Humility today has almost become synonymous with ignorance. Ego, on the other hand, has come to be a sign of power, influence, and knowledge. By earning university certificates, titles, position and wealth, people consider having an ego as a deserving right. And a great many people believe it to be “deserving.”
Vedic texts, contrary to these prevailing perceptions considered Knowledge is that which instills Humility or Vidya Dadaati Vinayam. For the Vedic Rishis (sages) humility, or Vinayam, was not just important but also a crucial element in evolution, achievement and attaining happiness.
It is important to understand that Vinayam (subtly translated as Humility) is not inferiority complex masquerading as a virtue; it is acceptance of every other individual’s opinion, views, and achievements without demeaning, loathing, insulting or envying them. Vinayam is also the path of Dharma.
Vedic greetings like Namaste, Namaskaram, and Pranam – are a sign of respect shown for all beings – animate, inanimate, and, even idols. These words convey respect and reverence by recognizing and honoring divinity in others. The Rishis encouraged people to see divinity in everything and everywhere. A fundamental reason why Vedic people had no problems respecting articles, institutions or even Gods of any faith.
Vinayam is the key to enhancing our understanding. When we do not know something, we can know only it if we first have Vinayam in us to accept that we do not know something.
In Yoga Vashistha, Vashistha says “Through Vinayam and Prayatna (persistent effort) everything can be known.” And, “(S)he who thinks (s)he knows – knows nothing. (S)he who thinks (s)he does not know – could know everything.” The notion of “I don’t know” signifies Vinayam.
There is a story worth recollecting in this regard:
King Vikramaditya of Ujjain was one of the towering kings in the history of Vedic India. Great stories have been written about his life and achievements. Legend has it that he ruled a gigantic landmass starting all the way from modern-day Arabia in the west to Vietnam and Laos in the east, and from Kashmir in the north to Kanyakumari in the south. Be that as it may, he was revered not because of the vast empire he ruled or for the enormous wealth he earned, but for his Vinayam – humility.
One day it so happened that a Rishi visited his court, looked at the king and with folded hands asked if he considered himself to be a great person. The mighty king rose from his magnificent throne, took off his royal crown before handing it to his minister, walked over to the Rishi and fell at his feet, saying “What is my wealth, power and influence compared to your ability to renounce everything, O great Rishi? How can these transient material objects compare to the knowledge and wisdom in you?” The Rishi, smiling, replied, “You verily are the greatest ruler to have walked on this earth.”
To rule a large part of the earth, to have enormous wealth, a powerful army and yet to fall at the feet of a man who has nothing, but knowledge and wisdom present the absolute humility of a king. Bowing to people of wisdom and knowledge – even if they are younger than you in age – is an unmistakable sign of Vinayam.
This Vinayam is also crucial in our real life. According to various Neeti Shastras, including Kautilya’s Arthashastra, to achieve anything significant in life a person must overcome six detrimental qualities within – Arishadvargas – namely:
- Kama or Lust
- Krodha or Anger
- Lobha or Greed
- Moha or Infatuation
- Mada or Ego
- Matsarya or Envy
The only way to overcome these six detrimental qualities is by practicing Vinayam. In the presence of humility, your constant pursuit in life is to learn, evolve and help those who ask for your help. With such humility, lust can seldom delude you; anger cannot overcome you; greed will not bother you; infatuation becomes obsolete; ego has no place, and envy is clueless. Through such humility, what is not possible? In many ways, Vinayam was also the hallmark of Vedic teaching.
According to Kautilya, a person is not Vinay or humble if (s)he pursues adoration of the masses. Which means a person who is always in pursuit of appeasing, pleasing people for the sake of rewards and awards are not at all Vinay. Such a person is an Agynani or ignorant.