Monday, June 30, 2008

Humility quotations

Humility is the only true wisdom by which we prepare our minds for all the possible changes of life. George Arliss

We come nearest to the great when we are great in humility. Rabindranath Tagore

Humility is the solid foundation of all the virtues. Confucius

Humility is the foundation of all the other virtues, hence in the soul in which this virtue does not exist there cannot be any other virtue except in mere appearance. Saint Augustine

Humility is the root, mother, nurse, foundation, and bond of all virtue. Saint John Chrysostom

Even if you be otherwise perfect, you fail without humility. The Talmud

When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom. The Bible

Pride makes us artificial and humility makes us real. Thomas Merton

In peace there's nothing so becomes a man as modest stillness and humility. William Shakespeare

It is always the secure who are humble. Gilbert Keith Chesterton

True merit, like a river, the deeper it is, the less noise it makes. Edward Frederick Halifax

Modest humility is beauty's crown. Johann Christoff Friedrich von Schiller

Humility is eldest-born of Virtue, and claims the birthright at the throne of heaven. Arthur Murphy

Humility mainly becometh the converse of man with his Maker. Martin Farquhar Tupper

Humility, like darkness, reveals the heavenly lights. Henry David Thoreau

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Humility (3) - accepting suffering with joy

No matter what we may think we know, we show our true selves, our real level of spiritual development, by our reaction to the bad things that happen to us. Often we rebel. Why is this happening? Why now? Why me? (I admit that my own level of spiritual development by this standard is often on a par with a potato. I’m working on it). We forget that a) this is happening because we made it happen or b) this is happening because it is a part of life and c) this happens to everyone at some point and is happening at this very moment to hundreds or thousands of other people, so why are we so special? And then of course we forget the all-important d): this is happening for a reason so we can learn from it and improve and move on to the next level.
The humble person does not waste any emotional energy rebelling and bemoaning his fate. He accepts that this is happening now and what is the best thing to do, or to be? What if we were to welcome obstacles instead of resisting them? The following is my translation of a passage from Imitation de Notre Seigneur Jesus Christ:

The truly patient man does not examine who is testing him, whether it is his superior, his equal or his inferior, a good man or a bad man. But, treating all indiscriminately, he receives from God’s hand, gratefully, and as often as He likes, everything contrary that happens to him, and considers it a great benefit.

The great thing about uplifting our attitude to obstacles in this way is that we cease being victims. Whatever happens to us we can transcend through humility and patient attention. By our very nature we are equipped by God, the Tao or whatever power we recognise, to handle everything that comes our way. We managed so far didn’t we?
I like the following story I came across in ‘The Discovery of Happiness’ edited by Stuart McCready:

The disciples of the Hasidic leader Rabbi Dov Ber (d.1772) were discussing the Talmudic statement that one should accept suffering with joy. “How is this possible?” they asked. Rabbi Dov Ber advised them to visit another of his disciples, Rabbi Zusya, who lived some distance away. He would explain to them how to accept suffering with joy.
The disciples were pleased with this advice. All knew that Rabbi Zusya lived a life of poverty, illness, and suffering. He would surely be able to explain.
When they reached the hovel in which he lived he jumped up with joy to greet them. They explained why they had come: “Our teacher told us to enquire from you how to accept suffering with joy.”
Rabbi Zusya looked puzzled. “Why did he send you to me?” he asked. “God is good and sends me all I need – I have never known suffering at all. So how can I help you?”

Friday, June 27, 2008

Humility (2) - the root of all good

Humility protects us from the fall that usually comes with the ‘hubris’ that follows success:

Therefore a good general effects his purpose and stops.
He dares not rely upon the strength of arms;
Effects his purpose and does not glory in it;
Effects his purpose and does not boast of it;
Effects his purpose and does not take pride in it;
Effects his purpose as a regrettable necessity;
Effects his purpose but does not love violence.
(For) things age after reaching their prime.
That (violence) would be against the Tao.
And he who is against the Tao perishes young. (Tao Te Ching)

Humility is the hallmark of the man or woman, leader or not, who has matured in wisdom enough to realise these things. He is secure in himself and feels no need to put himself forward, to take credit, or to ‘blow his own trumpet’. He sees himself as only a part of a larger design and knows that every person in that design has an equally important role to play. He is content to play the role that falls naturally to him.

What each person does is never insignificant. The blade of grass needs all its energy to draw subsistence from its roots, simply to grow there, where it is, in the grass; it doesn’t strive vainly to be a banyan tree; and thus the earth obtains its charming green carpet. (Rabindranath Tagore)

Humility makes us approachable by others and we are not afraid of appearing weak by saying ‘I don’t know’ or by asking questions. We have no inflated ego to protect. Sincerity, truth and openness are the order of the day and we receive all the benefits that come with them.
Not only the Tao Te Ching but all philosophies and religions espouse the merits of humility. Meister Eckhart, a famous thirteenth-century German preacher, even went this far:

If you become humble, God descends from his home and flows into you.
… Therefore humility is the root of all good and all that comes with it.
… All things must necessarily be accomplished in the truly humble man. He does not need to ask God, he can command God, because the height of divinity is nothing less than the depth of humility…
The humble man and God are one; the humble man is master of God as well as himself, and everything possessed by angels is in the nature of the humble man; what God does, the humble man does also, and what God is he is: one life and one being; that is why our Lord has said: “Learn from me that I am gentle and humble in spirit”. (Mathew XI-29).

A piece of humble pie anyone?

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Humility (1) - flying below the radar

Humility has a bad reputation in today’s society. It has associations with timidity, lack of confidence, weakness. Who needs that? But if you will stop to consider more deeply, you will realise that humility has nothing to do with weakness and everything to do with wisdom.
Humility is not ‘believing oneself to be less important than others’. Humility is knowing that however good, talented, wise or rich we are, it does not make us more important than anyone else. And if we are not those things it does not make us any less important.
The Buddhists believe that the chance of being born in human form is like surfacing on a vast ocean and one’s head finding the centre of the only life belt floating on the surface. Therefore each human life is equally rare, equally precious and equally deserving of respect.
But if this is not enough reason for us, we can think of all the times our judgment about a person was wrong. We can think of that person we disregarded until we found out he spoke 7 languages, or was a black belt in karate, or worked 5 years in Africa as a volunteer. Everyone we meet is better than us in some way, even if only in their humility.
Humility is also one of the qualities of a special kind of leader. Think of the great men or women you admire and the chances are they possess the quality of humility as I describe it here. Take my favourite actor, Tom Hanks for example. Listening to him talking about the making of a film, you might be listening to the neighbour talking about coaching a kid’s baseball team. In fact, the neighbour would probably sound more like he was starring in a big-budget film.
Competence, confidence, and strength do not preclude humility. They are enhanced by it. We are attracted to capable leaders who, instead of taking all the credit, are self-effacing and rightly point to all the people who contributed to the success. We follow them willingly; we outdo ourselves for them willingly. This is aptly described in the Tao Te Ching (translation by Lin Yutang):

Therefore in order to be the chief among the people,
One must speak like their inferiors.
In order to be foremost among the people,
One must walk behind them.
Thus it is that the Sage stays above,
And the people do not feel his weight;
Walks in front,
And the people do not wish him harm.
Then the people of the world are glad to uphold him forever.
Because he does not contend,
No one in the world can contend against him.

More to come in part 2.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Is Buddha a Taurus? from 'Dhamma Delights'

If you are a Taurus, like myself, you may have something of the same stunned reaction I did to learn that the Buddha was a Taurus. (My own birthday is 20 May). I am not someone who reads horoscopes, however I do find the descriptions of the characteristics of each sign to be strangely accurate and I think I am not alone. So here is the post that allowed me to discover this interesting fact, courtesy of the enlightening blog 'Dhamma Delights' by Footiam for which you will find a link in my 'Guide Blogs'. (Thank you Footiam).

Tomorrow is 19 May. It is a holiday in Malaysia and I am sure in Thailand, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Cambodia, Taiwan and in Myammar too. 19 May is Vesak Day. Vesak is supposed to be a Sinhalese term. In Cambodia, Vesak Day is known as Visakh Bochea. It is Visakah Puja, Buddha Purnima or Buddha Jayanti in India, Bangladesh and Nepal, Visakha Bucha in Thailand, Phật Đản in Vietnam, Waisak in Indonesia, Saga Dawa in Tibet, Vixakha Bouxa in Laos, Ka-sone-la-pyae in Myanmar and 佛誕 (fó dàn) in Chinese-speaking countries. Vesak Day, I understand, celebrates Buddha's birthday. If you are into Astrology you will perhaps deduce that Buddha is a Taurus since a person under this zodiac sign is born between April 20 to May 20. While Buddhism neither deny nor encourage Astrology, most of us human beings, I suppose, are drawn toward the art and what better time now to look at particularly the positive traits of a Taurus and contemplate the good qualities that should be in an enlightened being...The positive traits of a Taurus include:
disciplined • hard-working • good sense of humour • prudent
great work-ethic • artistic • loving • creative
romantic • sensual • very sexual • affectionate
comforting • strong • steady • steadfast
organized • cautious • harmonious • trustworthy
calm • tenacious • stable • patient • faithful
resourceful • easygoing • careful • dependable
honest • conservative • determined • loyal
protective • practical
Now, which are the qualities that ought to be in a Buddha?

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Dear to me

The following passage comes from the ancient sacred Hindu text, the Bhagavad Gita. I also carried this jewel around in my agenda for many years. It is a hard goal to realise (compare it to Ghandi's 'The Yogi of Action' in my post of the same name). But, as someone said, if you aim for the stars you might not get one, but you won't get a handful of mud either.

Krishna tells Arjuna what manner of devotee is dear to him:

One who does not hate any creature, who is friendly and compassionate, free from the notion of "I" and "mine", even-minded in pain and pleasure, forgiving;
One who is ever content, who has subdued the mind, whose resolve is firm, whose mind and intellect are engaged in dwelling upon Me; such a devotee is dear to Me.
One by whom others are not agitated, and who is not agitated by others; who is free from joy, envy, fear, and anxiety; is also dear to Me.
One who is free from desires; who is pure, wise, impartial, and free from anxiety; who has renounced the fruit of all undertakings; and who is devoted to Me, is dear to Me.
One who neither rejoices nor grieves, neither likes nor dislikes, who has renounced both the good and the evil, and who is full of devotion, such a person is dear to Me.
One who treats alike friend or foe, honour or disgrace, heat or cold, pleasure or pain; who is free from attachment;

One who is indifferent to criticism or praise, content with everything, unattached to anything, imperturbable, and full of devotion; such a person is dear to Me.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Change your destiny with Yoga - part 2

Are you able to do nothing, to just be with yourself? Or do you immediately reach for the TV remote, or a book, or a friend, or some other ‘busy’ task in order to escape being with yourself, so that you won’t actually have to think about yourself or your life? I know I do sometimes, so I am not speaking from some lofty perspective. We have so many ways to ‘entertain’ or ‘distract’ ourselves these days, that all too often we neglect thinking about how we feel, where we are going, what’s important to us. We go through life half-asleep, half-aware. But we are aware enough to know that we are not happy, that ‘this’ is not ‘it’. Or perhaps we carry on regardless until some great life-shattering event snaps us out of our slumber and forces to look inside, for once. And when we get to know ourselves, perhaps for the first time, then we can perhaps see what it is we really have to do.

Man simply does not know his own soul and the principles and forces at work deep within it. He does not know the source of his thoughts or the source of his wishes, and chained down by the ignorance of his own being, he cannot control either himself or his destiny. In the same blind way in which he follows his animal instincts and urges, fate buffets him to and fro like a rudderless ship in a storm. On the other hand, when one has learned to recognize the various levels at which life goes on within his self, and learned to control himself, he is also able to control his fate…
But let us not wait until we are struck by the blows of fate! On the contrary, let us set out consciously and on our own initiative along the trail of self-knowledge and self-control! We will soon find out that with every step along the way our destiny is more and more inclined to obey our will…
Just as people in the West have developed technology to a very high stage, their brothers in the Orient, after a long painstaking, patient search in the field of human psychology, have solved the greatest puzzle of all: Man!

From ‘Yoga and Destiny’, by Elisabeth Haich and Selvarajan Yesudian. See also the post ‘Karma does not crush’.

Photo by Gregor Buir

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Change your destiny with Yoga - part 1

If we go back five hundred years in history, or a thousand, or two thousand and more, we see that there was not much difference in the way people lived. Geography and culture, not time, were much more deciding factors in the quality of life. We know that some ancient civilizations were much more advanced in many ways than say, Europe in the not-so-ancient Dark Ages. And many would say they led happier lives than we do today.
If we take the art of war for example, four thousand and more years ago a man fought with a sword and a shield, or with a bow. So did the Romans two thousand years later. And so did all of Europe until a mere 6 or so generations ago, another two thousand years after that. But now, all that has changed in a short period of time. In every field, the changes have been dramatic. The industrial, technological and information revolutions have transformed our lives. But has our happiness been transformed along with it? I don’t think so. For all our cleverness, for all the secrets we have unlocked in nature, in science and in technology we have not learned the most important thing: who we are. And until we do, we cannot hope to be happy.
In the end, happiness happens between the bottom of your feet and the top of your head. A friend of mine once said money was not important to him, rich or poor ‘I still eat one plate’. Happiness is not to be found in things, in money, in gadgets, in people, in anything ‘out there’. Happiness can only be found inside, ‘in here’.
The following passage comes from a 42 year-old treasure, ‘Yoga and Destiny’ by Elisabeth Haich and Selvarajan Yesudian. The message is even more needed today than it was then.

While his attention was directed to things outside himself, he neglected to look inside and ask the question, ‘Who am I?’ This omission had serious consequences: while technological developments became ever more perfect, man himself became ever more imperfect. At the very time that engineering and technology were enhancing man’s personal comfort, his soul was sinking deeper and deeper into dissatisfaction and misery.
A person who has lost himself is plagued by burning unrest, and the result of inner dissatisfaction, tragedy within the man, is always war, destruction, cosmic catastrophe. Humanity plunges into misery for the simple reason that people seek happiness outside themselves, instead of in the one and only place where it can be found, within! But the sufferings that often seem to grow and compound themselves finally force us to turn our attention away from things and toward the person who is suffering – ourself! Sooner or later we must learn that the true reason for our sufferings is our abysmal lack of self-understanding and self-control.

More in ‘part 2’.

Photo by Gregor Buir

Saturday, June 7, 2008

The stone-cutter

Once upon a time in ancient China, a stone-cutter was chipping away at a rock with his hammer and chisel, ‘tack, tack’. He looked up from his work and saw a magnificent carriage passing by in the street and thought ‘That must be the carriage of a minister of the Emperor. How nice it must be to be a minister, how important one must feel, travelling around in that fine carriage’. And in his mind’s eye he became the minister, and sat in the carriage, smiling at the people as he passed by.
It was a hot day, and looking up the minister thought ‘Ah, to be the sun! Now that is true power’. And so he decided to become the sun, shining down with his life-giving light on the fields of rice. ‘Yes, this is the life!’ thought the sun. And then something came along and blocked his light: a great rain cloud! ‘Oh, there is something more powerful than the sun: what use is the sun without water? I shall become a rain cloud.’
So he became the rain cloud and rained down on the smiling peasants in their rice fields and he was very pleased with himself. But then he noticed that he was being pushed around here and there by some other, greater force: the wind! ‘Why did I not think of it before? To be the wind, free and powerful, and travel the world over, that is the life for me!’
So he became the wind and scattered the clouds before him with a great laugh and he was very happy. Until he came upon something he could not move no matter how hard he blew: a mountain! ‘Oh, if I cannot move this mountain then surely it is the greatest, most powerful thing in the universe. I shall become a mountain’.
So he became a mountain: immovable, serene, unchanging, and he was finally content. And then something very strange happened. He felt himself being changed, transformed by some other, even more powerful force. What was that sound?
‘Tack, tack’.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

He is Reason; she is Sense

It is almost impossible to open ‘The Story of Oriental Philosophy’ by L. Adams Beck, without falling on some rare treasure. I came upon this one today, a poetic Indian teaching reminiscent of the Chinese principle of Yin and Yang:

So must the husband and wife be souls like twin flames illuminating all about them. It was not a question of equality between them but of identity. And here is the ideal marriage, from which noble children were to be expected. The description is drawn from the Vishnu Purana and the Vishnu Bhâgavata. It is great poetry as well as great truth.

“She is Language; he is Thought. She is Prudence; he is Law. He is Reason; she is Sense. She is Duty; he is Right. He is Author; she is Work. He is Patience; she is Peace. He is Will; she is Wish. He is Pity; she is Gift. He is Song; she is the Note. She is Fuel; he is Fire. She is Glory; he is Sun. She is Motion; he is Wind. He is Owner; she is Wealth. He is Battle; she is Might. He is Lamp; she is Light. He is Day; she is Night. He is Justice; she is Pity. He is Channel; she is River. She is Beauty; he is Strength. She is Body; he is Soul.”

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Ship's log, June 5 2008

Here I will periodically renew my words of welcome and encouragement for those of you joining me on this ‘voyage of philosophy’. My last entry had a nautical turn so I thought I would continue with the analogy. I thought of calling it the ‘Captain’s log’, but we are all captain of our own ship on this voyage. The most I can claim to be is a master’s apprentice, or ‘master’s mate’. In the age of fighting sail, the ‘master’ was a very experienced sailor responsible for the handling of the ship and for navigation. He knew the sea and the wind, the moon and the tides, the reefs and the stars. And of course, he knew his ship. He was a great help to the captain in getting him where he wanted to be. So I hope to be of great help to you on your voyage.
And if I do well, perhaps you will promote me to ‘lieutenant’!

Discover The Tale of Genji, the 11th Century classic of Japan (click image)

Discover The Tale of Genji, the 11th Century classic of Japan (click image)
Kiyomizudera Temple has a large veranda looking out over Kyoto and beyond