Lord Krishna in Chapter XIII of the Bhagavad-Gita declares amaanitva, humility, as the first trait when listing out the twenty qualities of a jnani, person of true knowledge.
Most of us think position, power and knowledge are highly correlated to arrogance and high-handedness. We seem to think that if we have money, power or knowledge, we have a right to be arrogant. Has anyone of us ever asked ourselves why? This false sense of superiority comes because we identify ourselves with the material components in us. If we identify with the body, we may think we are better off than people who may not look as good as us. If we identify with the mind, we may think what we feel is always right. If we identify with the intellect, we may think we know more than others. Though we may look better than some people, have finer emotions than others and be more intelligent than a few, why should it be any reason to feel superior or arrogant? Have we ever thought what might happen if some permanent damage were to be done to our face due to an accident? Have we ever thought what might happen if we suddenly lose our memory due to disease?
What we are trying to get at is where do we derive our sense of identity from? Is it from the temporary, changing material components in us or from the permanent, unchanging substratum of our personality, the Atman within? When we identify with the material components and compare ourselves with others based on these, there are bound to be differences. This is what leads to superiority and inferiority complexes. There will always be people who will look more beautiful or be less intelligent than us. There will always be some people who may seem more gifted in a particular area than we are, but why should it mean that they are ‘better’ than us. At the end of the day, we are all human beings who have been gifted with certain talents and abilities. Some are born to colour the world with their magical strokes of art and there are others who will be able to make money in almost every business transaction. But to think that one person is better or worse than another is a great injustice to both. Each one of us has our gift and a wise person understands this.
Complexes and arrogance make us miss out on the best in others. We become so full of ourselves that we are unable to see goodness in others. The wise have the ability to learn lessons from every person they interact with and observe. They understand the uniqueness of each person and are able to draw out the best in people. This is why the great poet Ralph Waldo Emerson said ‘Every man I meet is in some way my superior’. Each one of us adds to this beautiful diversity that is the world.
Amaanitva (humility), is a trait that comes when we have a correct understanding of the world and people around us. Because the body becomes feeble, the mind degenerates and the intellect slows down sooner or later. To base our personalities on such fleeting and changing material aspects is unwise. It is best to identify with that unchanging, permanent Life-Principle in each one of us, Atman.