Humility: The hallmark of a devotee - my ego-crushing experience with Sri Sathya Sai
“It was pride that changed angels into devils; it is humility that makes men as angels.”
- Saint Augustine
“Pride makes us artificial and humility makes us real.”
- Thomas Merton
“Love lives by giving and forgiving; Self lives by getting and forgetting.”
- Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba
“Early in life I had to choose between honest arrogance and hypocritical humility. I chose the former and have seen no reason to change.”
- Frank Lloyd Right
The subject of humility is so expansive and has so many facets to it. This article is definitely not going to be a treatise on humility for I cannot claim much knowledge or association with it. However, what I definitely know is the power of a hooded ‘cobra’ known as the ego. I have seen how it enters me in such a subtle and camouflaged manner and, just like in the beginning of alcohol-drinking or smoking, makes me feel very good about myself. I indulge in it till it becomes an addiction - one that eventually kills! There have been many occasions when my dear master and best-friend, Sri Sathya Sai Baba, has lovingly taught me to be humble. And there have been occasions when He has taught me the same as a ‘slap on the face’ - a strong wake-up call that is often necessary when one does not seem to change with loving words.
Today, there is some understanding in me about humility. But before I share that, it would be unfair if I do not share the experience of one such ‘slap on the face’ which I was dealt at the Divine hands. For, I know that the reader comes to read the Divine story and not my interpretation of it! It is only the readers’ love for Swami that they indulge me and my ‘wisdom sharing’!
“Will anyone speak today?”
It was during the academic year 2004-05 and I was a student of the II year MSc (Chemistry). During those years (as in the previous years too), Swami would surprise all of us students with the question,
“Is anyone ready to speak today?”
This was a great chance and responsibility at the same time. To stand beside Swami, share the dais with Him and speak to the thousands that had gathered in the Sai Kulwant Hall was also a great challenge. There have been many occasions when Swami has rewarded the student who bravely ventured to accept the chance with a ring or chain that He created with a wave of His palm. There have also been many occasions when students have become overnight heroes by simply rising up to the challenge that an extempore speech in His presence presents.
Seeing all this from a very external and superficial point of view, I had some very wrong notions and concepts. And this, in part was because I was desperate to ‘get into form’ or interact with Swami in some way or the other. While there is nothing wrong in that desire, at times the eagerness to fulfill takes one along paths that are best avoided. And I took one path like this though I started off with good intentions.
I had armed myself with a well-prepared talk, just in case Swami asked for any speakers during the mandir session. One day, it happened. Swami asked the warden, Sri Shiva Shankar Sai, whether there were any speakers from among the students. I put up my hand and got the call to the dais. I saw that I was the only one to put up my hand. I felt a surge of happiness within me because I seemed to be the only one who was willing to be brave enough to fulfill Swami’s desire! And there, ego had sneaked in!
The talk went on fine. There was applause in the end and I felt so happy that I could stand a few feet away from my Lord, delivering a talk. Needless to say, I was a hero in the hostel and I enjoyed every bit of the adulation I received. So lost was I in my happiness that was being fuelled by ego and pride that I failed to notice the fact that Swami did not seem too pleased at the end of my talk.
The second chance - a failure again
Immediately, after that talk, I prepared another talk. I wanted to be ready whenever Swami asked. The efforts were good, but the motivation was not all that pure. Very soon, a second chance arrived. Swami asked whether there were any students ready to speak and I was the only one to raise my hand immediately and head to the dais. However, even as I neared Swami to take namaskar, I heard Him ask the warden,
“Aren’t there any other boys in the hostel? This boy keeps coming over and over again.”
That statement hurt me (my ego actually). In a moment, thoughts created a whirlpool in my head.
“Swami! I am coming here and saving Your students from disgrace. If I do not step up, there will be none ready to speak - and speak well at that! Instead of complimenting me and giving me a pat on the back, you ask such a question to the warden?”
I knelt before Swami and asked Him,
“Swami, do you want me to speak or not?”
“Go... go... Go and speak”, was the simple and terse reply. There seemed to be some sort of an irritation in His voice.
As I stood at the podium to speak, I found it so difficult. The cancerous growth, my ego, was hurting and I felt that I was hurting. I felt that Swami was not recognising my efforts when the truth was that I was being blind to my ego that had crept in and grown like a monster. I completed the speech and returned to my place. The talk was received well but Swami did not seem all that happy. And I noticed it this time. I made a resolve,
“Swami! Never again will I raise my hand when you ask for speakers. Then you will realize what an important job am doing for you.”
The third chance - my refusal
Very soon, came the day when my eyes were opened to what had been actually happening inside me. It was a day when my ego was exposed. It started off with Swami asking,
“Is anyone ready to speak today?”
Though I had a speech prepared mentally, I did not raise my hand. I was determined to make Swami ‘realize His fault’. I looked around. I saw that nobody else was raising a hand. I smiled within myself and thought that in case nobody lifted their hand for a few more moments, I would raise mine. I did not want to ‘punish’ Swami too much!
Suddenly, one other student raised his hand. I saw him and was shocked too. I had never heard him in public. I knew that he had no experience in public speaking. I wondered as to how he was ever going to speak. As I expected, the speech turned out to be a poor one. The ego within rejoiced because this boy’s ‘bad speech’ seemed to add more to the importance of my contribution as a speaker!
As the boy concluded his 6 minute speech, there was a muffled applause. That applause was more like charity from the audience I felt. But then, something shocking happened. Swami gave a broad smile and clapped hard. Instantly, the whole hall was transformed into a madly applauding gathering of thousands! Swami blessed the boy profusely and asked for another speaker. It was like rewind and play for me as another first-timer walked to the dais, delivered what I considered as a ‘sub-standard’ talk and received thunderous applause from the audience, courtesy of Swami’s appreciation!
And this happened not twice or thrice but 5 times as 5 students spoke in a span of half an hour! At the end of that session came the ultimate salt (and even pepper) to my ego wounds. Swami called the warden and said,
“Speeches should be like this. All boys spoke well!”
Today, when I look back at the whole episode, I realize how foolish and blind I was. It is so important to be on God’s side for the world always is happy when God is happy. Instead, if God is unhappy, even the greatest skills, talents and performances are of no use. And HUMILITY is what pleases the Lord. Humility does not mean self-deprecation. Nor does it indicate a low self-esteem. It only means that one is not involved in the self but involved in the Self! For, the same Self pervades all beings - call it God, Atma, Spirit or Energy. Humility lies in not being selfish but becoming Self-ish, like the Self!
I do not think that my lessons for humility are done. Am still learning and hope to do so always. For, in matters of lessons in humility, when I think that I have learnt, I have lost all that I learnt!
The follow through:
It was a few months after this that one of the defining experiences of my life occurred. I have written about it a long time ago. Those that have not read it, should do so for it is another deep experience in which Swami embedded so many in'Sai'ghts and so much Love. Even those that have read it before, I am sure, will gain new perspective reading the same having read this story! Point your mouse to the link given below for that article!
When God teaches you to walk - Footprints in the sand
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