I've studied both "Western" and "Eastern" philosophy (mainly Buddhism) for some time, and enjoying it a lot. Western philosophy is all about clarifying concepts. The exception might perhaps be phenomenology (I include Heidegger in that category, and so did he. When Heidegger talked about existentialism, he specifically referred to Sartre).

When I was writing my MA, I asked my fellow students "how does studying philosophy affect your personal life?" The general answer was "not the slightest bit". I generally had the feeling that it was a lot of competition and everyone were trying to be better and smarter than the next guy. This is one of the things I find so utterly different in Buddhist philosophy - it's affecting my daily life and ethical outlook to a much greater extent. I think our culture is so fixated on competition and being the best, and that outlook is still affecting me to a certain extent.

Does anyone have good advice for practising humility, both on and off the cushion?

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    I think this answer on spiritual materialism may also be of interest Commented Nov 20, 2015 at 13:15
  • In my personal experience the best ways are: 1) Try new things you aren't an expert at. 2) Have teenage children.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Nov 20, 2015 at 16:14

3 Answers 3


Good start is to do 100000 prostrations, say 100 a day.

Another practice is to identify and drop your attachments to intelligence, accumulation of knowledge, and making spiritual progress. Any time you catch yourself indulging in a thought which implies that intelligence, knowledge, or spiritual progress makes you better than others - you should get frustrated with yourself and drop that thought immediately.

Another practice is to surrender in all disagreements even if you are right, especially if you are right.

Another practice is to always take all blame upon yourself.

Another practice is the transfer of merit.

Reverence to Dharma books, handling them with care, not placing them in the floor, not placing other objects on top of them.

Reverence to teachers of Dharma - the attitude of a good servant: show respect, listen intently, follow exactly.

  • Very helpful to read your comments, as always. About prostrations, can you share with me some more thoughts on that subject? I suspect prostrations, like your other advice, will be very helpful for me. But I don't really have a real shrine, although I have a beautiful Buddha statue. I'm a little hesitant to aquire a lot of "stuff" for my practice, but I also want to do it as properly as I can. Thanks again Commented Nov 20, 2015 at 13:43
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    Stand straight, raise your arms on the two sides all the way until the hands touch above your head, bring them down to touch your crown, then your throat, then your diaphragm. Bend down still holding your hands at the diaphragm, then kneel down without touching your hands on the floor, release your feet, keep going down, separate your hands, put your hands on the floor, then your elbows, then your forehead, then lift your hands and turn the palms up and out - giving out all your merit, all your knowledge, all your accumulation, all your pride. You don't need a shrine for this, just imagination
    – Andriy Volkov
    Commented Nov 20, 2015 at 14:03

If "humility" is understood as an opposite (an absence) of "conceit", then "How are 'conceit' and 'identity-view' not the same?" might be a related topic, whose answers are worth reading.

The "stages of path" says that conceit is one of the final fetters (one of the last to be eradicated).

The English word "humility" suggests the presence of a (humble) positive quality. Conversely in Pali many important words instead denote the absence of some quality (see for example anatta, nirvana, etc.). And so I think it is with the word "humility", for which a Pali word is literally "without wind":

Nivāta1 (adj.) [Sk. nivāta, ni+vāta "wind -- down"] with the wind gone down, i. e. without wind, sheltered from the wind, protected, safe, secure

Nivāta2 [identical with nivāta1, sheltered from the wind =low] lowliness, humbleness, obedience, gentleness

For more on the subject I recommend this commentary on verse 8 of the Maha Magala Sutta (Sn 2.4), which suggests associations between humility and:

  • Reverence: veneration of the Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha; of teachers, wise people, good people ... "in fact, a general high regard for everyone".

    As well as being a "view" or practice, respect can be an action, it can demonstrated or acted on,

    How does one show respect or reverence? The Buddha says that one gives such a person a good seat, stands up to receive them, makes way for them and, for religious teachers, one places one's hands together and bows at their feet. This is a blessing resulting in good future births and harmony in the present life.

    There are other topics on this site about this kind of practice, see e.g. Prostration and attachment to rites and rituals and Tradition and purpose of prostration practice.

  • Without preconceptions, perhaps suspending prior beliefs, listening (and perhaps dismissing internal monolog when doing so):

    The fact that we encounter a number of "blessings" which deal with non-pride should make us realize how important humility is for successful practice of Dhamma. The person who knows it all, who always replies "I know," who has his own theories about Dhamma, or anyone else's theories for that matter, does not have humility. Because of this he can never train under a good teacher.

  • The metaphors used in second half of that paragraph also remind me of Ahimsa i.e. the principle of being harmless, non-injury, non-violence, compassion:

    The Commentary gives the right attitude to have: to be lowly "like a foot-wiping cloth," "like a bull with horns cut off," or "like a snake with fangs extracted." People like this get on with Dhamma. Of course, this does not mean that one is obsequiously "humble" — just another disguise for pride and a revolting one at that.

  • Contentment: perhaps conceit is a form of thirst -- a thirst for flattery or something like that?

  • Gratitude literally "knowing what has been done": if you know something it's because you were lucky fortunate enough to have been taught it, so rather than conceit ("I know it") you might feel respect and gratitude ("I'm grateful they taught it")

  • Timely hearing of Dhamma

One more story -- in one of Ven. Yuttadhammo's videos (I have forgotten which one) he describes his experience of becoming a monk, and if I remember rightly the story was something like (I paraphrase):

When I first started as a novice, I thought "I'm a good monk, a great monk, and I'm better than those other monks." After the first six months or a year I thought, "Well looking back I can see now that I wasn't a good monk. But now I'm a good monk." And, ten years later, "Just a monk."

A lot of this answer is trying to understand or define humility rather than "advice for practising"; and I expect it's missing Mahayana-based perspective. I hope other people will answer this question too.

  • I think understanding or defining humility is very helpful, you have given me lots of thoughts on how to practice. Regarding "Timely hearing of Dhamma", can you elaborate a bit on that? Commented Nov 20, 2015 at 13:51
  • The referenced commentary explains "timely hearing of Dhamma" (I summarized that commentary).
    – ChrisW
    Commented Nov 20, 2015 at 21:42

Always understand that everything is dependent on something else.

One can be talented but it takes another who is a fool to notice one's talent.

Understanding dependency brings us down to earth, otherwise called humility.

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