A Story About a Man Who Was Forced to “Find Humility”
I bet we’ve all heard that word, but what does it actually mean and how on earth do you describe it? I’ll make an attempt at explaining humility through a personal story.
I first heard of the term when I bought a former lover, a beautiful wooden hand-carved compassion mantra, made by Tibetan Buddhists. I bought it from this sacred magical store called Green Design, that is full of plants, free-roaming birds, jewels, fountains, singing bowls, and many items for spiritual practices. I was given information on the meaning of the compassion mantra by the wonderful lady that was helping me find the perfect gift, and as I was reading the meaning and the practice of the mantra there was a story about humility in there. I thought, “Perfect, he needs this lesson.” I was dating an older sophisticated higher-up lawyer. He had been recently ranting about how someone wrote on his personal feedback, “find humility”- ouch.
This made me think, “find humility, what does that mean?” We kept going back and forth on the meaning of humility, and whether or not he had it. He started using the process of elimination on who could’ve possibly written that. As if this is not the perfect example of what humility is not.
When I gave him the compassion mantra, he absolutely loved it. He immediately found the perfect place to hang it up in his beautiful house in the hills. I shared with him the link to the meaning of the compassion mantra, and was hoping he would read the whole thing down to the story of humility, however he never did. His mind seemed preoccupied with something else. I kept asking, “did you read it,” and he responded “yeah yeah I read it, it’s cool.” I knew that if he had read the whole thing, the story of humility would have caught his attention.
So the story of humility goes like this:
“An old story speaks about a similar problem. A devoted meditator, after years concentrating on a particular mantra, had attained enough insight to begin teaching. The student’s humility was far from perfect, but the teachers at the monastery were not worried.
A few years of successful teaching left the meditator with no thoughts about learning from anyone; but upon hearing about a famous hermit living nearby, the opportunity was too exciting to be passed up.
The hermit lived alone on an island at the middle of a lake, so the meditator hired a man with a boat to row across to the island. The meditator was very respectful of the old hermit. As they shared some tea made with herbs the meditator asked him about his spiritual practice. The old man said he had no spiritual practice, except for a mantra which he repeated all the time to himself. The meditator was pleased: the hermit was using the same mantra he used himself — but when the hermit spoke the mantra aloud, the meditator was horrified!
“What’s wrong?” asked the hermit.
“I don’t know what to say. I’m afraid you’ve wasted your whole life! You are pronouncing the mantra incorrectly!”
“Oh, Dear! That is terrible. How should I say it?”
The meditator gave the correct pronunciation, and the old hermit was very grateful, asking to be left alone so he could get started right away. On the way back across the lake the meditator, now confirmed as an accomplished teacher, was pondering the sad fate of the hermit.
“It’s so fortunate that I came along. At least he will have a little time to practice correctly before he dies.” Just then, the meditator noticed that the boatman was looking quite shocked, and turned to see the hermit standing respectfully on the water, next to the boat.
“Excuse me, please. I hate to bother you, but I’ve forgotten the correct pronunciation again. Would you please repeat it for me?”
“You obviously don’t need it,” stammered the meditator; but the old man persisted in his polite request until the meditator relented and told him again the way he thought the mantra should be pronounced.
The old hermit was saying the mantra very carefully, slowly, over and over, as he walked across the surface of the water back to the island.”
So, this story is a little mind-boggling, and might take some time to process. It took me DAYS and re-reading several times before I was able to fully understand the message. What I personally believe the story implies is that the hermit is the one who has humility, he sets aside what he thinks he knows and listens to each person as if they have a gem of knowledge to give him. The meditator does not have humility, and is quick to tell the hermit he is doing it wrong instead of really listening and valuing the message the hermit is trying to convey. This has taught me so much about valuing and listening intently to what people have to say.
How many times have you been so persistent that you are right on a topic, and you’re not even listening to what the other person is saying, or trying to understand their message? This little story has taught me to not be so combative when I hear something I think is wrong, and instead seek to understand. This happens frequently at work, in politics, relationships, and social settings. I challenge you to the next time you hear something you think is “horrific,” as the meditator did, refrain from giving such a profound reaction, and instead seek clarification. This to me is humility- acknowledging that you don’t have all the answers, things change, and with a little humility we can continue to keep each other informed.
So now to give you some closure on the story of my ex lawyer boyfriend. Turns out he was still seeing his ex-girlfriend (no wonder his mind was preoccupied). I did what every self-loving woman would do and left him once I found this out. After a lengthy well-thought out, “I thought we’d be together forever” text, he asked me to mail his reading glasses that he had left at my place. So what did I do?? That’s right. I printed the story on humility and folded it up nicely and included it in his reading glasses. Although it did cross my mind to “accidentally” drop his glasses off the 8th floor of my balcony, I took the high road.
After a few weeks he reached out puzzled, and said “Thank you for sending me my glasses, but I keep reading this story you sent, and I don’t understand it.” My response was simply, “keep reading it, someday you will.”