" 'Humility,' said T. S. Eliot, 'is the most difficult of all virtues to achieve; nothing dies harder than the desire to think well of oneself.' Humility is the inner reflection of the true Learner. If we do not retain a certain degree of humility in our lives, our minds will become closed set in plaster, as William James said and we will live out our lives coasting on old laurels rather than cultivating new ones. It is one thing if we are humble because we do not know much. In that case, humility is practical. We defer to our teachers partly out of self-interest. We want to know what they know, and we respect their ability to impart it to us. It is another thing to remain humble when, like Chao Chou, we are already accomplished, when we know much.
"We know that humility is close to the essence of the spiritual life. At the same time, we can read in Buddhist meditation texts, for example, how much time and energy are devoted to the problem of pride. The authors of these scriptures lived in monasteries, having given up family, possessions, and all things of this world. Why then should pride the opposite of humility have been so much of a problem in these communities? Why is that in Buddhism pride is considered one of the 'higher fetters,' those that persist even in spiritually developed persons, disappearing only in the highest stages of enlightenment? Clearly, from studying the texts, the answer is that an initial spiritual insight, an enlightenment, can be a powerful hindrance on its own. 'I have it!' we think, and in that moment lose it. In fact, not only does spiritual pride grow in proportion to spiritual attainment, it is one of the last hindrances to be dissolved. Never does pride cling stronger than when we have something about which to be genuinely proud. And never does humility recede more quickly than the moment when we say to ourselves, 'At last, I have mastered it! There is nothing more to learn!' As we continue to absorb the vast 2,500 year-old edifice of Buddhist teaching here in the West, this is an important lesson to keep in mind."