Just as jewels and gold are the ornaments of a woman, meekness and humility are the ornaments of a Vaiṣṇava (a devotee of Lord Kṛṣṇa). The symptoms of a devotee are that he is humble, tolerant, merciful and friendly to all living entities. He has no enemies, he is peaceful and he abides by the scriptures. [Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 3.25.21]
If a devotee thinks that he is very much advanced in devotional service, he is considered puffed up and unfit to sit beneath the shelter of the Lord’s lotus feet. Caitanya Mahāprabhu advocated “Being humbler than a blade of grass, more tolerant than a tree and offering all respects to others and expecting none in return, one must constantly chant the holy names of the Lord.”
In this material world, everyone craves to be honored by others. Materialistic persons are puffed up because of their achievements thinking, “I am the best.” Such persons puffed up with vanity do not deserve to approach the shelter of Lord Viṣṇu’s lotus feet. When we hanker for respect or honor we develop pride and lose our prudence.
The Vedic scriptures inform us that the very cause of our material existence was our lack of humility towards the Supreme Lord which was the product of envy and this envy has been current since time immemorial. Only due to this envy towards Lord Kṛṣṇa have we remained in material existence suffering life after life. So to end all suffering and return to the kingdom of God, we have to relinquish the quality of envy and become meek and humble. Even in the Bible, it is said, “The meek and humble inherit the kingdom of God.”
Actually humility does not mean that we let the whole world trample our head. His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupāda defined humility as “freedom from the anxiety of having the satisfaction of being honored by others” and such humility is possible when one has achieved complete freedom from the bodily conception of life and realized himself as spirit soul, a part and parcel of the Supreme Soul Kṛṣṇa. Unless one is firmly fixed in this constitutional position, he cannot be truly humble. He may make a show of humility, but it will be nothing but a farce.
Regarding meekness and tolerance, Śrīla Prabhupāda summarizes, “One’s greatness has to be estimated by the ability to tolerate provoking situations.” When people lack tolerance, they respond to adverse situations and inimical people in one of two ways: depression or violence. Just like a tree tolerates all extremes of weather conditions and other inflictions without retaliation, a devotee can tolerate all kinds of curses and reversals in life. This is the excellence of a devotee.
This is best explained by Lord Brahmā in a verse from Śrīmad Bhāgavatam (10.14.8):
tat te ’nukampāṁ su-samīkṣamāṇo
bhuñjāna evātma-kṛtaṁ vipākam
hṛd-vāg-vapurbhir vidadhan namas te
jīveta yo mukti-pade sa dāya-bhāk
“My dear Lord, one who earnestly waits for You to bestow Your causeless mercy upon him, all the while patiently suffering the reactions of his past misdeeds and offering You respectful obeisances with his heart, words and body, is surely eligible for liberation, for it has become his rightful claim.”
When one actually engages in chanting the Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra, the quality of forbearance automatically develops. A person advanced in spiritual consciousness through the chanting of the Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra need not practice to develop it separately, for a devotee develops all good qualities simply by chanting the Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra regularly.