Humility : The Virtue that Nobody Wants



Discussions of humility don’t come up much in the spiritual circles I have traveled:

…possibly because it’s not a word very much used in American Buddhist terminology.

…possibly because of association with centuries of Western clerical/religious domination.

…possibly because, in the early 21st century US, it just gives us the creeps.

Humility sounds too much like humiliation.

In our rushing, frenetic, distracted, busy, driven culture,

even the mention of humility seems foreign.

It certainly doesn’t sound like it helps you get ahead.

So, what’s humility good for, anyway ?

Well, first, what exactly is humility ?

The term “humility” comes from the Latin word humilitas, a noun related to the adjective humilis, which may be translated as “humble”, but also as “grounded”, “from the earth”, or “low”, since it derives in turns from humus (earth).(5)

From the root words, it sounds like humility involves groundedness,

keeping a healthy sense of proportion.

In this life so far, whenever the healthy sense of proportion is lost,

trouble follows.


The more I looked for a workable definition,

the more views and ways of describing humility arose,

even just among Buddhist writers and teachers.

Here are a few facets of the gem of this misunderstood virtue.

Humility as Willingness to Learn. (Thanissaro Bhikkhu)

That’s what’s meant by an attitude of humility: a willingness to learn from the little things, no matter where they show themselves. Humility requires being attentive, watchful, not assuming that you already know, that you’re already good, realizing that there’s always room for improvement. You have to delight in that fact, to delight in actually making the improvements, letting go of the unskillful qualities in the mind, developing the skillful ones. (3)

Humility as Genuineness. (Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche)

Humility, very simply, is the absence of arrogance. Where there is no arrogance, you relate with your world as an eye-level situation, without one-upmanship. Because of that, there can be a genuine interchange. Nobody is using their message to put anybody else down, and nobody has to come down or up to the other person’s level. Everything is eye-level. Humility in the Shambhala tradition also involves some kind of playfulness, which is a sense of humor…. Real humility is genuineness. (4)

Humility as Love. (Thich Nhat Hanh)

True love is a process of humility, of letting go of our individual ideas and notions to embrace and become one with another person or our entire community. When we are proud we can be easily wounded. We are like the tall, dry grasses that do not bend down low in the face of the winds. Instead, they try to remain standing tall and in the process are broken to pieces. Our pride is an obstacle to developing our understanding, compassion, and boundless love. When we are humble we have nothing to fear, nothing to lose. We easily flow with the circumstances that we find ourselves in and are endlessly open to learn, to practice, and to transform ourselves.(2)

Humility as Reverence. (Gary Zukav)

An authentically empowered person is humble. This does not mean the false humility of one who stoops to be with those who are below him or her … It is the harmlessness of one who treasures, honors and reveres life in all its forms.




(1) Gary Zukav quote from :

(2) Thich Nhat Hanh quote from:

(3) Thanissaro Bhikkhu reference from:

(4) Chogyam Trungpa reference from here:

(5) The etymology comes from Wikipedia:

Photo links:

The first photo came from here:

Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche :

Thich Nhat Hanh :

Thanissaro Bhikkhu :

Gary Zukav :

For further consideration regarding humility in Buddhism:

More- Books:



About dominic724

A former seeker starts blogging.
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10 Responses to Humility : The Virtue that Nobody Wants

  1. Shantideva says:

    It is sometimes amazing how things happen. I have just finished writing something about humility and then I discover your latest post. Thanks for sharing.

  2. vanessagobes says:

    great post! love all the quotes and perspectives. brilliant! 🙂

  3. dadirri7 says:

    lovely post D, an overlooked word and virtue, yet integral to real spirituality in any form …. thank you 🙂

  4. I think your choice of quotes are superb Thich Nath Hanh I actually bought two of his books. I well be looking for Thanissaro Bhikkhu in the library.

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  7. Such subtle, beautiful insights. An excellent way to start my day. Thanks so much.

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