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In vivo spirituality: excerpt 1 of a lecture by Bahram Elahi, MD (and other excerpts)

As far as spirituality goes, a purely theoretical approach to principles, detached from actual practice, will not do. Not only is it inefficient, it constitutes a genuine impediment to spiritual progress: that of smugness or spiritual “superioritism”.

Professor Bahram Elahi spells this out in the following excerpt from a lecture given at the Sorbonne (Paris) in November 2011.

Further readings:

Searching for the divine Excerpt No. 2 – Searching for the divine

Natural spirituality gives a central role to reason, but it also recognises the full value of positive emotions in the process of perfection. In this question and answer session concluding a lecture he gave at the Sorbonne (Paris) in November 2011, Professor Elahi discusses this subjective or lived dimension of self-knowledge. [read more]

Our ultimate reality Excerpt No. 3 – Our ultimate reality

Nested in the cocoon of our ego like silkworms, we are unaware of what we really are. Bahram Elahi develops the metaphysical as well as ethical implications of this striking image. The reality of the self consists in a plurality of functions and levels of consciousness in dynamic interaction… [read more]

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  1. AJ Dec 03, 2012 2:46 am 1

    It is quite sobering to listen to the hard reality spelled by Dr.Elahi that pure intellectual exercise in teaching one-self principles of better ethical behavior is quite futile without the actual physical application of the learning in our daily routine life.

  2. Elsa Dec 03, 2012 5:29 pm 2

    In Vivo Spirituality: Excerpt of a lecture by B. Elahi, MD
    Excerpt No.1 – Spiritual Superioritism

    In order to acquire self-knowledge, as I have told you, you need to absorb the correct divine and ethical principles and then assimilate them.

    But how should you absorb them? Intellectually?

    Well yes, but there is more to it. What I mean is, if you learn by heart, intellectually, the correct divine and ethical principles, without ever seeking to practice them, you will never be able to know yourself. You won’t progress.

    You have to absorb these principles. And to absorb and assimilate them, you need to put them into practice yourself. In addition, you will need to gain in vivo knowledge-not in vitro, from the outside-in vivo of the powers that govern your psychospiritual organism and your psyche. And when you gain in vivo knowledge, it means that the truths that you are made of, become tangible to you. You live them, you feel them. That’s what self-knowledge is about.

    Those who archive divine and ethical principles in their memory are like people who have a house with a room full of prepared meals, but who place themselves in a state of spiritual anorexia, in the sense that they don’t eat, they don’t feel like eating. What does “not eating” mean here? It means that they don’t put anything into practice. So what happens? They archive in the room of their memory, the prepared meals-that is, the correct divine and ethical principles-but they don’t eat them. And what happens to anorexics who don’t eat? They become cachectic, powerless, weak. Well, the same thing happens to souls that don’t practice.

    So it is good for me to cite these principles, and if you organize lectures and learn things by heart, that’s wonderful, but if you don’t put the principles into practice, what you will develop within yourself is a spiritual smugness-as you know, “smugness” has a negative meaning-, a form of spiritual smugness that I have named “spiritual superioritism”. You think you know, but you don’t know anything. So let’s fight against spiritual superioritism. Let’s avoid archiving principles in our memory, Let’s try to put them into practice.

  3. k Dec 04, 2012 12:52 pm 3

    @Elsa: Thanks a lot Elsa for the transcript.

  4. Jimmy Dec 05, 2012 6:24 pm 4

    It would be interesting to identify manifestations of spiritual superioritism in our everyday interactions with people at work and society in general. For example, it could impact a willingness to socialize, which is an important component of self-knowledge and ascertaining our weaknesses. Any further thoughts and experiences would be greatly appreciated.

  5. Charlie Dec 08, 2012 8:11 pm 5

    @Jimmy I had an experience only yesterday when I was socialising and despite making lots of effort I felt that the person I was with found me boring. On my way home, to my absolute horror and surprise, I found myself inwardly disrespecting them and putting them down on the basis that they did not have the same belief system as me. I cannot tell you how shocked I felt at these thoughts even entering my mind. However, it was a good lesson to me that firstly, I really do not know myself and secondly, spiritual superioritism is a kind of ignorance.

  6. Anita Dec 11, 2012 1:03 pm 6

    Dear Elsa,

    I greatly appreciate you taking the time to transcript.

  7. MaryS Dec 11, 2012 10:38 pm 7

    What is the difference between spiritual superioritism and pride? Or are there any differences to begin with? Does spiritual superioritism stem from pride?

  8. Charlie Dec 13, 2012 11:35 am 8

    Everytime I come across the words “…the truths that you are made of, become tangible to you…”. I wonder what this will mean. Has anyone got any experience of what this means?

  9. wire Dec 17, 2012 2:19 am 9


    I think spiritual superioritism means taking pride in your own spiritual status (whatever level that may be).

  10. A. Dec 18, 2012 12:12 am 10


    If you read article Humility 3 – Detecting characteristics of consubstantial pride within oneself, you will see that pride manifests itself in 2 ways : superioritism and self-centredness

    Both of these flaws dramatically affect our relationships with others, our view of the world around us… I myself have suffered from intense superioritism for a long time without realizing it. Only after being demoted at work (see my article – “Keeping a logbook: a key to the practice of ethics”) did I realize how bad this flaw was. This superiority complex was a real plague and it affected numerous relations. For instance, I have a friend who is a bit lazy and laid back and I would regularly get irritated with him. Or I would be cold and detached with other friends because they would not understand the importance of spirituality (actually they did not listen to me). But it was me the one who did not understand (not them!), since being spiritual means being/behaving like a human being.

    With hindsight, these humiliations served as a divine therapy and I no longer feel this superiority complex as intensively as in the past. But with your imperious self you should never lower your guard. In fact I recently (re)discovered how touchy I could become when people did not pay attention to me (for example would not return my phone calls etc..). And this is the other way pride manifests itself (self-centredness) which I also described in my article.

  11. A. Dec 20, 2012 9:52 am 11

    As a follow up to my previous comment, I will briefly describe how I became aware that although my superiority complex had decreased somewhat, there was still a long way to go to treat my self-centredness.

    Here is my story : there is a person I really appreciate and admire, who has done a lot for me and whom I consider a role-model (for pretty much everything, and even more so for ethical behavior). His mere presence is a source of joy for me. It is also someone who is very, very (extremely) busy, and I had not seen him for about a year or so, until the day when I finally found myself in front of him. And it was then that, to my great surprise, I was overtaken by an extreme coldness, meaning that my relation to him was that of extreme coldness, almost indifference.

    Afterwards it took me several hours to understand that the source of this very unpleasent and awkward state had been my touchiness. In an unexpected way and without realizing it, I had been vexed that he had not had the time to see me during such a long time. The coldness that had overtaken me had resulted from my self-centredness. My touchiness had slyly taken over during the preceding months. The following days allowed for some careful analysis of my emotions, and lead me to conclude that the way to go was still very long and that I was to expect more unpleasent (but therapeutic) events/trials to treat my pride !!

  12. PS Dec 20, 2012 7:42 pm 12

    @A. When people don’t pay attention to you (e.g. they don’t return your phone calls.) and you get irritated by that, is it right to relate these cases directly to pride? I had the same experience recently. What is the right reaction? Do you have to remind yourself of how busy a life they have and try to be optimistic?

  13. henry Dec 21, 2012 1:08 am 13


    …very practical examples !

    Same experience with getting upset at people’s behaviors, and, moreover, people close to me. But why is that ?
    It can be a positive sign. It shows that I care for this person. On the opposite, it can also be a symptom of excessive judgement, pride or even jealousy.

    I try the following method: when I take a moment to dialogue with the One, at the end of it, I think about this relative with affection.

    In addition, I try to find arguments to block the opposite thoughts.

    No enough results to draw a conclusion yet. More practice is needed.
    The positive news is that I have unlimited funding !

  14. A. Dec 24, 2012 10:12 am 14

    @PS “I had the same experience recently. What is the right reaction? Do you have to remind yourself of how busy a life they have and try to be optimistic?”
    In my opinion the right reaction is to 1) tell yourself that you have probably done the same things to others (not returning their phone calls) 2) and that they are probably extremely busy or have not noticed the phone message. For instance, recently a person I know well had given me a very enthusiastic response about a project I had proposed, but had then not returned a single one of my phone calls, despite having promised to do the opposite. I became quite annoyed until my wife informed me of this person’s sudden + recent decision to get married!
    Another way to calm one’s negative emotions is to tell oneself that these are trials to test one’s self-centredness

    @A. “When people don’t pay attention to you (e.g. they don’t return your phone calls) and you get irritated by that, is it right to relate these cases directly to pride?”
    I would be tempted to answer yes, because the root of anger is often pride, in my experience. But this is limited to my experience and I am someone self-centred. Maybe that other visitors can analyse these experiences differently.

    @Henry Certainly reading Henry’s comment, jealousy could also be an explanation.

  15. Roxanne Dec 25, 2012 1:53 am 15

    Thanks to the deep lessons in this video, now I realized what I considered as simply lack of will power and a good excuse for not practicing the spirituality the way I should, is actually deeper than that and is a sign of malnourishment my soul, for I don’t put in practice the divine ethical principles that I know in theory.

  16. maxfarsh Dec 25, 2012 3:49 pm 16

    Thank you very much for this post. What I got from this is that Theory only seems to be useful when it is acted upon; and helps one to make and act upon spiritual decisions. Otherwise, having theories about spirituality without any action is even worse than not having them at all.

  17. m.m Dec 26, 2012 11:04 pm 17

    Thank you very much for the excerpt and comments. I am one of a few people in my extended family and friends who explicitly or rather consciously tries to practice spirituality. Yet, I can sometimes see astonishingly how other people without any claim about being spiritual make more ethical choices and behave more according to what I believe. These things make me humble since I feel, I have a very large wealth of knowledge without actually using it as if I’ve received a sizable inheritance but do not use it as capital investment for my future. But other people have a current salary gained by their own work. No human being in her right mind, can be proud of this situation since if one does not use the principles she has learned by heart, she will be held responsible for squandering her life time when she goes back to the other world.

  18. K Dec 31, 2012 3:54 pm 18

    I find the concept of superioritism very interesting. In spirituality, we only “really are” what we are assimilating by doing, and we do not become better by just “knowing better”.
    We are reminded about that when we are confronted to very humbling spiritual tests in everyday life.

    The importance of practice (which appears as an expression of humility, as you only practice if you acknowledge that you need to improve) becomes even more evident through an analogy with material life:
    You do not become a good soccer player by reading about soccer, even though theory has a role.

    The importance of practice and humility are I think well illustrated by the following, quite inspiring words of soccer legend Pelé:

    Rules to live by: Be polite and kind to everyone. Be honest and responsible. Always be humble. Always work hard and be totally devoted to whatever it is you’re doing.

    I was always very dedicated. I never did something just to do it. I would take it seriously and practice.

    I would try and practice a lot of the things I saw in the game.

    Everything is practice !!!

    In my childhood, discipline was everything.

    In sport as in life: there are defeats and there are victories.

    Everyone makes mistakes once in a while. The trick is to learn from them, not give in to them.

    The future is now. What you do now is creating the future.

  19. ZARA Jan 06, 2013 12:12 pm 19

    Thank you very much for the excerpt

  20. k Jun 19, 2013 6:14 pm 20

    I think in vivo should be understood like this: For example, if I get angry this faculty becomes tangible for me, I live it and I feel it. Therefore it is in vivo. I think everyone has pretty good in vivo knowledge of their terrestrial character units. But the art is to gain this form of knowledge of the celestial part of the characters.

  21. kbld Jun 22, 2013 6:32 pm 21

    Thank you for your reflection k.
    From what I understand, in vivo rather means that we have to /act/ in reality and in contact with others, to really act ethically, rather than only in our imagination. It leads to knowledge but that knowledge only comes after practice. Natural spirituality is a practical one: in vivo spirituality means in vivo practice of divine principles.

    We see manifestations of both parts of our psychological unconscious, but we don’t really know them. It is one thing to know that there is anger in you, it’s another to know this anger: when does it appear? How? Why? What for? Etc. It’s by fighting in real situations (as opposed to imaginary situations) where anger would appear, by analysing how, why etc. it came about, by concluding how to better prevent its apparition and by fighting it the next time that your knowledge will increase.
    Here is a real-life example I heard from someone. A person was wronged by somebody else. He developed rancour against this person. With time he ended up forgiving him. But in fact, it had been a long time since he had seen him, and the first time he saw him again, the anger that he thought was gone rapidly reappeared and expanded and he took his revenge. This shows that he had practiced in vitro (in vitro spirituality).
    In vivo spirituality when it comes to anger means to have the opportunity to take one’s revenge, to cheat, to speak ill of someone toward whom we would be angry, but to refrain from doing it, or at least to fight against this urge and try not to do it. And if we fail, analyse why, and try again next time, in the same /real/ conditions.

    But beware, in vitro spirituality isn’t a bad thing, it can be very useful. In this example, it prepares oneself for in vivo practice. It’s almost a necessary primary step. It’s like learning by heart divine principles, reading spiritual books and so on. “It’s wonderful”. But it isn’t sufficient for the growth of our spirit, for the development of our knowledge. We have to do the second step, i.e. apply what we have learned (from readings), implement it in reality, act accordingly when in contact with others (once we have “acted” in our head to clean our wounds). If we stay at the first step, we develop “spiritual superioritism”, which is another subject.

    I hope this helps…

  22. pzlz Aug 31, 2013 7:28 pm 22

    So well said kbld. I am appalled by the example you gave and found myself in a very similar situation, fighting my jealousy inwardly, even praying and sending good vibes over to the subject and thinking proudly that I am practicing in-vivo! The minute I came in contact with the subject all the hidden emotions ascended and there I was, not being able to control them and got very close to acting upon them (in fact I would have, if I had the opportunity). So now what…? I guess while I am doing the in-vitro in my lab (which I love it… it feels so secure!) I need to keep telling me: this is not enough man… watch out for the real thing… you’ve got to take the next step => “live action”!

  23. adissam May 11, 2018 12:35 am 23

    The knowledge I have access to can indeed make me feel superior and sometimes condescending towards others. But I have experienced that when someone else is having this kind of attitude towards me, it hurts. I can now feel the effect.
    A method I’ve found useful is when such a behavior occurs or when I’m losing my composure, I recall the level of patience that others have shown towards me in the past. It is an humbling reminder.

  24. Emily Nov 21, 2018 3:32 am 24

    This is very inspirational. Thank you for the video. I learned so much on what in vivo and in vitro means and want to apply it to myself.

  25. tom Jul 09, 2019 2:11 pm 25

    These words are particularly impactful for me lately as I try to implement a daily practice of attentive prayer (attention-dialogue):

    “They become cachectic, powerless, weak. Well, the same thing happens to souls that don’t practice.”

    -cachexia: weakness and wasting of the body due to severe chronic illness.

    This imagery of a wasting away of my soul is particularly impactful.

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