Ethical Practice: From Pride To Humility

What are the basic spiritual virtues of those who are on the path of nondual realization? Frithjof Schuon suggests that there are three: humility, charity, and veracity (or truthfulness).

Today I’d like to discuss humility. Now, we do well to begin not with humility but with the vice of pride. When pride is removed, humility will flow forth.

Hence, concerning pride, we can ask:

  • How do we go about recognizing pride in our lives?
  • How do we let it go?
  • And how, from here, do we engage in a positive practice?

I. Recognizing Pride

My experience, in the world of knowledge work, is that pride can be indicated by (i) “I know a good deal,” “I know best,” “I know more than you do,” and so on and by (ii) “You don’t know what you’re talking about,” “You’re clueless,” and so on.

Therefore, the practice is to become more watchful so that one can introspectively see when “I know and you don’t” is arising in conscious experience.

II. Letting Go Of Pride

Loosely following St. Benedict’s discussion of the 12 steps of humility from The Rule of St. Benedict, I would offer the following:

  • As often as possible throughout the course of the day: remember God.
  • Next, be watchful: see (i) when proud thoughts arise, when (ii) pride-based speech arises, and (iii) when pride-based action arises. In the case of thoughts, remember the Self. In the cases of speech and action, use restraint: use muscle to cease indulging in wrong speech and in wrong action.
  • Thirdly, empty the self (what St. Benedict might term “self-abasement”). Here, we can do so gently by asking: “Do I really know? Might I be wrong? Might I not know something relevant? Could my viewpoint be limited or my judgment cloudy?” That is, allow this proud stance to be attenuated via gentle yet persistent doubts.

III. Engaging In Positive Practices

Now we’ve cleared the ground for actually being humble in our hearts and in our comportment. What would positive practices look like?

  • Concerning thoughts, a mantra: “Be humble. Be open.”
  • Concerning speech: offer up genuine (not fake) gratitude. Additionally, feel mudita (sympathetic or vicarious joy) in your heart and offer that up to the one who is sharing good news with you.
  • Concerning action: in lieu of self-centeredness born of pride, put the relevant other beings first.


In a separate post, it would make sense to discuss the virtues of charity, empathy, and compassion. I’d put all of these in the same class, the one that Schuon simply calls “charity” or “charitableness” or “love.”