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The twin foundations of ethics: education of thought and respect of rights in general

The processes of assimilation and growth inherent in the concept of “medicine for the soul” are not mere metaphors. They correspond to something real that must be evidenced by experience. It should be pointed out that education of thought is the backbone of spiritual practice, thought being the stuff we are actually made of. Our sense of being, our self-awareness, our emotions, perceptions, intentions and conceptions, that we translate into words and deeds, are all but thoughts. It is through thinking that we nourish ourselves with ideas and principles, that we give shape to our desires and form our projects.

Through handling our thought process, we give direction to our conduct, and by working on it, we can change our habits, develop new capacities, qualities or virtues and eventually succeed in reshaping our character. It is essential, then, to get to know precisely how certain principles or guidelines for action can affect our psyche and transform our behavior. It is essential also to become aware of the real reasons that motivate our actions.

There are two aspects to spiritual practice, personal and social. The first has to do with the self and with self-knowledge which is essentially psychological: we must decode our impulses, decipher the real significance of our desires, discover our qualities and defects, define our deeper aspirations and evaluate our doubts and convictions. We must, in short, become aware of the different tendencies of our psyche. It is important to find out, through daily observation, in what ways the different dynamic elements of our psycho-spiritual system intervene in our thoughts and actions. This self-knowledge involves the deeper layers of the conscious self, and not the surface of it, where our psychological and social identity belongs. It is also an active knowledge that makes it possible for us to better control the impulsive and imperious part of the self.

The fact is that the imperious self is set to keep our mind in a state of imbalance, blunting our vigilance in the face of our natural impulses. These are legitimate when channeled in the right direction; but unconstrained, they can lose their legitimacy and become harmful. What we have to do is to detect the stratagems of our imperious self and protect ourselves against it by nourishing our spirit with authentic ethical principles or “nutrients”. This is the way that leads to self-knowledge. Self-knowledge is not something that can be reduced to a mere psychological introspection. It is, as Ostad Elahi says, the culmination of a complex process of thought education.

Since we live in society, most of the trials and challenges encountered by those who decide to struggle against the imperious self have something to do, more or less directly, with the others, such as family members or professional connections. Our relations with the others constitute the second aspect of spiritual practice which accounts for progress towards perfection. This is where Ostad Elahi brings into focus the importance of the respect for the rights of the others as a decisive element in thought education. Not to infringe on the rights of the others is a model of behaviour to be complied with in every situation, whatever our thoughts or actions. Regarding this principle, the classic formula is quite well known: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. Ostad Elahi puts a very special emphasis on this point: to live in peace is a condition to which every being, as a rule, aspires. It is a fundamental right. Now the imperious self, knowing no bounds, is inclined to infringe constantly upon the rights of the others. It could therefore be said that the struggle against the imperious self mostly amounts to striving to respect the rights of the others on every occasion. Thoughtfulness, tolerance and altruism are fundamental qualities to be acquired, so that we may, through willpower and perseverance, truly transform our substance.

However, self- perfection cannot be carried out but through continuous inner struggle. Whether we try to get to know ourselves and outwit the “imperious self”, or succeed in respecting the rights of the others through words and deeds, or better yet, accomplish selfless deeds that benefit our fellow beings, we must invariably be on the alert to correct the course of our thoughts by paying close attention, not only to the intention behind each of our actions, but also to the way we judge the others, and to the thoughts we entertain about the world we live in and the ups and downs we have to go through.

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1 comment

  1. Eileen May 15, 2011 3:53 am 1

    Thank you for writing such an inspiring article. I think you cover an immense area or territory, and I feel that I would need to attend a seminar in order to absorb all of the points you explain. I wish I could incorporate into my daily life all that you explain to be able to better struggle against my imperious self, only with God’s help, of course.

    After reading several of your most excellent articles, I feel that I am in nursery school or kindergarten, at best. However, please take this as a compliment, for in my opinion, your writing is superb in explaining the subject matters you cover, however, too much information for me to digest in reading one article.

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