Humility Is Not a Virtue

It had been a cloudless day, hot, and the earth and the trees were gathering strength for the coming winter; autumn was already turning the few leaves yellow; they were bright yellow against the dark green. They were cutting the meadows and the fields of their rich grass for the cows during the long winter; everyone was working, grown-ups and children. It was serious work and there wasn’t much talk or laughter. Machines were taking the place of scythes and here and there scythes were cutting the pasture. And along the stream there’s a path, through the fields; it was cool there for the hot sun was already behind the hills. The path went past farmhouses and a sawmill; in the newly cut fields, there were thousands of crocuses, so delicate, with that peculiar perfume of their own. It was a quiet, clear evening and the mountains were closer than ever. The stream was quiet, there were not too many rocks and the water ran fast. You would have to run to keep with it. There was, in the air, the smell of freshly cut grass, in a land that was prosperous and contented. Every farm had electricity and there seemed to be peace and plenty.

How few see the mountains or a cloud. They look, make some remarks and pass on. Words, gestures, emotions prevent seeing. A tree, a flower is given a name, put into a category and that’s that. You see a landscape through an archway or from a window, and if you happen to be an artist or are familiar with art, you say almost immediately, it is like those medieval paintings or mention some name of some recent painter. Or if you are a writer, you look in order to describe; if you are a musician, probably you have never seen the curve of a hill or the flowers at your feet; you are caught up in your daily practice, or ambition has you by the throat. If you are a professional of some kind, probably you never see. But to see there must be humility whose essence is innocence. There’s that mountain with the evening sun on it; to see it for the first time, to see it, as though it had never been seen before, to see it with innocence, to see it with eyes that have been bathed in emptiness, that have not been hurt with knowledge – to see then is an extraordinary experience. The word experience is ugly, with it goes emotion, knowledge, recognition and a continuity; it is none of these things. It is something totally new. To see this newness there must be humility, that humility which has never been contaminated by pride, by vanity. With this certain happening, that morning, there was this seeing, as with the mountain top, with the evening sun. The totality of one’s whole being was there, which was not in a state of need, conflict and choice; the total being was passive, whose passivity was active. There are two kinds of attention, one is active and the other is without movement. What was happening was actually new, a thing that had never happened before. To “see” it happening was the wonder of humility; the brain was completely still, without any response though it was fully awake. To “see” that mountain peak, so splendid with the evening sun, though one had seen it a thousand times, with eyes that had no knowledge, was to see the birth of the new. This is not silly romanticism or sentimentality with its cruelties and moods, or emotion with its waves of enthusiasm and depression. It is something so utterly new, that in this total attention is silence. Out of this emptiness the new is.

Humility is not a virtue; it is not to be cultivated; it’s not within the morality of the respectable. The saints do not know it, for they are recognized for their saintliness; the worshipper does not know it for he is asking, seeking; nor the devotee and the follower for he is following. Accumulation denies humility, whether it be property, experience or capacity. Learning is not an additive process; knowledge is. Knowledge is mechanical; learning never is. There can be more and more knowledge but there is never more in learning. Where there is comparison learning ceases. Learning is the immediate seeing which is not in time. All accumulation and knowledge are measurable. Humility is not comparable; there’s no more or less of humility; so it cannot be cultivated. Morality and technique can be cultivated, there can be more or less of them. Humility is not within the capacity of the brain, nor is love. Humility is ever the act of death.

Very early this morning, many hours before dawn, on waking there was that piercing intensity of strength with its sternness. There was in this sternness, bliss. By the watch it “lasted” for forty-five minutes with increasing intensity. The stream and the quiet night, with their brilliant stars, were within it.