Man's Pure and Immaculate Nature
The Holy Prophet of Islam, may God bless him and his Household, said:
It means that every child is born with a pure and sinless nature. It is its parents that bring him up as a Christian or Jew. The religious creed of the parents and their mode of thinking affects its impressionable mind. 12
Imam 'Ali, may peace be upon him, is reported to have said to his son:
A young heart is like virgin soil which accepts whatever kind of seed is sown in it. My son, I took the opportunity offered by your childhood years for training you, before that your impressionable heart should become hardened and before that different things occupy your mind. 13
A part from the fact that man is definitely not born with a criminal disposition, there is a force latent in the ontic structure of every human man that draws him towards goodness. This force makes him return to his original state whenever he departs from his true orientation. In the idiom of the philosophers, whenever a certain nature is subject to and extraneous force, there comes into being an inclination to revert it to its original natural state.
Since very ancient times, a group of philosophers has felt that theoretical reason represents the highest faculty of the human soul, although its capacity for comprehension is limited and the surety of its practical effectiveness is not very considerable. Theoretical reason is inadequate in some matters, such as in delivering just judgements, the reproof of the criminal and the sinner, and prescription of a programme that may guarantee human happiness. Hence there should exist an independent force in man's being that guides him to most of the virtues and assists him to sacrifice and seek perfection and which explains his moral behaviour.
The Holy Qur'an asserts that inclination towards faith and repulsion from sin and disobedience exists in man's nature. God has not only placed faith in the Source of Creation in man's nature and bestowed upon him the capacity to know God, but has also created therein a natural attraction towards virtue and a repulsion from vice, sin and indecency, so that the soul is unconsciously attracted towards human merits.
But God has endeared to you faith, decking it fair in your hearts, and He has made detestable to you unbelief and ungodliness and disobedience. (49:7)
According to Khwajah Hafiz of Shiraz:
This love and loyalty between me and thee, I have brought from there, not developed them here.
Bertrand Russell writes:
The old idea was that virtue depends essentially upon will: we were supposed to be full of bad desires, which we controlled by an abstract faculty of volition. It was apparently regarded as impossible to root out bad desires: all we could do was to control them. The situation was exactly analogous to that of the criminal and the police. No one supposed that a society without would-be criminals was possible; the most that could be done was to have such an efficient police force that most people would be afraid to commit crimes, and the few exceptions would be caught and punished. The modern psychological criminologist is not content with this view; he believes that the impulses to crime could, in most cases, be prevented from developing by suitable education. And what applies to society applies to the individual. 14
Ralph Waldo Emerson writes;
The simple rise as by specific levity not into a particular virtue, but into the region of all the virtues. They are in the spirit which contains them all. The soul requires purity, but purity is not it; requires justice, but justice is not that; requires beneficence, but is somewhat better; so that there is a kind of descent and accommodation felt when we leave speaking of moral nature to urge a virtue which it enjoins. To the well-born child all the virtues are natural, and not painfully acquired. Speak to his heart, and the man becomes suddenly virtuous. 15
Therefore, according to Islam as well as realistic thinkers of the present-day world man comes into the world with a pure and wholesome spiritual nature in accordance with the laws of heredity. The presence of sin and corruption in him is accidental and extraneous to his original nature. It is the violation of original nature or the misorientation and retrogression of instincts that leads not only to the emergence of spiritual sickness but blocks the natural flow of the spirit by means of certain complexes Otherwise he has the capacity to advance towards perfection with rapid and sure steps in accordance with his genuine impulses.
Of course, the influence of environment is not the same on different brains with their different neurological makeup, in the same way as environment does not have a similar effect on the growth of different plants and herbs. Every individual lives with his own neurological makeup which he has inherited in accordance with the law of heredity. No two individuals in the world have an identical neurological structure and makeup and they tangibly exhibit a difference from the viewpoint of individual physiology and bodily hormones. Hence, in the same way as a particular environment affects every seed and plant in a specific manner, so also its effect on everybody's brain's neurones is also specific, in the sense that life in a particular environment has a specific effect on every individual and produces a particular personality which is not comparable with that of another individual. Even two children of the same parents, who should apparently possess certain common characteristics due to a common heredity and environment, exhibit an amazing difference from the viewpoint of personal qualities. The call of the prophets is based on man's inherent disposition towards monotheism and his innate moral nature. These natural principles, together with reason, constitute the fundamental basis of education. The great role of the divine prophets, which they seek to fulfil through their mission and teachings, is to awaken the inherent capacities of man latent in his nature. It is possible that the inner light of nature may become dimmed due to certain conditions, circumstance and various factors relating to man's being, but the real nature is never obliterated. The foundations of this nature have remained secure and stable despite all the difficulties and impediments that rose in its way throughout the course of history. Ultimately, deviation from the course of nature is not related to man's innate makeup and reality.
That we can engage in training and self-discipline through reliance on human nature is an extremely significant principle. But we must also not forget that violent passions with their destructive power can weaken our nature, and should we fail to channel them properly and to use them in a balanced manner and prove to be incapable of checking their excesses, our natural powers will be enfeebled and we will fail to utilise fruitfully the potential offered by nature. The creation of balance in passion and behaviour depends on recognition of the point of moderation, on exercise, and on constancy of effort and sacrifice. Aristotle says in this regard:
That moral virtue is a mean, then, and in what sense it is so, and that it is a mean between two vices, the one involving excess, the other deficiency, and that it is such because its character is to aim at what is intermediate in passions and in actions, has been sufficiently stated. Hence also it is no easy task to be good. For in everything it is no easy task to find the middle, e.g. to find the middle of a circle is not for every one but for him who knows; so, too, anyone can get angry-that is easy-or give or spend money; but to do this to the right person, to the right extent, at the right time, with the right motive, and in the right way, that is not for every one, nor is it easy; wherefore goodness is both rare and laudable and noble.
Hence he who aims at the intermediate must first depart from what is the more contrary to it, as Calypso advises:
Hold the ship out beyond that surf and spray.
For of the extremes one is more erroneous, one less so; therefore, since to hit the mean is hard in the extreme, we must as a second best, as people say, take the least of the evils, and this will be done best in the way we describe.
But we must consider the things towards which we ourselves also are easily carried away, for some of us tend to one thing, some to another; and this will be recognisable from the pleasure and the pain we feel. We must drag ourselves away to the contrary extreme; for we shall get into the intermediate state by drawing well away from error, as people do in straightening sticks that are bent.
Now if everything the pressure or pleasure is that to be guarded against for we do not judge it impartially. We ought, then, to feel towards pressure as the elders of the people felt towards Helen, and in all circumstances repeat their sayings for if we dismiss pleasure thus we are less likely to go astray. It is by doing this, then (to sum the matter up) that we shall best be able to hit the mean. 16
Spiritual training and growth should be our highest goal in life. It is our duty to open the windows of our heart and mind to let in virtue, righteousness, love and mercy. These are the things that enlighten and burnish our hearts and make our Creator, unique in His essence, to be pleased with us.
Most people engage in all kinds of labour and practise self-denial in order to acquire the material means of life and comfort and go on toiling until death. For this purpose they even deny themselves the comforts that they are after and which they imagine to be the means of happiness. That kind of thinking is erroneous and that is the cause of the failure and wretchedness of most people. They ought to know that they have lost the way and left the true path of happiness and success. One cannot attain a life of peace, free of anxiety, through the pursuit of passing pleasures and delights or through gathering an immense amount of wealth. Such a programme does not sustain life or make it flourish. On the contrary, it quickly dries up the vital resources of life and destroys them.
One who seeks happiness through the pursuit of pleasures will find nothing except anxiety and bafflement. If we fail to keep in check the rebellious passions and infantile inclinations within us, which constantly keep on raising their heads, with the means of reason and sagacity, they will overpower our conscience and make us their own slave. The more that we succeed in subduing our lusts and desires, the closer shall we move to happiness. To sum up, all our misfortunes, afflictions and helplessness, and, in a word, everything that clouds the horizons of our life, is a product of the domination of lusts over our being.
12. Al-Majlisi, Bihar al-anwar, vol. 2, p. 87.
13. Nahj al-balaghah, trans. by Fayd al-lslam, p. 93.
14. Russell, Bertrand, On Education (London: Unwin Books, 1966), pp. 25-26.
15. Emerson, Ralph Waldo, "The Over-Soul," in Man and Man: The Social Philosophers (New York: Modern Pocket Library, 1954), ed. by Commins, Saxe, & Linscott, Robert N., p. 423.
16. Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, in Commins & Linscott, o p. cit., pp. 38-39.
Adapted from: "Ethics and Spiritual Growth" by: "Sayyid Mujtaba Musawi Lari"
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