A person reached a friend’s house late in the night. Upon enquiry from the servant, he was told that the owner of the house had already gone to bed. The visitor then decided to stay for the night and sought the permission of the servant to rest in the Verandah itself. It was winter and the guest was suffering from cough. The next morning, the owner inquired from his servant as to who was coughing in the Verandah all night. The servant informed that the person was Dr. Rajendra Prasad.
Normally, we suffer from the importance bug even though we may be important only in our eyes. This feeling has been described in the scriptures as bodily consciousness, that is, we identify ourselves with our bodies. And feeling very important is described as heavy bodily consciousness. There is a difference between feeling important and feeling good by doing something important ; the later is fine. It is normal human tendency to approve whatever one does himself and to be critical of others. This is similar to what philosophers do to each other, that is, try to negate one others’ theories.
Then who is really important ? God, of course. Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad-Geeta declares : “There is no one superior to Me” (7.7). And it has been seen that if God is kept in the center, most of our disagreements sort themselves out.
So what is desirable ? One should follow the Lord’s instructions. In the Bhagavad-Geeta Lord Krishna instructs : “Treat everyone equally” ( 18.54 ). That is proper, since all souls are created equal. However, this does not mean that everyone is placed equally. Due to efforts of individuals, some are placed higher whereas others are lowly-placed. Still, they are individuals and should be treated humanely.
Seeking importance is in the “enjoying mode” whereas the living entity should be mainly in the “serving mode” and which brings real enjoyment. One should learn to do important things and at the same time feel humble. This is desirable, otherwise there are many many disadvantages. Importance becomes a primary driving force, whereas progress should be. One’s life revolves around wanting to feel important and trying to get attention. And when such importance is not forthcoming, one feels depressed and let down. Getting a lower position than what one assumes one deserves, hurts. One also tends to be envious of others, who are given more importance and can hardly bring himself to appreciate others.
Also, we tend to be either critical of others or hand out free advice in a “mood of superiority”. The glaring proof of this kind of this attitude can be found among political leaders who are ever critical of each other and are always giving sermons to others. And such importance seeking comes with a heavy price tag ; one is forced to do something important all the time which is, realistically speaking, not possible and is, in any case, highly stressful. There are many verses in the Bhagavad-Geeta which talk on this important topic : “One who keeps mental balance in criticism and appreciation, in honour and dishonour is considered transcendental” (17.24-25).
Another verse reads, “One who is equipoised in honour and dishonour is dear to Me”. (12.18-19). It is not that honour and dishonour are same or criticism and appreciation are equally welcome. What it means is that both should be taken in stride and one must strive for further improvement and progress. Appreciation and honour should not make us proud, and from criticism and dishonour we should learn important lessons rather than break-down or lament.
There was a girl who was a piano prodigy. Her teacher entered her name in a national piano competition. She performed very well but was placed third. Her teacher, who had heard the others was convinced that his pupil was the best. He, therefore, approached the judge of the competition who too agreed with the assessment of the girl’s teacher. But the judge felt that by giving such importance to her so early in her career would have negative influence on the girl. She may not strive very hard for further progress. And true to his assessment, this girl went on to become one of the best piano players of her times.
So it is wise to do one’s best, to keep a low profile, a low expectation and to give due importance to others. This will ensure proper recognition of oneself.