Often, the first thing you are given when beginning a serious course of study winds up being the most important thing to learn. However, because it comes early in the program, it will seem elementary, and you will find yourself waiting for the really valuable stuff before you will be willing to lay your money down, metaphorically speaking. But as in any discipline, the truly valuable things are easy to overlook.
The basics will give you purchasing power, which in spiritual terms means authority – not authority over others, not authority in terms of knowledge, not authority in the sense that everyone will be dying to hear what you have to say, but authority in terms of your relationship to God. What you say will not necessarily be written in lights where everyone can see it; no one will praise your words or even notice you are saying them, necessarily. What is true about those with real spiritual authority is that their words matter.
It has been said that the ego is the first thing to be attracted to the spiritual path and the last thing to let go. It takes one look and says, “Hey, this is for me! I can really use this to make myself look important.” A skillful teacher will let this run its course and not hit it too directly, because it can carry the student through the more difficult stages of learning early on in his or her training.
Therefore, you will probably be learning humility your entire life. The moment you think that you have it is the exact moment you do not. And this will never cease to be an issue for you, not as long as you are living on Earth in a physical body. This is why humility comes first in all valid courses of spiritual study, instead of high-minded theories or tidbits of information designed to impress you or that you can use to impress others.
You may have heard the story of the prospective student and the overflowing teacup. The master pours him a cup of tea and keeps pouring even as the tea starts spilling out onto the floor. The prospective student is alarmed and offended. He questions whether the master knows what he is doing, whereupon the master informs him that just as there is no more room in his cup for more tea, there is no more room in his mind for further teaching. The student thinks he already knows what the master is going to say and is therefore non-receptive.
Humility is all about being receptive. It is the willingness and the ability to learn. It is the foundation of successful spiritual training. And it does not come by degree; you either are humble or you are not. You may cycle in and out of the state of being humble during the course of your training, but there is no such thing as partial humility. Every problem you will encounter will be directly traceable to whether you are on the right side of this issue. But do not let this discourage you. Even Jesus, the greatest master teacher who ever lived, had to overcome this problem.
The Temptation in the Wilderness
When Jesus was preparing to go public with his mission, he encountered three negative aspects within himself that first had to be expunged. First, there was the desire to fulfill his physical appetites: “Turn these stones into bread.” Next came fear: “Throw yourself off of this cliff.” And finally (saving the best for last) came pride, and I will paraphrase: “You have the power to fix all the problems of the world, so who could be better for the task? It is your duty, therefore, to take charge, to impose you superior will upon the world.”
A young man once told me, “The world be a better place if everyone was like me.” Wow. And yet, if we are honest with ourselves, we all believe this at one point or another in our life. Imagine what you might think once you become a priest.
The first goal of your training is to teach you how not to impose your will on others, but instead to teach by providing opportunities for others to grow. Growth is why we are all here, so there is no need to inculcate this desire in a person; it is the soul’s primary motivation, leading us into every experience we encounter. So, let your motivation be one of service and to never place an obstacle in the path of another’s journey toward the realization of God. The prime directive for a priest is the same as it is for a physician: “Do No Harm.”
The Sermon on the Mount
The directness of Jesus’ words in The Sermon on the Mount tells us that he is addressing those who are sincerely seeking wisdom and not those who are merely looking for something to think about. The audience is not the general public but rather a group of applicants for discipleship. So what he has to say deals more with the necessary character traits one must have in order to qualify for discipleship, not points of philosophy. And the very first trait (you guessed it) is humility.
These people are God-seekers. They are not asking for “rules” to follow, but rather they want to know how they should “be” – more precisely, what their attitude of being should be in order to achieve enlightenment. They are looking for “be-attitudes.” So, Jesus gives them the most important attitude of being right up front: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
As a serious spiritual student, you are looking for more than just knowledge – you are looking for a quality of being. And while knowledge is certainly a part of that, it is not the goal – it is an aid for reaching the goal. But while it can help us, it can also be our biggest obstacle to God-realization, because the ideas we possess often define who we are to ourselves. So, Jesus is telling his prospective students that in order to receive the truth from him, they must not be attached to what they already know.
Of course, he is speaking from Christ-consciousness, not from his personal, Jesus-consciousness; his goal is to take them to a level of training where they will no longer need a teacher but where they can receive instruction from the God Self within their own being. But in the meantime, he is modeling that for them, which is the role of a spiritual teacher.
Jesus is also telling them that Christ-consciousness is higher consciousness, that the truth of God is not necessarily going to fit in with their pre-existing concepts – we like things to be consistent with what we already know. So, he warns them not to listen solely for those ideas that will reinforce the opinions they already have.
This is a common error that every student on the spiritual path encounters. And it is why meditation is so important. Meditation is the intentional emptying of your mind. A quiet mind is a receptive mind, and as long as your be-attitude is an orientation toward God, or the “kingdom of heaven,” then what you receive when your mind is quiet can only be from God.
Humility is impossible without trust. You have to know that God intends you no harm but only wants your absolute good. This is fundamental to your spiritual growth. Otherwise, you will always be protective and not receptive, and you will subordinate your intuitions to your rational mind for its approval, a task for which it is entirely unsuited.
Trust is the real message within the saying, “God loves you.” God is not vindictive or prejudiced or given to favoritism. These are concepts invented by theologians to keep people afraid. If you are afraid of God, you will not be able to open up to the subtle energies that will come to you during meditation, the energies that will transform you.
Humility, trust, meditation – this is the format.
Humility is the sign of a spiritually mature person, but it is important that you not take this to mean that you have to forget everything you have learned prior to beginning your training. That would be naive. You have to practice meditation in order to expose yourself to higher consciousness and be changed by it, but unless you integrate what you receive into the “body” of you, what you receive will do you little good. Here we have the true function of the rational mind.
The rational mind is the servant of the Self, not its censor; at least, this is what it should be. The term “bride of Christ” is a metaphor for the relationship of the rational mind to the Self. The proper role of the rational mind is to receive intuitions and integrate them into past experiences. Part of this function is to test and prove that which is received, not because the intuition might be faulty (it never is) but because it might not have been received clearly or in its entirety.
For this, we have contemplation, which we learn to do after we have become proficient in meditation. For now, suffice it to say that you have to “think about” what you learn. Later, however, you will discover that a truly new thought has a life of its own and will show you things about itself that you could never tease out of it.
Contemplation requires a subtle, unbiased state of mind where we gently view each new idea as though it were a precious gemstone with many facets. But the second you judge a new idea, you corrupt it, because judging is the rational mind’s way of forcing one idea to agree with another. So as you can see, contemplation takes practice.
Humility is the most important character trait you will develop. It begins with knowing that all true knowledge already exists in the mind of God.
There is nothing new. As we avail ourselves to that knowledge through the practice of meditation, we are changed – transformed – from the inside out. And as we contemplate our inner experiences, we integrate them into our everyday lives. Thus we rise to ever higher states of being, knowing at all times that the engine of our progress is God, and God alone. We show up, but it is God who raises us up.
Sit quietly in meditation and know that your mind is an extension of God’s mind and that it has direct access to that mind. Know that that mind is within you, not in some distant location, and know that you are within it.
Breathe slowly, deeply, and rhythmically. Let your thoughts coast gently to a stop. Orient your attention as though you were listening for a faint sound in the distance, only the “distance” is of an inner space, the kind you might experience in a dream.
Be attentive to what you experience there, what you see, what you hear. Later, you will write these down in your journal. The language of the subconscious mind is symbols, and, after you have finished with your meditation, you will want to examine them consciously and with respect.
Now, as though you were offering a gift to God on the altar, mentally elevate the pure concept of humility. I say “pure” as a way of saying that the concept of humility already exists in the mind of God and that this is what you are asking, not what you already “know” about it. Forget what you’ve heard or read, even what you have read in this lesson. Let God show you what it is.
Do not be concerned if nothing seems to happen. If your intention is intact, and you truly desire to receive, the knowledge will come through. It has to. God is incapable of holding back from a true request. You might not be conscious of the answer, but what does that matter? The effects of what you receive will emerge, sooner or later. To the degree that you trust that this will happen, it will happen. “Be it done unto you according to your [trust].”
When you are finished with your meditation, and after you have written down any pertinent thoughts, get up and do something else, something that will occupy your mind entirely, so that you forget about what you have just experienced. This is very important. As long as you are engaged with the process, it cannot begin its work inside you. You have to let go of it, the same way you have to let go of a seed for it to begin its process of germination. Let the experience “fall” into the fertile soil of your deep, inner consciousness. Do not try to dig it up later just to see if it’s working. That would be unwise.
I have read every thing up through Humility 1. Having grown up with a strong Calvinist background and reading the work of some very insightful theologians, I feel like I understand the Bible a lot more now because of this site. I never heard the importance and understanding of humility like this before. Humility always seemed wishy washy before.
These are beautiful teachings!
wow these are such clear teachings.i have studied so long and what i hear often is the need to intigrate the presence of god into action. guideposts laid out here in these teachings so clearly. thank you. so what i hear you saying is that concentration is learning to pay attention,meditation is listening to what you decide to focus on.
It’s probably better to say that meditation is listening to what comes up as a result of what you’re focusing on. Humility is the readiness to hear something that might contradict the conclusions you have formed.
Thank you. I’ve been immersed in your book The Five Vows, and appreciate even more seeing the subject of humility here. I’m so grateful for your writings.