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Humility

Relevance of ancient Indian scriptures: Emptying the mind

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When we say humility, it’s not necessary that we should bow down to the teacher or fall at his feet. These are only external expressions of respect that may or may not be genuine. Humility means the understanding or the awareness that one doesn’t know, or perhaps, there is more to know. This means, the idea that what one knows is set aside; that the brain or mind (if that’s how you want to call it) is empty to receive and is not congested and burdened with stuff.

In this excursion or this particular journey that one is undertaking for an understanding of the higher levels of consciousness, one has to be free of all burdens of the mind. And, that’s where yoga comes in—to free the mind from the burdens that normally weigh down upon it.

There is a beautiful Sufi story about a person who approached a teacher to learn how to swim. He went to the teacher, carrying a sack-load of cabbages on his head. So, the teacher said, “If you have come to learn to swim, first you have to throw away this load of cabbages on your head.” The man said, “I cannot do that, Sir. I have to carry these cabbages, but then I have to learn to swim too.”

When you use a bowl or a cup, do you use the empty space or the walls that surround it?


The teacher said, “You cannot learn to swim while you’re carrying the cabbages.” The man said, “I have to swim but I cannot throw away the cabbages.” Then, the teacher said, “If that is so, I am sorry. I cannot teach you how to swim, for your hands are not free.” The man said, “Okay! I’ll find a teacher who can teach me to swim while carrying the cabbages.” And, he disappeared from the scene.

So, you see, this is not possible—keeping the mind free of opinions and ideas and to understand and be humble about it; the awareness that one does not know everything is what is very important. Confucius, the great Chinese philosopher, had this wonderful question. He would ask, “When you use a bowl or a cup, do you use the empty space or the walls that surround it?” We use the space because nothing can be received without space. If it is already full, nobody can give you anything. So, this sitting down involuntary humility—not imposed humility—and listening with the attitude of ‘let me understand what is being said’ defines ‘ni’.

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