The Path – September 1893


As I paused on the threshold of Headquarters one day, I found myself sympathetically regarding the doormat at my feet. What position could be lowlier than it held? Not even permitted to enter the house, but having the humble duty assigned it of cleaning the feet of those more favored ones who were admitted to the sanctum. It did not utter a word of complaint; I think no one ever knew it to remonstrate; and as to thinking that it was shamefully neglected, and that it had as good a right as the stair-carpet to climb to the innermost offices of the PATH, and even to repose beneath the Editor's desk, — I doubt if such a notion ever occurred to it.

Instead of complaining, of bewailing its unfortunate destiny, of accusing the powers that be of favoritism, or of trying to blazon its own virtues to the world, it remains with a divine patience where it was put, and does what it can to make the ways of others pleasant. It preserves the halls and stairways from the dust and mud of the street, and it lies there to be trampled upon, day after day and month after month, by the busy feet of those who never give a thought to the patient service it renders them. Talk about recognition! it never has any, it would not know the meaning of the word, much less does it claim the reward of gratitude for what it has done, a gratitude expressed in smiles and pleasant words, as a circus horse expects lumps of sugar after he has gone through his tricks. Once in a while it suffers a furious beating, for no fault of its own, but simply to free it from the impurities heaped upon it by others, and this too it undergoes in silence and without even a murmur. To remonstrate never occurs to it, much less to rise up in rebellion and oppose the hand that strikes it or the heel that grinds it into the dust.

So perfect is its humility, so absolute its patience, that I set myself to learn the lessons that it taught; and what higher ones could be studied by a scholar than those of trust, submission, humility, and patience? It is hard sometimes to be content with a place upon the threshold, where we feel ourself trodden under the feet of those who "go up higher", but if we can help those feet, we too have part and lot in their advancement. And if we have really learned the lesson of trust, we know that the place assigned us is the place where we belong, and where we can do the most good, if we will only consent to work with our own tools and not grasp at another's. What says the Gita? "It is better to do one's own duty, even though it be devoid of excellence, than to perform another's duty well." But one of the most insidious forms of that ambition against which we are so strenuously warned, is what we call emulation, the desire to distinguish ourselves as we have seen others distinguish themselves, the feeling that, given the chance, we could do great things. But the greatest thing is to use the chance we have, for "to him who hath shall be given", and to learn the lesson of trust in those great Powers that have set us in our places and know better than we can what we are fitted to do.

This lesson of trust springs out of humility, for it is only when we recognize our own feebleness that we learn to confide in the strength and wisdom of others. In Letters that have Helped Me we are told, "The Karma of your present life is the higher patience", and this is explained by the compiler to mean "the fine line between pride and humility". The doormat does not fling itself into the gutter in a foolish fit of self-abasement, but it remains at the top of the steps, in a place of its own, which is "the place neither too high nor too low", on which Krishna told Arjuna to sit.

Submission does not imply grovelling, or even self-depreciation, but only the consent to do a lower duty that someone else may the better perform a higher, for which he has a better equipment than ourselves. A private holds as honorable a position as a captain, and without privates there could be no captains. In the army of the Lodge promotion never goes by favor or by seniority, and when we are fit to be captains we shall find ourselves marching at the head of our regiments. Till then, let us trust in our commanding officer and obey his orders as we would like to have our own obeyed.

The doormat was never known to complain that it was not appreciated, nor even to be despondent because it had to lie there alone with no one to help it, even to recognize its efforts. And when we have learned this lesson of silent devotion, we shall learn to know all that the Masters meant when they wrote, "Ingratitude is not one of our failings. The humblest worker is seen and helped".

The crowning grace of service is joy, and verily this is its own reward.

The Path