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“Pragmatists” and “idealists”: a lecture by Bahram Elahi, MD (excerpts)

The principles of a correct education of thought are not matters of intellectual speculation: it is through practice that they bear fruit. But what does putting them into practice actually mean? Bahram Elahi answers this question by pointing out the dangers of overly abstract approaches to practice and self-transformation. It is not enough to consider the principles in theory, or even to self-suggest them daily with the best willpower in the world: in order to “concretely feel” them, we must pitch them against reality. Our reluctance to do so evinces a deeply rooted tendency of our psyche. Bahram Elahi describes it as a form of “idealism”. He goes on to explain how it runs against the pragmatic approach favoured by natural spirituality.

This issue is developed in the following two excerpts from a lecture given at the Sorbonne in February 2014. Any resemblance to real persons or actual facts is entirely non-accidental!

Excerpt 1
On the distinction between “pragmatists” and “idealists”



Excerpt 2
Pragmatism and idealism: consequences on spiritual practice?



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35 comments

  1. nnf Dec 06, 2015 9:38 pm 1

    Thank you for these great videos!

  2. shay Dec 06, 2015 11:50 pm 2

    Amazing lecture. Thank you for giving us hope to continue to look for, study and practice authentic divine principles.

  3. Yan Dec 07, 2015 12:04 am 3

    I am literally overwhelmed by this lecture! After watching it, I enthusiastically told myself: alright! NOW I understand, I learned, and know what to do, and I was so happy for a few moments, but I quickly remembered that it is explicitly emphasized “We learn the principle well; we learn them by heart, and we think that’s what it means to practice and we suggest them to ourselves. (…) we end up believing that we know things perfectly, that we concretely feel their truth, but in reality, that is not the case.” so, I concluded: this could happen here as well, if I don’t put what I could learn from this lecture into practice in vivo. So, I hope that I can find a proper way of practicing in vivo in my daily life. And I would like to start this with the new “one-day-one-maxim” lab on OstadElahi-inpractice.

    1. SG Dec 11, 2015 5:54 am 3.1

      What a great idea to put these lectures into practice by doing the “one-day-one-maxim” lab on OstadElahi-inpractice.

      1. AA Dec 13, 2015 11:14 pm 3.1.1

        I’ve started the One day one Maxim lab. What a fantastic way to help me in my practice in vivo in my day to day life.
        Thank you for these videos

  4. David Dec 07, 2015 1:05 am 4

    Thank you so much for this eye-opening lecture on how to draw closer to the One.

    I mostly identified with the idealist. Most of the time, I think I’m right and feel superior to my peers. From this perspective, this world truly feels like a gold-mine of opportunities to know my limitations and become more humble. The One sees to this, by compassionately orchestrating scenarios that force me to face my weaknesses. This realization fills my heart with gratitude.

  5. Elsa Dec 07, 2015 2:54 pm 5

    A lecture by Prof. Bahram Elahi
    La Sorbonne, February 2014
    Excerpt 1
    On the distinction between “pragmatists” and the “idealists”

    In the course of a lifetime, gradually—no one knows why, I don’t know if it is genetic—some children and adults naturally favour what is concrete and practical, while others favour imagination and intellectual speculation.
    Those who have what we call a “pragmatic” mindset will try to engage in concrete experiments. That is, when they want to do something, when they are faced with something, they feel that if they don’t turn to concrete practice, they will not be able to grasp the truth of that thing or that problem.
    Conversely, those that we call “idealists” do not feel that it is necessary to put anything into practice. That’s the difference. It is an inner feeling: pragmatists feel that they need to practice things to understand their profound meaning or their truth, while idealists believe that their intellect is sufficient for them to understand.
    For example, when pragmatists want to make others understand the meaning of something, they engage with reality, they put things into practice and draw conclusions on the basis of their experiments, and that’s the way they develop their mind.
    Since pragmatists go out and face concrete situations, they are necessarily made aware of their limits and, above all, their weaknesses. As a result they become more humble, because when you become aware of your weaknesses, you become more humble. Idealists, however, do not delve into concrete situations, so they do not come up against obstacles and they do not concretely feel their limits and weaknesses. And naturally, when we are like that, we develop a certain smugness and we become more or less, I don’t want to say arrogant, but more or less arrogant.
    I don’t know if you are pragmatists or idealists. Idealists, in their imagination, believe that nobody understands better than they do. They are the ones who understand best. They are always right; that’s what they say. Whereas pragmatists admit that they could possibly be wrong. They are more modest.
    But the examples I have just given are the two extremes. In reality, I don’t want to say everyone, but the majority of us are somewhere between the two: some tend toward pragmatism and others toward idealism. But the psyche—or the mind—is malleable. Consequently, any idealist who begins practicing, with a set plan and in real life, will gradually become a pragmatist.

  6. Elsa Dec 07, 2015 4:13 pm 6

    A lecture by Prof. Bahram Elahi
    La Sorbonne, February 2014
    Excerpt 2
    Pragmatism and Idealism: consequences on spiritual practice
    Let’s say an individual wants to develop humanity within himself. Someone, a person, hurts him, harms him, harms him greatly. But because he wants to develop his humanity, he doesn’t want to hold a grudge. He wants to wash away grudges from his mind. So, if he is an idealist, what does he do? He delves into his mental space again and, through self-suggestion, he tries to persuade himself that he should forgive, that he should love that person, and so on. And then, in his mind, by dint of self-suggestion, he manages to forgive and he is happy. He imagines that he has forgiven that person. But as soon as he encounters that person, concretely, in real life, he realizes that he hasn’t forgiven him at all. He is still bearing that grudge. So this idealist has practiced in vitro, that is, he hasn’t experimented concretely in the face of reality.
    Now if he is a pragmatist, what does he do? In such a situation, he goes toward the other person; if he can, he draws closer to him, he socializes with him and gradually, as they are in contact with each other, at some point they even become friends. This person has experimented concretely in real life. He has forgiven and has even become friends with the other person. Spirituality is like that. You have to delve into the reality of things and to put things into practice concretely, in vivo. What does that mean? It means in contact with realities: you emerge from your own self, you establish contact with reality and you practice in real and concrete situations rather than have everything take place in your own thoughts. When it’s like that … So, in vitro experience is not a bad thing, but it is not very fruitful. It is a failing that we all share a little.
    We learn the principles well; we learn them by heart and we think that’s what it means to practice and we suggest them to ourselves. By dint of self-suggestion, we end up believing that we know things perfectly, that we concretely feel their truth, but in reality, that is not the case. When it comes to truth, you need to concretely feel it to know what it is. And when you concretely feel it, your sound reason develops; from a developed sound reason emanates love; a love of what? A love of Truth. You no longer need states of ecstasy, or the use of gestures, or to meditate. You don’t need any of that. A scientist, a scholar who loves his science, who is in love with his science, always works on his science. He doesn’t need to be encouraged; he is always self-encouraged. And he doesn’t get tired. He doesn’t need anyone to motivate him; he is always self-motivated. Well, I would like us to reach that point. I would like your sound reason to sufficiently develop and to create in you, in us, the love of Truth. And when that love settles in, you see, it doesn’t go away, you are serene, you have hope in the future, you feel good, you feel good.

  7. Matt Dec 07, 2015 6:24 pm 7

    Thank you for posting this video!

  8. JWY Dec 07, 2015 10:49 pm 8

    Thank you for sharing these videos.
    It felt like I was sitting in on the lecture in class at the Sorbonne!
    In hope that I can put the presented material into practice in vivo.

  9. Holly Dec 07, 2015 11:47 pm 9

    Thank you very much for sharing the above lectures. Very motivating and encouraging . I feel so empowered and hope to be able to put the above into practice.

  10. Pierre Dec 07, 2015 11:50 pm 10

    The timing of this video could not be better. I was trying to find myself a practical exercise associated with a maxim from the book 100 Maxims of Guidance by Ostad Elahi, I can see now how I was deceiving myself by choosing an exercise the idealist would pick, one that is not as fruitful.

  11. H Dec 08, 2015 1:10 am 11

    These videos could not have come at a better time. It caused me to reflect and realize that although I would like to call myself a pragmatist, I am still very much an idealist. This gave me motivation to analyze myself more closely and gave me hope for the future, as Dr. Elahi said.

  12. Nik Dec 08, 2015 9:43 am 12

    Many thanks for these videos. I feel that being a pragmatist requires me to fight with several fears I have: fear of seeming weak in front of others, fear of losing my status, fear of failing exams, etc.

  13. Coco Dec 08, 2015 3:30 pm 13

    I find this to be very helpful and encouraging. It helps me to better understand my own behavior and the necessity to move myself into more action sooner.

  14. Ia Dec 08, 2015 9:25 pm 14

    I love the final words…that if we are in love with Truth, like a scientist is in love with science, then we do not have to worry anymore, and we are just fine, we are fine! How glorious yet simple!!
    What a great moment to hear these words. Just as our struggles here and there, at work, with friends, wherever come to need encouragements, to realize: yes, I am trying, I went “into the field” there but was avoiding that other person. Now I know I can go and sit at lunch with someone toward whom I bore a grudge, who irked me terribly, who did me and maybe in a sense continues to do me wrong, and yet feel like all I need to do is begin and the result will come over time. And that I will be directed also in my effort by my sound reason that will increase with the practice.
    Dr. Elahi says with the love of Truth, with the increase of pragmatism we no longer need ecstasy and gestures…but I do feel very happy and elated about the prospects of the plasticity of my brain and the fantastic drive I can potentially have from this love of Truth.

  15. ma Dec 09, 2015 1:16 am 15

    So logical, so true, and so encouraging to put every learned theory into practice (in vivo).
    Thank you for these videos.

  16. mahnaz Dec 09, 2015 11:17 pm 16

    thank you so much. it is a great lecture.

  17. A. Dec 13, 2015 9:58 am 17

    By listening to this lecture I can’t avoid thinking about missed opportunities for an effective practice: such and such a person has not kept his/her word and put me in a difficult situation. I tell myself that I have forgotten, I have forgiven him/her but as soon as he/she shows up, I avoid the person under the pretext that I no longer want to to deal with such a person …. and one should instead do one’s outmost to become friend with him/her – only way to really ensure you have forgiven him/her. Quite an amazing change of perspective indeed !!! It is only when you do this that you really grow into a true human being.

  18. yocto Dec 14, 2015 8:31 am 18

    This concept is fascinating to me. I think he is being very lenient where he says: “It is a failing that we all share a little.” This failing is a disease, a mental disorder, that I have been carrying in my genes for centuries. Why? let’s blame my ancestors a little bit. Nobody ever told me before that truth can only be realized when you put them into practice in the manner he’s discussed. Not my parents, not my congregation, not my teachers, not the scriptures, definitely not any of the philosophers or thinkers or poets I know.

    For me, God has always been the source of power, miracle, salvation, and rescue whenever I am in trouble, I don’t know sort of an insurance company! I give something, mind you every once in while, like offerings, prayers, little acts of kindness, little sacrifices quote unquote, and expect Him to cover me for EVERYTHING, in this world and the other! I was never told that I have to “experiment” this spirituality thing like an experimental science without expecting anything in return. It had never crossed my mind to ask myself whether I really “know” what compassion means or is it just in my head? I was never told how to take it out of my head and bring it to reality, let alone experimenting it in real world in contact with other human subjects and observe the results, and keep on experimenting again and again until I grasp the truth of it? It has always been the job of our scientists to do the experiments and the hard work, and bring the results back to us. I thought I can just sit back and learn and enjoy the knowledge!

    It feels like I have built a house made of cardboard and now that I want to enjoy living in it, I realize it is not livable. This approach is a paradigm shift and for some reason feels very uncomfortable and scary. Maybe because I am so used to and take such a pleasure in in-vitro practices. At the same time, it does feel exciting though. It’s like I am on the verge of opening a door to an unknown realm of beauty and truth, where I can touch, feel, and see things that I have never touched, felt, and seen before, only if I open the door and walk through it.

    1. H Dec 29, 2015 8:50 pm 18.1

      Wow. I really enjoyed reading your thoughts and experience. It is so interesting to see the various ways the teachings of Ostad Elahi impact people of all walks of life and the different ways they speak to people.

  19. HSH Dec 17, 2015 11:12 am 19

    All of my family members have now listened to (or read the texts of) these interesting videos which truly helped us better understand what in vivo action means. The most important point in the 2nd video is trying to (really) become friends with people we are not much interested in. Trying to do so will improve our faculty of doing good and thinking good of others, as advised by Ostad Elahi. God help us to be able to properly accomplish our duties as He wish us to.

    1. Saga Dec 18, 2015 8:41 pm 19.1

      Hi HSH, I might be wrong, but I think there is not just one formula. I believe Dr. Elahi is saying that the pragmatist would try to put various ways into action to learn more about his limitations and also to understand which way is the correct way to behave in a specific situation, whereas the idealist would just sit and reflect. Therefore, I don’t believe that he is saying that we should always be nice to someone who has done us wrong, because he states: “Let’s say an individual wants to develop humanity within himself.” Perhaps it is more urgent for me to develop dignity at this point and I should learn how to stand up for myself and not become friends with someone who has done me wrong. That’s why it is so difficult, because we have to learn through in vivo practice to develop our sound reason. I hope my humble opinion can be of help.

      1. HSH Dec 22, 2015 10:06 am 19.1.1

        Dear Saga, many thanks for your kind and valuable comments which helped me better understand this lecture. You are absolutely right, but my weak point in such situations forces me (maybe due to a kind of shyness, or…) not to have the right behavior and realizing the borderline between two different arenas: “trying to become closer to someone who has already done something bad to me” and “just forgiving such a person, washing away grudges from my mind”? Of course, I should depend upon my sound reason (as much as I can), but sometimes (especially among my close family members, colleagues, etc…) I cannot tell which reaction would be the right one (as an in vivo action). By the way, any recommendation in this regard would be highly appreciated.

      2. Saga Dec 23, 2015 7:41 pm 19.1.2

        Dear HSH, I believe that most, if not all, of us struggle with this. Have you seen the TV serie House (Dr. House)? It might be far from the truth of how a physician treats a patient, but I think it’s a great analogy on how to practice in vivo. Dr. House treats a symptom as if it’s the root to the cause, but as he treats it, other symptoms come up that prove that the first was only a symptom and not the main cause of the problem. So he then starts treating what he now thinks is the problem, but then that turns out to be another symptom. This continues for the entire hour episode until he and his team realize, by treating the various symptoms, what the main cause is and finally find the real treatment. That is a pragmatic approach, whereas the idealist would not treat the symptoms and worry what the real cause is and just reflect on the matter. So for example, you mensioned that you are shy, so start working in vivo on your shyness by approaching people daily, talk to strangers etc. After a while you might notice that you’re actually not shy because it’s easy to approach strangers and that it is only difficult to approach your boss. So you start to email suggestions to the boss and even set up a meeting with him/her to force yourself to talk with the person. You notice that you feel more confident in yourself even though the other person is very difficult to talk to. You realize it is that person and not you. So you now have to work on arrogance and not talk bad about your boss and you continue and continue like this without focusing on the end result. Of course, not to forget, to connect with the One to receive proper guidance on the way. I hope this could be helpful.

  20. HSH Dec 27, 2015 10:07 am 20

    Dear Saga, you have indicated to some great and comprehensive points somehow covering my daily struggles. Your suggested in vivo formula is very true; the only matter is doing the same in a proper manner for which (as you said) I ask Him to help me trying to do so, to achieve the goal gradually. By the way, thanks so much for your kind consideration and support, it is valuable to me.

  21. Saga Dec 29, 2015 9:37 am 21

    Dear HSH, I’m glad it was helpful.
    Just wanted to also point out pages 36-37 in Medicine of the Soul, that explain how to put divine ethical principles into practice. In short a)the principes must be practiced on a repeated basis, b)they should be absorbed in their entirety, c)the practice of principles must be varied, d) it must be contextually appropriate, and d) the principles must be practiced in a balanced manner.
    Also, Malak Jan Nemati states: “To be good with those who are bad is a feat; otherwise, everyone is good to those who are virtuous. Just ensure that in doing so, you do not mistake foolishness for honesty and integrity. A fool is honest without being discerning, so he is duped by everyone, whereas a wise person recognizes who he is dealing with but interacts with him in a way that is both honest and cautious so as not to be duped, for he wants to instill integrity within himself.” (Leili Anvar, Malak Jan Nemati, page 132)
    Best wishes to us all!

    1. HSH Jan 02, 2016 2:30 pm 21.1

      Dear Saga, thanks so much for all the points you have indicated. All of your pointers and recommendations are true and well-timed for me, which is very appreciated. God willing, I will try my best to implement them in vivo.

  22. NAGHME Jan 04, 2016 9:56 pm 22

    As an idealist who has been trying to become a pragmatic for the last few years here are my thoughts.

    The problem with idealism is that an idealist assumes that everyone sees things the same way, unfortunately.
    A pragmatic would say not everyone is going to go along with that approach whereas an idealist would expect them to.

    The other issue I have is that idealism is not solutions based.
    If you are trying to address a societal illness idealists tend to be inflexible on the approach that is to be used, or unwilling to modify the approach because it falls outside the ideal.

    p.s:
    Simple Definition of pragmatism: a reasonable and logical way of doing things or of thinking about problems that is based on dealing with specific situations instead of on ideas and theories.

  23. pzlz Jan 09, 2016 8:04 pm 23

    If my boss is a dictator and doesn’t care about my opinion, and has a condescending attitude, and I just want him off my back, to leave me alone so I can do my job, what would a good in vivo act look like? Before, I used to convince myself that it’s karma which was a okay because it helped me better accept the situation, but now I need an action item. I don’t know what to do.

    1. Yan Jan 11, 2016 4:23 am 23.1

      If I were you I would do the following:

      In vitro:
      Try not to hate him as much as I can. Try to love him by thinking that he is a human being, like me with some strengths and weaknesses. Try not to see his weaknesses and try to find his strengths. Then try to appreciate those strenghts.

      He also might need some attention, so I would give it to him.

      Then:

      In vivo:
      As long as by following his way of doing things I don’t kill the project and I don’t violate the rights of others; I would:

      Follow his way of doing things. Genuinely, ask for his input and value his input (after all he could be right about so many things) and forget about how I think and how I’d like things to be done.

    2. Saga Jan 11, 2016 10:28 pm 23.2

      Here are some suggestions that might help:
      1)See if you have similar faults as your boss, times when you acted the same, and work on not doing that to others.
      2)Listen to your close ones what they consider to be your flaws and analyze their criticisms, so you can work on them and see if that will help in this situation.
      3)Learn and emulate the positive behavior and qualities of others. What would someone you respect do in your situation and then try to do the same.

  24. tore May 27, 2017 2:31 am 24

    I realize the difficulty of the in vitro/in vivo work like a researcher would with his science as mentionned in the second exerpt.
    For example, by looking at this website’s link in my bookmarks, I thought “argh no, if I go visit this site I may have to work!”
    Reflecting upon this thought, I realized it sounded as if a scientist had just told himself “argh no, am not going to read the work of others!”.
    Being myself a scientist, it’s actually always a pleasure (if not a necessity) to read articles by other researchers in the field.

  25. tom Nov 27, 2018 2:49 pm 25

    Is it correct to say that a Pragmatist is someone who practices spirituality in vivo, and an idealist is someone who ONLY practices spirituality in vitro?

  26. Saga Dec 02, 2018 9:01 pm 26

    “In reality, I don’t want to say everyone, but the majority of us are somewhere between the two: some tend toward pragmatism and others toward idealism. But the psyche—or the mind—is malleable. Consequently, any idealist who begins practicing, with a set plan and in real life, will gradually become a pragmatist.”

    A lecture by Prof. Bahram Elahi
    La Sorbonne, February 2014
    Excerpt 1
    On the distinction between “pragmatists” and the “idealists”

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