Humility and the ‘ego’

Uncategorised Oct 24, 2019

This passage on the value of humility is very profound and i apologize to anyone dipping into my website, not prepared for this – but I have found it fundamentally very true – Benoit wrote this after a distinguished career as a violinist and a surgeon only to be caught up in the allied bombings of the V1 missile bunkers in Calais – he lost the use of his right hand so he really knew what he was talking about:
On Humility and humiliation
By Hubert Benoit.
I want to end this book by stressing a very important aspect of this theoretical and practical understanding that alone can free us from our suffering. We must understand humility, what it is precisely, and to see that in humility is to be found the key to our freedom and to our greatness.
We are already, here and now, awakened; but this truth is hidden from us our normal habits and reactions are constantly at work and these set up a vicious circle within us: Our rumination and inner monologue prevent us from awakening to our Buddha-nature.  We therefore believe that we lack essential reality, and so we are obliged to imagine in order to compensate for this illusory defect.
I believe that I am separated from my own ‘being’ and I seek to be reunited with it. Because I only know myself as a distinct individual I look for the Absolute as an individual and I want to affirm myself in absolute terms as distinct and separate. The attempt to do this creates and maintains in me on the phenomenal level the fiction of my own divinity, my fundamental claim  to be omnipotent as an individual,.
I have compensatory psychological habits which come into play by imagining things to myself and by selectively being attentive to my successes and avoiding any situation that suggests my impotence. In situations where the evidence for my powerlessness is inescapable they withdraw my claim to omnipotence. I organize things so that I never recognize the equivalence between the external world and myself. I maintain that I am different from the external world, removed from it, above it whenever possible, but below it if necessary. An indisputable requirement of the fiction that I personally am the First Cause of the Universe is that the world depends on me: as far as lam concerned the external world either depends on me or it does not. There is no question of me admitting that the relationship is one of co‑depen­dence. Hence the not‑self illusion; if the external world depends on me, it is self; if it does not, it is not‑self; I never want to acknowledge it as Itself’, because I am not aware of the third element, the hypostasis which unites us.
My present inability to experience my own nature, my Buddha nature, as a universal being and not as a distinct and separate indi­vidual, compels me to fabricate a continuous and fundamentally deceptive representation of my place in the Universe. Instead of seeing that l am on a level with the external world, I see myself above or below it, ‘up on high’ or ‘down below’. Given this way of looking at things, where above is Being and below is Nothingness, I am always compelled to strive towards Being. By director indirect means, I must struggle to raise myself, whether this be in gross, subtle, or ‘spiritual’ terms.
Before satori all my natural psychological mechanisms are based on my pride, the claims I make for myself as an individual, and my insis­tence that I should move ‘upwards’ in some way; and it is my insistence that any progress I make should apply to me as an individual which prevents me recognizing my infinite universal dignity.
It is sometimes difficult to recognize it for what it is, this underlying demand for a privileged status which drives all my efforts and all my aspirations. I can see it easily enough when other people are the not‑self that l want to distinguish myself from. In such cases, a little honesty with myself is enough for me to acknowledge what I am doing. It is quite a different matter when inanimate objects are the not‑self from which I wish to maintain my separateness and distinctness, and this is especially true when not‑self is represented by that mysterious and illusory entity known as ‘Destiny’. But it is fundamentally the same thing: Ian’ exalted by good fortune and humiliated by misfortune.
The same applies to what I perceive as positivity and negativity in the Universe: l am exalted by the one and cast down by the other. When the external world is positive and constructive, this is howl want it to be and it then seems to be dependent on me. When it is negative and destructive (even without affecting me directly), this is how I do not want it to be, and it then seems to be refusing to let itself be dependent on me. If we really see how deep the foundations of our pride and self esteem go down, we understand that anything we can imagine enjoying satisfies our pride, while any kind of suffering wounds it. We understand then that our insistence on our separate individuality and the claims we make on that basis dominate all our affective automatisms, in other words our whole life. Only Independent Intelligence escapes its control.
These egotistical pretensions of mine which direct me ‘upwards’ have to find expression in incessant imaginative activity, because they ‘are delusive and fly in the face of reality. If I take an objective look at the whole of my life as an individual, it resembles the fiery trajectory of a rocket: its ascent corresponds to intra‑uterine life where everything is a a state of preparation and as yet unmanifested; the point where the firework explodes is birth; the expanding fountain of light represents life’s ‘ascent’, during which our organism develops its fullest potential; falling back to earth in a shower of short‑lived sparks represents old age and death. At first sight the rocket’s life seems to be growth followed by decline. But in fact its whole span is one of disintegrating energy; it is in a state of decline from start to finish.
This is how it is for me as an individual. From the moment of concep­tion my psycho‑somatic organism is the manifestation of a process of disintegration, a continual descent. The moment tam conceived, [begin to die, The energy] start with gets used up in a variety of more or less spectacular manifestations, and decreases all the time. Cosmic reality completely contradicts my inflated claims on what is ‘above’; as an indi­vidual being, all my dealings are with ‘below’.
The whole problem of human distress is summed up in the problem of humiliation. To be cured of distress is to be freed from all possibility of humiliation. When I am humiliated, what is the source of my humiliation? Is it recognizing my own impotence? No, that is insufficient on its own. It is derived from the fact that I try in vain to avoid seeing my real impotence. Impotence itself dot’s not cause humiliation; it is caused by the blow to my fantasies of omnipotence when they, collide against the reality of the world. I am not humiliated because the external world repudiates me, but because I fail to annihilate its negation of me. The real cause of my distress is never in the external world: it only lies in the claims I put forward which then smash up against the barrier of reality. I fail to understand this when I complain that I have been injured by the barrier throwing itself at me. But I have hurt myself against the barrier; my suffering is a result of what I did. When I no longer insist on making
misguided claims, nothing will ever injure me again.
I may add that the distress I experience from humiliation expresses the painful tension generated by the inner conflict between my tendency to see myself as omnipotent and my tendency to acknowledge the concrete reality in which my omnipotence is denied. Humiliation and distress occur when I am torn between subjective demand and objective observation, between lie and truth, between biased and impartial ways of representing my situation in the Universe. Only when my objectivity triumphs over my subjectivity, and reality vanquishes dream will I be rescued from the permanent threat of distress.
In our desire to escape from distress we look for doctrines of salvation and
seek out gurus. But the true guru is not far array, our guru is right in front of
our eyes, continuously offering to teach us: it is reality as it is; our guru is our daily life. The evidence we need to save us is right in front of our eyes, in the obvious fact that we are not omnipotent and that our claim is fundamentally absurd and impossible, hence illusory, non‑existent. It lies in the obvious fact that there is nothing to fear for hopes which are without reality, in the fact that my feet have always been planted on the ground, so there is no possibility of falling, nor any reason for vertigo.
If I am humiliated, it is because the automatisms controlling my imagination succeed in neutralizing the vision of reality and keeping the facts at bay. I do not gain anything from the beneficial teaching with which I am constantly provided because I am adept at contriving to avoid the experience of humiliation. Should some humiliating circum­stance arise, concealing within itself a marvellous opportunity for my initiation, I perceive it as a threat and my imagination immediately makes strenuous efforts to ward it off. It struggles against the illusory displacement ‘downwards’ and strives hard to restore my usual state of complacent arrogance in which I find temporary relief, accompanied, of course, by the inevitability of new suffering. In short I am constantly defending myself against something which offers me salvation and I fight every inch of the way to protect the very source of my misfortune. All my inner work tends to obstruct satori because it is directed towards a loftier plane, while satori is waiting for me down here. With good reason, Zen maintains that ‘satori comes upon us without warning, when we have exhausted all the resources of our being.’
All this seems to suggest that humility is the ‘way’, and in a certain sense this is true, though not if we mean by this a systematic discipline. As I am at present I cannot make any effort which will not, directly or indirectly, aspire to something higher. All efforts to master humility can only result in a false humility in which I am still engaged in egotistical self‑exaltation by means of the idol I have created for myself. It is absolutely impossible for me to humble myself, in other words to reduce by my own efforts the intensity with which I claim ‘being’ for myself. What I can and must do if I want to put a definitive end to my distress, is reduce my resistance to what concrete reality has to teach: I have to let myself be humbled by the unavoidable facts of the cosmic order.
Even in this there is nothing direct which I can do or stop doing. I will
stop opposing the constructive and harmonizing benefits of humiliation in so far as I have understood that what is truly good for me is para­doxically to be found where I have hitherto thought to find harm. As long as I have not understood, my gaze is directed upwards. When I have understood, my gaze is not directed downwards ‑ for, once again, it is impossible for me to aspire downwards, because any efforts directed downwards would transform ‘down’ into ‘up’ ‑ but what happens is that I aspire ‘upwards’ with less intensity and to that extent benefit from my humiliations. I resist less, so I recognize when I am humiliated more often. I recognize that all my negative states are really humiliations, and that I have managed so far to cal! them by other names.
I am then able to feel humiliated and unhappy with my mind free of all images except the image of the state itself, and lam also able to hold myself unmoving in this state, since my understanding has abolished my reflex attempts to escape. Once I can do this I realize to my surprise that this is ‘the haven of rest’, the only safe harbor, the only place in the world where I can be perfectly safe. My holding on to this state confronts my natural inclination to reject it, and this enables the Conciliating Principle to come into play: opposites neutralizing one another; my suffering vanishes, together with part of my fundamental demand.! feel close to the ground, to ‘below’, to real humility (which is not accepting inferiority, but giving up ‘vertical’ thinking in which I always saw myself as being above or below).
These inner phenomena are accompanied by a feeling of sadness, of ‘night’. This feeling is very different from distress because a great calm prevails within it. It is during these sombre moments of tranquillity and freedom from tension that the processes of what I have called ‘inner alchemy’ take place. The ‘old’ person disintegrates, making way for the ‘new’ one to develop. The individual dies so that the universal may be born.
It is not possible to master humility by direct means; this can only be achieved by making use of humiliation. All suffering changes us by humiliating us. However, there are two fundamentally different ways in which this can happen: if I fight against humiliation this will be destructive and make my inner disharmony worse; if I let it act without resisting it, its effect will be to create inner harmony. Letting it act is simply a matter of acknowledging to oneself that one is humiliated.
From our present viewpoint Being presents as the unconciliated pair, zero and infinity. Our nature drives us to identify primarily with the infinity, which we try to attain by continually moving ever ‘higher’. This is a hopeless enterprise; however high we rise within the realm of the finite, infinity will remain forever unattainable. The way to ‘Being’ is not infinity, but zero, which, being nothing, is not a way.
The idea that humility is not a ‘way’ is so important that I want to take one last look at it. Should I fail to understand this point. lam bound to make the mistake of suppressing some manifestation of my funda­mental demand in my everyday life. (might for instance confine myself to some mediocre situation in society, etc. In other words I would be avoiding humiliations instead of making use of them. Simulated acts of humility are never more than just that. The point is not that I should be altering the way my fundamental claim operates, but that I should be using the factual material which comes my way from the humiliating disappointments which are its inevitable consequence. If I use artificial measures to avoid struggling against not‑self, I deprive myself of those indispensable teachings which I would otherwise gain from my defeats.
It does not always say so explicitly, but Zen is centred on the idea of humility. Throughout Zen literature we can see how the masters, with ingenious kindness, subjected their students to intense humiliation when they considered the time to be right. In any case, whether humil­iation comes from a master or from the ultimate experience of failure in oneself, satori is always triggered in an instant when humility comes to fruition, confronted at last with the obvious absurdity of all striving in pursuit of misguided and illusory claims. Let us remember that the ‘nature of things’ is our best, fondest, and most humbling of teachers; it surrounds us with its attentive help. The only task incumbent upon us is that we should understand reality and let ourselves be transformed by it.