Self-Purification as Agent of Development
There is no doubt that if one wants to follow definite principles in life-whether of a religious or a non-religious character-one must adopt a well-defined approach. In order to adopt a well-defined approach it is essential to select a single goal and move in a single direction. Hence one must avoid desultory involvements that may suit one's passing desires but are contrary to one's principles and goals in life. Hence self-control and self-discipline is essential in life for every man who wants to lead a human and rational existence. Man is a being equipped with the power of intellect and possessing unlimited desires. Should he recognise no restraint in life, he can become a bloodthirsty beast that can cause great destruction.
Man's perfection and greatness does not depend on physical matters, which can affect his experience only on a sensible plane. Scientific advancements do not bring about an improvement in all the aspects of man. Man's real perfection lies in his liberating himself from the straits of illusory lusts and physical pleasures and in advancing on the path of humanity by edifying his sensibilities, disciplining himself and becoming acquainted with higher ideas and a wider horizon.
The idea of a sumum bonum is deeply rooted in the human spirit, otherwise man would not have been its seeker during his childhood days nor would he have been able to take flights on its vast horizons. The radiance of sublime values is so much attractive that men fall in love with them willingly and voluntarily pursue them. There is an upsurge of passion for strength from one's inner depths which is followed by the endeavour to acquire it. All of these are indications of the fact that love for perfection has deep roots in the human spirit and it begins to reveal itself once there arises a suitable opportunity.
The muscles become strong and powerful as a result of exercise. This is also true of the spiritual faculties, which become strong as a result of exercise and persisting effort, with the difference that the physical energies of the human body are limited and its powers are limited by the capacities of the body's sinews and cells. However, the wonders revealed by man's history are all manifestations of the power of the developed soul, whose growth is the result of a gradual emancipation from the limits and obstacles of material things. The horizons of self-knowledge and self-consciousness expand only when it is realised that the human spirit is a great and wonderful masterpiece of creation. It reveals itself in its show of strength, in its dynamism, its domination over material things, and specially in its capacity to lift man from the depths of decadence, weakness and inadequacy to the heights of communion with the Divine.
Of course, in the same way as the body is forced to endure a certain amount of hardship in order to fulfil its vital functions, so also the spirit must put up with pain and toil in the course of moral development. All the various concepts and principles in the field of character building revolve around the axis of the soul or the spirit. It is spirit which is capable of reform and discipline. It is spirit which is capable of attaining sublimity and acquiring higher human qualities and excellences, loving as it does spiritual perfection. And finally, it is spirit which generates a series of ethical laws for the human being that the animal neither possess nor require.
Dr. Alexis Carrel, a French scholar, says:
We must habituate ourselves to distinguish between good and evil with the same perspicacity that we distinguish between light and darkness and between noise and silence, and then commit ourselves to avoid vice and embrace virtue. However, abstinence from vice requires a healthy physical and psychological makeup. The purposive growth of the body and the soul is not possible except with the help of self-purification.
For those seeking spiritual edification, no kind of extravagance is permissible. The inner order always takes its own requital. The physiological and psychological state makes up the essential basis of personality and is like a spring-board from which the soul can take its flight.
The path of edification is directed upwards in time and the travellers mostly slide into swamps or fall into ravines in the course of the journey, or stay behind by the side of riverside gardens and go into an endless sleep, whether in happiness or suffering, in affluence or poverty, health or sickness. Nevertheless, one must carry on his endeavour and rise to his feet after every fall and, little by little, acquire the zeal, faith and the will to aspire and the spirit of mutual help, the capacity to love and, ultimately, salvation. 3
There is an absence of a precise equilibrium, order and balance in the world today between individual and society and between the body and the spirit. When man allows his human specialities to remain idle and suppresses the subtle, critical and vital aspects of his own being, which are a necessary part of his unique vicegerency of God on the world stage, when he repudiates his human dignity although created as a human being, flouts his God-given nature and, ultimately, programmes his life on the basis of hedonism and pursuit of desires, that amounts to a negation of his own being and his raison d'être. When that happens, it is inevitable that the God-given nature should exact severe damages for his unprincipled thinking and foolish conduct and wreck its revenge upon him.
Right now humanity is paying a heavy compensation for its conduct in terms of peace, happiness and its essential human characteristics. The effect of this disorder and misconduct emerges in the shape of various kinds of crimes and perversions. In the societies of today perhaps no minute passes without there occurring a heinous crime and such crimes as adultery, rape, theft and so on. This is one of the biggest problems of the world's nations today and it must be considered a great human crisis of world-wide dimensions. The yearly expenditure incurred for the purpose of preventing crime or on the search, prosecution, trial and punishment of criminals makes up a stupendous sum.
One of the factors responsible for the prevalence of callousness in human relations, widespread cruelty, and the daily increasing moral insensitivity in Western society lies in the way of thinking of some of its teachers and philosophers. Nietzsche, the well-known German philosopher, based his philosophy on pitilessness and racial superiority, which became a motive that lay behind the savage bloodshed and destructive wars of the last century. Such is the logic of this Western philosopher:
Pity stands opposed to the tonic emotions which heighten our vitality; it has a depressing effect. We are deprived of strength when we feel pity...
Quite in general, pity crosses the law of development, which is the law of selection. It preserves what is ripe for destruction, it defends those who have been disinherited and condemned by life, and by the abundance of the failures of all kinds which it keeps alive, it gives life itself a gloomy and questionable aspect....
Pity is the practice of nihilism. To repeat: this depressive and contagious instinct arouses those instincts which aim at the preservation of life and at the enhancement of its value. It multiplies misery and conserves all that is miserable, and thus is a prime instrument of the advancement of decadence.... 4 An "altruistic" morality-a morality in which self-interest wilts away-remains a bad sign under all circumstances. This is true of individuals; it is particularly true of nations. The best is lacking when self-interest begins to be lacking. Instinctively to choose what is harmful for oneself, to feel attracted by "disinterested" motives, that is virtually the formula of decadence... Strong ages, noble cultures, consider pity, "neighbour-love" and the lack of self and self-assurance something contemptible... 5
Sensual pleasure, lust for power, selfishness: these three have hitherto been cursed the most and held in the worst and most unjust repute-these three will I weigh well and humanly. 6
3. Carrel, Alexis, Reflections sur la conduite de la vie, Persian translation. Rah wa rasm-e zindagi, pp. 99-100.
4. Nietzsche, The Antichrist, in Walter Kaufmann, The Portable Neitzsche (New York: The Viking Press, 1970) pp. 572-573.
5. Idem. Twilight of the Idols, in Kaufmann, op. cit., pp. 535-536.
6. Idem. Thus Spoke Zarathustra (Penguin Books, 1975), trans. by R. Hollingdale J., p. 206.
Adapted from: "Ethics and Spiritual Growth" by: "Sayyid Mujtaba Musawi Lari"
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