Ideals and Values/Self Respect & Absence of too much Pride
Self Respect versus Pride
Pride is an evil and humility is a virtue. But this does not mean that we are so humble that we allow everyone to insult us and run over us. In the Bhagavad Gitā, Bhagavān Kṛṣṇa says that we should not have atimānitā or excessive pride. It is significant to note that Shri Kṛṣṇa does not ask us to give up all our pride or sense of self-worth. He is merely asking us to avoid too much pride or avoid thinking that we are very important. One must distinguish between self-respect and a sense of self-worth on one hand and egocentrism and arrogance on the other. Self-respect is a good thing for a worldly person or a householder to have, arrogance and pride are not. For this reason, Hindu scriptures say:
Draupadi said to Yudhishthira "No one should degrade himself because he who thinks himself as weak or small will never get any power or glory.
Bheeṣma said Do not go anywhere without an invitation but a Vedic Yajna may be attended as an onlooker even if not invited. You lose your lifespan and well-being by going to a place where you are not respected.
The Complexities of Self-Respect, Pride, Humility and Respect for Others
In the Purāṇas, we read the story of the marriage of Sati with Śiva. Her father Dakṣa hated Śiva and considered him an uncouth person unworthy of respect. Once, Śiva attended a Yajna organized by Dakṣa. But when Dakṣa arrived, he insulted Śiva. But Śiva did not respond because he did not want to hurt his wife by talking back to her father. He just got up and left showing his self-respect. Sometime later, his wife came to another Yajna, in which Dakṣa insulted her husband in front of everyone and in His absence.
Sati did not mind getting insulted herself, but she could not bear the insult to her husband and therefore committed suicide. When the word reached Śiva, He was enraged at Dakṣa for causing her to die and he invaded the Yajna and his assistants destroyed everything. This narrative illustrates the complexity of respect for others, pride, self-respect and humility. Śiva did not retaliate when his father in law insulted him in the first Yajna, out of humility and out of respect for him. His wife too bore insults to herself, but she did not bear insults against her husband. Hence the same Śiva, who had been very forgiving, could not forgive what Dakṣa had done to His wife and therefore he invaded his Yajna and beheaded him. The message of the story is that whenever we consider our own self-respect and pride, we must also take into consideration what our behavior might have on our loved ones. Sometimes, we may have to forgo our self-respect so that our own loved ones are not hurt.
Humility and Respect versus Self-Respect
Being humble and respectful towards others does not mean that we ignore intentional and nasty insults of others. Sometimes, it is essential to return insult for an insult, so as to teach the other person a good lesson so that he or she is chastened and reformed out of their bad habits.
Story: Ishvarachandra Vidyāsāgara insults Mr Kerr intentionally One day, Ishwarachandra Vidyāsāgara, a renowned Hindu scholar and social reformer, went to see Mr. Kerr, the British origin Principal of the Hindu College. The racist and arrogant Mr. Kerr did not offer Vidyāsāgara a chair to sit, and placed his feet on his table when Vidyāsāgara arrived to speak to him. Vidyāsāgara merely entered his office without showing any sign of feeling insulted, and said what he had to say. Thereafter, he left quietly.
A few days later, when Vidyāsāgara learned that Kerr is coming to see him in his own office, he quickly had all spare chairs in the office removed. When Kerr entered Vidyāsāgara's office, he saw the latter sitting on the solitary chair, with his feet on the desk! Kerr was deeply offended, and said that a "native" should show more respect to a British man. But Vidyāsāgara merely smiled and replied, "I thought that I was only following the good manners and etiquette from Europe." Kerr was humiliated and did not treat Vidyāsāgara rudely again.
Story on Self Respect: Lord Krishna Rejects a Royal Feast The Kauravas deprived their cousins Pāndavas of their kingdom by unfair means. The Kauravas had promised that they would return the kingdom to the Pāndavas after 13 years. But when the Pāndavas asked for their kingdom back after waiting for that period, the Kauravas refused to return it. It appeared that a war would break out between the Pāndavas and the Kauravas now. To maintain peace, Lord Krishna decided to go and talk to the Kauravas in their capital Hastinapur. The Pāndavas said that they would accept whatever Lord Krishna is able to get from the Kauravas.
When the Kauravas heard that Krishna is coming to Hastinapur, they sent a message to Him requesting Him to stay in their palace. They also invited Him to eat his lunch and dinner cooked in their royal kitchen. The Kauravas thought that since they are powerful and rich, Krishna might get impressed by their royalty and power. He might then agree to a deal that benefits only the Kauravas and does not get the Pāndavas anything. But Lord Krishna told the Kauravas, "We should eat food at someone else's place only when we are in trouble or when they call us with love or respect. I am not in trouble, and you do not love me or respect me. So I cannot come."
When Krishna arrived at Hastinapur, He first went to see his aunt and mother of Pāndavas, Queen Kunti who loved and respected Krishna a lot. Then He went to greet King Dhritarashtra and inform him of His arrival. Then, He went to the home of Vidura, the step Uncle of both the Kauravas and Pāndavas. Vidura was the son of a maidservant and lived humbly and ate very simple food comprised of fruit and vegetables. But he was famous for being very wise and knowledgeable and for being very fair and honest. Lord Krishna requested Vidura for food and ate whatever simple food comprising of vegetables that he was offered.
This beautiful incident from the Hindu scripture Mahābhārata shows that we should not just visit and enjoy the hospitality of people who are strong, powerful and rich but who have no love or respect for us. A lot of times, we accept their invitation for the fear of annoying them and thinking that we will get some benefit out of them. But behaving in this manner is wrong. Instead, we should serve and pay attention to people who are truthful, knowledgeable and honest, or who love us and respect us even if they are old, poor and humble.
Notes & References
- Mahābhārata 3.32.48
- Mahābhārata 13.104.142