Humility, or being humble, is the defining characteristic of an unpretentious and modest person, someone who does not think that he or she is better or more important than others.
The term "humility" is derived from the Latin word "humilis", which is translated not only as humble but also alternatively as "low", or "from the earth", and "humus", humid, which in the past it was believed that emotions, diseases, depressions, where causes by imbalances of body waters. Because the concept of humility addresses intrinsic self-worth, it is emphasized in the realm of religious practice and ethics where the notion is often made more precise and extensive. Humility as a religious or spiritual virtue is different from the act of humiliation or shaming though the former may follow as a consequence of the latter.
Religious views of humility
Humility in Buddhism
In Buddhism, humility is equivalent to concern of how to be liberated from the sufferings of life and the vexations of the human mind. The ultimate aim is to achieve a state of enlightenment through meditation and other spiritual practices. Humility can also result from achieving the liberation of Nirvana
. When one experiences the ultimate Emptiness
and non-self, one is free from suffering, vexations and all illusions of self-deception. Humility, compassion and wisdom characterize this state of enlightenment.
Chan (Zen) Master Li Yuansong states that enlightenment can come only after humility - the wisdom of realizing one's own ignorance, insignificance and lowliness, without which one cannot see the truth.
Humility in Christianity
Catholic texts view humility as annexed to the cardinal virtue of temperance. It is viewed as a potential part of temperance because temperance includes all those virtues that refrain or express the inordinate movements of our desires or appetites.
Humility is defined as, "A quality by which a person considering his own defects has a humble opinion of himself and willingly submits himself to God and to others for God's sake." St. Bernard defines it as, "A virtue by which a man knowing himself as he truly is, abases himself."
St. Thomas Aquinas, a 13th century philosopher and theologian in the Scholastic tradition, defines humility similarly as "the virtue of humility" that "consists in keeping oneself within one's own bounds, not reaching out to things above one, but submitting to one's superior" (Summa Contra Gent., bk. IV, ch. lv, tr. Joseph Rickaby).
Humility is said to be the foundation of the spiritual edifice and inferior only to faith. However, humility is considered the first virtue inasmuch as it removes the obstacles to faith. It removes pride and makes a man subject to and a fit recipient of grace; according to the words of St. James, "God resisteth the proud, and giveth his grace to the humble" (James 4:6).
"True humility" is distinctly different from "false humility" " which consists of deprecating one's own sanctity, gifts, talents, and accomplishments for the sake of receiving praise or adulation from other, as personified by Uriah Heep.
In this context legitimate humility comprises the following behaviors and attitudes
- submission to God and legitimate authority;
- recognition of the virtues and talents that others possess, particularly those which surpass one's own, and giving due honor and, when required, obeisance;
- recognition of the limits of one's talents, ability, or authority; and, not reaching for that which is beyond one's grasp.
As illustrated in the person of Moses, who leads the nation of Hebrews out of slavery in Egypt and to the “Promised Land”, humility is a sign of Godly strength and purpose, not weakness. Of this great leader, the Bible states, “(For Moses was a man exceeding meek above all men that dwelt upon earth)" (Numbers 12:3, Douay-Rheims Bible).
The vices opposed to humility are:
(A) pride (by reason or defect). (B) a too great obsequiousness or abjection of oneself; this would be considered an excess of humility,and could easily be derogatory to a man's office or holy character; or it might serve only to pamper pride in others, by unworthy flattery, which would occasion their sins of tyranny, arbitrariness, and arrogance. The virtue of humility may not be practiced in any external way which would occasion vices in others.
Amongst the benefits of humility described in the Bible are honor, wisdom, eternal life, unity, rewards in heaven and others. In the Bible, an exhortation to humility is found in Philippians 2:1-17:
- "If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of charity, if any society of the spirit, if any bowels of commiseration: Fulfill ye my joy, that you may be of one mind, having the same charity, being of one accord, agreeing in sentiment. Let nothing be done through contention, neither by vain glory: but in humility, let each esteem others better than themselves: Each one not considering the things that are his own, but those that are other men's. For let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men, and in habit found as a man. He humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross. For which cause God also hath exalted him, and hath given him a name which is above all names: That in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those that are in heaven, on earth, and under the earth: And that every tongue should confess that the Lord Jesus Christ is in the glory of God the Father. Wherefore, my dearly beloved, (as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but much more now in my absence,) with fear and trembling work out your salvation. For it is God who worketh in you, both to will and to accomplish, according to his good will. And do ye all things without murmurings and hesitations; That you may be blameless, and sincere children of God, without reproof, in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation; among whom you shine as lights in the world. Holding forth the word of life to my glory in the day of Christ, because I have not run in vain, nor laboured in vain. Yea, and if I be made a victim upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice, and congratulate with you all." Philippians 2:1-17 Douay-Rheims Bible).
Also in 1 Peter 2:23, concerning Jesus Christ's behavior in general and submission to unjust torture and execution in particular: "Who, when he was reviled, did not revile: when he suffered, he threatened not: but delivered himself to him that judged him unjustly."
(1 Peter 2:23 Douay-Rheims Bible)
Protection against evil
The idea of humility as a protection against evil can be found in actual prayers and has even been included as part of the toolkit in courses on exorcism.
Humility in Islam
In the Qur'an
, Arabic words conveying the meaning of "humility" are used. Among these are "tawadu' " and "khoshou' ":
"Before thee We sent messengers to many nations, and We afflicted the nations with suffering and adversity, that they call Allah in humility. When the suffering reached them from Us, why then did they not call Allah in humility? On the contrary, their hearts became hardened, and Satan made their sinful acts seem alluring to them." (Al-Anaam 6:42-43)
"Successful indeed are the believers, those who humble themselves in their prayers." (Al-Muminoon 23:1-2). "Has not the time arrived for the believers that their hearts in all humility should engage in the remembrance of Allah and of the Truth which has been revealed to them."(Al-Hadid 57:16)
Humility is a deep aspect of Sikhism
preached as Nimrata. According to Sikhism All have to bow in humility before god. The fruit of humility is intuitive peace and pleasure. With Humility they continue to meditate on the Lord, the Treasure of excellence. The God-conscious being is steeped in humility. One whose heart is mercifully blessed with abiding humility. Sikhism deal Humility as begging bowl before the god. Guru Nanak
, First Guru Of Sikhism said,
Make contentment your ear-rings, humility your begging bowl, and meditation the ashes you apply to your body.(Page 4,Guru Granth Sahib)
Listening and believing with love and humility in your mind (Page 6,Guru Granth Sahib)
In the realm of humility, the Word is Beauty.(Page 8,Guru Granth Sahib)
Modesty, humility and intuitive understanding are my mother-in-law and father-in-law (Page 152,Guru Granth Sahib).
There are many more aspects covered in Guru Granth Sahib on Humility which Sikh Gurus taught to the world.
Philosophical views of humility
Kant is among the first philosophers to view conception of humility as "that meta-attitude which constitutes the moral agent's proper perspective on himself as a dependent and corrupt but capable and dignified rational agent". Kant's notion of humility is that humility is a virtue, and indeed a central virtue.
Mahatma Gandhi is attributed as suggesting that attempting to sustain truth without humility is doomed to cause it to become instead an "arrogant caricature" of truth.
Some other schools of thought, such as Ayn Rand's Objectivism, have seen self-abasement as antithetical to morality.
Humility is considered an important virtue in taoism. The following quote describes how a wise person should see his accomplishments, according to the Tao Te Ching (77.4)
- [a wise person] acts without claiming the results as his; he achieves his merit and does not rest (arrogantly) in it: -- he does not wish to display his superiority.
Nietzsche wrote of humility (not to speak of patience, wisdom, and any other virtue lauded widely by the masses) as a weakness, a false virtue which concealed the frailties and hidden crookedness in its holder.
His idealized ubermensch would be more apt to roam around unfettered by pretensions of humility, proud of his stature and power, but not reveling idly in it, and certainly not displaying hubris.
Religious humility is sometimes interpreted as false modesty, especially by critics of religion. When viewed as false modesty it can be construed as a lifetime of mental conditioning whereby the individual takes personal claims of humility to mean that he or she is somehow "special and better than others".. Humility has also been criticized in the movies, the most famous being Blofeld
(played by Charles Gray) who declares in the James Bond flick Diamonds are Forever
that `humility is the worst form of conceit', which was originally coined by François de La Rochefoucauld
- Al-Munajjid, Sheikh Muhammad Saleh. Islam Q&A Website. "Different kinds of humility" Retrieved April, 5, 2006.
- Sister Huda. 19/11/1998. About.com Website. "Humility" Retrieved April, 5, 2006.
- Catholic Encyclopedia.