p. 577

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