The word “humility” comes from the French word “humilitas,” which in turn, is derived from the Latin word “humilis,” meaning “close to the ground.” The word “humility” first appeared in English in the 14th century, and has since been used to describe a quality of groundedness, non-ostentation and modesty.
In Sanskrit, humility can be equated to the word ‘विनम्रता’ or vinamratā. “A subhāṣita (Sanskrit:
सुभाषि त) is a short memorable verse, generally meant to convey a truth, advice, lesson or
sometimes even a riddle on some fundamental facet of life.” Here is a subhāṣita on humility:
नवाम्बुभिर्भूरिविलम्बिनो घनाः ।
अनुद्धताः सत्पुरुषाः समृद्धिभि:
स्वभाव एवैषः परोपकारिणाम्॥
On bearing fruits, trees bend (i.e. become humble),
with recently gathered water, clouds hang very low,
wealthy good men maintain non-arrogant nature;
This is the nature of benevolent people.
Seen as a human virtue, humility simply refers to the state of being humble, down-to-earth and modest. It is a quality that is characterized by a lack of arrogance, conceit, or pride. Humility is an important human trait because it helps us to be more open to learning, more willing to help others, and more forgiving of ourselves and others. This means that humility can become an enabler of a happier and more fulfilling life for us!
In fact, there is a very special group of people called ‘Avadhanis’ who can teach us a lot about how to apply humility to make our lives better. Avadhanis are practitioners of an ancient Indian art form called Avadhānakalā – the art of multiple concentration. Mostly applied in the sphere of Sahitya or literature, Avadhanis create extempore versification in Sanskrit as a response to multiple questioners (without the support of any pen, paper or recording device!). So how do they do it?
● Openness to guidance: When they are humble, Avadhanis are more open to receiving guidance from the divine. This helps them in composing extempore verses during their Sahitya Avadhana performances. Many Avadhanis, in fact, seek to evoke this divine power of creation by personifying their wishes as invocations to goddess Saraswati at the start of the performance.
● Similarly for the rest of us, when we are humble then we are also more receptive to the messages that are being sent to us by divine channels.
● Heightened receptivity: Humility helps us to let go of our ego, and this enables growth on all fronts: professional, personal, spiritual!
● Whether an Avadhani or us – when we are humble, we connect more seamlessly with our true selves and with the divine consciousness.
● Cultivating mindfulness: During an Avadhanakala performance, it definitely helps an Avadhani to stay humble and grounded in the present moment. This allows her/him to adjust the pace of their prose delivery based on the audience’s engagement level.
● For us beyond the Avadhanakala sphere, mindfulness and focussing on the present moment is both meditative and productive. It reduces anxiety while harnessing our mind’s power to complete tasks with swiftness and ease.
● Appreciating the little things: Nature has a way of humbling us, whether it is standing under a roaring waterfall or witnessing the horizon from the mountain tops. This feeling of humility in the midst of nature can help us in acknowledging all the small things in our life too, that are truly precious and peace-giving.
● For Avadhanis, having gratitude for the rest of their lives and all the small things that make it precious allows them to remain connected with society, engaged with life, and also inspired to keep unlocking the full potential of their Avadhanakala practice.
So how might we cultivate more humility in ourselves? There are many ways to cultivate humility in our lives. One way is to practice gratitude. When we are grateful for what we have, it helps us to see the good in the world and to be less focused on ourselves. Another way to cultivate humility is to spend time with people who are different from us. When we spend time with people who are different from us, it helps us to see the world from a different perspective and to be more open-minded. Here are some more ways to cultivate humility in ourselves through simple ways:
● Be open to feedback: When someone gives us feedback, we should be open to hearing it, even if it’s not something we want to hear. Feedback can help us to grow and improve. By staying humble, we can keep evolving and growing as an individual and learn from all the feedback we receive.
● Be willing to help others: When we see someone who needs help, we should be willing to lend a hand. Helping others makes us feel good and it also makes the world a better place. This also reminds us that nobody is above needing help, sometimes it’s us and sometimes it’s someone else – thereby, helping us stay humble and accept the changing situations.
● Be forgiving of ourselves and others: Everyone makes mistakes. When we make a mistake, we should forgive ourselves and learn from it. We should also be forgiving of others when they make mistakes. This allows us to remain both humble and kind.
● Build strong relationships: Humility helps us to build strong relationships with others. When we are humble, we are more likely to be open to others, to listen to their ideas, and to be supportive. And let’s be honest, who would not like to be friends with or work with such an individual?
● Meditate more often: Meditation (especially mindfulness-based and silent meditation) can help us to become more aware of our thoughts and feelings, and to let go of our ego. This can help us to be more humble, grounded and rooted. The ripple effect of such a personality is obviously felt across family and work spheres.
Humility is a valuable trait that can help us live happier, healthier, and more successful lives. By practicing humility, we can become better people and make the world a better place for all. After reading this article, if you’re curious to explore more about what Avadhānakalā is – please visit our project page: Avadhānakalā and Consciousness Studies
About the author: Damini is a Research Associate at the Centre for Human Sciences. An avid reader, yoga asana and dhyana practitioner, Damini finds solace in Mother Nature. As part of the Rishihood family, she will be working to uncover unique aspects of the ancient Vedic art of Avadhānakalā or multiple concentration.