Monday, August 9, 2010

On Being Ordinary

For the last ten years of his life, the Shambhala tradition of Tibet was the main subject of teaching for the great Tibetan teacher Chogyam Trungpa, which he taught in the United States under the name the Sacred Path of the Warrior. According to these teachings, one of the things that the sacred warrior of Shambhala practiced was the Path of the Four Dignities: meekness, perkiness, inscrutability, and outrageousness. Interestingly, the analogy for meekness in the tradition is the tiger!

It might come as a surprise to most of us that the tiger is used as the analogy for meekness. I do not think any of us would normally associate the tiger with meekness. The tiger to us is neither the symbol for meekness nor of gentleness. It is a ferocious animal, one of the greatest predators of the wild jungles, a creature that knows no pity or compassion. Besides, it looks more appropriate to associate the tiger with pride than with humility. How can such a bloodthirsty animal be the symbol of meekness?

The difficulty arises because the Shambhala tradition sees humility as something different from what we see as humility. The Shambhala tradition explains that to be meek is to be resting in a state of simplicity and being uncomplicated.

The tradition further explains that there are three aspects to meekness. The first stage is to be modest, never to be bloated by arrogance. In this sense, modesty means being exactly what you are, to be true and genuine, to be authentic, not to wear masks but to show your true face to the world. In this sense the tiger is really meek – he is authentically what he is and has no pretentions. He neither tries to show that he is more than what he is, nor less than what he is. Like the tiger, the warrior of the meek too, says the tradition, is simple and uncomplicated. He is what he is. He accepts what he is and is comfortable with himself, with his own being as it is.

The second aspect of meekness is unconscious confidence. Confidence born of what one truly is. It is not the confidence born of acquisitions or achievements, the position one occupies or anything like that. One is oneself and that gives him confidence. It is confidence born of inner strength arising from being true to what one is.

In Sanskrit, we have the word swadharma – meaning one’s own dharma, one’s own true nature, what makes one what one is. The swadharma of fire is heat, or to burn, and the swadharma of water is to flow, or to seek its own level. The tiger’s confidence is born of being true to his own dharma. And a human being who is true to his own dharma has this confidence. The warrior of the meek enjoys this confidence.

The third dimension of being meek is to be uplifted, which again comes from being true to one’s swadharma. The tiger in the Himalayan jungles enjoys this upliftedness and so does the Shambhala warrior walking on the path of the dignity of meekness.

At one time, before our social system deteriorated to what it is now, Indian culture tried to create this unconscious confidence and upliftedness in everyone in the society. The brahmana [the priest], was true to his swadharma and had the confidence and upliftedness born of it; the kshatriya [the warrior] was true to his swadharma and had the confidence and upliftedness born of it; just as the vaishya [the farmer and the businessman] and the shudra [the ordinary worker] too had their confidence and upliftedness born of living their own dharmas. Eventually however, feelings of inferiority and superiority took over and the brahmana started considering himself superior to all others, the kshatriya superior to the vaishya and the shudra, the vaishya to the shudra and the shudra started considering himself the lowest of all and therefore without any dignity.

In the original social system of India, the potter and wheelwright was as proud of his profession as the priest was of his and the warrior was of his. Similarly, the woman had the dignity of being a woman by virtue of being true to her swadharma and the man had his dignity of being a man by virtue of being true to his swadharma. Each had his or her own functions, each had his or her own role to play, but neither was superior or inferior. Eventually though, men started seeing themselves superior and looking down upon women and women started seeing themselves as inferior and looking up to men as superior, thus destroying a beautiful system.

Accepting what you are is the way to spirituality. Accepting your true nature is the way to spirituality. It is the way to inner strength, confidence and upliftedness. When you are happy with what you are, you are not on an ego trip. When you struggle to be superior to the other, you are on an ego trip and you lose contact with your swadharma. Then you are no more spiritual.

A spiritual person is contented with what he is: if he is powerful, he is contented with it. If he is powerless, he is contented with it. If he has social position, he is happy with it, if he has no social position, he is happy with that too. If he is special he has no quarrels with his specialness, if he is ordinary, he is contented with his ordinariness. And you are contented with whatever happens to you. Victory, failure, gain, loss, fame or infamy, it makes no difference to you.

Speaking of such a person, the Gita says:

samah śatrau ca mitre ca tathā mānāpamānayoh |
śītoshna-sukha-duhkheshu samah sanga-vivarjitah ||BhG_12.18||

“He is the same towards foe and friend, and so is he in respect and insult. He is the same in heat and cold, the same in sorrow and happiness. He is devoid of all attachments.”

A spiritual person does not want to be different from what he is. If he victorious and respected, it is fine with him. And if he is beaten and insulted, that is fine too.

Just as he willing to be tossed about and celebrated, he is willing to be ordinary too.

One of the highest examples ancient India gives us for spirituality is that of a butcher and another that of a prostitute.

The great modern saint Nisargadatta Maharaj continued to be an ordinary beedi seller in a tiny kiosk in Bombay even after climbing to highest peaks of spirituality possible, while students were coming to him from all the world. Kabir continued to weave cloth even when he had become the most respected teacher of the day. Pakkanar, the less widely known saint from Kerala was a pariah by birth and he continued his traditional profession of making baskets from bamboo even when he had had climbed great spiritual heights and his presence performed miracles.

Indian spiritual tradition also tells as the story of Sena Nai who continued his profession of a barber even after spiritual enlightenment and of Gora Kumhar, a potter, who continued to practice his profession even after he was recognized as the greatest saint of his age. And in our tradition we also have kings who were enlightened masters who continued to rule their kingdoms with all the pomp and show that came with it, Janaka being the highest example for this from olden times.

True humility is being what you are, accepting what you are. It is not being arrogant of about what you are nor is it acting humble about it. That is why the Shambhala example of the tiger is such an unsurpassed example for humility.

In his answer to a question by one of his disciples, Osho explains what true humility means. Here are some excerpts from his answer:

“I am not saying become humble, because the ego can even try that—it tries! It can become humble. It can pretend to be humble, but then look in the humble man’s eyes: he says “I am nobody,” but he is waiting for you to say “You are the greatest man.”

Somebody says, “I am the richest man in the world.” Somebody says, “I am the most powerful man in the world.” Somebody says, “I am the most humble man in the world.” Where is the difference?

“I am not saying become humble. Ego can become humble. I am talking about ego-loss. You have to see into the ego: its complexity, its subtle games. You have to become aware of all its games. One day when you have looked into all its games, it simply disappears. Just by looking into them, just a clarity, just an awareness, and it disappears. It disappears as darkness disappears when you bring light into the dark room. Just bring awareness.

“I am not saying practise humility, and I am not saying become a humble man. A really religious person is neither humble nor egoistic—he is simple. A humble person is very complex: he has practised humility. Anything practised is always complex, and anything practised is always false. Anything practised means simply a pseudo thing.”


Accepting what you are, being what you are, is true humility. And that is what the Himalayan tiger in his prime moving heedlessly through the forest does. The Shambhala tradition clearly understood what humility really means and the games the ego plays in the name of humility.

In an advice to us, his students, Swami Dayanandaji once said: “When someone praises you, accept the praise if you feel you deserve it. And if you do not feel you deserve it, say no to the praise. That is humility. But if you feel you deserve it and yet you say, ‘Thank you, but I did nothing, I do not deserve it,’ then it is not humility, but hypocrisy.”


1 comment:

  1. Its so true that to be simple is the most difficult thing.I feel now that most of the times I practice hypocricy when I potray humility.This collection of thoughts has really forced me to think.Great work Sir.