There is a modern tendency to diminish greatness, to reduce everything that is great and beautiful and breathing of divinity into something commonplace and trivial. It is often justified by saying that the failings of great ones gives one a greater inspiration rather than if he or she is defied! Strange logic is this since if the great ones are very much like us then there is hardly any inspirational value in their life. Sri Aurobindo points out this often pernicious tendency to reduce all greatness to our own human stature. What we forget is that all greatness belongs to god and when we appreciate greatness in any form we are indirectly appreciating God or His executive power Nature. True the man may ignorantly think that his greatness belongs to him or it is because of him but even a little reflection is enough to show us that there is nothing which man can legitimately call as his own, not even the body that he claims to be his, leave alone greatness of energies and forces that move him. Besides the same vices and defects can have different origins in different people. In some it is because of a rather early primitive plan of nature, an asuric and rakshasic type of humanity. In others it is because of an abundant energy flowing through unregulated channels. In still others it is part of a divine strategy wherein a problem of human nature is being worked out through a person. The Divine takes into account all these things that remain hidden to the human eye. He sees the hidden lines, the play of forces at work and many other things. Nor does it prevent the Divine from making use of a person full of vices if he can be used as a powerful instrument for a certain kind of work:
People have begun to try to prove that great men were not great, which is a very big mistake. If greatness is not appreciated by men, the world will become mean, small, dull, narrow and tamasic.
It is the power in them [great men] that is great and that power comes from the Divine—by their actions and greatness they help the world and aid the cosmic purpose. It does not matter whether they have ego or not—they are not doing Yoga.
Why should he [the Divine] care [about the vices of great men]? Is he a policeman? So long as one is in the ordinary nature, one has qualities and defects, virtues and vices. When one goes beyond, there are no virtues and vices,—for these things do not belong to the Divine Nature.
CWSA 28: 504 – 506
Perhaps it may give us hope that we too can take the ascent and walk the difficult path if those who walked before us were also like us. There is no doubt some merit in this argument but let us pause at this truth to get its full value and tremendous import. First of all while it is alright to take it that the great had their failings and so do we, it is equally important to understand that they did not rise to greatness by indulging in their failings but either by mastering them or else going past them leaving them in its place while they trail-blazoned their way like a comet or meteor dropping its dust behind. One does not become half as great by having the same defect as the luminous ones. It is rather understood that no human being assuming a human form will be perfect. If nothing else than the mere fact of taking up an imperfect human body composed of the stamp of animality for millennia it will have its own weaknesses inbuilt by nature. Whether explicit or implicit it is to be understood. But what is important is that despite being born as any of us and despite taking up a defective human body prone to disease, error, suffering and all the rest they rose up in wings of fire. Each time they fell they refused to give up but got up again and kept striving towards the goal regardless of consequences to their own personal life. For they know that the ego must be crucified for the Truth to finally prevail. It is this aspect that is inspiring. It is those aspects of their life that show us how we should be and what we should be not only in the face of danger and difficulty but also when fortune smiles and success showers itself. What is important is to know what truly helped them to become what they became, regardless of defects or their absence. It was this understanding that led to the deification of certain great and luminous beings in the eyes of humanity.