Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Been Thinkin': "Humility"

“We will follow our religious principles, and never forget the true virtue of Humility.” Sosai Masutatsu Oyama

Each time I train at the Kyokushin dojo, we recite the Dojo Kun. So many times I have said this sentence without really looking at the challenge contained within the concepts. The words just came out of my mouth without any deep meaning. I felt that if I was going to make a promise to myself of never forgetting this virtue in my life.. I really needed to look at what that virtue means to me.

The word “humility” contains the same Latin root word “Humus” which means “earth” or in other words, “The brown or black organic substance consisting of partially or wholly decayed vegetable or animal matter that provides nutrients for plants and increases the ability of soil to retain water. “ http://www.answers.com/topic/humus

I learned alot about humus when I took Physical biology in University. I learned that land without humus will not sustain life... it is like sand. “ Without humus, we have poor sandy soil that won’t hold water or nutrients for plant roots. Without humus, plants starve unless fed a steady diet of chemical fertilizers.”http://www.sunlandgarden.com/how_to_feed_plants.php

Therefore the existence of humus is essential for life on this planet to exist. Just as the virtue of humility is essential for us to have achieve the goal of living a happy life, and being a successful Martial artist.

But what is humility? I looked at all the various major religious belief systems, and noticed that they have a very similar way of thinking about that virtue. I took out just little quotes from each site, knowing that these will not show forth the fullness of their philosophies, but only will act as a small taste of the deep thoughts available for contemplation. I included the links to the various sites in case anyone is interested in looking it up for themselves.

Catholic Christian:

St. Thomas explains (Contra Gent., bk, III, 135): "The spontaneous embracing of humiliations is a practice of humility not in any and every case but when it is done for a needful purpose: for humility being a virtue, does nothing indiscreetly. It is then not humility but folly to embrace any and every humiliation: but when virtue calls for a thing to be done it belongs to humility not to shrink from doing it, for instance not to refuse some mean service where charity calls upon you to help your neighbours. . . .Sometimes too, even where our own duty does not require us to embrace humiliations, it is an act of virtue to take them up in order to encourage others by our example more easily to bear what is incumbent on them: for a general will sometimes do the office of a common soldier to encourage the rest. Sometimes again we may make a virtuous use of humiliations as a medicine. Thus if anyone's mind is prone to undue self-exaltation, he may with advantage make a moderate use of humiliations, either self-imposed, or imposed by others, so as to check the elation of his spirit by putting himself on a level with the lowest class of the community in the doing of mean offices."

The vices opposed to humility are,

a) pride: by reason of defect, and

b) a too great obsequiousness or abjection of oneself, which would be an excess of humility. This might 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 practised in any external way which would occasion such vices or acts in others. "


Wow! What a challenge! To choose to humble myself as a way of encourageing others to choose a better path, but being careful not to lessen my value, and encourage negative attitudes in others. A person would have to be very wise to know when to be humble, and when to live up to Justice.

Protestant Christian:

“Writer Madeline L’Engle once said, “Integrity, like humility, is a quality which vanishes the moment we are conscious of it ourselves.” Thomas Merton said, “the humble [one] receives praise the way a clean window takes the light of the sun. The truer and more intense the light is, the less you see of the glass. True humility excludes self-consciousness, but false humility intensifies our awareness of ourselves to such a point that we are crippled, and can no longer make any movement or perform any action without putting to work a whole mechanism of apologies and formulas of self-accusation.”


Again, I can see how just thinking lowly of one’s own self is not really what humility is all about. It’s about not thinking of yourself, but of others. Putting the welfare of others as a priority due to your own compassion, and worthiness. I realize that this little quote does not covered the vast amount of information available of the various protestant views of humility.


"The quintessence of humility is manifested in a practitioner's realization that he is nobody or nothing. This state of enlightenment comes when he transcends all worldly desires, illusions and mental constructs and labels associated with the ego. Buddhism refers to this as "emptiness" - empty of the contents of an illusory ego. On an in-depth psychological level, when one realizes that one is nothing, one is also everything. That means that through unconditioned love and compassion, one is now connected with all things and all beings. There is no more "I" and "mine." We are all one.

Some Buddhist practitioners place so great an emphasis on humility that they are prepared to yield to others in any situation that involves a dispute or contention. A Buddhist master writes that he always considers himself to be the least knowledgeable and capable as compared with other people. This approach is seen as a way to "humble" the ego so that spiritual liberation can be facilitated. Whether this is the right way of practice is open to questions.

Although humility is important to Buddhism, ultimately spiritual attainments are associated with such personal qualities as the "middle way," a balanced personality that is neither arrogant nor "humble" in the sense of self-abasement. Thus a semantic question may be raised as to exactly what we mean by humility. Does it necessarily imply an under-evaluation of one's own worth and merits that led the Tibetan lama to reject humility as a virtue for practitioners? From a true Buddhist perspective, the answer is "No." And we may add the following criteria to define genuine humility:

a) Behave without arrogance, self-conceit and other egoist tendencies such as jealousy and an impulse to show off.

b) Respect others and show a genuine human interest in them without a desire to please or to impress.

c) Come up with an objective and honest understanding of our own strengths and weaknesses, with a realization that we are far from perfect and have a lot more to learn, to improve and to accomplish.

While we do not recognize self-depreciation or self-effacement as part of humility, we must recognize that our biological self is fraught with frailties and ignorance and that a true self characterized by such divine qualities as love, compassion, joy and wisdom is innate in everyone of us.

With the above understanding, it is safe for Buddhists to speak of humility as a norm of personal conduct and a mark of supreme attainments that is consistent with the Buddhist "middle way." "

Fantastic! Again we see that humility is based on being sensitive to the fact that all people deserve respect, and dignity.


"Now what on earth do grapes have to do with humility? It is certainly difficult to find a connection, don't you agree? But in Hebrew, the word for grape is "Ah-nav" and the word for a humble person is also "ah-nav." True, there is a slight difference in the spelling, so it's not the same word, but we are going to see that there is a relationship between them.

However, if we understand that the Hebrew language is the language that G-d used to create the world, and every word and every letter has a divine meaning, then the relationship between words can be established. According to Jewish tradition, the letters themselves descended from upper spiritual worlds and these letters solidified, creating the present physical world. Now the Hebrew word is not just a audio symbol for an object, but rather its' root and stem, from which the object is created. The letters have mystical powers and the words create worlds. Now we can understand that Hebrew words by definition, have mutual relationships.

So what is the relationship between the grape and a humble person? Simply this:

A grape is something that by itself has no importance. No one buys one grape. Grapes are bought in bunches. A humble person is a person that sees no intricate self importance to himself. His role in life is an entity of importance only when he is together in a social structure. Together, with his society, he shares his life with others.

A grape is also something that improves when it is squeezed....... Only when the grape is squashed does it reveal it's true excellence. The same is true of a humble person. Only under pressure can we see the true worth of a person. How many people stumble and sway due to pressures. A truly humble person is able to come out of a difficult situation unscathed. "


The fact that a humble person reveals the strength of their inner self when placed in a difficult situation is so true. You can see that in the dojo when the hard training sets in: The humble karate ka has the strength of accepting themselves "as is"; their strengths, and weaknesses, and trying to seek to improve both aspects of themselves using the discipline of karate as a tool to make this possible.

I would say that, in the dojo, the 10th kyu is as important as the 10th Dan. Yes it is good to recognize, and be grateful for, the value of the experience of those who have trained before us, and that they are willing to share the knowledge that they have amassed with others. It is also good for the higher level belts to remember that they are no more than “walkers of the path” that have had a head start, and that they once relied on others to share with them. There is that mutual “going back to the basics, and going back to nature” moment within us when we realize that we all rely on the simplicity of humble black earth to support the plants that bring us food, oxygen, and life. Our world is based on the circle of mutual cooperation. The microbes in the dirt that turn dead vegetation into humus are just as important to our world as the men and women who train in karate on the grass above. The next time that you train outside, and start doing push ups, and your face is a couple of inches over the earth, you can remember your own simple beginnings, and dependence of survival on the simple creatures of the earth.


John Vesia said...

"...the 10th kyu is as important as the 10th Dan."

I've seen some animosity over the ranking system in the martial arts, and I'm referring to black belts. The notions of "true humility" and "mutual cooperation" need to be embraced.

[Mat] said...

I like your conclusion.

And I have a few readings for you - outside religions.
Paulo Coelho "The alchemist"
"The little prince" by st-exupéry.

I can't help but see a way of control through the various definitions of humility seen in religions. I'll have to re-read with a more open mind.

Humility in a north american context seems like an utopy. And a life-long achivement at the same time. But what is it really? None of the definitions here seem to fill the need in my mind for a true definition or one that would fit. Maybe I don't understand the concept yet. Or maybe it's something we should define ourselves.

Everything is one. I've heard that idea lots of time. And if you think of it... I'm one with a serial killer? What he does affects my life? No, not my life, our lives and our worlds? If so, why? So that we collectively learn something? How do we tap into that collective? Is it possible? Or are we always connected but simply "decide" to not feel connected? Is humility accepting that?

Lots of questions. They say a good text makes your mind work. Mine is spinning right now. :)