Man's Most Distinctive Merit
There are numerous urges rooted in man's nature each of which plays an important role in his welfare and development. The greatest power that moves the wheels of life and motivates individuals comes from the urges whose source lies within their being.
As long as the bonds that relate a person to life are there, he does not cease to crave and the flames of desire keep burning in his heart. All the continuous hardships and pains that he bears and undertakes are for the sake of satisfying his inner desires. As i soon as one of his desires is fulfilled, another sprouts in his heart, I impelling his body to action and effort and compelling him to begin a new activity and endeavour.
Man cannot find the path of happiness solely through the guidance of nature. The animals, on the other hand, traverse the course of their development through innate guidance by relying upon their instincts, by the help of which they regulate and discipline their lives. It is instinct that determines the functions of every animal species in accordance with its laws and they do not stand in need of education and training for knowing how to regulate their lives. However, in the case of the human being instinct is not capable of assuming this regulating role as in the case of animals and protecting him from deviation and destruction. It is reason and intellect, man's primary guide, that distinguishes him from other animals in showing him the path of life. It is through intellect and thought that man can recognise the path of his felicity and direct his efforts towards this end, until he attains to the highest goal that is worthy of him.
The caravan of humanity makes its onward journey with the guidance of intellect and thought, and it is with the assistance of reason that humanity solves its vital problems, conquering a new front every day in its struggle the problems posed by nature. In the great battlefield within the human spirit there is always a tough battle going on between reason and instinct. These two powers are pitched in a relentless battle in which each of them seeks to overpower the other. In order that we may benefit from our inner powers and remain secure from their harm, we must bring instincts under the domination of reason, to which all other urges, impulses and motives of ours must submit in complete obedience. It is reason which is our most invaluable asset that reveals to us the real dangers that we face and gives an order and discipline to life by teaching us the right way of employing our inner powers.
Of course, the intensity of desires is not the same at different stages of life and the character and configuration of the urges and motives changes according to age, conditions and circumstances.
In the same way as it possible for man to lay the foundations of his welfare on the basis of reason and will power without allowing the dangerous internal enemy to dominate his soul, it is also possible that he may be overcome by rebellious urges and be ultimately drowned in the dark and terrible vortex of corruption and decadence. Hence if he is interested in his own welfare he must build a firm shield to protect his soul from the harm of delusive urges and plan his course from the very beginning. He should know where the blind alley of desires would ultimately land him so that by the means of giving a system to his thoughts he may spend the springtime of life in the shadow of virtue and piety; for without sacrifice and forbearance, which are essential to life, it is not possible to spend a 1ifetime with purity and dignity.
Someone who gives special care to the principles of human virtue from the beginning of his rational existence, getting used to avoiding vices, develops his spiritual capacities in the best possible manner. For him the continuation of this policy will be easier at the more mature stages of life. After passing safely out of the critical frontiers of youth, the dangers of deviation will be reduced and the person will become somewhat immune against corruptive influences.
An absolute freedom in regard to satisfaction of inner desires, in addition to leaving evil and undesirable effects on the individual's soul and personality, also weaken the very foundations of social security. Hence, in order to attain personal welfare and happiness, as well as to protect the order of society, it is necessary to overlook a part of one's desires.
Professor Alexis Carrel says:
We have not yet learnt to submit to the laws of life in the same way as we submit to the laws of physics and gravity. There is a tragic conflict between human freedom and the laws of nature, a conflict to which modern man is prey, for man wants absolute autonomy. Nevertheless, he cannot without peril make use of his freedom beyond its permissible limits.
Freedom, like dynamite, as an effective but dangerous means whose way of utilization has to be learnt. Fortunately, the one who can make use of it is someone who possesses reason and will. Accordingly, this submission to the natural laws involves the limitation of the freedom of will. Life is not possible without an internal order.
The conflict between human freedom and the consequents of natural laws necessitates an exercise in self-discipline. In order that we may deliver ourselves and our descendants from the danger of catastrophes, we must resist most of our wishes, expectations and desires. A harmony with the order of the universe is not possible without sacrifice, and sacrifice is a law of life. It is by refraining from satisfying some desires that health and power can be secured. Greatness, beauty, and holiness cannot exist without sacrifice.
Every one must sacrifice because sacrifice is one of the necessities of human life. This necessity has emerged from the time when instinct gave way to free intellect in our ancestors Every time that man has made total use of his freedom, he has violated the natural laws and faced severe punishment. 1________________________
1. Carrel, Alexis, Reflexions sur la conduite de la vie, Pers. trans., Rah-wa rasm-e zindagi, pp. 99-100.
Adapted from: "Ethics and Spiritual Growth" by: "Sayyid Mujtaba Musawi Lari"
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