Humility is an essential attitude for success in the spiritual
life. Any self-conceit, whether nurtured by superior intelligence,
wealth, a high position, or the praise of others, is an obstacle on the
path. Genuine humility is not posturing. It requires a constant willing-
ness to deny oneself, to be critical of oneself, and to be open to
Heaven's guidance even when it differs from one's own preconceived
We open with passages which set forth the value of humility, meek-
ness, and modesty. Humility requires sincerity and honesty; thus some
passages liken the humble person to a little child, whose natural spont-
aneity and acceptance of life is the antithesis of the often complicated
personality of the adult with its many masks, hidden resentments, and pre-
judices. Here is also the wisdom of the paradox (see Reversal, pp.
544-50) that the person who is humble and self-effacing ultimately
prospers and wins more respect from others than the person who is proud
and powerful. Next come passages enjoining humility before God and the
recognition that the success of all our endeavors ultimately depends on
God's favor. This is the attitude expressed by the common Muslim saying
insha'llah, "God willing." The humble person does not regard his posses-
sions or accomplishments as his own, but as a gift of God, to whom is due
all thanks. A third group of passages meditate on the insignificance,
transience, and lowness of the human being, who is nothing but a puff of
wind, a bag of excrement, food for worms. Finally, we conclude with pass-
ages which warn against letting the praise of others or great learning or
high position go to the head and cause self-conceit. Indeed, it is those
who are most favored with talent, intelligence, and worldly success who
most often succumb to pride and thus lose their way.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Christianity. Matthew 5.5
It is humility that exalts one and favors him against his friends.
African Traditional Religions. Kipsigis Proverb
Successful indeed are the believers
Who are humble in their prayers,
and who shun vain conversation,
and who are payers of the poor-due,
and who guard their modesty.
Islam. Qur'an 23.1-5
The Lamenter [who is seeking a vision] cries, for he is humbling himself,
remembering his nothingness in the presence of the Great Spirit.
Native American Religions. Black Elk, Sioux Tradition
Harithah ibn Wahb al-Khuza`i tells how he heard the Prophet say, "Have I
not taught you how the inhabitants of Paradise will be all the humble and
the weak, whose oaths God will accept when they swear to be faithful?
Have I not taught you how the inhabitants of hell will be all the cruel
beings, strong of body and arrogant?"
Islam. Hadith of Bukhari
Within the world
the palace pillar is broad,
but the human heart
should be modest.
Shinto. Moritake Arakida, One Hundred Poems about the
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.
Hinduism. Bhagavad Gita 13.7-8
Matthew 5.5: Cf. Matthew 23.12, p. 545; Philippians 2.6-11, p. 616.
Qur'an 23.1-5: Cf. Qur'an 31.18-19, p. 409; 7.55, p. 828. On the
Prophet's humility, see Hadith, pp. 658f. Bhagavad Gita 13.7-8: Cf.
Gauri Sukhmani 18, M.5, p. 818.
Subdue pride by modesty, overcome hypocrisy by simplicity, and dissolve
greed by contentment.
Jainism. Samanasuttam 136
Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs
the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the
kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.
Christianity. Bible, Luke 18.16-17
For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of
Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of
the Holy Spirit, and putts off the natural man and becomes a saint through
the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becomes as a child, submissive,
meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which
the Lord sees fit to inflict upon him, even as a child submits to his
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Book of
Mormon, Mosiah 3.19
In the Book of Songs it is said,
Over her brocaded robe
She wore a plain and simple dress,
In that way showing her dislike of the loudness of its color and magnif-
icence. Thus the ways of the moral man are unobtrusive and yet they grow
more and more in power and evidence; whereas the ways of the vulgar person
are ostentatious, but lose more and more in influence until they perish
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.
Confucianism. Doctrine of the Mean 33
Luke 18.16-17: Cf. Matthew 18.1-3, p. 215. Book of Mormon, Mosiah 3.19:
Cf. Proverbs 3.11-12, p. 571; John 1.12-13, p. 575. Doctrine of the Mean:
Cf. Qur'an 31.18-19, p. 409.
He who knows the masculine but keeps to the feminine,
Becomes the ravine of the world.
Being the ravine of the world,
He dwells in constant virtue,
He returns to the state of the babe.
He who knows the white but keeps to the black,
Becomes the model of the world.
Being the model of the world,
He rests in constant virtue,
He returns to the infinite.
He who knows glory but keeps to disgrace,
Becomes the valley of the world.
Being the valley of the world,
He finds contentment in constant virtue,
He returns to the Uncarved Block.
Taoism. Tao Te Ching 28
Do not say about anything, "I am going to do that tomorrow," without add-
ing, "If God will." Remember your Lord whenever you forget, and say,
"Perhaps my Lord will guide me even closer than this to proper conduct."
Islam. Qur'an 18.23-24
Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a
town and spend a year there and trade and get gain;" whereas you do not
know about tomorrow. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears
for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, "If the
Lord wills, we shall live and we shall do this or that." As it is, you
boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.
Christianity. James 4.13-16
Without merit am I; all merit is Thine.
Thine, Lord, are all merits--by what tongue have I power to praise Thee?
Sikhism. Adi Granth, Wadhans, M.5, p. 577
Though I seek my refuge in the true faith of the Pure Land,
Yet my heart has not been truly sincere.
Deceit and untruth are in my flesh,
And in my soul is no clear shining.
In their outward seeming all men are diligent and truth speaking,
But in their souls are greed and anger and unjust deceitfulness,
And in their flesh do lying and cunning triumph.
Too strong for me is the evil of my heart.
I cannot overcome it.
Therefore my soul is like unto the poison of serpents;
Even my righteous deeds, being mingled with this poison,
Must be named deeds of deceitfulness.
Shameless though I be and having no truth in my soul,
Yet the virtue of the Holy Name, the gift of Him that is enlightened,
Is spread throughout the world through my words,
Although I am as I am.
There is no mercy in my soul.
The good of my fellow man is not dear in my eyes.
If it were not for the Ark of Mercy,
The divine promise of the Infinite Wisdom,
How should I cross the Ocean of Misery?
I, whose mind is filled with cunning and deceit as the poison of reptiles,
Am impotent to practice righteous deeds.
If I sought not refuge in the gift of our Father,
I should die the death of the shameless.
All men are children of Adam, and Adam was created from soil.
Islam. Hadith of Tirmidhi
Be of an exceedingly humble spirit, for the end of man is the worm.
Judaism. Mishnah, Abot 4.4
O Lord, what is man, that thou dost regard him,
or the son of man, that thou dost think of him?
Man is like a breath,
his days are like a passing shadow.
Judaism and Christianity. Psalm 144.3-4
The body is impure, bad-smelling, and replete with various kinds of
stench which trickle here and there. If one, possessed of such a body,
thinks highly of himself and despises others--that is due to nothing
other than his lack of insight.
Buddhism. Sutta Nipata 205-06
A rabbit that a huntsman brings,
They pay for it the proper price;
But none will give a betel nut
For the corpse of a ruler of the land!
A man's body is less worth than a rabbit's.
Hinduism. Basavanna, Vachana 158
Reflect upon three things, and you will not come within the power of sin:
know from where you came, to where you are going, and before whom you
will in future have to give account and reckoning. From where you came--
from a fetid drop; to where are you going--to a place of dust, worms, and
maggots; and before whom you will in future have to give account and
reckoning--before the Supreme King of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He.
Judaism. Mishnah, Abot 3.1
Even if all the world tells you, "You are righteous," consider yourself
Judaism. Talmud, Nidda 30b
A brahmin should ever shrink from honor as from poison, and should always
be desirous of disrespect as if of ambrosia.
Hinduism. Laws of Manu 2.162
Confucius said, "A gentleman does not grieve that people do not recognize
his merits; he grieves at his own incapacities."
Confucianism. Analects 14.32
To know when one does not know is best.
To think one knows when one does not know is a dire disease.
Taoism. Tao Te Ching 71
The fool who knows that he is a fool is for that very reason a wise man;
the fool who thinks he is wise is called a fool indeed.
Buddhism. Dhammapada 63
Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others
better than yourselves.
Christianity. Philippians 2.3
Whoever proclaims himself good,
know, goodness approaches him not.
He whose heart becomes dust of the feet of all,
Saith Nanak, pure shall his repute be.
Sikhism. Adi Granth, Gauri Sukhmani 12, M.5, p. 278
Tao Te Ching 28: The 'Uncarved Block' is the state of primitive simplicity
without any pretense or artificiality. It can also mean the purity of
one's original nature. Cf. Tao Te Ching 22, p. 550; 55, p. 231. James
4.13-16: Cf. Isaiah 40.6-8, p. 123. Shinran: Shinran (1173-1262) honestly
looked into his own mind and recognized the power of evil within. He
realized that even the most determined saint cannot attain salvation
through dependence on his or her own mind; compare 1 John 1.8, p. 383;
Romans 3.9-12, p. 383. For Shinran, salvation is possible only through
the Power of Another--the Orignal Vow of Buddha Amitabha to save all
sentient beings (Larger Sukhavativyuha Sutra 8.18, p. 555). See Tannisho,
pp. 757f. Abot 4.4: Cf. Erubin 13b, p. 545. Psalm 144.3-4: Cf. Isaiah
40.6-8, p. 123. Sutta Nipata 205-06: The many Buddhist meditations on the
body as filthy and worthless are mainly to cultivate an attitude of
detachment from sense desires and bodily pleasures. Cf. Dhammapada 350,
p. 930; Therigatha, pp. 934-35; Precious Garland 149-57, p. 930;
Akkamahadevi, Vachana 33, p. 931. Tao Te Ching 71: Cf. Tao Te Ching 81,
p. 797. Dhammapada 63: Cf. 1 Corinthians 1.20-25, p. 798, where the word
of the cross seems folly because it teaches the way of humility and self-
sacrifice. Gauri Sukhmani 12, M.5: Cf. Tao Te Ching 81, p. 797.
Subhuti, what do you think? Does a holy one say within himself, "I have
obtained Perfective Enlightenment"? Subhuti replied, "No, World-honored
One... If a holy one of Perfective Enlightenment said to himself, Such am
I, he would necessarily partake of the idea of an ego-identity, a person-
ality, a being, a separated individuality."
Buddhism. Diamond Sutra 9
In the barren north, there is a sea, the Celestial Lake. In it
there is a fish, several thousand li in width, and no one knows how many
li in length. It is called the leviathan (kun). There is also a bird,
called the roc (p'eng), with a back like Mount T'ai and wings like clouds
across the sky. Upon a whirlwind it soars up to a height of ninety
thousand li. Beyond the clouds and atmosphere, with only the blue sky
above it, it then turns south to the southern ocean.
A quail laughs at it, saying, "Where is that bird trying to go? I
spurt up with a bound, and I drop after rising a few yards. I just
flutter about among the brushwood and the bushes. This is also the perf-
ection of flying. Where is that bird trying to go?" This is the differ-
ence between the great and the small.
Similarly, there are some men whose knowledge is sufficient for the
duties of some office. There are some men whose conduct will benefit some
district. There are some men whose virtue befits him for a ruler. There
are some men whose ability wins credit in the country. In their opinion
of themselves, they are just like what is mentioned above.
Taoism. Chuang Tzu 1
Chuang Tzu 1: Cf. Analects 7.25, p. 413.