What is humility?

There are two people I know of who embody what it means to be humble. One is Guru Nanak Dev ji, the first guru in Sikhi. The other is the Dalai Lama.

It’s tough to be humble, because it means we have to actively battle our ego. And in the Western world, we are taught that ego is important. We’re taught that to be successful, you have to massage your ego. You have to massage other people’s ego. You have to assuage yourself to other people’s ego. Ego is what makes the world go round.

We’re taught that if you’re humble, you don’t value yourself. Humility is for the weak, and for the naive. Ego keeps you strong and competitive. Ego will earn you that promotion. Ego will get you that bonus. Ego will win the heart of fair maiden.

So when we read about / learn about / experience humility, it can often be an alien thing. It’s often met with a healthy dose of scepticism. It seems being met by people who can and are humble throws us off. What’s your ulterior motive?

There’s plenty of reasons why we find it difficult to accept that someone chooses not to acknowledge what they’ve achieved. It goes against conventional wisdom and all self help books. No one really talks about being humble.

It’s all about “Be your best self”, and “help others”, and “seek first to understand”, and “believe in yourself”. Which is great, and empathetic, and selfless. But is it humble?

We’re living in an age where humility has little to do with daily life. If I don’t take credit for the work I’ve done, then what’s the point in living?

I probably believe in humility to a fault. I always have done. I also believe in shouting about my own success. It’s a paradox living my life. What I know is that when I share responsibility for an achievement, it’s not because I don’t believe in myself, it’s because I don’t want anyone feeling excluded. When I consider scrutinising a compliment or dismissing it, it’s because I would rather talk about how to enable that in others. I make things happen because of a series of fortunate events that I help to facilitate and negotiate.

Don’t forget, I’m paradoxical about this too. I do make things happen, and I don’t apologise for that. I’m happy and proud about things I achieve. Being humble about what I do, for me, is acknowledging that this is the way of life. I work to do things, but this does not equate needing to shout to the everyone and anyone who will listen about them.

Is this also, I wonder, about the British ‘stiff upper lip’ at play? No, because the connotations of that infer that displaying emotion in public is undesirable which I don’t believe at all.

There is something about humility which shows our true nature, and that can be scary for others. It shows us being vulnerable. It shows us being with heart. It shows us embracing choice. It shows us diversity. It shows potential. It shows courage.

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Shri Guru Nanak Dev Ji

Waheguru ji ka khalsa, waheguru ji ki fateh.

Today is the birthday (gurpurab) of the founder of Sikhi, Shri Guru Nanak Dev Ji. For ease, I shall refer to him as Guru Ji a lot in the post. He lived from 1469-1539. Technically he was born on April 15 according to reports. So why are Sikhs celebrating his birthday in November? This is unclear, but it is celebrated on the full moon that falls in November every year. So the date changes annually.

When he was born, the main religions at the time in North India were Hinduism and Islam. He was born in the state now known as Punjab. As a young child, he actively chose not to listen to the teachings of priests and his parents, and chose not to be indoctrinated into the practices of Hindusim. He immediately began to question his seniors about why they acted in certain ways and why they weren’t focusing on God.

Guru Ji started to preach a belief in one God. He wanted all who practised their religion to realise that all they needed to do was keep God central in their thoughts. Moreover, he said that in God’s eyes, there is no Hindu and there is no Muslim. We are all His children. His following became quite varied and he had followers from both religions. Although not aggressively controversial, the things he was saying were certainly not in line with thoughts and preaching of the day. He spoke out against a practise in Hinduism at the time called sati. This is where if a married man died, his wife was expected to throw herself onto his funeral pyre. Guruji actively made it known that this should not happen and sought equality for women.

There were three main tenets he left his followers with – naam japna, kirat karna, wand ke chhakna. Naam japna means to repeat the name of God. This means that we are meant to meditate on God when we can, repeat His name, and keep Him at the forefront of all our thoughts. Guru Ji gave us the name of God as Waheguru. Kirat karna means to live an honourable life. This means to be a householder, and carry out work which is beneficial to others. Living a life which has high social, ethical and moral values is the ideal to aim for. Wand ke chhakna means to share with others what you have. This is where the concept of community for Sikhs is core. It is called Sadh Sangat – the community of the holy. We can find counsel, help, blessings and support from the community we are part of.

As Guru Nanak Dev Ji was nearing the end of his time, he wanted to choose a successor who would continue his teachings. Although he was married and had two sons to whom he could have passed the responsibility to, he instead chose a devotee of his to pass the Gurgaddi on to. From the second to the tenth Guru, their names are:
Guru Angad Dev Ji
Guru Amar Das Ji
Guru Ram Das Ji
Guru Arjan Dev Ji
Guru Har Gobind Ji
Guru Har Rai Ji
Guru Har Krishan Ji
Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji
Guru Gobind Singh Ji

As the Gurgaddi has been passed on this fashion from one to the next, it is said the light of Nanak was present in each successor. In our teachings and the holy book in Sikhi, verses often end with a saying such as ‘Nanak has said this is the Truth’. It is worth noting, after Guru Gobind Singh Ji, he decided the responsibility of the Gurgaddi could not fall to one person any longer. As such he declared all teachings written in the Guru Granth Sahib to be the word of the Guru. In Sikhi, we call this gurbani – the teachings of the Guru.

For me, Guru Nanak Dev Ji did not just start a new way of thinking, he started a way of life which I’ve known all of mine so far. In personal reflections I will often think about his teachings, and what he wanted Sikhs to believe and do. This was a man who saw in man a desire to be good and in turn a desire to find God in all we do. Although miracles have been attributed to Guru Ji, it’s often difficult to verify these. Instead, I choose to reflect on the difference one man made to a country and the heart with which he did this.

Waheguru ji ka khalsa, waheguru ji ki fateh.