In his extensive collection Masnavi-i Ma’navi, the Sufi Master Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi alludes to the trees of the field and states, “Every tree that yields no fruit such as the pine and the cypress grows tall and straight, lifting up its head on high and sending all its branches upwards, whereas all the fruit bearing trees droop their heads and trail their branches.”
Our grandmother and later, my father would often quote this, reminding us that, “Nature teaches us humility but it is our ego that tells us otherwise. Bend low like the fruit laden boughs, especially when you achieve success.” They would also point out that while we appreciate a tree for the fruit, it merely acts as a conduit; other forces individually and collectively – soil, air, sunlight and nutrients – help the tree with its produce.
Several years ago, I met with a family that had just arrived in Canada. The male member of the family had found work in his area of specialization in a very short time, while his wife continued to struggle and was starting to lose hope. They claimed to be a “devoutly religious” couple for whom their faith remained a sustaining force. What I found most interesting however, was the difference in their attitudes. The lady insisted that all her efforts to get a job had failed because “it was not God’s will.” On the other hand, her husband declared that God had nothing to do with his success. He had researched and planned everything and was therefore the soul architect of his achievements. His wife stared dolefully and kept reminding him, “Don’t be arrogant. What He gives He can also take away.” While success was claimed to be self-made, God was to be blamed for failure!
I do not know whether there is a power out there that acts as a head-hunter or “fixer” for mortals who are always seeking different things. But, I do believe that a little humility does not hurt and could even help create empathy and compassion. This is something the world needs today in spades, to counter the increasing arrogance that is contaminating public discourse and adversely impacting civil behaviour. Fruit bearing trees are needed more than ever today.
There is a parable attributed to the late Indian mystic Osho. A very successful businessman and community leader of a village became very sick and was bedridden. As he was a disciple, Osho visited him and inquired after his health. The frail man was in tears and said, “Master, look at my state. What have I been reduced to! I, who has helped everyone in my village – provided them with jobs, lent money to educate their children, get married, build their homes, clinics and temples – what have I not done for them? Is this how God now repays me for my kindnesses and charitable work?” Osho asked him if he had ever requested any one of his family members or the people who had benefited from his philanthropy to get him a glass of water when he was thirsty? The sick man flared up, “Why should I ask anyone for anything? The servants are there to take care of anything I can even think of. I help people, I do not need their assistance!” Osho said, “Try approaching someone humbly to offer you loving care through a simple glass of water. When you humbly and genuinely thank them, you will see the difference. A simple “Thank you” expresses extreme gratitude, humility and understanding. Learn to empower others through this simple gesture.”
In his treatise, Tao Te Chung the Zen Master Lao Tzu states, “Instead of trying to be the mountain, be the valley of the universe. All things will come to you.”
His Holiness the Dalai Lama says, “To counter one’s arrogance or pride, you need to reflect upon shortcomings in you that can give rise to a sense of humility. For example, you can think about all the things in the world about which you are completely ignorant. Humility involves having the capacity to take a more confrontational stance, having the capacity to retaliate if you wish, yet deliberately deciding not to do so.”
Khaaksaarii (humility) is the theme in this extract from a famous ghazal composed by Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last Mughal Emperor of India, a tragic and destitute figurehead in his final days. Bhupinder has sung it beautifully, sans any accompaniments:
“Yā mujhe afsar-e-shāhāna banāyā hotā
yā merā taaj gadāyāna banāyā hotā …
…roz māmūra-e-duniyā meñ ḳharābī hai ‘zafar’
aisī bastī ko to vīrāna banāyā hotā”
[Either you should have made me a Royal officer
Or you should have made my crown (like) that of a beggar…
..Daily there is turmoil in this thriving world, O “Zafar”
Such a village could have been made a desolation]