Humility (Maṅgala Sutta – Protection with Blessing)

revised on 2021-03-26

By Venerable Uttamo Thera(尊者 鄔達摩 長老)

The English Dictionary explains humility as—someone who has humility is not proud (conceit) and does not believe that they are better than others. Another word—humble has the same meaning. The commentary explained it as meekness and humble behaviour, someone without conceit and vanity. It has the nature of quiet and easily controlled, tenderness, soft-spoken, etc. The commentary gave the examples of like a ragged-cloth, a beggar, a defanged-snake, a bull with broken horns, etc. The result of humility is fame (it is certain that there are other results). The opposite nature of humility is proud and conceit. The outcome of very proud and conceited can be very serious; e.g., the renegade monk Devadatta and the brahmin girl Māgandiyā. The monk Devadatta after achieving of super-normal power (psychic power) became conceited and craving for fame and power, he opposed the Buddha. He became so proud and conceited and without paying heed to the Buddha’s admonition. At last, he was swallowed by the earth and fell into the great Hell—Avīci for his evil actions.

The young Māgandiyā was beautiful and very proud of her beauty. Her parents offered her to the Buddha. The Buddha, seeing the parents’ spiritual faculties were mature, gave them a short exhortation by using their daughter's body as loathsome and putrid. After the saying both parents became anāgāmis and entered the orders, later both became arahants. But the young Māgandiyā became very bitter and sore because it hurt her strong conceit which related to her beauty. She vowed to take revenge. Later she became one of the chief queens of King Udena. When the Buddha stayed in Kosambī where King Udena reigned, she had the chance to take her revenge on the Buddha. At last, all her attempts were failed, and she encountered with a miserable death. Here we can see the danger and harm of strong conceit which brings misfortune to someone.

The opposite nature of humility is conceit or pride (māna). Everyone has conceit (māna). It is one of the latent dispositions (anusaya) and one of the defilement (kilesa). Māna is eradicated only at the stage of arhatship. It uses to happen in people who have a fortune, beauty, highly educated, high status, etc. Without any of them, also people can have pride.

Some take pride in their youthfulness, healthiness, life faculty (live a longer life; yobbana-mada, ārogya-mada, jīvita-mada), etc. The qualities of respect and humility are connected. Someone has conceit (no humility) cannot show respect to others. And without respect means someone has conceit. Therefore, they are supporting each other. Conceit has the nature of rigidity. A rigid person cannot or will not change his attitudes, opinions, or behavior.

So, they are difficult to teach or admonish. It is also a cause for downfall and dislike by others. A person has the quality of humility loved by others. It also increases or develops the wholesome dhamma to a holy life (brahmacariya dhamma). The quality of humility is the nature of noble and wise people. In textbooks, it taught us to behave like a rag for wiping feet or a poisonous snake which fangs are broken or a bull with broken horns.

Ven. Sāriputta was a very good example as a humble person. In the Dhammapada, there was a story described his great quality of humility. It was the end of a rain retreat (vassa), Ven. Sāriputta was about to set out a journey. He was saying goodbye to some monks and passing a young bhikkhu without saying anything to him.

But his outer robe brushed against this monk body when he was passing through him. This young monk had conceit and also wanted Ven. Sāriputta to pay attention to him. Therefore, bore some grudge against him and approached the Buddha. He complained to the Buddha that Ven. Sāriputta had abused him.

The Buddha, therefore, sent for Sāriputta and questioned him about the complaint. He answered that how could a monk who steadfastly kept his mind on the body, not apologized to a fellow monk after had done something wrong. He was like the earth with no feeling of like or dislike when flowers and rubbish piled on it. He was also like the rag cloth, the beggar, a bull with broken horns, etc. (There were nine examples).

The-pye-kan Sayadaw gave a natural example. Rice plants when they are young and immature, the stalks are at upright positions. After they are grown up and laden with rice grain, the stalks are bending down. These are the differences between a fool and a wise, or someone has conceit and someone has humility.

There was another story about Ven. Sāriputta of showing his humility to a 7-year-old young novice. One time the robe of Ven. Sāriputta was not very neat and a 7-year-old young novice saw it. And he informed it to Sāriputta. On the spot, Sāriputta corrected his robe by readjusting it instantly. He humbly asked the novice as was it good enough. Ven. Sāriputta and Ven. Rāhula (The only son of the Buddha) were high-class persons with great wisdom and very humble nature if a person has conceit and difficulty to possess good qualities.

If a person becomes wiser and he will become humbler. By knowing more about the faults of the khandha (body) one’s conceit will be decreased, and then he will look for the refuge. We cannot find it externally. Most people are looking for outside that they would never find it. Most religions came from external searches and speculations.

At last most people will die without the true refuge. When still alive, they encounter a lot of difficulty and problems which they cannot solve or overcome by outside powers. The perfect or true refuge is wisdom (paññā), which is the internal quality of the mind. Everybody has it, and only we need to develop it.

Therefore, the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Saṅgha (ariya saṅgha) are the perfect or true refuge. They represent only one thing—which is perfect wisdom. Generally speaking, the real refuge for everyone is the wholesome dhammas such as dāna, sīla, samādhi and paññā. These are not the outside powers and sensual pleasures which most people rely on it.

Generally speaking, the outside powers and external things/matters are untrue and belong to the fleeting nature. These things can be deluded our mind and created a lot of problems and sufferings in the world and societies. These unfortunate things are happening around us, which we can see in today world. Violence, terrorism, wars in the name of religion and power and all kinds of pollution (mind, body and nature) in the name of economics for sensual pleasures and overindulgence.

All these miserable things are created by fools and not the wise. The quality of humility or without conceit is one of the characteristics of great wisdom. Therefore, everyone should develop this noble quality. So, the Buddha said; humility was the highest protection with a blessing.

revised on 2021-03-26; cited from (posted on 2019-11-20)

  • Content of "Maṅgala Sutta – Protection with Blessing"

  • Content of Publications of Ven. Uttamo

According to the translator— Ven. Uttamo's words, this is strictly for free distribution only, as a gift of Dhamma—Dhamma Dāna. You may re-format, reprint, translate, and redistribute this work in any medium.

據英譯者—鄔達摩比丘交待,此譯文僅能免費與大眾結緣,作為法的禮物(Dhamma Dāna)。你可以在任何媒體上重新編製、重印、翻譯和重新發布這部作品。