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The three aspects of practicing

By - Jan 3, 2010 - Category Articles - Print Print - Version française

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The purpose of life? To reach perfection, Ostad Elahi answers. To lead your soul to maturity, a state in which you perfectly control your impulses while respecting your very nature. A state that is the prime condition of inner freedom. Granted, perfection is to be attained, but how? Through action, Ostad Elahi insists, and he reminds us that in this matter as in many others, “practice makes perfect.” For while thinking and talking may awaken the desire to change and may help us find ways that can lead to this change, contemplating a virtue is not enough to actually develop one. It is imperative that action take over from words and lead to practice. But not just any kind of practice.

Ostad Elahi sums up the sort of practice that is essential to the process of perfection along three main lines:

  • being attentive to the Source;
  • struggling against the imperious self;
  • helping others.

1) Being attentive to the Source – a meditative attitude

In Ostad Elahi’s system of thought, as in most philosophies dealing with the spiritual dimension, the existence of all beings originates from a transcendent and generous Intelligence ruling over the creation of the world, its preservation and its evolution. All beings are thus ultimately related to a unique Source which is precisely this transcendent Intelligence. One could of course use the term God here; but when the question is how to establish an interior relationship and even an exchange with the divine element present in each of us, Ostad Elahi usually prefers using the term Source which gives a more concrete idea of the link between the self and the original source from which we originate and by which we are sustained. Add to this the fact that the word God is so loaded with connotations today that it would be difficult to use it without creating all sorts of misunderstandings.

Attention to the Source is an interior meditative attitude that consists in trying to find a form of communication with the divine. Bahram Elahi calls it natural meditation. The aim of this relation is to reach a sort of understanding of oneself and of the world that is in accordance with what is right. I focus my attention on the Source in order to grasp the inspiration that can give a direction to my life, my thoughts, my words and my acts. The subtle energy picked up while doing this positively “catalyses” my reasoning; this allows me to assess the ethical value of my action before acting. Then, when the question “Is the decision I am about to make ethically correct?” arises, the answer comes intuitively, like an echo in my enlightened consciousness.

This attitude consisting in referring to God in the ordinary acts of our daily life is not in itself enough to construct a moral approach. It only provides our soul and our conscience with the energy required for guiding our reason when we try to act ethically and consequently must engage in a struggle against the imperious self.

2) Struggling against the imperious self – a reflective and rational attitude

The imperious self refers to all our thoughts, intentions, desires and behaviours that are intentionally harmful to others or to ourselves. Now, we mustn’t go against the legitimate desires necessary to our physical and psychological balance, but only give up those yearnings whose gratification would harm other people’s bodies or souls and our own as well. This ethical approach relies on the correct use of reason and on the conscious and wilful task of education of thought, an education which consists in enlightening thought by constantly looking at ourselves through our relation with others. It has nothing to do with applying some “closed” morality with a ready-made code or set of rules. The struggle against the imperious self is a rational and open way of practicing ethics: all our reflective and inventive resources need to be mobilised.

“It is in the daily tests of life that fighting against the imperious self takes on meaning.” In writing this, B. Elahi makes it clear that working on oneself does not require devoting some special time to that purpose beyond one’s involvement in social, professional or family life. On the contrary, fighting against the imperious self is exceptionally fruitful as it involves all the facets of our existence and can thus be undertaken anytime and anywhere, as long as we remember to keep a spiritual look on our life in general.

Adopting a spiritual outlook on life means being convinced that whatever happens to us, whether pleasant or not, is meaningful and can always be an opportunity to develop our knowledge of ourselves and delve deeper into this knowledge. Such a perspective brings us to pay particular attention to those aspects of our daily lives that may reflect the image of our own imperious self and of our weak points.

One example should make this clear.

A couple goes to a dinner party. They meet Isabelle, a charming woman who enjoys talking about herself advantageously. On the way back, the couple exchanges their impressions. She says: “What a tiresome evening!” and he says: “Really? I thought the atmosphere was very nice. We should invite Isabelle one of these days.”
This commonplace experience of an event giving rise to opposite emotions in people who are close illustrates the following point: the way we see the world often teaches us as much about ourselves as about the others and the world itself. In our example, the discrepancy in the emotions expressed by the two characters most certainly stems from the fact that meeting Isabelle brought very different weak points into play: “she” has obviously resented Isabelle’s manners, and her reaction betrays a hint of jealousy; “he”, on the other hand, may have been a little too susceptible to the charm of Isabelle, as indicated by his overly positive appreciation of the evening.

So, to struggle against the imperious self:

  • We need to admit that the source of our emotions—pleasant or not—is in ourselves. For example, the displeasure felt in the presence of someone is not only caused by that person, but can also result from a feeling of rivalry, for example. Undeniably, it is rather out of place for someone to systematically push themselves forward; but if I get irritated about it, and so irritated that I become somewhat hostile, then chances are that the real origin of that irritation is in me. What really proves this is that in other contexts and with other people, I am not bothered at all by such behaviour. I can even feel quite indulgent at times with someone who is obviously striving, albeit awkwardly, to attain a certain social position.
  • Once we have accepted that the source of negative energy is in ourselves, we need to endeavour to control it, first of all by not expressing it in acts. Let us note that the point here is not to try to master an impulse by denying it, but rather to acknowledge its existence in order to analyse how it is manifested and how we can use its energy for noble objectives.

In the context of the process of perfection, a struggle is usually considered something austere, boring and sad, in which you are constantly curbing and restricting yourself. But if we consider it in an active way, within the dynamic process leading to self-knowledge, it actually appears to be a just and salutary cause for both oneself and others. When this struggle is carried out with the goal of ethical perfection, it can even prove to be a source of pleasure.

3) Helping others – a humanistic attitude

For Ostad Elahi, the world is a laboratory where we can practice ethical and divine principles and be confronted with the trials that will help our soul mature, for the soul cannot attain perfection without confronting the world and interacting with others. In this respect, one of the most fruitful ways of interacting with others consists in helping them; for keeping this objective in mind will naturally help us to stop focusing on ourselves alone and overcome our natural selfishness and self-centeredness. Ideally, one principle should rule our conduct in this world: to wish for others what we wish for ourselves and to refrain from wishing for others what we do not wish for ourselves. At a higher level, it entails fighting to protect others in the same way we would fight for ourselves. Those who adopt such a line of conduct will always be ready to act in the interest of others even if it involves losing something for themselves.

In order for us to gain a real spiritual benefit, we need to make sure that our intention really is to help others and not to stand out and be admired. Ostad Elahi sets forth practical conditions to accompany the act of giving. These are necessary for the “alchemy” to work: our intention should be as close as possible to a true humanistic impulse; our gift to one person should by no means be detrimental to another person or be irreparably harmful to ourselves.

The ultimate reason sustaining this ideal is the idea that hidden in the heart of each human being is a divine particle. Being of service to others is being of service to this particle of light in each individual. Attracting the hearts of others is tantamount to attracting divine grace.

Two remarks to conclude:

  1. Each of these three practical lines is connected with one of the three facets of human existence: God, the self and others. The first line of action (being attentive to the Source) connects you to the divine source, your creator, who will instil in you, by means of this connection, the energy necessary to succeed in the two other fields. The second line of action (struggling against the imperious self) connects you to yourself—to your real self—insofar as controlling one’s imperious self naturally leads to increasing one’s self-knowledge. The third line (helping others) connects you to others, human or otherwise, that are to be considered fully-fledged beings, equally worthy of respect.
  2. This threefold practice is not just compatible with a normal social and family life; it can actually only take place within the framework of an active social life. This shows just how different the idea of living one’s spirituality in the heart of society is from a mere concession made to the conditions of modern life. It is in fact an integral part of the process of perfection itself, as living a full social and family life means being permanently confronted with others as well as with one’s imperious self.


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25 comments

  1. Melody Jan 03, 2010 8:44 am 1

    Pay attentionto how jealousy can change who you are!
    I notice that I am not comfortable around one of my female co-worker. All I know is that I am not being very nice and friendly to her. These feelings close me down and don’t allow me to connect with her. It creates distance and makes a wall between us. It’s a very draining emotion.
    The important thing to remember is I need to learn not to compare myself to others with what they have. If I am still feeling jealous then I know I am focusing on the wrong things.
    This experience makes me learn about myself and my weak points. I notice that when I judge my co-worker, I highlight my own insecurities, fears and feelings of insufficiency.
    If I hadn’t gone through this experience, I might not have been made aware of desire to be center of attention.
    Thanks so much very appreciated. The article is very helpful.

  2. Mahdi Jan 03, 2010 8:09 pm 2

    That was a great read, thank you!
    The American sociologist Malcolm Gladwell points out in one of his books, that by practicing a total of 10000 hours through life or 3 hours a day, one becomes a master of its art and perfect in his subject. I always had the idea that with attention to the source, both the output will be higher and also, one really needs to do less. I think that if we would just pay attention most of the time and being reflective on our actions at the end of the day or week, with the right intention, we can have spiritual success much earlier and faster.

  3. Erin Jan 03, 2010 8:11 pm 3

    Thank you for this article. It is very educational in that it has shown me that correct spiritual practice is both reflective and rational and not just about applying “closed morality” blindly.
    To adopt a spiritual outlook I have to reflect and be rational and most important act rather than talk.

  4. Calvin Jan 04, 2010 1:33 am 4

    A nicely set out three step approach to a long and challenging quest.
    Although the meditative state adds an energy component to assist in the fight against the imperious self, I find it difficult to stay focused enough to attain such a meditative attitude during any typical day.

  5. Veronica Jan 04, 2010 3:48 am 5

    The examples brought everything into life for me. Also, loved the conclude remarks.

  6. max farsh Jan 05, 2010 5:57 am 6

    Thank you for the succinct and yet very beneficial article.

    I specially liked the line: “The first line of action (being attentive to the Source) connects you to the divine source, your creator, who will instill in you, by means of this connection, the energy necessary to succeed in the two other fields. ”
    Ostad Elahi also states:
    “The best weapon against the imperious self is faith/belief (in God).”

    Two questions I would like to pose based on reading this article to the writer or other readers:

    A) How do we increase our faith? Possibly, does the other two line of actions mentioned in article also help in increasing our connection to the divine Source? This would make a closed loop system between the three points mentioned by the author.

    B) The article states: “For Ostad Elahi, the world is a laboratory where we can practice ethical and divine principles”. This does make perfect sense and being someone in the technology field, I’ll use the loose analogy that if an equipment is not tested in the real world, its problem will not be known and hence it cannot be perfected (to the human degree possible) or made workable.
    Paradoxically though, with the advent of the internet, wirless phones and mass communication systems, we seem (at least many of us in developed countries) to be less interacting with people and spending more time behind the monitor, cellphone and keyboard. That is despite the explosion of the human population, our real world interaction with other humans has decreased. In a way, with technology one has the means to isolate themselves. Asides from the psychological and health issues this may raise, it seems that technology is in a putting walls between human interaction and actually decreasing the interaction. This could imply also that it may decease our potential for spiritual progress.

    I wonder what other readers or the author thinks about this point. Would it be possible to practice spirituality if many people are spending most of their life behind a keyboard and monitor? For Ostad Elahi, this was no problem since he had constant interaction with people due to the nature of his job (being a judge and attorney)

    But what about the Spirituality for the Geeks and Nerds (possibly myself included)? I guess this makes human interaction a necessity and possibly community service is one way to achieve it? So it seems like inducing human interaction for those of us who are in the exponentially rapidly growing technological and research fields is a necessity? It seems that the jobs that have the most human interactions (e.g. Judge, Lawyer, person behind the store counter, Taxi Driver) provide a greater potential for spiritual progress rather than the jobs that isolate human beings from society? Appreciate your help.

  7. Alex Jan 05, 2010 10:56 am 7

    Thank you so much. The article was very helpful and well-said. It really helped me to focus my attention to the source, myself, and society. Greatly appreciated.

  8. MH Jan 06, 2010 11:21 am 8

    Many thanks for this article: very clear and seems to be like a ‘path of life’ for me!

    @max farsh:
    Thank you for your question!!!
    My best friend lives 6000 km far from me and works as a Data Systems Architect: so he spends all his days behind his 20 computers… He tells me that he has not any more socialization except one message from time to time with me!
    I always hesitate to send him messages everyday as I know that it’d be disturbing his work.
    So I very well understand what you mean and think that it is a problem for this kind of person!
    I think he could pray sometimes: that’d be a better way to stay close to the source…

  9. Mattias Jan 09, 2010 6:39 am 9

    I have two points regarding the excellent question that Max raised:
    1- I think the real reason that Ostad Elahi had constant interaction was because of his understanding that “being spiritual in society” has the greatest impact on one’s soul, not just because his job requirements. I think even if Ostad Elahi were to live in this era and had a computer-oriented job, he would have dedicated a certain amount of time interacting with others. Actually, if you think about it, for someone who is used to avoid people and work in an environment that lacks interaction with others, setting some time apart to attend to others, is a kind of struggling against the imperious self.
    2- I don’t think that working in a virtual space totally prevents one from to be spiritual. There are a lot of opportunities to help others and one can still be attentive towards the source at the same time.
    Moreover, because you don’t see people eye-to-eye, it takes more energy sometimes to be polite, be patient toward others and tolerate their opinions . There is also the issue of morality and respecting others space and privacy that is still into play in that environment.
    But in general I think it is a very relevant question that needs further reflection, because as you put it, it concerns people more and more these days.
    Thanks

  10. Tiara Jan 09, 2010 11:15 am 10

    @max farsh:

    I think maybe that many of the lessons we need to learn are planned for us. We don’t really know ourselves; therefore, God will design a scenario for us and through an incident will make us aware of a certain weak point or fault. So in a way we can always have the intention of trying to improve and work on ourselves and the rest is up to Him. He will make the stage ready for us. Of course we can decide to work on a certain weak point for example our organization and cleanliness, attention to source, . . . anytime we set our minds to it.
    Also, at different stages of our lives our level of social contact will be different. For example a student may have much more opportunities at socialization than a data analyst or a mother with two small children more than a retired seventy year old woman.

  11. MH Jan 11, 2010 6:45 pm 11

    Oh yes: that’s true! It’s easier for someone who socializes to go on, to advance on his ‘path of perfection’!!!
    This is how I understand it: the best way to better ourselves is to ‘deal’ with others… Someone who lives in isolation has less opportunity to know about himself!

  12. max farsh Jan 12, 2010 7:27 pm 12

    I thank MH, Tiara and Mattias for their responses and the original author of the article for causing me to formulate my question.

    “setting some time apart to attend to others, is a kind of struggling against the imperious self” (Mattias)

    “So in a way we can always have the intention of trying to improve and work on ourselves and the rest is up to Him. ” (Tiara)

    “the best way to better ourselves is to ‘deal’ with others… Someone who lives in isolation has less opportunity to know about himself!”(MH)

    I have learned from all three insights and will reflect on these points. Also thanks to the creator of this site for providing such a forum that allowed me to use other insights. That is indeed a good usage of technology 🙂

  13. Matttt Jan 20, 2010 3:34 am 13

    Thanks for the great article! full of points that I need to work on.

  14. ramin Jan 22, 2010 7:15 pm 14

    Great article ,learned here to force myself to do the things that help me go forward and hopefully with help from the source achieve the ultimate goal.

  15. Nat Feb 09, 2010 5:51 pm 15

    The more I read this, the more I get great new points from it. Working on yourself is a daily routine, and one must not forget that everything that happens to them, happens for a reason.

  16. Ali Tinat(Zoghi). Feb 12, 2010 12:13 pm 16

    First of all let me thank Elisabeth Pomparat for her assiduity in bringing Ostad Elahi’s thoughts, philosophy, and teachings pertaining to spirituality to our attention and by doing so, creating a forum whereby souls from all over the world can gather and exchange ideas on a pragmatic level. This, to me, is a great example of how one can use net, a seemingly passive device, to activate positive mass energy among souls across the universe.

    I now like to also further expand the above notion by concentrating on questions that were brought about by individuals such as Max Farsh who are , not without a cause I must admit, concerned about the downside of technology in terms of isolating individuals form the world around them. Here’s a synoptic formula to shorten the dilemma:

    I. Ostad Elahi also mentions that “self is the ultimate laboratory and in order to concentrate on the source one must first concentrate on one’s inner self.” I believe one can do this with perfect ease while using the net as I’m doing now and regardless of the subject matter.

    II. As it is stated in this very article: “Attention to the source is an interior meditative attitude…” Again I see no contradiction between this and one’s job whatsoever.

    III. Working in a virtual world also offers the opportunity to instantly be in touch with people all over the world as is the case with us all in here!

    IV. Even a computer analyst requires certain times to take breaks for food, shopping, hobbies, weekend holidays, etc. whereby he/she will come across people on semi-regular if not regular basis. After all, we are not robots and have our own biological needs!

    V. And finally, technology per se is a device, a means through which one can achieve various goals . The choices, however, are made by us.

    May source be the inner light for us all-A.Tinat.

  17. Ali Tinat(Zoghi). Feb 12, 2010 12:43 pm 17

    Some notes pertaining to Mahdi’s reference to Malcolm Gladwell:

    I.Malcolm Gladwell is not a Sociologist but a Journalist and a cultural commentator.

    II. The book in question is: Outliers -The Story Of success.

    III. The 10,000 -Hour Rule, does not apply to one’s entire life nor does the author mention 3 hrs/day. However, one can assume, especially in terms of art -music specifically, that a child starting practicing violin at the age of five, requires 3hr/day practice( Quality practice mind you) if he/she is to become a master Violinist by the age of 15.

    IV. My own daughter- Lotus-started her violin lessons at the age of five, but it was at the age of seven that she has increased her practice to one hr/day and now that she is 9 years of age, practices 1.5-2hrs per day, seven days/week. She already plays violin professionally!

    Respectfully-A. Tinat.

  18. Zulu Feb 26, 2010 5:15 am 18

    Hello all,

    I am curious to see what techniques and strategies others use in order to control different manifestations/aspects of their imperious self. So, any response is truly appreciated.

  19. neuro Jul 30, 2010 12:11 am 19

    This seamless connection of the 3 main ideas of Ostad Elahi’s thought has really helped me synthesize the crux of this article:

    Each of these three practical lines is connected with one of the three facets of human existence: God, the self and others. The first line of action (being attentive to the Source) connects you to the divine source, your creator, who will instill in you, by means of this connection, the energy necessary to succeed in the two other fields. The second line of action (struggling against the imperious self) connects you to yourself—to your real self—insofar as controlling one’s imperious self naturally leads to increasing one’s self-knowledge. The third line (helping others) connects you to others, human or otherwise, that are to be considered fully-fledged beings, equally worthy of respect.

  20. NN Jun 04, 2011 5:03 pm 20

    The more I begin to try and understand the daily struggles on my imperious self, the more I realize how attention to the Source and helping others play a key role. Every incident that occurs is without cause and every situation is meant to learn and develop from. For me, it is difficult at times to help others but also try have a good intention and not a selfish one. This is where I try and think of the Source and act in a manner in which He would want.

  21. Eileen Sep 14, 2011 8:23 pm 21

    Just to add my thanks and gratitude to the Editorial Board, Elisabeth Pomparat (author of this article) and all the commentators. I am trying to learn more about my Imperious Self, how to recognize its strategies and how to struggle against it. It feels like a never-ending up-hill battle and I am not victorious. I appreciate having these opportunities to read what others are thinking about on this subject, and how they are attempting to struggle against their Imperious Self. I sense a feeling of comaraderie in knowing one is not alone, that perhaps we can be like a centipede together in this struggle. Thanks again to everyone for sharing.

  22. blake Sep 19, 2011 1:42 am 22

    @Eileen,

    Re reading chapters 37 and 38 of the book ‘The Path of Perfection’ by Dr. Bahram Elahi helps me a great deal regarding the imperious self and self-knowledge.

    You are right, it is an up-hill battle. I ask God for protection against my imperious self on a daily basis. At one point, I detected discouragement as one of the many techniques my imperious self uses to derail me. I use the power of suggestion to avoid this trap. I maintain (keep telling myself) that I am victorious only if God is satisfied with me; and I know that God is pleased with anyone who makes an effort to struggle against their imperious self, regardless of successful or failed results. The key being the effort.

    This shift in thinking is developing slowly, and as it is developing, discouragement has dropped more rapidly making it easier to fight, and without the expectation for success.

    What is also interesting is that when I do struggle, if I pay more attention, there is generally a subtle feedback/communication and for the most part in the form of a very simple and yet personally important event. For example it could be a turned over cup of coffee which should have destroyed my work laptop but spilled all over the desk except on the laptop.

    I also found these articles and their comments on this site to be very helpful: ‘Effort results in effort’ , ‘The imperious self’ and ‘The id’

  23. wire Sep 22, 2011 2:41 pm 23

    @blake

    Your comment inspired me to re-read chapter 37 of the Path of Perfection. With the present article in mind, it has become clear to me how important the order in which the 3 aspects of practicing are laid out in this article. Without Attention to the Source, we cannot continuously struggle against the imperious self without generating psychological complexes or becoming weaker. It is only with Divine Energy (or Divine Regard) that we can continue to struggle, and the best way to surpass ourselves is to look to others’ rights, and seek to help them.

    On the occasions that I get up early to do a prayer, or do any form of attention in the morning, the rest of the day, I feel energized, enthusiastic about performing my duties, and feel like my “antennas” are more tuned to the manifestations of my imperious self. This can only be attributed to the Source projecting His energy onto me and helping me. Indeed without the Source, I would be completely stagnant on the path of perfection!

  24. Eileen Sep 23, 2011 8:12 pm 24

    @ Blake,

    Thank you ever so much.

    I found your comments very encouraging about God being pleased or satisfied with anyone who tries to make an effort in the struggle against the imperious self, and also that we should not have expectations to succeed (I hadn’t thought about this aspect before), and that when we at least try and do make an effort, there is a subtle feedback in communication. I was also unaware of this, and I think it happened to me, but as I say I didn’t know how to correctly realize what was happening.

    Additionally, I think one must contemplate and learn what is the reality of one’s ego and how to strengthen this to help us make an effort (without expectations to succeed, but soley to hope for God’s satisfaction with us) in our struggle against the facet of the imperious self in the id. Again, I had read about and sort of passed over the information on the ego, and I hadn’t concentrated on this aspect of trying to utilize my ego in the sense of my ego becoming and being the governor of my imperious self.

  25. sp Oct 02, 2011 9:38 pm 25

    this article is most helpful. Three points that I have found helpful when analysing myself are the following:

    1) I am almost always ignorant of what is imperious self versus non imperious self. This is because imperious self rationalises everything and presents everything as appropriate and legitimate so I mistakenly don’t realise those thoughts intentions and actions may be harmful.
    2) I am driven by principle to derive pleasure in most things I do – and less obviously by desire for personal elevation. This forms basis for many intentions.
    3) therefore one finds oneself preoccupied with oneself. This is why true altruism is most beneficial as it provides an occasion to look at others. For as long as I am preoccupied with myself there is little room for others and source and true ethics. This is why altruism is most helpful to myself as it lessens self-centeredness.

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