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This feeling of injustice

Singe capucin

According to Ostad Elahi’s model of the self, we are bi-dimensional beings. We carry within ourselves a celestial part that, combined with our animal terrestrial part, forms our humanity. It is within this intimate combination—perhaps best compared to fertilization (when two gametes, or sexual cells, one male, the other female, unite to form a new zygote)—that our psychological and spiritual personality is forged. It is a crucible for our character traits and for the powers within us. In this equation, also lies the enigma of free will, in other words the question of evil: how evil is possible in a world created by a sovereign and benevolent God; how the possibility of evil, and therefore the possibility of choosing good, is a necessity to complete the process of human perfection in this world.

Let us take the following video as the starting point for our reflection:

At first glance, this video triggers an amused feeling of incredible kinship with Capuchin monkeys. We see the feeling of injustice that one of them experiences as it witnesses the other one receiving better compensation for the same task, and we see how it leads it to become angry and feverishly agitated in its cage… How could we not see a mirror image of ourselves in this scene? Who can say they have never been in such a position of frustration having not received the compensation they deemed rightfully theirs? Watching this video makes us realize that we are, at a psychological level, truly primates—most likely to a much greater extent than we think, too—and that we have more in common with them than mere morphological similarities.

The question that then arises is: what actually distinguishes us from our cousins? Let us consider the myth of Cain and Abel where God preferred Abel’s offering, which enraged Cain and led him to violence and transgression. Let us say a colleague and rival is promoted or receives recognition that I perceive as unfair or that I feel I deserved. How will I react, beyond the inner outrage and frustration that make me similar to a primate? Many approaches could be considered given the infinite variety of possible situations in such circumstances, depending on the context, the personalities of those involved and their previous relations. The bottom line is that we are more than mere primates invaded by impulses. So what do we do with this inner rage that calls itself “feeling of injustice”? Contrary to Capuchin monkeys, we have the possibility to understand, to choose and to act. I can let this wave of emotion take over and I can become Cain, or I can struggle against it and become a human being.

To begin with, this feeling I have of suffering an injustice may very well be, at least partly, the product of my imagination. I may be unaware of the true merit of my colleague, or maybe I overestimate my own merit, or perhaps I exaggerate the actual value of the recognition my colleague has received. It may be that, having experienced this unjust treatment, whether real or imaginary, a more or less conscious desire has cropped in me to harm the other person or even the organization I work for, leading me to backbite, withhold information, have confrontational reactions, etc. Perhaps I have been contaminated by feelings of jealousy and resentment that have led me to a form of depression, from brooding over dark thoughts to losing my motivation at work or to even more extreme forms. It is poisonous to the psyche and brings to mind this passage of the Bible: “Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast… sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” (Genesis 4.1-15)

Conversely, I can make use of my reason and look at the situation with a clear head, beginning with an appraisal of the actual importance of the facts. I may then see the positive aspects of my situation, previously concealed by my negative perception. I may realize my advantages—by not getting that promotion I will be spared a lot of worries and pressure! I may realize that part of what is happening to me is the result of negative behaviours I have had in the past. I may even see the situation as a test concerning a precise character weak point I need to work on (for example, arrogance towards my colleagues) and thus an opportunity to work on myself. More fundamentally, by delving within or by seeking the cause within, relying on my reason but also on my connection to the One, I can see myself more clearly. I can perceive the events in my life with more clarity, I see the causes but most importantly, I see to what end I am facing them. In other words, I see how I can use the situation at hand to progress spiritually, to wake up and get out from under the sticky fog formed by the imperious self—that part of me that stems from the drifting instincts of the primate in me, pushing me toward transgression, and that keeps me unconscious of myself, in a state of lethargy and amnesia. That way, I can make progress, draw closer to Him and be more in line with what pleases Him and what contributes to my process of perfection and my accomplishment.

The inner U-turn gives me a fresh view of things, which, I am deeply convinced, is much more correct. To begin with, my job, my position, my boss who can promote me or not, everything is put back in their proper places in relation to my spiritual destiny. My job is what enables me to earn a living and to develop socially. But haven’t I been giving it too much importance? Isn’t the attachment I have to my position, to the judgment of others, to recognition and admiration, a bit excessive? Am I as concerned with my spiritual future, with the wellbeing of my soul and whether He is satisfied with me as I am with my professional future, the satisfaction of my superiors and their opinion of me? They are themselves only the cogs in a much larger machinery that is as much out of their hands as it is out of mine. He is the Master Weaver of this weft, the Efficient in everything, the rest are mere cogs in the machinery of causality. Everything that happens to me is good for me, even if my ego does not like it. I can see now that the part of me that is affected and saddened is my hurt ego. It is not my soul that, on the contrary, is rejoicing at an opportunity to fight against the imperious self, because my soul trusts the One and knows that what is happening is good. It is my job to adjust my perspective and to grasp the positive meaning of what I am experiencing.

The idea is not to be naïve like Pangloss, the optimistic character in Voltaire’s novel Candide, whose motto is All is for the best in the best of worlds, but rather to adopt a point of view that is based on the hypothesis that Ostad Elahi explains as follows:

“There is a considerable degree of accountability for being ungrateful, as those who are in pursuit of the Truth are expected to recognize that all things happen for a reason, one that is ultimately good and just. Whether stemming from divine providence or the punitive repercussion of our own actions, everything that we experience is proper and right in its own place. As such, being ‘punished’ means that His watchful eyes, like those of a caring mother, are never far away. God watches over those who are in pursuit of the Truth, and He conveys this watchfulness to them through various signs.”

Words of Truth, 220, draft version of the forthcoming English translation (all rights reserved)


“Whenever anything happens to us, whether good or bad, if we reflect upon it and ask ourselves what we have done to merit such an outcome, we will no longer have any cause for sorrow or sadness. Anything that occurs to those who maintain a relationship with God is either a punishment or providence, for in His absolute wisdom He will not bring about anything that is contrary to their interests. I like my friends to always be happy and to search for the cause of every occurrence He brings about for them.”

Words of Truth, 268, draft version of the forthcoming English translation (all rights reserved)

These words from Ostad Elahi have, in the case of this struggle, the effect of a balm on a wound. They begin by appeasing, then as they start to seep into me, their beauty and the possibility they offer me to treat myself and to act become clearer. They are like the command given to Cain by the One, so I repeat them to myself, in this situation, so as to exhort me see things in a different light. And they help me see that behind this feeling of injustice and the obsessive negative thoughts it sets off is the imperious self. I ask myself what I have done to merit such an outcome and I try to see punishment or providence in what is happening to me. I think back on professional situations I have been in before and on “signs” that can confirm de facto that yes, He protects me and watches over me, and what is happening to me now, even if it seems unpleasant, is not any different.

Much like when the sun shines after a storm, my heart feels lighter. Meditating on Ostad Elahi’s words has helped me disperse the darkness that had invaded my heart. Deep down, I feel whole and I feel grateful. I see all the blessings in my life, in comparison to which this minor episode at work is insignificant. I understand how far it was from the actual truth of my situation to allow myself to be drawn down into resentment and dark thoughts, disregarding the benefits and exaggerating the losses. I see how unworthy it was for me to find myself in such a state of real ingratitude, in the sense that even if I did not complain openly, the mere fact that I was all downcast instead of joyful, was de facto ingratitude. Who am I to complain, to claim I deserve more than my colleague who got that job I had my eye on? Would having it really make me a better person, would it make me happier, more advanced in my process of perfection?

Let us go back to the beginning—the two monkeys. Let us go back to Cain and Abel. I am that little monkey in its cage that became all agitated because it did not get a grape. I am Cain, whose face was downcast and whose anger increased when confronted with what I saw as unacceptable injustice. But I am also Abel, or at least I can choose to be Abel whose sacrifice was accepted by the One. Meditating on the command: “Whenever anything happens to us, whether good or bad, if we reflect upon it and ask ourselves…”, I sacrifice this resentment with the help of all the tools the One has given me—my reason and my will, and most of all, His support and His help to overcome the evil inside me. Abel is the one sacrificing this resentment, starting by not letting it out, preventing it from manifesting itself and from contaminating him, and then acting against it, in vivo. Abel, who by fulfilling his duty, from being a primate, became human instead of becoming Cain.

“[In response to someone who was faced with difficulties, Ostad said:] Never forget this poem that I will share with you:
He watches after us, the Beholder of fate
Our troubles stem from the thoughts our minds create
Knowing that someone else is watching over us helps to allay our worries and concerns. Simply focus your attention on that Beholder of fate and cease your worrying. Knowing not what tomorrow brings, our imaginings are but idle speculation that do little more than torment us. He, on the other hand, knows all that tomorrow beholds. Let us abandon, then, these idle thoughts and imaginings. […]”

Words of Truth, 108, draft version of the forthcoming English translation (all rights reserved)

What about you? Did a feeling of injustice ever lead you to identify the imperious self in you? The author describes an experience in a professional context, but it could be in any context of life.

How did you deconstruct, the way the author did, the mechanics of the imperious self in an in vitro phase of your practice? In vitro being that moment when looking back on what happened (our behaviour, our emotions) and reflecting on correct principles, we analyse ourselves, then set our will to change and decide on a set of correct behaviours and thoughts to develop.

Were you able to continue this in vitro practice, which is mostly a mental exercise, with in vivo practice? In other words, were you able to take concrete actions in everyday life and in contact with others? How did you go about it all and what were the results?

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  1. David May 28, 2017 4:56 am 1

    I was in this situation once, and at the time it felt unjust. I had to keep calm, bide my time and look for another job. The new job was 10 times better. Sometimes it is only unjust on the outside or maybe I allowed myself to be treated unfairly, or I got lazy and too comfortable, where I needed more education, to acquire more skills, and thus merit better positions. Either way, looking back, I think it was divine providence.

  2. A. May 28, 2017 4:44 pm 2

    I have lived recently through situations where I had financial problems: I was not making enough money to pay the bills. Interestingly, lots of my friends and acquaintances are making a lot of money or have very sound financial situations (through inheritage). I managed not to be overcome by a sense of injustice by telling myself that there were (spiritual) lessons to be learnt and that I would therefore not want to swap places with any of my friends or acquaintances.

    The most important lesson I learned from this scenario was that these financial difficulty helped me develop trust in the Source and understand that it is Him who decides everything. Once I managed to rely on Him from deep within my heart then an invisible hand solved all my financial difficulties.

    1. an. Jun 03, 2017 3:34 pm 2.1

      I agree, but we still have to do every effort… being active, honest and realistic about what we want before attributing what happens to His will.
      When I was looking for a job, I relentlessly tried every options to get interviews (within the limits of ethics). Later, I realized that I was not reasonable enough in my choices. I also hadn’t concretely envisioned the consequences of choosing a particular path.
      Now I can say, I fortunately didn’t get that offer. I can only thank Him for this eye-opening experience.

    2. an. Jun 05, 2017 8:53 pm 2.2

      It’s funny how you can desperately want something and years later look at it in a totally different way.

  3. R May 28, 2017 8:43 pm 3

    For many years I was very proud of my professional life which was given to me as a gift without any effort. Although it started going downhill over the past few years. Recently out of the blue I received an offer from a professor for a PhD program that wasn’t my major. I was very pleased. I started working for him for about a year for a very low salary. Additionally, I taught him many things that I knew in my field in which he was new and very interested, so my approval could be guaranteed. I offered to start a workshop as a spring course in their department and they were very interested. It would open new perspectives by fitting different majors in their program. After a short while, the course was filled with both students and faculty and the administration had to start a waiting list. My proposal had to be handed by the professor; he completely disregarded any mention of me. The result was that the committee didn’t approve me. I was shocked, disappointed, angry and sad, which lead me to major depression. After about a month of melancholy, I started thinking about why these kinds of scenarios were repeatedly happening to me. I trust people and then they take advantage of me, treating me as if I never existed. I learned that probably they overestimated my ability due to my CV, because I listed some jobs that were actually not done properly but that was not mentioned there – meaning: 1) dishonesty. I accepted their offer for something I knew I wasn’t good at, e.g. a PhD that wasn’t my major; I had not had any research or experience in that field – meaning: 2) disregard for the right of others. I got so excited and was counting on them to move it forward – meaning: 3) faith in people instead of Him. As a result I was always very proud of myself for something that I hadn’t earned – meaning: 4) entitlement and pride. And boom, all of a sudden the bubble I had built and that brought me so much self-importance and boosted my ego was broken and I dropped — meaning: 5) disconnection from the One; and many more things that I still can’t perceive. How would not seeing and ignoring all of this be any help towards my spiritual goal? I am scared of myself even writing this down!

  4. kbld May 30, 2017 2:37 pm 4

    In my experience, it’s mainly working on detachment beforehand that leads me to internally accepting things that are happening to me. In the case of professional reward and promotion:
    1) I don’t expect in any event to be rewarded according to my merits in this world. It’s no big news that the system is rigged in favor of privileged people. I try to do my best, within the limits of what is ethical, but I know in advance that I just cannot expect fair competition. And I mustn’t complain because I know I am privileged in some way too. And it is as fair as when somebody else is privileged. Spiritually, everybody gets what they deserve, materially, we know in advance that it is not the case.
    2) I prepare in advance for the worst, and work on accepting it with a thankful heart.
    It is, I guess, part of a more general work. Each time something materially important is about to happen to me (job decision, potential big material loss, …), I try to work on accepting all possibilities with a thankful heart. And when the result comes, I can look at my heart, and see if it is affected or not. The goal is to be equally satisfied, whatever the result is. I cannot say I am completely detached, but I can see that I have achieved something in that way. But it has to be done before things happen, because afterwards, you just see the outcome in yourself, it’s too late to work on that, you can only limit effects or manifestations.

    I remember once, I had achieved something excellent, and at the ceremony the day of results, a professor asked me how I felt. I did not know really, she said “(so) pure happiness”, and I did not know what to say but not at all. Of course, I was happy to have achieved this thing – and that’s healthy and good –, but I was not overwhelmed or blissed. I knew that “An instant of happiness is chased by a hundred ills” (see https://www.e-ostadelahi.com/eoe-en/unfaithfulness-of-the-world/), so it made no sense to be like in paradise just for this instant.
    At the same time, I realised that I shouldn’t share that state too much, because people don’t understand, they are upset about your achievement, and they are even more upset if, from what they can see, you don’t even enjoy it.
    Actually, at that time, I knew this meant that, for spiritual purposes, there would be a big backlash in the future, and that eventually happened. But when this big material injustice, created by ill-intended people, happened (through a very improbable chain of events), thanks to my previous work, I felt upset only one afternoon (trying, of course, to fight my state), even though it would seem normal to suffer from it for months or even more. I just knew it was the normal course of life and I managed to focus on the next step in my life, and on making this mishap an opportunity.

    I do not mean we should not be materially active and defend our rights, of course. The perfect attitude is, I think, to “turn the other cheek” in the true sense of the expression. Externally, nobody actually turns their other cheek – it’s obviously not the intended meaning. Rather it means internally, before God, just accepting what He has prepared for us. And it is actual work, at least a life’s work it seems. I do not master it /at all/ but I can see clear improvement. Being professionally very active and demanding externally and, at the same time, internally expecting nothing.
    I saw also (at my level) that God has by far greater plans for us that we can ever dream of. The saying “Be careful what you wish for; you may receive it” is totally true, God wants our true good. So the best attitude is to do everything ethically acceptable to achieve material things, but to expect nothing. In my experience, it’s the best way to not be upset when we don’t get something.

  5. adissam May 31, 2017 2:24 am 5

    I tested the in vitro and in vivo phases with a former roommate who had had a mean behavior towards me. This happened a few years ago and I thought I had freed myself from all rancor but it turned out to be more subtle in reality.

    I performed this experiment after listening to Pr. Elahi’s lecture on in vivo spirituality (https://www.e-ostadelahi.com/eoe-en/in-vivo-spirituality/). First, I scrutinized my thoughts with this question: “is there anyone I still hold a grudge against?”. The first person that emerged was most probably a good choice.

    Reconnecting with my former roommate.
    He had not replied to my emails, so I decided to ask about him to a third person, our landlord, with whom I was still exchanging emails. She was also still in contact with him. I then took another step forward by asking if she had his new email address; he accepted to let her give it to me (this took several months).
    Then I finally decided to directly send him a message for new year’s. More than a month later he replied with a very elegant message, much more elaborate than my brief initial emails, talking about what he was doing, our good memories, asking me what I had been up to, etc… and apologizing about his late reply (that was important to me).
    Cheerful, I wanted to immediately reply. But my ego imperiously took over: “wait, he took a good month to reply to you!” It was a mixed feeling of victory (“I got him”) and “superioritism”. I ended up replying only a year later for new year’s again.
    After reflecting upon it, I could have replied out of affection and against my pride.
    Whatever happened, it was a first step forward to concretely act upon any rancor that was left in me.
    Ps: as I was writing this comment, I read his email again and I realized the brevity of my reply, just wishing him happy new year. I’ve rectified my message with more details about me, congratulating him for what he was doing, etc…

    In conclusion, I feel lighter now, happy to have engaged in this fight.

    1. adissam Nov 07, 2017 2:51 pm 5.1

      Thinking about this feeling of resentment, I can add that thanks to what happened I had a typical “clinical case” to work on.
      More recently, I had another “scenario”. It made me realize that I need repeated situations to progress. Hopefully, the drainage of this type of thoughts will be shorter each time.

  6. tom May 31, 2017 3:04 am 6

    I recently felt extremely mistreated by a close acquaintance. This person totally disregarded my opinion on an important matter, and I felt belittled and was left extremely angry. When this article was released, I decided to reflect on how this experience reflected my own imperious self. I was amazed to discover that I harbored extremely negative thoughts about this person, a priori, without any cause. That is to say that my baseline thoughts about this person tended to be on the negative end of the spectrum. With such negative thoughts and feelings projecting onto this person, of course at least to some extent this will be reciprocated back onto me! My in vitro exercise is to prevent such thoughts from circulating, and I hope to soon translate this into an in vivo practice of kindness towards this person.

  7. J Jun 05, 2017 2:20 pm 7

    I have had numerous instances whereby a feeling of injustice has manifested itself within me. Most times, I was not able to immediately identify this feeling as a manifestation of the imperious self. In fact, I have often held that this feeling was a virtue, and that the sufferings I underwent were the result of some grand test in which the world and its evils were being set against my own “incredible goodness”. At the time, as a result of the manifestation of my pride, I held an exaggerated view of my own virtues (and probably still do), which led me to this false conclusion.

    In professional experiences, for instance, I have often viewed any sort of criticism from superiors as an affront to my own expertise, and felt that it was unjust to be appraised in such a manner. I had to change the way I viewed the person criticising me. I started to reflect on the fact that though the person delivering such critiques may be imperfect and flawed, I should nevertheless focus on my own shortcomings, and not theirs, as these were the only ones I was capable of and responsible for directly changing. Also, I had to change my assumption that the person delivering the criticism was primarily doing so out of ill-intent. After these reflections, I focused on changing the way I interacted with my superiors. During moments where I was invited to reflect on my own professional growth, I started by bringing up both a positive and a negative point about myself (whereas in the past I would be more blind to my own negative characteristics, and either ignored or suppressed them). I would be careful not to advertise my own negative characteristics in an inappropriate context, however, since doing so in certain circumstances could be perceived as credulity, naivete, or an ignoble act of self-debasement; I would only identify my faults openly under certain specific professional circumstances where my self-reflection would be considered a form of duty. However, the internal act of identifying my own faults and practical (in vivo) ways of improving them was an exercise I started to engage in more frequently once this change in perspective was made.

    The more I reflected on the feeling of injustice that I originally perceived as a virtue, and the more concrete actions I took to battle this feeling, the easier things became. Gradually, I began to identify more flaws within myself, and due to this new “vision”, was able to take concrete measures to improve those flaws as well, which strengthened my resolve further as if a positive feedback loop had been established. I not only identified the flaw, I would also follow this self-reflection up with an action I could perform to battle the particular flaw, and then I would put it into practice while trying to “swallow my pride”. Gradually I noticed very positive results, and reflecting on these improvements provided me with greater motivation to be challenged in new ways. Nevertheless, I tried not to focus on the speed with which progress and self-mastery was achieved, as this could be a manifestation of impatience. I tried to mentally self-suggest that I should simply try my best, and that the rest was up to God. I took the words of Malak Jan Nemati, Ostad Elahi’s sister, to heart, where she explained, “…we should be resigned and content, and not concern ourselves with the outcome. When God sets out a path before us and tells us this is what we have to do, we have to do it and not listen to the voice of the imperious self. When we put our head down and perform our duty without concerning ourselves with the result, we are advancing correctly – whether or not the soul is strengthened is not our concern!” (Malak Jan Nemati – Life Isn’t Short, But Time is Limited, by Leili Anvar, p. 130)

  8. kbld Jun 07, 2017 6:12 pm 8

    I had a strong feeling of injustice when I saw the online profile of somebody giving himself a false title, knowing someone else who had done the same and thinking about the fact it is said that a lot of people are blatantly lying on their CV. It can be very frustrating when you are honest and you have to compete in such an environment. So I was trying to self-suggest what I wrote in my comment above.
    Then I saw the third episode of “Anne with an E”, a very good series adapting “Anne of Green Gables” (little spoiler alert). At one moment, Anne suffers from very mean comments by children of her age because she’s an orphan. When she expresses her sorrow, her adoptive mother basically tells her that she has the advantage of being a good girl.
    I found it very profound. Acting well is indeed in itself a reward. Our actions define us, and being somebody who refrains from doing bad things is the best reward we can get for not doing them. It’s quite paradoxical to say that doing good, even though we may suffer from it materially, is in fact in itself a reward, but I think it is very true.
    Even though the subject is a little bit different, I thought this talk by James Giordano was helpful: https://youtu.be/X7K9L7gk2Jk?t=26m36s It’s because we are living organisms that our actions are biologically shaping what we are. And to be a better person is the best treasure we can have.

  9. Zak Jul 11, 2017 11:43 pm 9

    I stumbled upon this article and I have to say that I find it very interesting. In my experience, I found injustice to be correlated with some feeling of jealousy as well: for instance, when a coworker got a promotion I had worked very hard to get, I found it unfair and I started to get a spirale of negative feelings: everyone is against me, I’m sure they did this on purpose to get back at me or to hurt my feelings, how is this even possible when everyone knows that I am the one who deserves this promotion?,… In short, my thoughts were completely self-centered and negative.
    This bothered me for a while and I wanted to be able to get over that feeling of unfairness. By thinking a bit about it, I realized that, just like hinted in this article, jealousy had a lot to do with it.
    Thank you for such an eye opening article!

  10. Elsa Jul 14, 2017 9:35 pm 10

    Amazing article! Just what I happen to be going through. I can imagine how hard it must have been to practice to reach such conclusions and understandings. I hope to be able to follow these footsteps.
    I read through this article over and over again and each time learn something new!
    Thank You!

  11. Lee May 17, 2018 12:23 am 11

    I was listening recently to an NPR podcast on the subject of envy that I thought was quite related to this article. It features personal accounts and stories about this particular emotion and also interviews of researchers. Some of the questions discussed are: who de we particularly envy? why do we envy more those closer to us? There is also a more hostile form of envy (i.e. schadenfreude) that is looked into with an example from the movie Amadeus.

    Here is an excerpt about social media:
    “OHAD BARZILAY [ a researcher]: What we’re first finding is that using Facebook make you more comparative. You compare yourself to others more often. You judge yourself. You compare, am I better or worse than my friends? Am I happier; are they happier – and so on.”
    There is also a full transcript of the show.

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